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Emerging Scholars Projects

Emerging Scholars Projects 2020-2021

The Effects of Inequality and Cultural Identity on Institutions within a Public Goods Dilemma Experiment.
David Kingsley and Aaron Smith Walter
Departments: Economics and Political Science
Riley Coviello, Economics
Cameron Keyes, Sociology

When behavior consistent with self-interest conflicts with group welfare, markets often fail, and society may benefit from institutions designed to induce cooperation. The institutions that develop to solve such conflicts are complex and varied and may range from informal, decentralized, enforcement of social norms to formal, centralized, enforcement of laws. Fortunately, similar incentives can be recreated in the lab using workhorse social dilemma experiments, and institutional structures can be placed upon groups to study behavior within a given institution. Institutions alter how individuals within groups interact by creating expectations of behavior and mechanisms by which certain behaviors can be reinforced. Cultural Theory (CT) suggests that people differ in how they expect to interact with institutions or how they think institutions should work. This research will pre-screen participants to measure their cultural view. We will then design various institutions to determine the extent to which one’s cultural view determines their behavior within and their interaction with institutional constraints. Results will help to explain why institutional characteristics vary so greatly across cultures and even within countries.

Our Emerging Scholar will be exposed to the foundational literature in both Cultural Theory and Behavioral Economics, especially as applied to public policy issues. The selected student(s) will also learn how to design and run economic experiments, recruit research participants, and clean and analyze the raw data. It is also anticipated that the student will contribute to the creation and presentation of research at appropriate conferences. This is a great project for students with an interest in issues of inequality, decision-making, and behavioral economic theory.

The Evolution and Devolution of Academic Freedom Around the World
J Angulo and Jenifer Whitten-Woodring
Departments: Education and Political Science
Connor Stack, History & Sociology
Kunthyliza Leng, Political Science and Peace & Conflict Studies

Academic Freedom—which we conceptualize as the freedom to learn and the freedom to study and engage in research as well as the freedom to teach and share findings from research—is under threat around the world. Threats today include government attempts to regulate the internet and delete “fake news” and other information deemed dangerous by government officials, the limiting or denying of funding for certain research areas, attempts by religious groups against the teaching of the theory of evolution, and efforts everywhere to rewrite history to minimize inconvenient truths. But really, these threats are not new. Political, religious and economic elites have long sought to limit academic freedom. For this study we develop a novel dataset that measures the level of academic freedom for all available countries from 1948 to 2020. In addition to the dataset, we provide a qualitative narrative of how academic freedom has changed over the years in each country. Finally, we plan to conduct a quantitative analysis of the correlates of academic freedom.

The Emerging Scholar would join our team to conduct historical research and serve as the primary coder for the project. The Emerging Scholar will also help to write country reports on the evolution and devolution of academic freedom. We plan to present the results of our work at the International Studies Association’s 2021 Annual Convention in Las Vegas, and would welcome the Emerging Scholar participation at this conference. Ideally, the Emerging Scholar for this project will be detail oriented with strong writing skills and some course work in research methods. Once the dataset is complete, there will be opportunity for the Emerging Scholar (depending on skills and interests) to assist with the quantitative analysis of the correlates of academic freedom. This project requires a willingness to learn how to use statistical software and some previous exposure to quantitative research methods.

Fostering Writers at UMass Lowell
Ann Dean
Department: English 
Student: Caitlyn Brown, Psychology

Do all students grow and develop as writers during their undergraduate years at UML? Are students challenged enough and supported enough in their first year and as they develop further with their majors? Do some groups of students change more than others during their time here? Do the policies, bureaucratic structures, teaching styles and curriculum of the University support or hinder growth for all types of writers? This project’s goal is to begin investigating the set of questions above by gathering and organizing information about how students move into and out of first-year writing at UMass Lowell. Specifically, we will ask about placement methods, achievement, long-term outcomes. Information will be gathered by evaluating assessment data and course policies and conducting focus groups. Information that summarizes student and faculty work across all our sections, and across the undergraduate years, will inform the way we structure our courses in the future. Outside UMass Lowell, scholars in the field of writing studies are asking questions about placement, success, and outcomes as well. The consequences of particular policies (such as plagiarism and grading) for particular demographic groups is also the subject of lively debate in the field and our results will add to that conversation.

