Associate Professor of Psychology, Neuroscience, and Global Health Studies Sarah Conklin presented her research at the American Psychosomatic Society annual meeting held March 18-21 in Savannah, Georgia. Two students attended the conference with her. Nicole Masters ’15 presented the results from her Senior Project conducted with Professor Conklin and Associate Professor of Psychology and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Deb Dickey. Her project was titled “Experiences of physical and emotional abuse are associated with blunted cardiovascular reactions to psychological stress.” The project, currently under peer-review, was a multi-year effort. Her coauthors also attended the meeting: Annie T. Ginty ’09, now at the University of Pittsburgh as a postdoctoral fellow in behavioral medicine; Eliza B. Nelson ’12, now at the University of Saint Andrews School of Medicine, Health Psychology, UK; and Karen Kaye ’14, now at Brandeis University, Psychology. Katelyn Nicewander ’15 also presented the results of her Senior Project, which she conducted with Professor Conklin and Assistant Professor of Psychology Lydia Jackson. Her project was titled “Lavender essential oil aromatherapy does not reduce cardiovascular reactions to acute psychological stress in the laboratory: results from a preliminary randomized control trial.” Katelyn’s project is currently being prepared for peer review.
Allegheny News and Events
After attending two AAC&U workshops on Faculty Leadership and Integrative Learning, Associate Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies Eric Boynton, Professor of Biology, Neuroscience, and Global Health Studies Lee Coates, and Associate Professor of French Laura Reeck co-authored an article, “Opening the Doors for Faculty Collaboration: The Case of the Allegheny Gateway,” which appears in the current issue of AAC&U’s journal Peer Review.
Professor of Biology, Neuroscience, and Global Health Studies Lee Coates recently published a chapter titled “Developing Research Skills Across the Undergraduate Curriculum” with co-authors Simon Gray (The College of Wooster), Ann Fraser (Kalamazoo College), and Pam Pierce (The College of Wooster) in New Directions in Higher Education – Enhancing and Expanding Undergraduate Research: A Systems Approach (No. 169, Spring 2015, Wiley Periodicals). In addition, Professor Coates recently served as a Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR) facilitator for a workshop held at Trinity Washington University on “Integrating Research into the Curriculum” and presented a talk on “Undergraduate Research across the Curriculum.”
Students collaborate in hopes of reversing neurological disorders
The laboratory of Dr. Lauren French, associate professor and department chair of biology at Allegheny, has a conspicuous lack of lab mice. French’s model organism of choice is a slightly less common test subject: the crayfish. Fortunately, she approaches her work with a sense of humor.
“This is the crunchy and squishy biology, as opposed to the warm and fuzzy,” she described.
What had been taken as biological gospel ten years ago is now being reexamined by Aydin Alikaya, ’15, and Gianni Vinci, ’15, two neuroscience students at Allegheny. The duo, former students and advisees of French, are exploring the process and mechanisms of neurogenesis, the growth of new brain cells, in crayfish—hence her reference to the lack of lab mice.
Professor of Psychology Patricia Rutledge, Assistant Director of Admissions Kelsy Reisinger ’12 and Associate Professor of Psychology, Neuroscience and Global Health Studies Sarah Conklin presented “Study drugs and academic integrity: Association between beliefs about an academic honor code and non-medical prescription drug use for academic reasons” at the recent annual meeting of the American Public Health Association (APHA).
Alumnus Discovers Unknown Passion at Allegheny
It was 2007 – the first semester of Carlos Blandino-Lopez’s freshman year.
Thinking that he someday wanted to be a doctor, he walked into the David V. Wise Sport & Fitness Center preparing to register only for neuroscience classes.
At that time, the course registration process “was like a school fair,” Blandino-Lopez says, with students walking from table to table learning about the different classes available.
That’s when Tom Erdos, a former dance and movement studies faculty member, motioned Blandino-Lopez over to his table. He said he needed more men in his ballroom class.
