Tag Archives: translational research

cancerBy H. Roger Segelken
Reprinted from Cornell Chronicle, March 25, 2015

The doctor says: “We offer two kinds of surgery for your cancer. Both procedures have 80 percent cure rates. After the first kind, 4 percent of patients have serious complications. In the second type, 20 percent simply die. No pressure to decide, but the sooner we start …”

Wishing you hadn’t slept through statistics class – trying to remember what went wrong with Uncle Joe’s surgery, and longing for the days when doctors knew best – you seek counsel in a decision-support tool, online or at the nearest cancer resource center.

“In fact, there are more than 40 tools to help people make informed decisions in cancer prevention, screening and treatment,” says Valerie F. Reyna, professor of human development in Cornell’s College of Human Ecology. “The more effective decision-support aids help with the numeracy problem – is a 10 percent chance riskier than one in a thousand? But not all tools help patients use their values, emotions and life experience to make decisions that affect their lives and their families’ future.”

Writing in the February-March 2015 special issue of American Psychologist, in an article titled “Decision Making and Cancer,” Reyna and her research colleagues want support tools to accommodate what they call “bottom-line gist options” that swirl though a patient’s mind – along with “verbatim” details about probable risk and whatever else the doctor said.

Gist is at the core of Fuzzy Trace Theory (which Reyna applied most recently to patients’ decisions to take antibiotics even though the misery is probably caused by viruses, not bacteria), and there’s nothing wrong with listening to one’s heart, Reyna says.

Reyna and her co-authors explain that “gist involves understanding meaning (insight in the gestalt sense) – integrating dimensions of information to distill its essence, not just processing fewer dimensions of information that are ‘good enough.’” Although people incorporate both verbatim details and gist in decision making, “they generally have a fuzzy processing (gist) preference” for information, the authors report.

The researchers offer this prescription for a Fuzzy Trace Theory-based cancer-decision tool: Ensure that patients understand the essential gist meaning of information; remind patients of an array of simple social and moral values that are important to them and that have relevance to the decision at hand; and assist patients in applying their values throughout the decision process.

“Every phase of the cancer continuum – from prevention, screening and diagnosis to treatment, survivorship and end of life – is fraught with challenges to our abilities to make informed decisions,” says Reyna. “People are not optimal decision makers. We struggle with complex information about benefits and risks, tradeoffs and uncertainties in cancer treatment.”

An impassionate computer could make optimal decisions on our behalf – disregarding the gist of what we think is best for us, Reyna adds. But the computer is too literal to make the best decisions for people, Reyna says: “Decision support should strive to capture the gist, the essential bottom line, of patients’ options.”

Reyna, director of the Human Neuroscience Institute in the College of Human Ecology, is the first author on the paper along with Wendy L. Nelson, National Cancer Institute; Paul K. Han, Maine Medical Center, Scarborough, Maine; and Michael P. Pignone, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Preparation of the American Psychologist report was supported, in part, by awards from the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute of Nursing Research.

Reyna_Valerie_web

Reprinted from the Association for Psychological Science's Journal, Observer, Feb., 2015

A high-quality journal of juried review articles on issues of broad social importance is needed now more than ever. Psychological science is directly relevant to the most pressing social, economic, and health problems of our day, yet is vastly underutilized. To be sure, PSPI has increased the uptake of behavioral research in policy and practice, but so much more potential exists. Building on the success of prior editors, I want to propel the scientific and practical influence of behavioral research forward.

This journal should influence — and be influenced by — the latest scientific theories as well as speak to the mysteries of human conflict, motivation, achievement, learning, feelings, disorders, and decision making.

Why theory? We need evidence-based theory in order to understand how to apply what we learn about human behavior. Theory explains and predicts behavior, so that it is possible to know what the “active ingredient” is when interventions change behavior. Theory also explains and predicts who will benefit from specific practices and policies. Therefore, I will emphasize causal mechanisms when appropriate, with a view to understanding how to generalize results of research to policy and practice. There is no reason why PSPI cannot be a cutting-edge theoretical and translational journal, and its audience should encompass scientists, practitioners, and policy makers.

