Tag Archives: education

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 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 Rachel Sumner


This summer I taught the Thinking Like a Scientist class as part of the 4H Career Explorations program. The Thinking Like a Scientist curriculum was designed by my advisor Wendy Williams, professor of human development in the College of Human Ecology. It consists of a number of modules covering science topics that are of interest to teens. As the instructor of this summer’s 3-day session, I chose which topics we’d cover, presented the material to students, and led discussions with the 24 students in this year’s class.

 After teaching this class last year, someone told me that the way the class goes totally depends on the group of students in the class, and I was surprised to learn just how true this is: Last year's group enjoyed thinking about future experiments that could be done, this year's group preferred discussing relevant experiments that have already been done. One year's group liked breaking into smaller groups for discussions, while the other year's group would rather have a discussion all together. One group of students seemed to enjoy building on each other’s ideas, and the other group reveled in respectfully challenging each other’s ideas.

I think one of the best parts of the Thinking Like a Scientist class is its flexibility. Taking part in this class gives students the tools to think about topics that matter to them in a scientific way. Topics like bullying and teen suicide, which have been in the news frequently but are not part of the Thinking Like a Scientist curriculum, were clearly on students' minds. Having the flexibility to discuss these important topics and encourage students to approach them in a scientific way seemed to be beneficial for the students.

The students' favorite part of this year's Thinking Like a Scientist class was probably having lunch with graduate students from different science and engineering fields. They had the opportunity to ask questions about applying to college, deciding what to study, and what kinds of things you get to do as a psychologist, physicist, electrical engineer, or natural resource scientist. Taking part in this discussion reminded me how teens are often equally enthusiastic and nervous about the future, but it’s heartening to see them grapple with serious questions – about science, about their own lives, and about ways to improve the lives of others.

 Rachel Sumner is a graduate student in human development in the College of Human Ecology.

By Rachel Sumner

“Maybe there are just too many of us trying to send messages with our minds at the same time,” suggested one student after our group’s third unsuccessful attempt to demonstrate the existence of Extrasensory perception (ESP). “That’s a great hypothesis,” I remarked, “How could we test that?”

This foray into the paranormal was part of a workshop on Thinking Like a Scientist, offered at the 4-H Career Explorations Conference. Thinking Like a Scientist, developed by Wendy M. Williams, professor in the department of human development, is an extension education program designed to help kids explore the science behind topics that interest them, such as ESP, lying, and self-esteem. Students are encouraged to develop hypotheses, seek out facts instead of opinions, consider previous research, and think about how science and scientific findings are related to real-world situations. So many science courses focus on content. The focus of this program is the process of scientific inquiry itself.

During one lesson about the science of smiling, students investigated this everyday behavior from a scientific perspective. With a level of creativity and curiosity that I’d come to expect from them after our two days in the classroom, they brainstormed potential support for a number of hypotheses about gender differences in smiling. Their suggestions ranged from “Girls have more to worry about and guys don’t really take things seriously,” to “Girls get to sleep in more and…they watch more soap operas, no offense.” Students were drawing on their own experience of the world and thinking about how or why their experience might be similar to or different from a broader pattern of experience that might be revealed by science and research.

Teaching the Thinking Like a Scientist course was a wonderful chance for me to share my enthusiasm for the rigors of research with these young students. Watching them struggle through defining a term or refining each other’s ideas for future research reminded me of my own introduction to science in college. “Thinking like a scientist” has since become the way I think about pretty much everything and has set me on the trajectory that led me here, one year into a PhD program in Human Development. My advisors, Wendy M. Williams, Stephen Ceci, and Steven Hamilton, continue to nourish and broaden my enthusiasm for exploring the world and solving problems by using research and scientific process.

Rachel Sumner is pursuing her PhD in Human Development in the College of Human Ecology at Cornell University. She is interested in conducting research on gender and racial achievement gaps in education and ways in which those disparities can be eliminated.

By Karene Booker

Local early childhood program hosts Cornell undergraduate

Local early childhood program hosts Cornell undergraduate

A new workshop series for local daycare programs teaches state-of-the-art theory and methods and gives back to community partners who provide Cornell undergraduates with experiential learning opportunities.

Elizabeth Stilwell, Lecturer in the Department of Human Development, was awarded a grant from the Cornell Public Service Center to train early childhood teachers and administrators in Tompkins County. The program targets the many dedicated daycare providers who take on additional responsibility and spend countless hours supervising Cornell student field placements.

