Students in the News

Students in the News

great minds 3.400

Zoe Katz HD, '15

Nineteen Human Development undergraduates presented their findings at the 30th annual Cornell Undergraduate Research Board spring forum April 22.

Project topics, supported by faculty members, ranged from language acquisition in Korean infants to mother and child health in Kenya to understanding how young adults assess risk. The forum allows students to present research projects that they have designed and led during the academic year.

Read more about the event in the Cornell Chronicle.

View a slideshow of Human Ecology presenters, listed below, on Facebook.

Yeo Jin Ahn ’15, HD

Chelsea Brite ’15, HD

Ashton Conner ’15, HD

Rachel Cooper ’17, HD, and Kate Goldberg ’17, HD (presenting together)

Olivia Ellers ’15, HD

Zoe Katz ’15, HD

Aaron Lee ’16, HD, Olivia Dieni ’16, HD, Xi Richard Chen ’18, HD (presenting together)

Devin Massaro ’15, HD

Brian Meagher ’15, HD

Grace Monks ’15, HD

Catherine Liang ’15, HBHS and Kimberly Batcha ’15, HD (presenting together)

Julie Barbera ’17, HD, Jeanie Gribben ’15, HD, Masrai Williams ’15, HD (presenting together)

Colleen Sullivan ’16, HD, Azraa Janmohamed ’16, HD (presenting together)

 

 

By Shira Polan

Reprinted from Cornell Daily Sun, Feb. 17, 2015young couple

While many college students may be familiar with the idea of “hooking up” as a routine social interaction, Trenel Francis ’16 analyzed the phenomenon more closely in a study she performed last summer with the University of Cincinnati.  Francis set out to see whether hooking up — which she defines as “a short-term, casual sexual encounter between two uncommitted partners” — has any effect on how future relationships are perceived.

“I directly worked with [a University of Cincinnati graduate student] who had been working on two projects at the time,” Francis said. “The first was on couples’ interactions via a private therapy study and the second was about hooking up. The latter sounded more interesting to me, as well as more relevant to a college experience, so I decided to focus on hook-up culture.”

A human development major and education minor, Francis became involved in her research last year through the Robert E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program, which provides research support to undergraduate students from underrepresented minority groups or low-income families.

“One of the things [the program] wants you to do is to get undergraduate research experience,” Franci said.  “I applied to a number of research programs outside of Cornell and was accepted into the University of Cincinnati’s Research Experience for Undergraduates program for psychology.”

Using data procured by Prof. Sarah Whitton and graduate student Eliza Weitbrecht of the University of Cincinnati, Francis focused on analyzing future relationship expectations of “emerging adults” based on three variables — the perceived value of being in a long-term relationship, perceived likelihood of marriage and the intention to be in a long-term relationship in the future. All of the participants were also asked whether or not they have hooked up with someone.

“We focused on the period of ‘emerging adulthood’ because it is a unique life period in which many young adults have the opportunity to explore their sexual identity,” she said. “We found that hooking up is one of the more prevalent behaviors that emerging adults tend to engage in. Emerging adulthood occurs between the ages of 18 and 25, which usually coincides with college years.”

Hookup chart

According to Francis, the study evaluated 287 University of Cincinnati undergraduates based on frequency of hook-ups and number of hook-up partners. Of the total participants, 136 had participated in hook ups and 151 had not.

“We asked, ‘how important to you is being in a long-term committed relationship in the future?’ The participants had to rank this importance on a scale of zero to three, with zero being not important and three being extremely important,” Francis said. “For those who hooked up, their average value was about 1.41, while those who never hooked up had an average value of 1.71, and there was a statistically significant difference between the two.”

The findings of the study, according to Francis, were fairly surprising.

“We found that those who had hooked up before were more likely to place a lower value on long-term relationships,” she said. “But despite the prevalence of hooking up and the current trend towards the delay of the onset of marriage, the vast majority of participants still plan on getting married in as early as five years and value being in a long-term relationship in the future.”

However, Francis added that the lack of explicit use of the word “future” in the poll questions and the fact that over half of the participants were freshmen may have influenced the results.

“It could be that some of the participants interpreted the question of the importance of being in a long-term relationship as right now as opposed to some time in the future,” Francis said. “Fifty-four percent of the participants were freshmen so it could be that they were thinking ‘presently.’”

