Students in the News

Students in the News

Amelia Hritz, the first student in Human Development's Dual PhD and JD Program in Developmental Psychology and Law, was featured in a recent post reprinted from the Cornell Law School website, May 17, 2017.

Amelia Hritz

Two weeks before its 2017 convocation, Cornell Law School celebrated twenty-two, soon-to-be graduates who received coveted judicial clerkships. The celebration included a champagne toast by faculty, alumni, and staff at Myron Taylor Hall.

The event was the first of its kind to highlight the growing number of graduates who clerk for judges at all levels of the state and federal court systems across the country. The future clerks were honored by Eduardo Peñalver, the Allan R. Tessler Dean and Professor of Law; John Blume, the Samuel F. Leibowitz Professor of Trial Techniques; and Judge Richard Wesley ’74 of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

"Over the last decade, we've definitely seen an increase in the number of clerkships for each graduating class," said Elizabeth Peck, assistant dean for professional development and clerkships. "Clerkships have become a much greater priority for our institution."

One way the Law School has made a stronger commitment to clerkships was by creating a new position for Peck to help current law students and recent graduates land clerking positions. The Clerkship Celebration, held on April 26, is another way the law school is highlighting the value of clerkships.

"Securing a judicial clerkship is a 'capstone event' based on years of hard work and academic excellence, both before our students arrive at Cornell and during their time here with us, high above Cayuga's waters," Blume, chair of the faculty clerkship committee, said at the event.

Amelia Courtney Hritz, ’17, who is working on a Ph.D. in Cornell's joint program in developmental psychology and law, was one of the graduates honored at the celebration. She will clerk for Judge Peter Hall ’77 of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit for a one-year term beginning in 2019.

"I'm excited to learn more about how judges think by observing what types of legal arguments are persuasive to Judge Hall," Hritz said. "I think that by clerking I will gain a different perspective and become a better lawyer."

Hritz, former editor in chief of the Cornell Law Review, said she became interested in the Second Circuit when the Law Review published a special volume containing biographies of all the judges who served on the court for its 125th anniversary last year. She decided to pursue clerking while taking the class, Federal Appellate Practice, which Wesley and Blume co-taught last fall.

Peck, a former clerk herself, said clerking for a judge allows graduates to sharpen their skills in a number of areas, including legal research and writing. "It also provides clerks with a lifelong mentor and great networking opportunities," she said. "It's the kind of credential that will be valuable for the rest of their careers."

By Allison M. Hermann

The Department of Human Development commended the graduating seniors of 2017 who made exceptional contributions to research and outreach.


The Henry Ricciuti Award for Outstanding Seniors in Human Development

Front row, left: Brian LaGrant, Angel Khuu, Prof. Elaine Wethington, Joanna Ezratty, Danielle Weinstein Center row, left: Emily Hagen, Ben Zang, Prof. Qi Wang, Assoc. Prof. Eve De Rosa Back row, left: Assoc. Prof. Adam Anderson, Prof. Robert Sternberg, Marcos Moreno, Sharnendra Sidhu, Assoc. Prof. Corinna Loeckenhoff, Deaven Winebrake (Not pictured: Anna Claire G. Fernández)

Ten graduating Human Development seniors received the Henry Ricciuti Award for having achieved "distinction in research, excellence in leadership, and/or have contributed to exceptional community and public service during their undergraduate career at Cornell University." Dr. Ricciuti  taught at Cornell for 53 years and was an expert in the cognitive and emotional development of infants and children and mentored many students in human development.


The Janet and Joseph Zuckerman Award for Excellence in Human Development Studies

From left: Prof. Elaine Wethington, Brian
LaGrant, Assoc. Prof. Eve De Rosa, Prof.
Anthony Ong

The Janet and Joseph Zuckerman Award is given to a senior whose honor's thesis is judged by HD faculty to be the most outstanding of the year. Brian LaGrant wrote “Individual Differences in Perspective Taking with Interactive Social Learning” and was advised by Dr. Eve De Rosa.  Here is the abstract from his thesis:

Imitation and perspective taking have been studied extensively independently, but little research has examined how they can impact one other. The purpose of this study was to determine how one’s perspective on a model performing a behavior can impact how veridically the observer imitates the behavior, and whether individual differences in autistic traits can mediate this relationship. 57 young adults and 29 young children were randomly assigned to observe a model open a puzzle box from one of three perspectives (0º, 90º, or 180º relative to model). All participants then attempted to open it from the model’s perspective. Surprisingly, perspective did not affect success rate or overimitation, but did show an unexpected effect on reaction time in adults. As predicted, autistic traits score did mediate some outcomes among individuals in the 90º and 180º conditions. Lowtrait adults had significantly more success at opening the puzzle box than hightrait adults. Moreover, the perspective from which participants desired to open the box was accurately predicted as a function of autistic traits: high-trait children were more likely to choose the perspective they initially observed from, whereas low-trait children were more likely to pick another perspective. The findings suggest that although the perspective from which one watches someone else solve a novel task does not substantially guide task performance, individuals with high levels of autistic traits can exhibit, and might be unconsciously aware of, deficits in imitation and perspective taking. Key implications of these results are discussed.