The Emerging Scholar will participate in conducting focus groups with upper-level students. They will also help with analyzing and evaluating quantitative and qualitative data in relation to the questions above, using SIS, Excel, and Access. Together, we will review materials from faculty related to course policies on plagiarism, lateness, and grading. We will present at one conference during the academic year, and work on a published paper with the option of co-authorship.

The EcoSonic Playground Project (ESPP)
Elissa Johnson Green
Department: Music
Student: Michael Silveira, Music Studies

Three pressing issues facing the global learning community are equal access to quality arts education, adequate support for STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) education, and the fostering of sustainable practices. The EcoSonic Playground Project (ESPP) is a creative, interdisciplinary project that addresses these challenges. It centers on children designing and building large-scale musical instrument structures using PVC pipe and recycled materials found in their local communities. Children follow a design curriculum that guides the making process while allowing them to practice social-cognitive and STEAM skills. This curriculum includes music, visual arts, physics and acoustics, engineering practices, and design thinking. It also supports creative, collaborative, and cross-disciplinary learning. After the instruments are built, we provide educators with a musicianship curriculum that teaches musical skills through improvisation, conducting, and composition. In essence, the ESPP structures are playable sound sculptures that are adaptable to any learning environment and to diverse learning styles. Recognizing that each learning environment is unique and complex, all aspects of the curriculum, including the materials, are tailored to each program.

The Emerging Scholar will train in and perform various aspects of mixed methods research, including data collection. They will participate in data analysis, including video and audio coding, synthesis, thematic classification, and patterning. Other responsibilities include contributing to literature review, contributing to articles that will be submitted to peer-reviewed journals, aiding in writing and submitting grant applications, and contributing to research conference submissions with possibility for co-presenting. I am looking for a student with strong organizational skills, an open-minded approach to learning, a tendency toward divergent thinking, consistency and reliability in work habits, and good listening skills.

Narratives of Return in Francophone African Literatures
Kristen Stern
Department: World Languages and Cultures
Student: Maxwell Aaronson, Political Science

In literary studies today, and specifically in French, much emphasis is placed on narratives of migration, usually focusing on the arrival and adaptation of the immigrant in the new country. Much less studied are the many narratives of return to the home country, and the difficult questions of belonging and identity that arise in the places and social situations that were once familiar. After years or decades of exile, these authors, filmmakers, and illustrators all ask us the question, “Can you go home again?” This research project builds on this theme asking: How do francophone writers of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, particularly those from sub-Saharan Africa, express these experiences of return in different forms and genres, including novel, poetry, film, and graphic novel? What similarities and differences can be found in the ways authors represent the return to the home country? How does bringing the stories of returns help scholars and the general public better understand current public discourse around migration, in the French speaking world and elsewhere?

The Emerging Scholar will assist with laying the groundwork for my second book project, tentatively titled Narratives of Return in Francophone African Literatures. The student partner will need to have basic research skills in a humanities discipline, excellent written communication skills in English, and proficiency in French. Tasks assigned to the Emerging Scholar will include composing bibliographies on subjects related to the main research questions, reading and taking notes on scholarly articles and books, annotating bibliographies, writing regular summaries of significant findings, and regular meetings with faculty member to discuss progress of research. There are possibilities of collaboration with the faculty member on conference presentations or developing articles for publication from our findings.

Industrial Organization of Rebel Groups and Rebel Group Behavior
Minnie Minhyug Joo
Department: Political Science
Student: Madhava Narasimhadevara, Economics and Political Science

In the recent decades, the world has seen a surge in the number of civil conflicts. Civil conflicts are violent conflicts fought between governments and non-state-actors, namely rebelgroups such as the ISIS in Syria, FARC in Colombia and the ETA in Spain. While the earlystudies on civil conflicts have often `black-boxed' rebel groups to be more or less similar toone another, recent studies have revealed that there is considerable variation in how rebelgroups are organized and how they behave when confronting their respective governments.