The new course is based on the full semester course at Cornell, The Role and Meaning of Play. Stilwell adapted it to address the unique role that early childhood teachers and administrators have in fostering play in children’s lives.  The course covers the developmental importance of play, how it shapes the mind, opens the imagination and supports life-long learning.

“Many teachers have asked about auditing a course in child development at Cornell.” said Stilwell. “They are interested in knowing more about what the students they host are learning.  The grant allowed me to provide the course and books at no cost to the participants.  I planned to limit the course to 15 but in the first two days, 18 registered!   This is a way to acknowledge and appreciate their role in continuing to support service learning for Cornell undergraduate students.   These field experiences are what bring student learning to life, as they apply theory to practice.”

student intern

Student intern leading activity with children

“I am really enjoying the class on play!” said Ellen Garcia, a teacher at the University Cooperative Nursery School. “First of all, I love getting new ideas and strategies to use in the classroom.  I also like to have the research-based information to make me confident in what I'm doing and to understand what Cornell students are learning so I can make their experience better.  And finally, teaching young children can be isolating. I love getting to know other teachers so that I can use them as resources as well.”

In addition to support from the Faculty Fellows in Service grant from the Cornell Public Service Center, the project collaborates with the Ithaca City School District and the Child Development Council of Ithaca.

By Karene Booker

Gary Evans


Children in low-income families lag behind their higher-income counterparts on virtually all measures of achievement, and this gap tends to increase over time. There are many reasons why, but a Cornell environmental psychologist and his colleagues add a new culprit to the list: chronic stress from adverse neighborhood and family conditions.

Chronic stress, in addition to parents not investing much time in cognitively stimulating their children, "can hinder children's cognitive functioning and undermine development of the skills necessary to perform well in school," says Gary Evans, professor of design and environmental analysis and of human development, who has been studying the effects of poverty on children for more than two decades.

"Their homes, schools and neighborhoods are much more chaotic than those of their higher-income counterparts," he added. "They live with such stressors as pollution, noise, crowding, poor housing, inadequate school buildings, schools and neighborhoods with high turn-over, family conflict, family separation, and exposure to violence and crime. These conditions can produce toxic stress capable of damaging areas of the brain associated with attention, memory and language that form the foundation for academic success."

Writing in the winter issue of the magazine Pathways, a magazine on poverty, inequality and social policy published by the Center for the Study of Poverty and Inequality at Stanford University, Evans and Columbia University's Jeanne Brooks-Gunn and Princeton's Pamela Kato Kebanov describe their Risk-Stress Model. They point to research that shows how growing up in poverty is linked with dramatically increased risk factors and how this elevated risk is linked to higher stress levels among poor children.

They also describe their reanalysis of a national dataset of very young at-risk children to explore the relationship between family income and blood pressure and body mass index. Both are measures of stress, reflecting wear and tear on the body and are precursors of lifelong health problems.

The researchers found that babies growing up in low-income neighborhoods had health trajectories indicative of elevated chronic stress. Disturbingly, these patterns emerged very early in the lives of these children.

The authors also examined the link between chronic stress and achievement. There is some evidence that several areas of the brain -- language, long-term memory, working memory and executive control -- are sensitive to childhood poverty. New data are beginning to shed light on the question of whether these differences are attributable to cumulative risk and stress, Evans said.

In a recent follow-up in a longitudinal study of children in poverty, Evans and colleagues found that working memory at age 17 deteriorated in direct relation to the number of years the children lived in poverty. Importantly, this effect only occurred among the low-income children with chronically elevated physiological stress. Early childhood poverty did not lead to working memory deficits among children who had somehow escaped the stress that usually accompanies poverty.

Childhood poverty leads to lower academic and occupational achievement, in part, because the multiple risks typically faced by children growing up in poverty lead to chronic stress, which in turn, negatively affects children's cognitive abilities to succeed in school.

"We don't dispute the important roles of cognitive stimulation and parenting styles in socio-economic status differences in children's cognitive development," Evans says. "However if this new pathway is confirmed, it suggests new ways of understanding and ultimately intervening to break the income-achievement gap."


Thomas E. Fuller-RowellAttending a high-achieving school can increase the social cost of achievement for students of color for allegedly "acting white" among their peers, according to a new study in the November/December issue of Child Development.