Another important role of PSPI is to reconcile different viewpoints from researchers across disciplines.Scholarship means taking account of all of the relevant prior evidence, not just evidence produced by those with similar worldviews. Psychology as a cumulative science, in which current work builds on prior findings and ideas, is crucial for scientific and social progress. I have had the opportunity to interact with scholars from many different disciplines, and I will draw on those experiences to build bridges between psychology and other disciplines.

PSPI connects members of the Association for Psychological Science (APS) to members of the public — including policy makers. It should also serve as the go-to source for behavioral scientists from different disciplines because it provides the most rigorous evidence and the most exciting ideas about the most important issues.

About Valerie F. Reyna

Incoming PSPI Editor Valerie F. Reyna is a professor of human development at Cornell University, where she is also director of the Human Neuroscience Institute, codirector of the Cornell University Magnetic Resonance Imaging Facility, and codirector of the Center for Behavioral Economics and Decision Research. Her research integrates brain and behavioral approaches to understand and improve judgment, decision making, and memory across the lifespan. Her recent work has focused on the neuroscience of risky decision making and its implications for health and well-being, especially in adolescents; applications of cognitive models and artificial intelligence for improving understanding of genetics (e.g., in breast cancer); and medical and legal decision making (e.g., about jury awards, medication decisions, and adolescent culpability).

In addition to being an APS Fellow, Reyna is a fellow of the Society of Experimental Psychologists, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and several divisions of the American Psychological Association, including the Divisions of Experimental Psychology, Developmental Psychology, Educational Psychology, and Health Psychology. She has been a Visiting Professor at the Mayo Clinic, a permanent member of study sections of the National Institutes of Health, and a member of advisory panels for the National Science Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, and the National Academy of Sciences. She has also served as president of the Society for Judgment and Decision Making.

Reyna helped create a new research agency in the US Department of Education, where she oversaw grant policies and programs. Her service also has included leadership positions in organizations dedicated to creating equal opportunities for minorities and women, and on national executive and advisory boards of centers and grants with similar goals, such as the Arizona Hispanic Center of Excellence, National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health, and Women in Cognitive Science.

2015 Psychological Science in the Public Interest Editorial/Advisory Board

 

APS Past President Mahzarin R. Banaji, Harvard University
Past APS Board Member Stephen J. Ceci, Cornell University
APS William James Fellow Uta Frith, University College London, United Kingdom
APS Past President Morton Ann Gernsbacher, University of Wisconsin–Madison
APS Fellow John B. Jemmott, III, University of Pennsylvania
APS William James Fellow Daniel Kahneman, Princeton University
APS Past President Elizabeth F. Loftus, University of California, Irvine
APS Fellow Marcus E. Raichle, Washington University in St. Louis
APS Past President Henry L. Roediger, III, Washington University in St. Louis
APS Fellow Daniel L. Schacter, Harvard University
APS William James Fellow Richard M. Shiffrin, Indiana University
APS Fellow Keith E. Stanovich, University of Toronto, Canada
APS Fellow Laurence Steinberg, Temple University
Cass R. Sunstein, Harvard University
APS Fellow Wendy M. Williams, Cornell University
APS Fellow Christopher Wolfe, Miami University

Valerie Reyna can be contacted at ReynaPSPI@cornell.edu.

By Ted Boscia
Reprinted from Cornell Chronicle, Jan. 12, 2015

By H. Roger Segelken
Reprinted from Cornell Chronicle, December 16, 2014

When the doctor says, “I could prescribe antibiotics for your sniffles, but it’s probably a virus – not bacterial,” do you decline? Many patients expect antibiotics, although overprescription is a major factor driving one of the biggest public health concerns today: antibiotic resistance.

Now researchers at Cornell, George Washington and Johns Hopkins universities have figured out why: “Patients choose antibiotics because there’s a chance [prescription medications] will make them better, and they perceive the risks of taking antibiotics as negligible,” says Cornell psychologist Valerie Reyna.