“I thought sure, why not?” Blandino-Lopez says as he jotted down his name on the Introduction to Ballroom roster.
Unbeknownst to him, the moment changed his life.
“We learned the six major dances in that course, and I found out that I had a knack for dance,” says Blandino-Lopez, who originally is from Anchorage, Alaska, but now lives in Pittsburgh. “I was hooked.”
A (Dance) Step in the Right Direction
With his new passion ignited, Blandino-Lopez filled his schedule with dance classes each semester at Allegheny. During his collegiate career, he also completed independent studies focusing on dance, worked as a teacher’s assistant for ballroom classes, and choreographed performances for the College and community.
In addition, Blandino-Lopez worked with other classmates to produce a surprise performance for Professor Erdos. “The entire production was student-run. We worked on it for a full semester,” he says. “We performed 16 pieces with all different types of dance. Professor Erdos had no idea.”
Blandino-Lopez’s love for dance continued to grow – and he began thinking about how he could continue his passion after graduation. That’s when a coach from Arthur Murray Dance Centers in Miami visited his class.
“She took me aside and told me I could do this as a career,” says Blandino-Lopez, who also was involved in the Bonner program, the Association of Black Collegians/Association for the Advancement of Black Culture, Union Latina, and Orchesis at Allegheny. “That really piqued my interest.”
The following year, the Allegheny senior found himself traveling to Pittsburgh for a job interview with Arthur Murray Dance Centers. Shortly after, he landed a position there as a dance instructor – a job he still enjoys today.
“As a teacher, I love seeing how confidence builds in people,” he says. “Even in college, there were people in my classes who were awkward and really didn’t interact with others. Then they would dance and develop confidence. My passion for dance is fueled by the excitement of seeing people learn.”
Story through Dance
One of the best parts about teaching, Blandino-Lopez says, is being a part of people’s stories. He cites one of his students, an 88-year-old man named Howard, as an example.
“Howard has Alzheimer’s, and the studio is the only place where he gets a sense of normalcy,” he says. “He’s deteriorating in every other aspect of his life, but on some level, he’s progressing here.”
Another student, 74-year-old Judy, was a teacher at Arthur Murray when she was 18.
“It’s so great to talk with her about how things have changed,” he says. “She met her husband through dancing, and now she does it for her own self-confidence and exercise. She told me this is her reason for getting dressed up and leaving the house.
“Over the years, I’ve learned that very few people come here to learn to dance,” he continues. “They come here for something deeper.”
Dance also has affected Blandino-Lopez’s personal life. He met his wife, Elizabeth, while salsa dancing.
“I asked her to dance and she said no,” he says. “Luckily I had the confidence to eventually get her to say yes.”
Although dance was a major focus for Blandino-Lopez at Allegheny – even becoming his minor during his senior year – he continued studying neuroscience, graduating in 2011 with a double major in neuroscience and psychology. He believes this foundation is still applicable to his current profession.
“I’ve always been fascinated with the brain. The reason I came to Allegheny was because I knew it was one of the best in the country for neuroscience,” he says. “It’s really helped me now because I understand the physiological process of how learning works. As a teacher, that foundation helps me to have more patience and understanding with my students.”
Eventually, Blandino-Lopez would like to revisit the connections among neuroscience, psychology, and ballroom dance.
“My senior comp was on ballroom dance and psychological androgyny. I’d like to do more research around ballroom dancing in general,” he says. “A study I read said dancing frequently can reduce your risk for dementia by 76 percent. I’d like to dig into that someday.”
Students Connect Science and Humanities through Interdisciplinary Research
Leanne Siwicki ’15 repeated the same pose, with Holesh capturing her image as well.
Although the two theater majors looked as if they were practicing for an upcoming performance, they actually were serving as subjects for a psychological study. Holesh and Annie Utterback ’16 are conducting this independent study with Associate Professor of Psychology Aimee Knupsky and Associate Professor of English M. Soledad Caballero.