The Urie Bronfenbrenner Awards for Achievement in Research

From left: Prof. Qi Wang, Angel Khuu,
Sharnendra Sidhu, Assoc. Prof. Corinna
Loeckenhoff

The Urie Bronfenbrenner Award was presented to two students who demonstrated excellence in research. Urie Bronfenbrenner taught at Cornell for over 50 years and was a highly influential developmental psychologist famous for his holistic approach to human development. Angel Khuu received the award for her research project, "How Do you Remember More Accurately? Young Adults Postdating Earliest Childhood Memories " and was advised by Dr. Wang. Here is the abstract from her thesis:

Thirty-two young adults were recruited on SONA, a Cornell University Psychology Experiment Sign-up system. They reported their five earliest memories and the properties of these memories (i.e. personal significance). Parents were then contacted to confirm these memories and dating estimates, and to provide any additional details. Consistent with the first hypothesis, these young adults postdated memories before 48 months and predated memories after 48 months. Furthermore, more dating techniques was associated with less dating error and the most frequently used techniques were seasons, school year, and landmark events, consistent with my second hypothesis. Finally, memories with landmark events were not different in dating error from memories without, evidence against the third. This study is the first to examine postdating effects in young adults. These findings have important implications on autobiographical processes.

Sharnendra Sidhu also received the Bronfenbrenner award for her research project, "Racial and Ethnic Differences in Pain Self-Management Techniques Among Older Adults with Chronic Pain" and was adivsed by Dr. Loeckenhoff. Here is the abstract from her thesis:

The literature suggests that the adoption and use of pain-management techniques varies across racial and ethnic groups. However, potential mechanisms for the observed differences remain unclear. The present study wished to determine whether the Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB) could predict the use of two types of self-management techniques, exercise and psychological strategies, among White, Black, and Hispanic older adults with chronic pain (n = 134). Thus, we examined participants’ attitudes, perceived control, implementation intentions, and usage of these two techniques as well as the influence of race/ethnicity on this model. The results were consistent with the TPB, however race/ethnicity only showed to be a main effect on exercise usage. The implications and limitations of this study will be discussed in order to provide suggestions for future research.


Honors in Human Development

Front row, left: Professor Elaine Wethington, Professor Anthony Ong
Back row, left: Leona Sharpstene, Brian LaGrant, Angel Khuu,
Sharnendra Sidhu, Deaven Winebrake, Hsiang Ling Tsai
(Not pictured: Anna Claire G. Fernández)

The following seniors received Honors in Human Development having completed original, empirical research, and wrote and defended a honors thesis: Anna Claire G. Fernández, Angel Khuu, Brian LeGrant, Sharnendra Sidhu, Leona Sharpstene, Hsiang Ling Tsai, and Deaven Winebrake.

Congratulations to all of the 2017 Human Development graduates!

Reprinted from Ezra Magazine, September 2016 Issue

Camille Sims '15 says fate brought her to Cornell. And now it has propelled her to reign as Miss New York and to finish second runner-up in September's Miss America competition.

Camille Sims

Camille Sims '15 visits the College of Human Ecology Sept. 21. Photo: Mark Vorreuter.

As a teen growing up in Atlanta, Georgia, and Chattanooga, Tennessee, Sims volunteered with her mother in soup kitchens, joining the fight against hunger and homelessness. One day, while checking out books in an Atlanta public library, a Cornell recruiter approached her and encouraged her to attend an information session for the College of Human Ecology. There she discovered "how the college represents improving the human condition, solving social problems, and using research as a means to create social justice and to help people live better," she says.

"After that, I said, 'Mom, this is it, this is my school! I have to be there!'" Sims recalls.

As a freshman and a Meinig Family Cornell National Scholar, Sims sought out Anthony Burrow, assistant professor of human development, whose research on youth purpose and identity she had been tracking since high school. She took "every class that he offered" and conducted research and an independent study through his Purpose and Identity Processes Laboratory. Her project explored how mass incarceration impairs adolescent transitions into adulthood and sparked her to work with Ultimate Re-entry Opportunity of Tompkins County, which supports former inmates.

Today, she continues her work on reintegration and other social justice issues as a coordinator with Cornell Cooperative Extension and the Multicultural Resource Center.

"I wouldn't be doing the work that I am doing now had it not been for the conversations and experiences in Professor Burrow's classes and lab," Sims says.

"Because of her innovative scholarship and passion to contribute to the health of the communities in which she lives, Camille makes a formidable ally to those enduring imprisonment and who will eventually re-enter the community," Burrow says. "Her particular talents are noticeable and effective -- she's the kind of student who demands there always be greater meaning to the assignments in which she engages."

Crowned Miss New York in May, Sims is using her title to raise awareness for her platform, Ensuring Wellness and Fostering Food Justice. Sims was drawn to the cause from her early experiences fighting hunger, as well as her work as a Cornell undergraduate at Ithaca's Southside Community Center, where she has helped low-income families with eating healthfully on a budget. Sims credits Cornell's Public Service Center for matching her with local groups as a freshman and her Human Ecology education with making her more effective as an advocate.