With her co-authors, the professor of human development has published new research with important implications for communicating about antibiotics: “Germs Are Germs, and Why Not Take a Risk? Patients’ Expectations for Prescribing Antibiotics in an Inner-City Emergency Department,” in the journal Medical Decision Making.

That’s encouraging news for health educators, Reyna says, noting: “Patients might expect doctors to prescribe antibiotics because patients confuse viruses and bacteria – and think antibiotics will be effective for either. Most educational campaigns attempt to educate patients about this misconception. However, we found fewer than half of patients in an urban ER agreeing with the message, ‘germs are germs.’”

Patients who understand the difference between viruses and bacteria – and take antibiotics anyway – are making a strategic risk assessment, Reyna says: “Our research suggests that antibiotic use boils down essentially to a choice between a negative status quo – sick for sure – versus taking antibiotics and maybe getting better. This risk strategy promotes antibiotic use, particularly when taking antibiotics is perceived as basically harmless.”

Fuzzy-trace theory

The Broniatowski-Klein-Reyna study is the first to apply “fuzzy-trace” theory to how people think about antibiotics. The theory predicts that patients make decisions based on the gist (or simple bottom line) of information.

As Reyna explains: “The goal is to make better decisions, getting antibiotics to patients who need them but not overusing them so the rest of the public is safe. Understanding how patients think is crucial because their expectations influence doctors’ decisions.”

Adds David Broniatowski, assistant professor of engineering management and systems engineering at GWU, and the report’s first author: “We need to fight fire with fire. If patients think that antibiotics can’t hurt, we can’t just focus on telling them that they probably have a virus. We need to let them know that antibiotics can have some pretty bad side effects, and that they will definitely not help cure a viral infection.”

The third author is Dr. Eili Klein, assistant professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine at the Johns Hopkins University and a fellow at the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy.

Reyna is the director of the Human Neuroscience Institute, co-director of the Cornell University Magnetic Resonance Imaging Facility, and a co-director of the Center for Behavioral Economics and Decision Research, all in the College of Human Ecology. She is a developer of “fuzzy-trace theory,” a model of the relation between mental representations and decision making that has been widely applied in law, medicine and public health.

The study was supported, in part, by funds from the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

By Lori Sonken
Reprinted from Cornell Chronicle, November 10, 2014
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Understanding why college students check Facebook so often and whether the stigma of having a father in jail affects elementary school teachers’ expectations of students are just two of many questions social scientists are exploring using research grants awarded last month by theInstitute for the Social Sciences.

Twice yearly, the ISS provides up to $12,000 to social science faculty for research. Priority is given to projects led by tenure-track faculty early in their careers.

Natalya Bazarova, assistant professor in communication, is seeking to understand the gratification and psychological mechanisms, including motivating factors and habit, that drive young adults to check Facebook so frequently.

Christopher Wildeman, associate professor of policy analysis and management, expects that his study working with 300 elementary school teachers – using a research design that manipulates the paternal incarceration status of fictional students – may have implications for policy interventions.

Elaine Wethington, professor in human development and sociology, says: “Little is known about the quality of older couples’ marital relationships and the formation and dissolution of their romantic and sexual relationships." Her research, which focuses on people over age 50, looks at marital quality compared across different age cohorts, the emotional and financial consequences of de-coupling in later life, living arrangements among those who divorced after 50, and the formation of new sexual and romantic relationships in later life.

Sarah Kreps, associate professor of government, is examining the reasons why Americans support humanitarian intervention to promote the welfare of foreign citizens from man-made violence.

Shannon Gleeson, associate professor in labor relations, law and history, explores the collaborations that labor unions, immigrant rights organizations, worker centers and legal-aid groups in the United States have with the Mexican Consulate to enforce workplace rights of immigrant workers.

How do different kinds of experts and organizations in the electric power sector manage the diverse risks – including cyber-attacks, power outages and environmental harm – associated with a “smart” electrical grid? This is a question Rebecca Slayton, assistant professor in science and technical studies, seeks to answer.