Francis also said she thought it would be helpful to follow up with the participants of the study to see if they committed to their predicted behavior.

“It would be nice to see whether or not participants who had hooked up ended up actually having long-term relationships or getting married,” she said.

Francis, who is currently is studying abroad in London, said she plans to explore other psychological topics that affect college students once she returns to the United States. According to Francis, she is set to work with Prof. Robert Sternberg, human development, on her next project.

“I’m interested in Cornell or other Ivy League students’ perceptions of their own intelligence,” she said.

Following her time at Cornell, Francis said she plans on participating in Teach For America or a similar education fellowship before pursuing her PhD in either education or education administration.

“I’m actually torn between teaching kindergarten or first grade and teaching high school,” she said. “They’re obviously very different and I love kids, but my dream as far as teaching is concerned might be more fulfilled by teaching older children.”

Students and professors in Human Development worked this past summer to move their research into the real world at 4-H Camp Bristol Hills.

Kathleen McCormick '16 and Alexandra Holmes '16 invite students to join the journaling study - Mark Vorreuter

Kathleen McCormick '16 and Alexandra Holmes '16 invite students to join the journaling study - Mark Vorreuter

Guided by  human development undergraduates Alexandra Holmes '16 and Kathleen McCormick '16, campers reflected on puberty in the "Writing about Life Changes" study led by Jane Mendle, assistant professor of human development.

Following a successful pilot study last summer, Mendle is again partnering with camp director Tim Davis to study the health benefits of writing about teen transitions.

“The 4-H program has always had a wonderful connection with the university,” says Davis, interim executive director and 4-H program leader of Cornell Cooperative Extension in Ontario County.

“There is a real emphasis on how the camp experience will develop the whole child, and if there is a good fit between faculty and our priority areas – healthy living, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), or workforce development – we’re very open to discussing partnerships.”

Lindsay Dower ’17 guides students in a nutrition game – Mark Vorreuter

Lindsay Dower ’17 guides students in a nutrition game – Mark Vorreuter

Indeed, 4-H Camp Bristol Hills is becoming a prime spot for Cornell professors and students to pursue research and outreach projects. Along with Mendle’s study this summer, the camp hosted the “Health and Brain Neuroscience Outreach” project by Valerie Reyna, professor of human development. Lindsay Dower '17, an undergraduate in human development, engaged campers in learning about neuroscience, genetics and nutrition through interactive games and bottom-line messages about health designed to help young people make healthy choices.

Read the full story

By Caitlin Harder
Reprinted from Cornell Chronicle, October 20, 2014

Pawan Angara discusses his spotted wing drosphila research with College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Dean Kathryn Boor. - Mark Vorreuter

Pawan Angara discusses his spotted wing drosphila research with College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Dean Kathryn Boor. - Mark Vorreuter

On Oct. 7, 26 students from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) and College of Human Ecology (CHE) gave one-minute “lightning” presentations on topics ranging from helping New York farmers adapt to climate change to market testing alternative sap products and offering classes to second-time parents.

The presentations were followed by a poster session that outlined what the students learned through research conducted during the Cornell Cooperative Extension Summer Internship Program.

Human Ecology Dean Alan Mathios and faculty member Gary Evans mingle with the Cornell Cooperative Extension interns. -Mark Vorreuter

Human Ecology Dean Alan Mathios and faculty member Gary Evans mingle with the Cornell Cooperative Extension interns. - Mark Vorreuter

Pawan Angara ’16 conducted research on spotted wing drosophila, an invasive species that lays its eggs in otherwise viable fruit, creating significant losses for organic farmers in the Hudson Valley. Angara spent his summer developing a gel that attracted the insects to a location where they could be exterminated.

Angara discovered that field research doesn’t always go as planned. “You have to adapt and work with the tools you have on hand, rather than what you wish you had,” he said. “I definitely was inspired by all the innovation I saw in the lab and the quick thinking that went on. When you’re in the field, you can’t just drive back to the lab to get something you forgot.”

This was his second summer participating in the program. “Every year I see more and more people doing great things for the community and great things for the world through research,” he said.