"I took classes in nutrition and health, human development and nearly enough for a minor in policy analysis and management," Sims says. "I've been able to develop an understanding of the food system from all these perspectives and tie that into my Miss America platform."

A jazz singer and songwriter who plans to release her second album this fall, Sims hopes to use her winnings from the Miss New York and Miss America competitions to pay for graduate school, where she plans to continue her research in human development. Ultimately, she hopes to inspire others to engage with their communities and fight for social justice.

"Caring is crucial to moving anything forward," says Sims. "For us to move forward as a society, we must ask questions about the food system and start conversations about inequity. There can't be apathy about inequality and social justice if you want to thrive as a community."

-- Ted Boscia is director of communications and media for the College of Human Ecology.

Camille Sims joins teens building computers on The Ithaca Commons

Sims joins local teens learning how to build computers at an event on the Ithaca Commons hosted by Cornell University and the Southside Community Center during National Week of Making, June 17-23. Photo: provided.

Reprinted from the College of Human Ecology, NewsHub

By Tyler Alicea ’16, MPS ’17

Brian LaGrant ‘17; Photo by Mark Vorreuter

In faculty research labs, in communities across the state, and at jobs and internships around the globe, Human Ecology undergrads are making a powerful impact this summer as they apply their knowledge and skills in real-world settings.

Brian LaGrant ’17, a human development major from New Hartford, N.Y., discusses his research on factors surrounding imitation among children and adults:

What are you working on this summer?

I’m working on social learning in children and adults. I’m in the Affect and Cognition Lab. We work primarily on neuroscience research, but we’re also doing another project on social learning.

We have this apparatus like a puzzle box, and it’s supposed to simulate something that you haven’t seen before. People can watch somebody else see how to open it and then they can have their turn trying to open it. So that’s what we’re using to measure imitation.

When you copy somebody, they can have different characteristics, like they might be smart or they’re not sure how to open the box. They might be a very prestigious individual or a very well-respected individual or not so much. We want to see how those two factors—knowledge and prestige—can affect how much that model is imitated by children and adults.

How does this work relate to your coursework?

I’ve done a lot of neuroscience research, and this is a little different from what I’m used to, but I really like it because it ties into human culture and how we have evolved over many generations. Social learning is a very important aspect of development, especially a concept called the “ratchet effect,” which is how we innovate new technology over time. I haven’t really focused on social learning throughout my undergraduate years, but it’s a nice complement to the other kind of education I’ve been focusing on.

Who are your Human Ecology mentors?

I’ve formed a few close relationships within the College of Human Ecology as a whole, and specifically human development. Professor Marianella Casasola has been there with me since day one. When I lived in Donlon Hall, she was a faculty-in-residence and from there we formed a close relationship, and I was able to do some research with her, and she’s taught some of my classes over time. Professor Eve De Rosa, one of the principal investigators in my lab, has been a great help, and she’s so nice and so welcoming to any ideas that I have. They’ve both been very important to my development at Cornell.

What excites you about your research?

What excites me the most is that this is my first time having more of an independent role in the research where I can design the experiments and start running them on my own. Having that authority and independence is really, really exciting, and it makes me want to perform research in the future.

What societal impacts does your work have?

One thing I’ve been looking at recently is how autistic children might act differently at these tasks, and that’s something I could study in the future. For the area of research I’m focusing on, social learning, this kind of research hasn’t been done before. I think it’s important because looking at two or three different conflicting factors like I am is a better simulation of what the real world is like. Previous research has only looked at one factor, but there are so many different factors at play—whether a person is knowledgeable, prestigious, and things like that. I think my research is delving more into that area.

Brian’s summer project, The Influences of Model Social Status and Knowledge State on Imitation in Children and Adults, is funded by a College of Human Ecology summer research stipend, which provides undergraduate students will funding for full-time research with a faculty member.

By Tyler Alicea ’16, MPS ’17; photo by Mark Vorreuter.

By Nora Rabah, Allison M. Hermann, Thomas W. Craig, and David Garavito

David Garavito, graduate student in the Law, Psychology, and Human Development Program, under the supervision of Dr. Valerie Reyna, is working with communities in New York and around the country with support from an Engaged Cornell grant for student research. He is working with coaches and student athletes to study the effects of concussions on decision making about risks. For his dissertation research, Garavito is developing a model based upon Dr. Reyna’s Fuzzy Trace Theory (FTT) which integrates research on Alzheimer’s dementia (AD), behavioral economics and decision making, and neuroscience to study the perception of risks associated with sports-related concussions among people vulnerable to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

Garavito and undergraduates in the Laboratory for Rational Decision Making are working with a growing number of students, coaches, and administrators from high schools and colleges in New York (including Watkins Glen and Moravia high schools, Cornell University, and Ithaca College), Colorado, and Minnesota. Engagement with sports communities has provided the team with the opportunity to educate--and listen to-- the public about current research on concussions and how values or principles can affect perceptions and decisions about concussion risk. Garavito has found that coaches are very supportive of research projects that aim to help keep athletes safe and further knowledge about concussions. Many athletes have enthusiastically agreed to volunteer in Garavito’s studies. The student team also has been working with the Ithaca Youth Bureau and the experiences of coaches and educators at the center have been essential in the development of interactive activities to teach youth about the brain and concussions. The ultimate goal of the concussion intervention is to strengthen healthy values and educate people about risks, and the importance of reporting symptoms of concussions.