According to Utterback, a psychology major and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies minor from Sewickley, Pa., the project came out of an interdisciplinary class she took last semester called “Cognitive Humanities – Expressions of Emotion: When Psychology and Literature Converge” with Professors Knupsky and Caballero. The course was created through the support of a New Directions Grant from the Great Lakes Colleges Association.
“The class was about the study of emotion during the 19th century to present day and the reciprocal relationship between science and the humanities,” Utterback says. “It was about how the study of emotion was shaped by literature and theater and medical records. That provided a basis for our project, where Laura and I are studying facial recognition and emotion.”
To conduct this research, Utterback and Holesh selected 20 poses from a manual on gesture and emotion written in 1806 by Henry Siddons, an English actor and theatrical manager now remembered as a writer on gesture. Each page in the book shows an actor making a gesture, with each page labeled with an emotion like “devotion,” “happiness,” anger,” “despair,” or “enthusiasm.”
Utterback and Holesh then asked theater majors Schuchert and Siwicki to recreate the gestures from Siddons’ book while they took photos of each pose.
The student researchers then will project the photos onto a screen and ask study participants to choose which emotion the actors are expressing. Utterback and Holesh will use equipment in the College’s eye-tracking lab to study where participants are looking on the photos in order to make their guesses.
“The eye-tracker will produce what is similar to a ‘heat map,’ allowing us to see where people are looking in the image and for how long,” says Holesh, a neuroscience and psychology double major and biology minor from Gibsonia, Pa. “This will help us to capture their thought process to figure out what emotion it is.”
“We’ll then be able to see if they’re guessing the emotion that the book said it was and how that’s been congruent over time. We’ll also be able to see what part of the gesture is cuing them to the emotion,” Utterback adds. “It will be interesting to see how emotion has developed over several centuries.”
One of the unique components of this study is that it allows the students to conduct interdisciplinary research, meaning the study involves both science (psychology) and humanities (English and theater).
“The wave of the future is really interdisciplinary research, and Allegheny is leading the way by offering research with interdisciplinary courses,” Professor Knupsky says. “It’s about getting students to realize that humanities and natural sciences really are asking the same questions.”
“I’m very interested in the sciences, but I’m also interested in English and theater. So I really like the interdisciplinary focus,” Utterback says. “I like connecting all these subjects. It requires critical thinking and being creative to tie all these things together. It’s been an eye-opening experience.”
Even though the project is not yet complete, Holesh says she already has learned a lot.
“This project definitely has helped me to read scientific literature, analyze it, and see the process of thinking. The creative process also has helped me with my junior seminar,” she says.
“The study has helped me to realize that psychology and science are a lot different than what I thought they were in high school,” Utterback adds.” Science is a study and a way of thinking more than content. You can scientifically study anything.”
The pair also likes the ability to do hands-on research as an undergraduate student.
“I don’t believe other undergrads are doing research like we are and shaping it in the way we are. Laura and I are involved in shaping what the project is and what we’re researching,” Utterback says.
“One of the main reasons I came to Allegheny was to do research, because I knew the opportunities were incredible. Coming in freshman year, I started doing research. At other schools, I don’t think that’s the experience students get,” Holesh adds.
In addition, they appreciate the close relationships they have developed with professors at Allegheny.
“I truly value my relationships with my professors,” Holesh says. “I adore talking to them about their research. They are more than willing to have you come into the lab and see things and be hands-on.”
Holesh and Utterback plan to continue their research next semester and may use this work as a springboard for their comprehensive projects.
Professor of Biology, Neuroscience, and Global Health Studies Lee Coates, Associate Professor of Psychology Aimee Knupsky, and Associate Professor of English Soledad Caballero recently published an article titled “Charting a Required, Senior Capstone: Diverse Scaffolding for Transformative Experiences,” CURQ on the Web, Summer 2014, 34(4):10-15.