Lindsay Dower ’15 updated a curriculum on nutrition and fitness and taught modules to middle school children in Canandaigua. Applying the research of Valerie Reyna, professor of human development, Dower tested a theory that learning by understanding overarching ideas is more effective than memorizing facts. “I learned so much about the research process and, beyond that, how to work with different groups and types of people … and I definitely strengthened my leadership skills,” Dower said.  She is continuing her research in Reyna’s Laboratory for Rational Decision Making this academic year.

Food science major Susana Jimenez ’15 spent her summer in Wayne County working to increase participation of traditionally underrepresented Latino children in local educational opportunities. Building on the research of CHE senior lecturer Pilar Parra, Jimenez conducted interviews and focus groups and learned that parents and caregivers in the rural area showed high interest in extension programs. She identified and evaluated sites, learning that hosting programs in familiar spaces with established community leaders, such as Catholic churches, increased program participation. She said these groups wanted to learn about nutrition and food safety, but they were open to many of kinds of programs. “It’s not so much what you teach, but where and how,” she said.

Since its establishment in 2007, the Cornell Cooperative Extension Summer Internship Program has expanded from five student projects to 26.

Caitlin Harder is a writer intern for Cornell Cooperative Extension.

 

By Bill Steele
Reprinted from Cornell Chronicle, May 1, 2014

 To find food and evade predators you have to evolve. Learning how to do that is the key to the computer game "Cellvival," set in a world of single-celled organisms.

To find food and evade predators you have to evolve. Learning how to do that is the key to the computer game "Cellvival," set in a world of single-celled organisms.

As in many computer games, the goal of “Cellvival” is to survive in a hostile environment. Unlike most others, though, this game teaches some basic science. And unlike a lot of educational games, it’s fun to play.

You play as Tetrahymena thermophila, a single-celled organism that lives in fresh water, trying to catch food and avoid being eaten, and ultimately to reproduce and survive as a species. When you get enough food, you can reproduce, and when you reproduce you can adapt. The trick is to choose traits that will make you better equipped to survive. There are trade-offs: Speed makes your organism less maneuverable, and vice versa. Instead of levels, the game puts you in different environments, and the traits that make you best fitted to survive will be different in each one.

Ithaca-area high school students have been playing – and enjoying – the game, and whether they realize it or not, learning how evolution works, how the characteristics an organism inherits interact with its environment. “In order to play a game, you have to learn how to play the game, so kids are used to getting information from games,” explained Andrew Jefferson, a graduate student in the field of human development, who spearheaded development of the game. “One reason we went with evolution is that it involves abstract things that are hard to visualize. In a game you can take something abstract and make it concrete and play with it and experiment. Even if they die [lose the game], that’s still teaching them something about how it works.”

The project grew out of Jefferson’s conversations with Walker White, director of the Game Design Initiative at Cornell (GDIAC). Coincidentally, White had just been approached by members of the College of Veterinary Medicine’s ASSET (Advancing Secondary Science Education with Tetrahymena) program, who were interested in creating educational games to go with laboratory modules they provide to biology teachers. Jefferson works with Steven Ceci, the Helen L. Carr Professor of Human Development, and human development professor Wendy Williams, and has recruited a team of computer science students as programmers. He will describe the project at the Games, Learning and Society conference in Madison, Wisconsin, June 11-14. You can try out the game yourself at the GDIAC showcase, May 16 in Carpenter Hall.

After some polishing, the game will be distributed free to teachers through the ASSET program, along with lab modules that let students work in the classroom with the real Tetrahymena organism. Several teachers around New York state have already expressed interest, Jefferson said. The game is available in PC and Mac versions, with an accompanying lesson plan to guide classroom discussion.

The challenge, Jefferson said, is to satisfy both kids and teachers. “Educational games get a bad rap,” he noted. “Kids compare it with the games they paid for. Often in educational games you’re just answering quiz questions. … But if you don’t have those questions, teachers ask if kids are learning the game but not learning the content. It’s a balancing act.” But so far, he said, reception has been favorable. When he demos the game to adults the response is often, “That looks a lot better than I was expecting from an educational game.”

Testing will soon move to Ithaca middle schools, and Jefferson plans to create more games, in particular one that teaches critical thinking skills. The work so far has been funded by the National Institutes of Health.