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy is a form of dementia, like Alzheimer’s, which results in an accumulation of tau proteins in the brain, however, the onset and progression of CTE is related to a history of concussions. Athletes in contact sports are particularly vulnerable to CTE because many athletes fail to report concussions and their symptoms – a very risky decision that could result in brain damage and cognitive impairment. Using the FTT framework, Garavito and his team of undergraduates are studying this underreporting phenomenon.

Although current research on the underreporting of concussions has brought about the creation of laws mandating concussion education nationwide, research based on FTT has shown that not all education programs are equal. How people process information can have a profound effect on how they make decisions (Mills, Reyna, Estrada, 2008; Widmer, Wolfe, Reyna et al., 2015). Dr. Reyna’s research has shown that adolescents are more likely to rely on verbatim, surface-level details, whereas adults tend to rely on qualitative reasoning and the bottom-line gist of information (Reyna & Farley, 2006; Reyna, Estrada, DeMarinis et al., 2011). For example, if told an athlete has a 2/3 chance of having another concussion if they go back out on the field after having had a concussion on the same day, adolescents make their decisions about risk by considering the numbers and take the chance in order to play more sports because the benefits, to them, outweigh the risks. Adults, on the other hand, get the point that the mere possibility of a catastrophic injury, no matter how small, of getting another concussion (which could result in permanent brain damage or death), is not worth the risk for more playing time. This difference in information processing has not been studied in the underreporting or the perception of risks in sports-related injuries.

Many educational programs emphasize the acquisition of verbatim fact-based knowledge in the hope that these details will help the public understand and make better decisions. Unfortunately, this can lead to the opposite effect – giving people more detailed information causes them to engage in greater precise deliberation and leads them to take unnecessary risks. Football players, for example, may know verbatim facts about the symptoms of concussions, but still “gamble” by not reporting their symptoms, instead of choosing the “sure thing” of being safe and reporting them. This risky decision-making among athletes, in turn, is exacerbated by impairment from prior concussions.

Currently, Garavito, Dr. Reyna, and their team of undergraduates, are using scales based on FTT, to test several important hypotheses. These scales are sensitive measures that can detect if a person is relying more on categorical than fact-based thinking. Fuzzy Trace Theory predicts that categorical or gist-based thinking is more developmentally advanced and can deter people from taking dangerous risks. Garavito hypothesizes that adolescents affected by cumulative concussions may rely less on categorical thinking than non-concussed adolescents. This could lead concussed adolescents to engage in greater risk-taking, in general. Garavito and Reyna are studying whether FTT measures can cue developmentally advanced categorical thinking. Cuing adolescents to engage in categorical thinking will lead them to approach dangerous risks like adults, and is consistent with Dr. Reyna’s research on other types of risk-taking behavior (Reyna, Wilhelms, McCormick et al., 2015).

Nora Rabah is a Biology and Society major in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Allison M. Hermann is the Research and Outreach Manager for the Laboratory for Rational Decision Making.

Thomas W. Craig is the Law, Psychology and Human Development Program Assistant.

David Garavito is a graduate student in the Law, Psychology, and Human Development Program at the College of Human Ecology.

DIV. 7 AWARD WINNERS

Early Career Outstanding Paper Award winner: Sarah R. Moore

A summary of Sarah R. Moore's research, “Neurobehavioral Foundation of Environmental Reactivity.”

By Sarah R. Moore

Sarah Moore, Ph.D. student in Human Development

Sarah R. Moore, Ph.D. student in Human Development

In this review article, I propose a framework for understanding the neurobiological processes that guide how individuals navigate and internalize environments. Previous work brought to attention the empirical evidence that some individuals with particular temperaments, physiological characteristics and, more recently, genetic polymorphisms, demonstrate heightened effects of social environments on development (Belsky & Pluess, 2009). My review article, published in Psychological Bulletin, steps beyond this question of whether individuals vary in responses to social environments, which is now well-established, to why individuals differ in their responses. In other words, I set out to address: What underlies this variation in sensitivity to experience, and how does it develop?

Since the publication of seminal work on gene-environment interactions (Caspi et al., 2002, 2003), gene-environment interaction has become quite common in investigations of individual differences in responsiveness to environmental factors. Collectively, the work suggests that particular genes encoding neurochemicals relate to the degree that social contexts have enduring consequences on developmental outcomes. What was missing in this area was an explanation as to how variation of these neurobiological systems shapes individual differences in the enduring consequences of environmental factors. The first part of my review article thus addresses the neurobiological functions of genes commonly implicated in gene-environment interaction studies of sensitivity. These functions bridge genetic variation affecting neural systems to actual differences in neuroplasticity processes to environmental inputs, explaining mechanistically why particular genotypes might be linked to larger effects of the environment on development.

