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Symposium Showcases Student Research and Community Projects

Posters and Lightning Talks Demonstrate Breadth and Depth of Research Enterprise

UML business analytics Asst. Prof. Asil Oztekin with three students who studied MLB statistics: Eric Rose, Joel Dabady and Mark Albee. Photo by Tory Wesnofske
Assoc. Prof. Asil Oztekin with three students who analyzed MLB statistics: Eric Rose, Joel Dabady and Mark Albee.

05/09/2019
By Katharine Webster

Want to know what makes a pop tune rise to the top 100 on Spotify? Which baseball team stats are most important in predicting a win? Or what factors reported in a 911 call are most likely to mean that a violent crime has occurred? 

All of these questions, and more, were answered at the Student Research & Community Engagement Symposium by business students in Assoc. Prof. Asil Oztekin’s class, Predictive Data Analytics.

(Answers: Energy and “liveness” – indications that the song was recorded before a live audience – contributed to Spotify success. Good pitching and fielding were more important than good hitting. And, surprisingly, nighttime was a bigger predictor of violent crime than a report that shots were fired.)

A pair of Oztekin’s students, Katrina Bien-Aime and Kaylee Tenaglia, examined which factors in a community predict more drug-related deaths.

“We found a high correlation between economic hard times and drug overdose deaths,” Bien-Aime said in a lightning talk on the pair’s research.

The symposium displayed the breadth and depth of both undergraduate and graduate research with faculty mentors. More than 280 students presented posters in University Crossing, and 106 also gave 90-second lightning talks and answered questions from panels of judges, said Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation Julie Chen.

“One of the things we hope you get here at UMass Lowell is an understanding of how things you learn in the classroom can have an impact outside the classroom,” Chen told the assembled students, before presenting awards for the best lightning talks and fan favorite posters.

Nursing students Kelly Tanner, Sharon Nabulime and Mamawa Sannoh at the Student Research & Community Engagement Symposium Photo by Tory Wesnofske
Nursing students Kelly Tanner, Sharon Nabulime and Mamawa Sannoh taught good eating and exercise habits to children in Lawrence.

Many students made that connection between research and real-world problems through community-engaged research, including three nursing students who – while teaching about healthy eating and exercise to children at the Lawrence Boys & Girls Club – also studied the impact on the children’s diets of the gas explosions that displaced thousands of Lawrence residents last fall and left others unable to cook because their gas was shut off for weeks or months.

They found fewer changes in the children’s diets than they’d expected, said Sharon Nabulime, who worked with Kelly Tanner and Mamawa Sannoh.

“Some children were getting more junk food after the gas explosions, but many others were staying with family members and eating the same foods as before,” Nabulime said.

Business student Abby McNulty also studied the Merrimack Valley gas explosions as a research assistant at the Donahue Center for Business Ethics and Social Responsibility. Her task: develop a case study analysis of the ethics of the decisions made by Columbia Gas before, during and after the explosions to understand how such an event can be prevented in the future.

“I’ve never done anything like this before,” McNulty said of her project and poster presentation. “It’s been great not just for my research skills, but also my public speaking and communication skills.”

UMass Lowell Education Ph.D. student Yelenna Rondon waits on the stairs, just before learning she had won a prize for her research on community college students. Photo by Tory Wesnofske
Yelenna Rondon, in white, just before learning she won an award for best lightning talk by an education graduate student.

Yelenna Rondon won first place for a graduate student from the College of Education for her research into how students fare when they start out at a community college, compared to a four-year public or private college. 

Rondon, a Ph.D. student and assistant professor of business science at North Shore Community College who also teaches at Framingham State, found that students who start at community colleges are less likely to complete their bachelor’s degrees within six years. But if they do, they earn as much as those who started and finished at a four-year school.

Marinos Blanas, a sophomore Honors College student majoring in mechanical engineering, got the chairman of his department, Christopher Niezrecki, to advise him on his project: designing a home power system for Haiti, which is plagued by frequent electrical blackouts – and where children often must study by the light of kerosene lanterns.

UML math major Paul Fitzmaurice, left, and mechanical engineering major Marinos Blanas at the Student Research Symposium Photo by Tory Wesnofske
Math major Paul Fitzmaurice, left, studied Monopoly, while mechanical engineering major Marinos Blanas designed a small solar energy system for use in Haiti.

Blanas designed a portable solar system that can provide enough electricity to charge a couple of cellphones or tablets and a pair of electric lamps. 

“Kerosene lamps are terrible for children’s health,” he said.

Another mechanical engineering major, Jonathan Aguilar, developed a way to detect the amount of soot that accumulates in particulate filters in diesel and gasoline combustion engines, using radio frequency sensing. He says the technology could help truck drivers comply with Environmental Protection Agency emissions standards by alerting them when the filters are full and need to be regenerated.

Naomi de la Cruz, a psychology major with a minor in disability studies, started her project as a volunteer who helped care for children with autism spectrum disorder while their parents attended a support group run by Assoc. Prof. Rocio Rosales. Rosales then asked de la Cruz to join a research project on the benefits of the support group. 

Psychology major Naomi de la Cruz at UML's Student Research & Community Engagement Symposium Photo by Tory Wesnofske
Psychology major Naomi de la Cruz researched a support group for parents of children with autism spectrum disorder.

De la Cruz, who wants to become a marriage and family counselor, said it provided her with invaluable insights into the experiences of parents and families of children with ASD.

Exercise physiology sophomores Andrew Stanwicks and Patrick Pang studied whether compressing and cooling muscles during exercise improves the benefits. Pang said the results of their research on college students were positive. Now they want to expand the study to a larger, more diverse group of study participants. 

Senior Paul Fitzmaurice didn’t set out to benefit anyone with his mathematics capstone project, “Monopoly as a Markov Process.” But he did solve a problem for fellow lovers of the board game.

“Under the official rules, the green and red properties are most profitable,” he said. “But under house rules” – allowing building without a monopoly and uneven building – “the blue ones are best.”

The Faculty Senate’s Core Curriculum Committee conducted some research of its own during the symposium. Several faculty members and 10 student volunteers evaluated the research posters of 74 juniors and seniors to see how well they demonstrated critical thinking and problem solving skills, one of the “essential learning outcomes” that the core curriculum is designed to teach. They also interviewed most of the students whose posters they evaluated to better understand their learning experiences.

It’s part of an ongoing project to assess and strengthen the core curriculum, said Paula Haines, director of curriculum assessment and accreditation. Two faculty members from Quinsigamond Community College accompanied the team to see how the assessment worked.