To understand the cognitive process guiding environmental preferences, Ricardo Daziano, assistant professor in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, will have 600 adults living in New York City complete a Web-based survey of consumers’ willingness to pay to reduce carbon emissions.

By collecting data from college students and their summer internship employers, Poppy McLeod, associate professor, and Alicia Orta-Ramirez, senior lecturer, both in communication, hope to answer the question: “How do students’ campus-based teamwork experiences relate to demonstration of teamwork and other interpersonal skills in the workplace?”

Sofia Villenas, associate professor in anthropology, investigates teaching and learning about racial justice, equity and citizenship that occurs outside traditional classroom settings at festivals, protests and community forums to better understand how adults and youths learn about civics and democratic participation.

A research team led by Chris Barrett, the David J. Nolan Director of the Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, and funded by the World Bank is examining whether irrigation project improvements and changing water condition stemming from climate change prompt farmers in Nepal to be more receptive to agricultural extension services. The ISS grant will fund the team’s travel.

Assistant Professor Ortiz-Bobea in the Dyson School is using historic French statistical agricultural yearbooks to analyze how government regulation contributed to the emergence of a higher-quality market for wine.

Working with coffee growers in the Popayán region of Colombia, Arnab Basu and Miguel Gómez, professors in the Dyson School, are trying to understand how membership-based organizations affect an individual member’s risk and time preferences and the propensity to trust.

Julieta Caunedo, assistant professor of economics, is using sale and auction price data on used agricultural equipment to help explain how countries adopt new technologies in the agricultural sector. Her work is co-funded by the President’s Council of Cornell Women.

Since the ISS small grant program began in 2005, more than 200 projects have received support. Applications for spring 2015 ISS grants are due Feb. 3, 2015.

Lori Sonken is the staff writer for the Institute for the Social Sciences.

elderly abuseBy H. Roger Segelken and Jeff Young
Reprinted from Cornell Chronicle, November 10, 2014

After nationwide concern about elder abuse by family members – and by nursing home staffers suspected of harming residents – a Cornell University-Weill Cornell Medical College study finds a high level of resident-to-resident elder mistreatment.

Nearly one in five nursing home residents in 10 facilities across New York state were involved in at least one aggressive encounter with fellow residents during the four weeks previous to the study.

“These altercations are widespread and common in everyday nursing home life,” said Karl Pillemer, the Hazel E. Reed Professor in the College of Human Ecology’s Department of Human Development who also serves on the Weill Cornell faculty. “Despite the acute urgency of the problem, resident-to-resident mistreatment is underreported. Increased awareness and the adoption of effective interventions are greatly needed.”

The epidemic of resident-to-resident hostile behavior was reported Nov. 8 at the 2014 Gerontological Society of America Annual Scientific Meeting in Washington, D.C., by Pillemer and his Weill Cornell colleague, Mark S. Lachs, M.D., professor of clinical medicine and medical director of the New York City Elder Abuse Center.

The researchers say theirs is “the first study to directly observe and interview residents to determine the prevalence and predictors of elder mistreatment between residents in nursing homes,” and involved more than 2,000 residents. Data sources included staff interviews and reports, direct observation and a research-based questionnaire taken by residents and staff.

The research also suggests that individuals who are most likely to be involved in a mistreatment incident are younger, less cognitively and physically impaired, and prone to disruptive behavior, compared to fellow residents. There was no significant difference between men and women. African-Americans were less likely to be involved than non-Latino white and Latino residents. (The investigators noted that the study did not distinguish victims from perpetrators of resident-to-resident elder mistreatment.)

People who typically engage in resident-on-resident abuse are somewhat cognitively disabled but physically capable of moving around the facility, Pillemer told the gerontology conference. “Often, their underlying dementia or mood disorder can manifest as verbally or physically aggressive behavior. It’s no surprise that these individuals are more likely to partake in arguments, shouting matches, and pushing and shoving, particularly in such close, crowded quarters.”

Collaborating on the study was Jeanne Teresi, M.D., of the Hebrew Home for the Aged at Riverdale, New York. The study was funded by grants from the National Institute on Aging, the New York State Department of Health and the National Institute of Justice.