Inherent to the notion of plasticity is the critical role of experience. Plasticity means that environments are interacting with biology in the development of traits. Despite this accepted view of development as plastic, and thus involving an ongoing interplay of biology and experience, there still exists a heavy emphasis on genetics, in and of itself, wherever one or more genes might be implicated. In the second part of my review, a developmental framework is proposed that accounts for the dynamic nature of the biological processes that are affected by genes. Simply put, if a genetic factor shapes plasticity to the environment, then the history of environmental effects on the biology of the brain is as important to understanding outcomes as the genetic susceptibility factor: Any long-term consequences of such a factor is intrinsically dependent on the surrounding environmental context.

Taken together, the importance of this article lies in its novel insights into the mechanisms that may account for individual variations in sensitivity at a point where the field is in need of such an analysis. For the increasing number of developmentalists turning to research on genetic and biological markers of sensitivity, this article serves to inform the biological role of the prominently studied genes in human development. It also highlights other biological systems relevant to how experiences are registered and internalized. The article advances the current literature's myopic focus on identifying genetic plasticity markers to understanding the plasticity processes at play. The plasticity of neurobiological systems directly accounts for who responds and adapts and to what in the environment. This is essential for understanding developmental change, and for identifying targetable mechanisms of risk. After all, changing genes is not an option.

Ultimately, this article is intended to jumpstart more in-depth research aimed at understanding the nuanced developmental trajectories of individuals with different susceptibilities and unique histories. Understanding how biological tendencies are modified by experience will pave the way for tailored interventions that target the specific needs of individuals and, ultimately, improve psychological and physical health outcomes. I will be continuing this work as a scholar at the Child and Family Research Institute at the University of British Columbia. In this next phase, I will investigate the epigenetic mediators bridging the interplay of genetic variation and experience to neurodevelopment.

References

Belsky, J., & Pluess, M. (2009). Beyond diathesis stress: Differential susceptibility to environmental influences. Psychological Bulletin, 135 (6), 885–908.

Caspi, A., McClay, J., Moffitt, T. E., Mill, J., Martin, J., Craig, I. W., et al. (2002). Role of genotype in the cycle of violence in maltreated children. Science, 297 (5582), 851–854.

Caspi, A., Sugden, K., Moffitt, T. E., Taylor, A., Craig, I. W., Harrington, H., et al. (2003). Influence of life stress on depression: Moderation by a polymorphism in the 5-HTT gene. Science, 301 (5631), 386–389.

Reprinted from the Cornell Chronicle, May 5, 2016

Moreno

Marcus Moreno '17

Marcos Moreno ’17 has received a 2016 Udall scholarship, which supports undergraduates with excellent academic records and who show potential for careers in environmental public policy, health care and tribal public policy.

Moreno, a human development major concentrating in neuroscience in the College of Human Ecology, was one of five health care scholars selected to receive the award. Overall, he was among the 60 candidates selected out of 482 candidates from 227 colleges and universities. The scholarship provides $7,000 for one year.

Moreno is a member of the Pascua Yaqui tribe, born and raised on the Pascua Yaqui reservation in southern Arizona. He is a pre-med student, studying neuroscience and American Indian studies, with extensive experience as a researcher.

He is currently working in two Cornell laboratories: the child development lab of Gary Evans, the Elizabeth Lee Vincent Professor in the Departments of Design and Environmental Analysis and of Human Development, and the integrative neuroethology lab of Alexander Ophir, assistant professor of psychology. Moreno has also been a part of a public health project for his tribe’s reservation in 2014, has participated in medical brigades in West Africa and has spent time volunteering in his tribe’s affiliate health clinics.

At Cornell, he is a resident adviser at Akwe:kon and a First in Class mobilizer with the Office of Academic Diversity Initiatives program to support first-generation students. He also volunteers as a tutor for Native American students from the Onondaga Nation at Lafayette Junior and Senior High School in Lafayette, New York.

Upon completion of medical school, he intends to return to his Arizona reservation as a primary care physician with a focus on the interconnections between physical and mental health.

The 2016 Udall Scholars will assemble August 9-14 in Tucson, Arizona, to meet one another and program alumni, learn more about the Udall legacy of public service and interact with community leaders in environmental fields, tribal health care and governance.

The Udall Foundation is an independent federal agency established by Congress to honor Congressman Morris K. Udall and Secretary of the Interior Stewart L. Udall. Its programs promote leadership, education, collaboration and conflict resolution in the areas of the environment, public lands, natural resources and Native nations.

By Tyler Alicea ’16, MPS ’17

http://iamhumec.tumblr.com/

tumblr_inline_oab7iaDzqM1tqatqb_1280

Deborah Seok, HD ‘17

In faculty research labs, in communities across the state, and at jobs and internships around the globe, Human Ecology undergrads are making a powerful impact this summer as they apply their knowledge and skills in real-world settings.