 

By Blaine Freedlander
Reprinted from Cornell Chronicle, April 24, 2014

Beyond the buds and the daffodils, another spring rite emerges: undergraduate research presentations.About 140 students presenting 115 individual pieces of research gathered for the 29th annual Cornell Undergraduate Research Forum April 16 at Duffield Hall, while 45 seniors convened for the Hunter R. Rawlings III Cornell Presidential Research Scholars Senior Expo 2014, April 17 at the Biotechnology Building.

Ranging from cancer research and possible pharmaceuticals for diabetics to cooking a better steak, almost 200 undergraduates conveyed their academic prowess.

Hunter R. Rawlings III Cornell Presidential Research Scholars presentations in the Biotech Building April 17. Photo by Lindsay France/University Photography

Hunter R. Rawlings III Cornell Presidential Research Scholars presentations in the Biotech Building April 17. Photo by Lindsay France/University Photography

Cornell Undergraduate Research Board

Michelle Duong ’14 showed that an environment influences food intake. In two focus groups – each before a bowl of chocolates – the people who discussed gym memberships ate fewer sweets than those who discussed a nonhealth topic.In her research, Shanique Alabi ’14 learned that Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis), which she found at the Cornell Plantations, may offer promise as a carbohydrate digestion blocker for diabetics.

Jessica Lebovits ’14, Nolan Reese ’15, Janet Kim ’15 and Olivia Roche ’15 studied the culinary learning process of off-campus college students to ascertain nutrition among young adults. Louis Levine ’16, Rachel DeMel ’14, Camille Kapaun ’14 and Paige Mintz ’15 learned how off-campus students manage their time in preparing meals with the aim of improving their meal choices.

Conor Gruber ’15 studied the early detection of circulating tumor cells in pancreatic cancer, working toward an assay that ascertains cellular nuances; and Karen Martin ’15 examined the process of RAC1 proteins as it relates to metastatic cancer.

While Marissa Tranquilli ’15, Simeon Markind ’14, Katherine Bruce ’14 and Benjamin Catanese ’14 characterized the carbohydrate content of the Ithaca Beer Company’s Apricot Wheat and Green Trail beers with high performance liquid chromatography-refractive index detection, other student chemists Janette Guijosa ’14, Sarah Goodnow ’14, Daniel C. Lee ’14, Harrison Specht ’14 and Ashley-Lauren Mighty ’14 provided an aroma profile of Ithaca Beer’s Flower Power IPA in various stages of production.

Rawlings Cornell Presidential Research Scholars

Rachel Lumish ’14 correlated pica behavior (consuming non-food items like chalk, ice, powder, soap and dirt) and its relationship with iron deficiency among pregnant teens. And Quinn Kelly ’14 analyzed bicycling policies in major American cities, with an eye toward improving sustainable transportation. He found that cities with the strongest bicycling organizations had the strongest cycling infrastructure and policies, and the largest amount of cyclists.

James Zen Yui ’14 showed how to save energy and grill a better steak by pre-cooking the meat in a vacuum-sealed plastic and storing it in water, which keeps the meat tender. When ordered in a restaurant, the juicy so-called sous vide steak is grilled for a few minutes.

To create equity in discrimination lawsuits (based on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964), Hannah Clark ’14 assembled a database of factors that correlate with larger settlements and relief clauses in settlement documents.

Spenser Reed  ’14 evaluated chicken as a potential model for an inexpensive and sensitive zinc biomarker to quickly assess human nutritional needs, while Joseph Edwards ’14 explained how he used electrospinning and electrospraying to create membranes that use biochar to trap volatile organic compounds, for possible use as a smokestack filter.

****

Department of Human Development well-represented!

Of the students involved in the presentations, 21 were Human Development majors or worked with a professor from the department: Victoria Atzl ’14, Martina Azar ’14, Olivia Butkowski ’16, Morgan Drucker ’14, Lara Gentilini ’14, Jeanie Gribben ’15, Amauri Gomez ’14, Azraa Janmohamed ’16, Corey Keane ’15, Kyle Kurkela ’14, Wei-Feng Lee ’16, Samantha Marfurt ’14, Meghan McDarby ’14, Nicole Meyers ’14, Hye Eon Park ’15, Carly Schuller ’16,  Leah Shabo ’16, Victoria Silverman ’15, Colleen Sullivan ’16, Masrai Williams ’15, Lilly Zhang ’14.