How are you hurting?

Nursing homes provide care for about 1.5 million frail older Americans. It may come as a surprise that violence and verbal aggression are also a part of nursing home life.

Inappropriate, disruptive or hostile behavior among nursing home residents is a sizable (19.8 percent) and growing problem, according to the new Cornell research.

Specific types of mistreatment include verbal incidents, such as cursing, screaming or yelling at another person (16 percent); physical incidents, such as hitting, kicking or biting (5.7 percent); and sexual incidents, such as exposing one’s genitals, touching other residents or attempting to gain sexual favors (1.3 percent).

A fourth category, which involved 10.5 percent of people, included unwelcome entry into another resident’s room or going through another resident’s possessions.

“We urgently need strategies to address this underrecognized problem, which affects fully one-fifth of all residents, erodes their quality of life and is stressful for staff to manage,” said Lachs.

Jeff Young is a writer in the Weill Cornell Medical College Office of Public Affairs.

By Karene Booker
Reprinted from Cornell Chronicle, October 9, 2014

Teaching adolescents to think more simply and categorically about risks helps them make healthier choices, finds a recently published, randomized experiment by Cornell psychologist Valerie Reyna. Her research shows that adolescents can be taught to think in these more protective, adult-like ways even though their brains are still developing, she says.

“We found that emphasizing bottom-line meaning was more effective than the standard approach for reducing risky sexual behaviors because such gist messages are preserved over longer periods and are key memories used in decision-making,” said Reyna, professor of human development in Cornell’s College of Human Ecology, reporting results from her extensive study testing interventions to reduce sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unplanned pregnancy among adolescents.

“The goals of most risk reduction interventions are to enhance risk perceptions in order to overcome adolescents’ belief that they are invulnerable and to turn intuitive adolescent decision-makers into analytical, unbiased adults – but ironically, these aims are misguided,” Reyna said.

“Most adults reason more categorically than adolescents and base their decisions on the gist of information; they barely consider engaging in many high-risk behaviors because they intuitively grasp the risks and call up their experience and values more quickly,” she explained.

“Adolescents, on the other hand, take more time to weigh the benefits and risks, and often decide in favor of the benefits.”

Reyna and coauthor Britain Mills, Ph.D. ’09, developed a new risk-reduction program by incorporating her research on how adolescents reason into the proven sex education curriculum, Reducing the Risk (RTR). The main difference between the two curricula is that Reyna’s adaptation emphasizes framing typical sexual decisions in categorical ways that should promote risk avoidance (i.e. “even low risks add up to 100 percent if you keep on doing it”). Both curricula communicate the same facts about risk, but their gist-enhanced program, RTR+, promotes gist extraction, automatic retrieval of relevant personal values and automatic application of those values, Reyna and Mills say.

The effectiveness of the new curriculum was compared to the original and to an unrelated curriculum in a random, controlled trial design involving more than 700 youth in Arizona, Texas and New York. Participants took part in 14 hours of classroom instruction and activities, with follow-up surveys at completion and every 3 months up to a year after the intervention.

Reyna and Mills found that RTR+ produced improvements for 17 outcomes, whereas RTR produced improvement for 12. Effects of RTR+ were greater than RTR for nine outcomes and remained significantly greater than controls at one-year follow-up for 12 outcomes. Only RTR+ had a significant impact on measures of sexual behavior. Participants in the RTR+ group delayed initiation of sexual activity longer, had a lower increase in number of sexual partners, fewer unprotected sexual acts, less favorable attitudes toward sex and greater perception of risks of sex compared to the other two groups.

Their results suggest that by emphasizing gist representations, which are preserved over longer periods and are key memories used in decision-making, the enhanced intervention produced larger and more sustained effects on adolescent sexual risk taking, the authors say.

The study, “Theoretically motivated interventions for reducing sexual risk taking in adolescence: A randomized controlled experiment applying Fuzzy-Trace-Theory,” funded in part by the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, was published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 143(4).