Deborah Seok ’17, a human development major from Queens, N.Y., shares her research on toddler spatial language development in Harlem Head Start programs:

What are you working on this summer?

I am working with children in the New York City area to study early development of spatial abilities. For the first study, we are looking at whether spatial training activities, such as origami and playing with Legos, will enhance preschooler spatial skills. The second study looks at what kinds of play experiences contribute to these abilities. More specifically, we want to see whether providing constructive toys, like building blocks and puzzles, to families will enhance toddlers’ spatial skills.

How does this work relate to your coursework?

Much of scientific research focuses on the impact of early experience on human development. The research that I am involved with this summer looks at what kinds of specific factors, such as language input and types of toys played with, can enhance children’s learning abilities. It also addresses bigger scale issues like the effects of socioeconomic status on early development. By running intervention-based research, I am able to take the concepts that I learn in the classroom and apply them to the real-world problems in the community.

Who are your Human Ecology faculty mentors?

My primary faculty mentor is Marianella Casasola, associate professor of human development. As director of the Cornell Infant Studies Lab (CISL) and my research supervisor, she oversees all of the projects that I work on. With her guidance and support, I am able to advance my research experience and knowledge in the field of child development. Steve Robertson, professor of human development, is another faculty mentor who has also played a major role in my academic experience here at Cornell. Having taken two seminar courses with him, I have not only learned so much, but also had many opportunities to discuss and explore my own interests with him.

What excites you about your internship?

I’ve always loved working with children, and this summer is the best experience I could ever ask for. I would say that the best part about my internship is the purpose behind it. As an avid supporter of early development and education, I am so excited to be contributing to research that seeks to enhance early learning experiences and make a difference in children’s lives. This strongly motivates me and gives me a glimpse of what I would like to do in the future.

What societal impacts does your work have?

Our research is centered on early intervention work that seeks to promote spatial skill development in children, both at school and home settings. Working with children at a Head Start center in Harlem, New York, allows us to focus on families from especially disadvantaged backgrounds and target environmental factors such as low socioeconomic status.

Deborah’s summer project, The Role of Language and Play in Promoting Children’s Spatial Skills, is funded by the Cornell Cooperative Extension Summer Internship Program, an effort by the College of Human Ecology and College of Agriculture and Life Sciences to engage undergraduates in work to benefit New York state communities.

Republished from Human Ecology Magazine, Spring 2016

Annie Erickson & Eve De Rosa

Human Ecology Faculty-Led Undergraduate Research. Eve DeRosa / Annie Erickson

Human Ecology Faculty-Led Undergraduate Research. Eve DeRosa / Annie Erickson

What does your lab study?

Annie Erickson ’16: Our lab is interested in studying the neural basis of cognitive processes such as attention, learning, and memory. To investigate these complex neural mechanisms, we use a cross-species approach studying both human and animals. We are interested in the neurochemicals that modulate cognition— specifically, a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. My project focuses on the effect of acute and chronic caffeine intake on cognition in rats, testing whether caffeine can rescue cognitive deficits that have been induced by blocking acetylcholine.

Why study caffeine?

Eve De Rosa, Associate Professor of Human Development and Rebecca Q. and James C. Morgan Sesquicentennial Fellow: We all drink coffee, but we don’t always give deep thought to how it affects attention, learning, and memory. That’s why I love the real-world importance of Annie’s honors thesis question. She’s finding cognitive tasks that both rats and humans can perform so that we can translate the basic science experiments in the lab to our understanding of human cognition.

What do you like about this work?

Erickson: After following this project from conception to experimental setup to final execution, it’ll be incredibly exciting to see the results. It’s been inspiring to work with Eve, and to see the way she’s able to balance research, teaching, and family. She’s so enthusiastic and positive, and I really enjoy discussing my ideas with her, because she’s always so encouraging.

De Rosa: I love mentoring students like Annie! After participating in the lab as an undergrad research assistant, she approached me with this wonderful question about looking at caffeine’s ability to boost cognition, and whether it was caffeine’s interaction with acetylcholine that underlies this ability.

The fact that caffeine is a cognitive enhancer is something I was already aware of, but not that it might be important in slowing the decline of pathological cognitive aging, like in Alzheimer’s disease. When Annie brought that idea to me, I could see why it might be worth taking a chance to pursue the question.

What’s the risk?

De Rosa: Rat neuroscience is expensive, and it’s not my primary research focus. I’m very interested in acetylcholine, which declines during normal aging, and in using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging to assess brain activity. But Annie’s research is something I would never have pursued on my own. And now I’m having so much fun reading the literature, thinking about how it relates to my larger research vision.

Erickson: Through the process of developing my independent project, Eve has provided crucial advice while also being incredibly flexible in letting me explore different ideas. She’s shown how important collaboration is for successful research and I’ve learned so much about thinking and writing scientifically—skills that are fundamental to a future in research.