Related Links:
Hunter R. Rawlings III Cornell Presidential Research Scholars
Cornell University Research Board

By Ted Boscia
Reprinted from Cornell Chronicle, February 11, 2014

Vrangalova

Vrangalova

When college students have casual sex – “hooking up” – how it influences their mental and physical health depends in part on their intentions for doing it, finds a Cornell study.

Hooking up for the “wrong reasons” – peer pressure, to boost one’s self-esteem, hoping it will lead to a long-term relationship or coercion by intoxication or other means, according to examples given in the study – decreased students’ well-being compared to peers who refrained from casual sex. On the other hand, casual sex motivated by the “right reasons” – such as a self-directed desire for pleasure, intimacy or excitement – did not heighten these negative health effects.

“Why you engage in casual sex is more consequential for your physical and mental health than whether you do it,” said author Zhana Vrangalova, Ph.D. ’13 in the field of human development. Her paper, “Does Casual Sex Harm College Students’ Wellbeing? A Longitudinal Investigation of the Role of Motivation,” was published online Feb. 5 in the Archives of Sexual Behavior.

“There are a number of situational, personal, interpersonal and social factors that determine whether one’s casual sex experiences are good or bad for them,” Vrangalova said. “This study is one of the first to examine, and find evidence of, one such factor: motivation.”

At the start and end of an academic year, Vrangalova surveyed 528 Cornell undergraduates, recording their mental and physical well-being, number of casual sex partners, their motivations for hooking up and various demographic factors. Applying self-determination theory, a psychological measure of people’s intentions, she determined whether students hooked up for autonomous reasons – those that are self-directed and reflect one’s values – or non-autonomous factors, outside influences such as coercion or social pressure.

After controlling for demographics, personality traits, prior casual and romantic sex, and initial levels of well-being, hookups motivated by external forces were linked to lower self-esteem, higher depression and anxiety, and poorer physical health. Autonomous hookups were not linked to negative outcomes. (The study defined hookups as any form of genital contact between partners who were not in a long-term romantic relationship.)

“Most studies on the link between casual sex and health have only looked at the simple comparison between those who have hooked up as a single group and those who haven’t, and findings have often been inconsistent across different studies,” said Vrangalova, who did the work as part of her doctoral dissertation. “This study shows the importance of internal processes, such as motivation, as moderators for health outcomes.”

The results could help guide teachers, counselors and doctors advising young adults about sex by “shifting education, policy and clinical work away from uniform, one-size-fits-all strategies and messages regarding casual sex and its health consequences, and toward more individually tailored, and, thus, more useful, approaches,” the paper reports.

The study was funded by student grants from the Foundation for Scientific Study of Sexuality, the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues, and Cornell’s Human Ecology Alumni Association.

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

Related Information

By Karene Booker

Deana Blansky leading a session for young adolescents on health and fitness - Mark Vorreuter

Deana Blansky leading a session for young adolescents on health and fitness - Mark Vorreuter

Last year Deanna Blansky ’16 jumped into a new initiative to translate faculty research into hands-on activities for teaching middle-school youth about the brain, health, and science. The initiative aims to develop a six-hour 4-H STEM curriculum on health and the brain and is led by Valerie Reyna, professor and director of the Human Neuroscience Institute in the Department of Human Development, and co-director of the Cornell MRI Facility.

To start, Blansky, a Human Biology, Health, and Society major, developed two modules, one on nutrition and fitness and another on breast cancer genetics, based on Reyna’s ongoing research.  She piloted these modules with middle school campers at Bristol Hills 4-H Camp in Canandaigua, New York as part of her summer Cornell Cooperative Extension internship. Both modules combined aspects of health and neuroscience, while providing an interactive learning experience for the campers.

The campers particularly liked the hands-on lessons, such as competing in the nutritional breakfast cook-off and creating model brains they could keep, Blansky said. They had fun comparing breakfast ideas and seemed surprised by how easy it was to create their own healthy meals. They were eager to take their ideas back home, she said.