Thomas E. Fuller-Rowell '10, HD graduate and now research fellow at the University of Michigan, led researchers at Cornell in analyzing data on more than 100,000 students of black, white, Asian, Native American and Hispanic students in grades 7-12 from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. They compared students' grade point averages with a measure of students' feelings of loneliness, social support, and sense of belonging.

"We already know that social acceptance is one of the primary concerns of adolescence,” said Fuller-Rowell. “If achievement comes at a social cost, there are obviously going to be differences in teenagers' motivation to achieve." Read the full story

By Karene Booker

students in classroomWhen assessing education, much attention goes to the administrative control of the school district, teaching and testing. But little goes to the growing evidence that where learning occurs matters. American school buildings are aging and in disrepair, with the worst conditions found in those that serve low-income children.

Low building quality negatively affects student achievement, and this effect is exacerbated when students change schools often; both conditions are more often found in low-income districts, according to a new study by Cornell researchers Gary Evans, professor of design and environmental analysis; Min Jun Yoo, M.S. '08; and John Sipple, associate professor of education; and published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology (Vol. 30).

The researchers studied the relation between school building quality and student stability, socio-economic background and scores on standardized achievement tests in 511 public elementary schools in the New York City school system. Prior studies had confirmed a link between building quality and student performance independent of socio-economic status, but most did not address the question of why. One study provided a clue. It indicated that one reason for this relationship was because of absenteeism. Independent of socio-economic status, students in poorer quality buildings were absent more often. Students do not learn as much if they spend less time in school.

Thus, Evans and his colleagues investigated how student mobility might also contribute to the linkage between school building quality and student achievement.

"We found that students attending schools with lower building quality and those attending schools with high student mobility had lower test scores," says environmental psychologist Evans.

Furthermore, they found that when these two risk factors were combined, it was particularly damaging to academic achievement. These negative effects on test scores occurred independently of socio-economic and racial composition of the school. Further research at the individual student and teacher levels may shed light on the mechanisms for these synergistic effects.

While it is widely understood that teacher experience, curriculum and school social climate influence children's learning, this study underscores the importance of the physical environment as well. It is the first study to demonstrate the interaction between the condition of school facilities and student mobility.

"Our findings highlight a serious issue in American education -- inequality," says Evans. "Although we controlled for socio-economic status and race in our analysis, in reality low-income children are both more likely to change schools and more likely to attend schools with lower quality buildings. We conclude that the school environment contributes to the income-achievement gap and, therefore, warrants greater attention."

The study was supported in part by the New York City Department of Education, the William T. Grant Foundation and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Network for Socioeconomic Status and Health.


Evans, G.W., Yoo, M.J. & Sipple, J. (2010). The ecological context of student achievement: School building quality effects are exacerbated by high levels of student mobility.  Journal of Environmental Psychology, 30, 239-244.

Equal Justice Under LawLast semester a team of instructional designers worked with Dr. Charles Brainerd to enrich his current course "Memory and the Law" with interactive content, quizzes, additional links, and video of his lectures. The Memory and the Law course at Cornell is a cross-college course (Law/Human Ecology) and students in this course come from very different backgrounds. The course is lecture-based, and the units of the course progress from exploring the science of memory to the application of memory issues in the courtroom. Brainerd saw this project as an opportunity to repurpose and augment his materials so that students could review the course content, but also so that professionals and other types of learners could benefit from the portions of the course that were specific to their immediate needs. The intention was to simultaneously provide materials for Cornell students, and to create materials that could be used in a future distance learning format.

Noni Korf Vidal, project manager for this project, and instructional projects manager for CIT, worked on this project with her colleague Eric Howd, and 3 of Dr. Brainerd's students, Courtney Eisner, Eric Zember, and Liz Curran. Their insights into how the course materials could be improved for students were an essential element in the process.

A comprehensive online FAQ document was among the course enhancements developed, based on analysis of past tests to identify concepts more frequently misunderstood. Dr. Brainerd’s lectures were recorded, benefiting both current students who may need to miss a class as well as distance learners. Supplementary video lectures were identified as well. Interactive diagrams were developed for some of the more complex models presented in the course. But most fun are the recreations of memory tests which are conducted in the classroom.