In 2015, Annie Erickson received the Human Ecology Undergraduate Summer Research Stipend, and is currently working toward an honors thesis funded by the Human Ecology Alumni Association

by Stacey Chen ‘18
 

Stacey Chen

Stacey Chen '18

This summer, I’ve had the pleasure of combining the ultimate camp experience with the experience of working in a laboratory and conducting exciting, cutting-edge in-field research on decision making. The project, Health and the Brain Neuroscience Outreach, is a Cornell Cooperative Extension internship under the direction of Dr. Valerie Reyna. The mission of the CCE internship program is to translate and apply Cornell research in ways that can benefit communities all around New York State.

In late March, I joined Dr. Reyna’s Laboratory for Rational Decision Making as a member of the Health and Medical Decision Making Team, whose goal is to use research on decision making to help educators and medical professionals effectively use theory-based interventions and communicate risks to patients. Using the information they’ve effectively learned, these patients can then make informed decisions about their health.

Valerie Reyna, director of the Human Neuroscience Institute and co-director of the Cornell MRI Facility

Valerie Reyna, director of the Human Neuroscience Institute and co-director of the Cornell MRI Facility

My first task of the project was to update the curricula taught to middle school students in past years at 4-H Camp Bristol Hills, in Canandaigua, New York. Looking at two modules, Nutrition & Neuroscience and Genetics & Neuroscience. The goal of teaching both curricula was to help students better understand obesity prevention and genetic risk using theory and evidence-based methods.

The curricula were based on Dr. Reyna’s research on decision-making and the importance of incorporating “gist” (a fuzzy or vague representation that contrasts with a precise verbatim representation) into the lesson plans in order to see the effectiveness of a gist-enhanced curriculum. According to Fuzzy-Trace Theory, people tend to rely on gist (bottom-line meaning) rather than verbatim representations (such as exact wording or specific numbers) whenever they make decisions. In teaching the campers, the goal was to see an improvement in retaining the information learned through gist when making decisions, such as deciding between eating a cupcake or eating an apple. Examples of gist-enhanced concepts are: “Developing healthy eating and exercise habits has both long-term and short-term benefits for a person’s physical and mental health,” and “Your diet should consist mostly of fruits and vegetables.”

I was extremely excited to be able to work with the campers. It’s very rewarding to be able to be the person to expose kids to new information, especially the kind that has the potential to affect their lives for the better– like knowing the nutrition concepts and science behind eating well and exercising more, or understanding more about how genetics work. By reviewing Dr. Reyna’s research, I was able to generate a list of possibilities for fun, informative, and engaging activities for the campers. In order to get a better perspective of what a camper would like (around the ages between 11-14), I talked to kids of that age to get their opinions and feedback to develop the most effective and engaging activities. I also read and dissected Dr. Reyna’s empirical research, such as A Theory of Medical Decision Making and Health: Fuzzy Trace Theory (Reyna 2008) and Efficacy of a Web-Based Intelligent Tutoring System for Communicating Genetic Risk of Breast Cancer: A Fuzzy-Trace Theory Approach (Wolfe et al. 2015), to understand the theory behind what we teach in Health and the Brain. Her past publications revolve around how humans remember and process information, which is essential to the development of activities and curriculum for the camp.

After solidifying teaching plans and curricula, I was able to generate and order a material list needed for this year’s curricula. I also started looking into data from previous years to get a better idea of the project through learning how to use IBM SPSS Statistics software. Though at times learning the program has proven to be challenging, the skill set used in statistical analyses is essential to the research process and for my future career goals. Throughout my time of preparation of Health and the Brain in the lab, I have learned much about working in the lab and interacting with not only fellow researchers, but also professionals in other fields, and had a challenging yet enjoyable time getting acquainted to it. I’ve learned that time management is key to completing the project successfully, and held many practice sessions teaching the curriculum and improving my notes and lesson plans.

My adventure at 4-H Camp Bristol Hills began with staff training, including how to mitigate bullying, report child abuse, how to effectively work with kids, and how to de-escalate situations, etc. Staff training allowed me to be well prepared when the kids come to camp in order to make sure that the kids can get the best possible camp experience, and also to get a better sense of how to best engage and recruit kids to participate in the Health and the Brain Outreach Program. During my time at camp, I stayed in a log cabin called Big Dipper, which housed me, Corrine Casal '16, Margaret Sloan'18 (both from the Adolescent Transitions Lab at Cornell), and Sophia Franck (another intern working on a social media project for the camp).  Connecting with all other counselors was very exciting, and I was able to join in on all the camp traditions, such as getting named by another counselor or fun camp songs or skits. We all use camp names at 4-H Camp Bristol Hills, and on the last day of each week, the campers try to guess our real names. My name at camp was Fence-Apella (Pella), because I fenced and sang a capella in high school! It was so inspiring to see how enthusiastic and welcoming the other counselors are to make sure the campers have the greatest time and feel comfortable at camp. The kids were so lucky to have such a diverse selection of activities, ranging from Archery and Air Riflery to Critter Care (where there are two baby white rabbits, hedgehogs, and even snakes).