The combination of outreach through teaching at summer camp and empirical neuroscience research was really rewarding, Blansky concluded. What she learned about the research process, curriculum development and lesson planning for different age groups will come in handy - she is planning on entering the field of medicine and public health, and hopes to incorporate community health into her future career.

This year, Noah Rubin ’16 will be refining the two modules and developing new segments. Rubin is majoring in Policy Analysis and Management and minoring in Computer Science and Math. He joined Reyna’s Laboratory of Rational Decision Making propelled by an interest in human behavior and the neuroscience behind it. An interest, he says, that was sparked in high school after reading a story about a man who had developed software that predicted investing behavior based on reactions to current events.

The new and revised modules will be piloted with youth this summer, with the plan of eventually making them more broadly available.

By Ted Boscia
Reprinted from Cornell Chronicle, August 28, 2013

Wendy Wei leads a child through spatial cognition tests - Mark Vorreuter

Human development major Wendy Wei ’15 spent most of her summer at Ithaca-area day care centers leading 4- and 5-year-olds through brain teasers and puzzles or building towers with blocks and Legos. Far from child’s play, her work sought to understand how preschoolers develop spatial cognition and whether those abilities could be nurtured through interactive play.

Wei is one of 15 undergraduates who received $4,000 stipends from the College of Human Ecology to work in faculty labs full time this summer as part of the college’s long-running research immersion program. Made possible by a mix of alumni endowments and college and federal funds, it allows students to conduct research uninterrupted by classes, exams, jobs or extracurricular activities.

“We want students to deeply engage in research, not just doing a few hours as an assistant in the lab but helping the team to define the research question, methods and data collection and interpretation,” said Carole Bisogni ’70, M.S. ’72, Ph.D. ’76, associate dean for academic affairs. “For some students, it changes their entire outlook.”

Wei entered Cornell on a path to become a physician. But, partly due to her research in associate professor Marianella Casasola’s Cornell Infant Studies Laboratory, she’s now focused on a career in research and education.

This summer, Wei led an experiment to test how children’s knowledge of spatial language (terms like “up,” “down,” “in” and “on”) influences their spatial cognition (how well they recognize two-dimensional shapes and patterns, and mentally map their physical surroundings).

“Prior work has shown a link between spatial cognition and future performance in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields,” Wei said. “Hopefully the study will help in coming up with better methods for teaching kids spatial concepts.”

While Wei focused on cognitive growth, Judith Mildner ’14, human development, was examining declines in brain function. Mildner helped conduct a study in the Cornell MRI Facility searching for biomarkers in the brain that might predict the onset of Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases years ahead of what is now possible.

Mildner said she enjoyed working on a team of research assistants and the close interaction with faculty that’s rarely possible during the busy academic year.

“I want to work in neuropsychology research, probably on aging and dementia, and I have learned a lot about what it takes to run an functional MRI study [a type of imaging that allows neuroscientists to see different forms of brain activity],” she said. “I want a job doing research, and this summer I’ve been able to do it all day, every day.”

Ariana Levitt working on fiber electrospinning in the lab of Margaret Frey, associate professor of fiber science and apparel design, in the Human Ecology Building - Jason Koski, University Photography

Students from each of Human Ecology’s five academic departments – Design and Environmental Analysis, Fiber Science & Apparel Design, Human Development, Policy Analysis and Management, and Nutritional Sciences – received summer stipends.

Some, like Nivetha Subramanian ’15 and Ariana Levitt ’15, donned white coats at lab benches: Subramanian compared genetic properties of breast milk from mothers of full-term and premature infants, and Levitt looked for the right mix of polymers needed to spin nanofibers with high conductivity and low water solubility. Others contributed to social science projects: Williams “Carlos” Higgins ’14 surveyed occupants of Caldwell Hall to gather data for a project to identify structures best suited for energy-saving retrofits, and Max Kellogg ’15 built a statistical model to track how TV ads influence people’s daily consumption of sweetened and unsweetened drinks.

Higgins said the summer program builds on classes by allowing him to “dive in much deeper.”

“It’s exciting when I find something I don’t expect to,” he said. “Usually in class everything is laid out in the syllabus, and you know what’s coming. With research, I’ve thought about the problem for hundreds of hours and still get results totally different from what I expected.”