Click here and you can try a few examples! http://courses.cit.cornell.edu/hd3190/demo/

This project was one of the Faculty Innovation in Teaching (FIT) Program projects, 20 of which are awarded annually. The FIT program is part of a larger distributed learning initiative supported by the President and the Provost. The program is designed to allow faculty to develop innovative instructional technology projects that have the potential to improve the educational process. The program provides faculty with the technical staff and other resources necessary to plan and implement their projects, thus allowing faculty to focus on their pedagogical objectives.

The CIT staff who work on the FIT awards are also part of the Faculty Support Services team at CIT. They provide consultation for instructional design, use of course technologies such as BlackBoard, and helping faculty adapt technology for their teaching needs.

For Further Information

Faculty Innovation in Teaching Program http://innovation.cornell.edu/index.cfm

Law, Psychology and Human Development: http://www.human.cornell.edu /HD/Research/concentrations/law-psychology-and-human-development.cfm

Wendy M. Williams and Jessica Zulawski

Starting last winter, second-graders in an Ithaca elementary school classroom have enjoyed riveting discussions about how to distinguish good from bad sources of information, the differences between causation and association, and the elements of sound experimental design. While this may sound like material targeted at high school students, the second graders were taught the underlying concepts using age-appropriate teaching modules as part of the ongoing Thinking Like a Scientist (TLAS) project.

TLAS is an ongoing Cornell educational outreach program developed by Human Development professor Wendy Williams. TLAS has many variants, each aimed at teaching critical thinking and reasoning skills to a different group of young people. The underlying goal of TLAS is to train students to use the scientific method to solve problems in their daily lives. One format of TLAS targets under-represented demographic and socioeconomic groups in science—such as African American, Latino, and economically-disadvantaged White students—at the high school level, with the goal of fostering both an interest in science and stronger critical thinking skills. For high school students, the TLAS curriculum includes in-depth classroom discussions focused on the scientific method and how it can be applied to everyday situations.

Elementary students, however, represented new territory for the program. Thus, Williams enlisted Cornell Human Development senior Jessica Zulawski to help design a new variant of TLAS for these younger students. For her honors thesis, Jessica (under the supervision of Williams), translated the high school TLAS lesson plans into a format appropriate for a second-grade classroom. Laurie Rubin, a twenty-year veteran Ithaca teacher who has taught at Beverly Martin as well as Cayuga Heights elementary schools, played a critical role in the development process by providing invaluable input and guidance, and by teaching the TLAS lessons to her class of second graders.

The lesson plans were taught once a week in forty-five minute segments, but Ms. Rubin also reinforced the knowledge gained during this time by reiterating the material during other class time. The six TLAS modules taught by Rubin were titled “What is Science?,” “Define the Problem,” “Know Fact vs. Opinion,” “Weigh Evidence and Make Decisions,” ”Move from Science to Society, ” and finally, an overarching module that tied together all previous material. Examples in these lessons focused on the central theme of the psychology of food and eating behavior. The curriculum involved discussions on the effects of visual cues on appetite, advertising and healthy eating, and how to find good sources of nutrition information.

Improvement in students’ critical thinking skills was measured by rating students’ verbal responses to open-ended questions. Students were tested individually by Jessica, who transcribed their answers. Testing was conducted two months before the program began, just before program inception, and then two months later, at the conclusion of the program, to provide baseline improvement data for the students as well as program-related improvement data. Questions posed to students involved hypothetical children in real-world scenarios common in the students’lives, and the students were asked if the individual in the scenario was exercising “Good thinking” or “Not-so-good thinking,” and why. The responses were scored by two independent raters on a scale of one to five, indicating the students’ level of ability to generalize the scientific method to solve real-world problems.

The results on the effectiveness of the elementary program showed a great deal of promise. On average, students improved in their scores on each question by one full point by the completion of the program, demonstrating a significant increase. This finding suggests that this curriculum could be useful in additional classrooms to improve the critical thinking abilities of other elementary school students, and warrants further exploration of TLAS for young students.

The hope motivating the expansion of TLAS to this younger group of students was that these students would use the critical thinking skills gained through TLAS to become responsible consumers and users of information. Growing up in the information age, these children are surrounded by a vast world of facts and figures, so it is important that they know what information they can and cannot deem reliable. Real-world problem solving means knowing how to sift relevant from irrelevant information and trustworthy from less-trusted sources, with the aim of building solid solutions responsive to multiple aspects of a problem (for example, how to create a healthy lifestyle). The knowledge and abilities these students gained from participating in the TLAS program are a start on their journey toward thinking like a scientist in everyday life.