After staff training came Week 1 of camp, when I finally got to meet all the bright-eyed campers! Every Sunday morning, I woke up early to drive with a graduate student from my lab to Canandaigua, New York, where 4-H Camp Bristol Hills is located. The natural beauty of the area and the camp is breathtaking, especially when the sun sets. Before each week starts, the camp staff had a potluck lunch meeting to get ready for the campers’ arrivals. Registration then began at around 1:30/2 PM for the campers. In order to recruit for the project, I set up a huge poster and table exemplifying all the fun activities and crafts we would do in Health and the Brain, and also talked to parents and campers who were waiting in line. Week after week, I became also more accustomed to and more successful in recruiting campers to participate in Health & the Brain. As an afternoon recreation activity, many campers were excited about drawing brains on swim caps and making DNA using pipe cleaners and beads, along with many other hands-on games and activities. It was so interesting to find kids who were so excited about science and wanted to sign up immediately, and to find others who were more curious and trying to find something that they felt passionate in and wanted to give science a try. After getting everything organized and settling down after the registration period, I would eat dinner with the campers. One of my favorite times during the weeks was being able to meet new kids during mealtimes and talk about their different interests, ranging from horseback riding to TV shows. At night, I would participate in a warm campfire and an evening program, where the counselors and campers get together to do all kinds of fun games with different stations to get the campers to make new friends and be comfortable being themselves at camp.

Health & the Brain had a lot of really bright and curious kids, which was very inspiring. Teaching the curricula at camp was very successful. Many of them knew so much already and had so many questions for me; I’m not sure if I even knew as much as they do when I were their age! A lot of the campers were very inquisitive about different cancer issues and genetic questions and also interested in eating healthier and exercising well. Many had a lot of prior knowledge on vitamins and minerals and where they come from, such as iron from meats and protein or calcium from dairy products. They were also very keen on wearing their “brain swim caps” into the pool and showing off their DNAs to friends. The kids told me again and again how much fun they had and how much they had learned. Many of them were excited about getting a head start in school on the different topics revolving around neuroscience, genetics, and nutrition. Hearing great answers from campers made me feel like I really made a difference in their lives. For the processed foods activity in the nutrition curriculum, the campers split up into two groups: both of them are workers at food company’s factory, but in order to emphasize the differences between highly processed and unprocessed foods, one company processes the core ingredient (styrofoam ball) highly using trans fat (clay), high fructose corn syrup (glitter glue), etc., while the other company only cuts and packages the product. This activity, while very entertaining and involves a lot of the campers’ favorite hands on materials, like clay and beads, also starts the discussion for which product represents a healthier food choice and why.

During my last week at 4-H Camp Bristol Hills, I was able to work with Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) campers. I learned that part of working in the field for research involves flexibility, which was required to work around the STEM camper’s busy schedules in order to allow them to have the opportunity to be in Health & the Brain! During Monday through Wednesday, while I worked with other resident campers, other Cornell students working with Professor Franck from the Physics department worked with the STEM campers on building radios and satellite dishes. During my time with them on Thursday and Friday, they asked so many great questions for each topic, especially neuroscience. They knew so many things about the brain that were very advanced. Many of them had watched or read a lot about the brain and knew about different parts of the brain or case studies of special brain trauma, such as memory mechanisms in the hippocampus, or Phineas Gage, the American railroad construction foreman who had an accident that damaged most of his frontal lobe.

Even though each camp session lasts only one week, being together and meeting all these new campers makes one feel very connected to the camp and the kids, especially during moments where the entire camp gets together to hold hands and sing the goodnight song together. When I had to leave at the end of each week, despite being content and proud of a great week, I also felt an underlying sense of sadness to have to leave such a beautiful community where all the kids find places to truly be themselves and find best friends. The camp environment never ceased to amaze me; the campers were brimming with enthusiasm and the counselors still managed to top it week after week. While I’m saddened by the conclusion of my time at camp, I’m also very happy to have made so many great friends, amazing memories, and learned so many things!

Lindsay Dower '17

Lindsay Dower '17

I want to give special thanks to Dr. Reyna, Lindsay Dower ‘17, Dr. Priscila Brust-Renck '15, Dr. Allison Hermann and Tim Davis for allowing me to have the opportunity to be a part of such an exciting outreach project. Your continued support and guidance throughout the project was a huge factor for its success. I also want to thank the staff of 4-H Camp Bristol Hills for welcoming me with open arms, supporting me, and inspiring me with their enthusiasm and hard work! My internship with CCE Health and the Brain Neuroscience Outreach at 4-H Camp Bristol Hills has been such a memorable time. I’m incredibly grateful for the wonderful experience I’ve had this summer, which has allowed me to better understand not only how scientific research labs work and learn the techniques necessary in the future for my own work, but also the opportunity to conduct actual in-field research. With my love for working with kids and being able to get the full log-cabin camp experience, my time at camp has been absolutely phenomenal. This experience has allowed me to solidify my decision to pursue clinical psychology graduate work as a career, and inspired me to take on all opportunities with enthusiasm and determination.