Ted Boscia is assistant director of communications for the College of Human Ecology.

Footnote

Overall, six Human Development majors were among the 15 undergraduates who received research stipends from the College of Human Ecology this summer:

  • Rebecca Derven ’15 worked with Valerie Reyna, professor of human development, on "Interventions for Risk Reduction in Obesity Prevention;"
  • Judith Mildner ’14, mentioned above, worked with Nathan Spreng, assistant professor of human development, on "Age-related changes in enhancement and modulation of the default network;"
  • Emily Bastarach ’14 worked with Anthony Ong, associate professor of human development, on "Resilience to parental loss: A prospective study of early parental support and positive emotions;"
  • Wendy Wei, ’15 worked with Marianella Casasola, associate professor of human development, on the project mentioned above called "Putting the pieces together;"
  • Jasmin Perez ’14 worked with Gary Evans, professor of human development, on "The effect of socioeconomc status on infant Distractibility;" and
  • Jenna Behrendt ’14 worked with Barbara Lust, professor of human development, on "Characterizing language deficits in mildly cognitive impaired elderly compared to a healthy aging and a young population."

By Olivia M. Hall
Reprinted from Cornell Chronicle, September 17, 2013

From left, research assistants Meredith Moser '15, Natasha Herrick '15 and Leticia Vasquez '15 at Camp Bristol Hills, where they studied teen transitions this past summer - Mark Vorreuter

Summer camp is often about archery, swimming and singing around the fire. But this past summer, Natasha Herrick ’15, Leticia Vasquez ’15 and Meredith Moser ’15 were in for a different kind of camp adventure – their first academic research study.

Working with Jane Mendle, assistant professor of human development in the College of Human Ecology, the three served as research assistants for a pilot study to test expressive writing interventions with adolescent girls at 4-H Camp Bristol Hills in Canandaigua, N.Y.

The project, funded partly by Cornell’s Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research, formed when Tim Davis, 4-H youth development program leader with Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) of Ontario County, discussed possible collaborations at the residential summer camp with Mendle.

“Everybody knows that puberty is rough on kids, as relationships with parents and peers are changing,” Mendle said. “Our lab, like a lot of others interested in puberty, tends to focus on the consequences of puberty – which can include depression, anxiety, externalizing or ‘acting out’ behaviors, poor self-esteem and body dissatisfaction. In this project we wanted to explore what happens if we intervene before teens get to that point.”

Mendle’s research assistants lived at Bristol Hills and used free slushies to recruit 45 girls, ages 11 to 13. (Boys will be included in a future study.) During six, weeklong camp sessions, the RAs gathered the girls after lunch on four days for an exercise in expressive writing, which Mendle describes as “a brief, focused intervention, in which people write about times of change in their lives.”

After filling out a standard psychological questionnaire on the first day, the girls spent 20 minutes daily writing about their relationships with their families, friends and the changes taking place in their own bodies

Though the data have yet to be fully analyzed – Mendle is planning to send out a follow-up questionnaire in a few months – the research partners are pleased with the outcomes to date of this first-time collaboration.

“4-H camps put a real emphasis on how the camp experience will develop the whole child,” said Davis. “This year we were really able to pilot how we can work with faculty to do research at the camp while greatly benefiting our campers.”

Mendle hopes to use the pilot data to write a grant proposal that will expand the study to include a control group and show more clearly how the writing intervention provides positive benefits to adolescents.

The undergraduate assistants, for their part, found their interest in working with adolescents confirmed. “This research helped to further convince me that kids in this age range and young adults are the focus I’d like to pursue later in life if I ever get my own private practice as a therapist,” said Vasquez.

Herrick, Moser and Vasquez assisted with the study as part of the CCE Summer Internship Program, which provides opportunities for Human Ecology and College of Agriculture and Life Sciences students to support research and outreach projects in communities around the state. The RAs also assisted in a separate study on social exclusion among adolescents, led by Vivian Zayas, Cornell associate professor of psychology.

On Tuesday, Sept. 24, they and other CCE summer interns will present posters about their work at a reception, 5-6:30 p.m., in the Statler Ballroom.

Olivia M. Hall is a freelance writer.