Karene Booker is an extension support specialist in the Department of Human Development.

Related Links:

Valerie Reyna
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College of Human Ecology

By Sherrie Negrea
Reprinted from the Cornell Chronicle, September 23, 2014

span> Human development professor Robert Sternberg speaks at a Sept. 18 panel honoring Urie Bronfenbrenner, whom he said stands out among developmental psychologists from his era as “the one person whose views are still accepted.” - Lindsay France/University Photography

Human development professor Robert Sternberg speaks at a Sept. 18 panel honoring Urie Bronfenbrenner, whom he said stands out among developmental psychologists from his era as “the one person whose views are still accepted.” - Lindsay France/University Photography

As one of the world’s leading developmental psychology scholars, Urie Bronfenbrenner, a co-founder of the national Head Start Program, was often tapped by national leaders to inform public policy on children and families.

But when those requests conflicted with his work with students, it was clear who came first to Bronfenbrenner, a professor in Cornell’s College of Human Ecology for more than 50 years who died in 2005.

At a symposium on his legacy held Sept. 18, Stephen Ceci, the Helen L. Carr Professor of Developmental Psychology, recalled visiting Bronfenbrenner’s office one day when his assistant knocked on the door to say that Vice President Walter Mondale was on the phone.

“He said, ‘Would you ask Fritz to call me back later? I’m with my students,’” Ceci said. “Urie prioritized students over everyone. There was never anyone more impressive or more interesting or engaging to Urie than students.”

Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory redefined the social sciences by proposing that human development is influenced by a framework that encompasses not only psychology, but also includes cultural, social, economic and political structures. The interaction of these systems, which are shaped into policies and programs, could either thwart or nurture optimal development.

His research legacy was to encourage developmental psychologists to consider the importance of the individual’s environment when studying behavior. Robert Sternberg, professor of human development, noted that Bronfenbrenner is unique in the field because, of all other developmental psychologists, he is “the one person whose views are still accepted.”

Urie Bronfenbrenner in 1993

Urie Bronfenbrenner in 1993 - File photo

Sternberg said Bronfenbrenner’s work influenced his own research in environmental factors that shape human intelligence. When developing college admissions tests, for example, Sternberg said that measuring practical and creative skills in addition to analytical skills can double predictions of academic performance and reduce ethnic and socio-economic group differences by more than half.

Another key impact of Bronfenbrenner’s work was its influence on public policy. Elaine Wethington, professor of human development and of sociology, recalled her work with a group of faculty on Bronfenbrenner’s book, “The State of Americans: This Generation and the Next” (1996). Covering crime, the economy, changing family structures, poverty and education, the book presented lawmakers with findings to address core problems plaguing American society.

“Urie was way ahead of his time,” Wethington said. “He wrote that behavioral scientists need policymakers more than policymakers need behavioral scientists.”

While his colleagues believed that he had a “natural ability to communicate with policymakers, Bronfenbrenner said, ‘It wasn’t natural, I worked at it,’” noted Stephen Hamilton, professor of human development.

Bronfenbrenner, who received his bachelor’s degree from Cornell in 1938 with a dual major in psychology and music, was a gifted teacher who would meticulously prepare lecture notes, even if he had taught the class 20 times. “What he would try to do as part of class is to engage students in problem solving,” said Gary Evans, the Elizabeth Lee Vincent Professor of Human Ecology, who was a student of Bronfenbrenner’s.

Over his five decades teaching at Cornell, Bronfenbrenner influenced generations of students across campus. One of those students was former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno ’60, said John Eckenrode, director of the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research.

“When Janet Reno was on campus a few years ago as a visiting professor,” Eckenrode recalled, “she said, ‘People have often asked me throughout my career how it is that I’m as concerned and knowledgeable as I am on children and families, being a chemistry major at Cornell and a lawyer. And I always tell them it’s because I took Human Development Studies 115 with Professor Urie Bronfenbrenner.’”

Sherrie Negrea is a freelance writer.

Related Links:

College of Human Ecology
Urie Bronfenbrenner
Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research

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.