This project is aimed at expanding our understanding of the variation in the industrial organization of rebel groups and their behaviors in a systematic manner using quantitative analysis. Currently, a series of papers are being prepared under this project and the Emerging Scholar will be involved in one aspect of this larger project. More specifically, the student will be involved in the part of the project that examines how the presence of violent 3rd-party actors that fight on behalf of the government influence rebel group behavior during civil conflicts. Are rebel groups more likely to use violent tactics when confronted by these violent 3rd party groups? Or will they provide more public goods to their supporters or negotiate with the government? These are some of the questions that will be addressed. The student partner will assist the faculty in various stages of the production of the academic paper(s). These stages include conducting an initial research of the topic, writing a literature review, collecting original data, gathering existing data, cleaning datasets, running statistical models, reporting results, gathering references and editing manuscripts.

Mocking, Minimizing, or Malice: A Content Analysis of Reddit User Comments
Ryan Shields and Kelly Socia
Department: Criminology and Justice Studies
About Cases of Sexual Abuse
Student: Lauren Prestia, Sociology

The proposed project is a qualitative content analysis of public user comments on Reddit, a popular news aggregation and discussion platform. We are interested in examining how Reddit users respond to news articles about teenage minors sexually assaulted by young adults. Particularly, we are interested in exploring comments relating to perpetrators in a leadership role (eg. student/ teacher sexual relationships) and whether responses to these stories are patterned by gender of the victim/offender dyad. Our main research question is whether Reddit user comments on cases of sexual assault differ based on the gender of the individuals involved (i.e., male-on-female; male-on-male; etc.). Our hypothesis is that user comments will be the most dismissive or supportive of sexual abuse incidents occurring between teenage male victims and young adult female perpetrators, and comments to be the most negative towards sexual abuse incidents involving male perpetrators, regardless of the sex of the victim. Our data will include all Reddit user comments posted on news stories about teenage minors (age 13-17) sexually assaulted by young adults (age 18-29) in a leadership position, published from January 1st, 2009 through December 31st, 2019. Analysis will involve qualitatively coding the articles and user comments using a general inductive approach, based in a grounded theory perspective. In addition to this, we will also employ a coding scheme that includes sensitizing concepts, based on prior research findings regarding public perceptions of sexual abuse.

The Emerging Scholar will explore Reddit to identify relevant news stories, document user comments, and manage a spreadsheet/database. Skills required include familiarity with Reddit or similar forum-based websites, the ability to read and track large amounts of textual information, attention to detail, and ability to clearly documents steps taken. The Emerging Scholar will also assist in the study’s qualitative methods, including development of the codebook, coding user comments, and analysis. Finally, the Emerging Scholar can expect to contribute to drafting a manuscript (and be a coauthor) that will detail the study’s main findings.

Influence of Upper Classmen on Freshmen Team Dynamics in an Engineering 
Yanfen Li
Department: Biomedical Engineering
Design Course
Student: Angie Moussa, Psychology

The goal of this project is to understand how freshmen teams interact with each other when going through an engineering design course for the first time, and whether the introduction of upper classmen “Project Managers” will have any potential influence on the freshmen’s professional development and team dynamics. In particular, we are interested in the freshmen’s perceptions on engineering, conflict management and resolution, self-confidence, self-efficacy, and mental health. We are also especially interested in determining whether these influences differ depending on students’ gender identity and ethnicity.

Possible tasks for an Emerging Scholar include interviewing past and current students in the course, and observing teams of freshmen during their meetings, noting communication and disagreements. The Emerging Scholar will create and conduct surveys and analyze the data. They will also be asked to assist with writing abstracts and papers. We anticipate that the Emerging Scholar will be a co-author on a conference paper at the American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference to be held in Long Beach California June 27-30, 2021. If time allows, the student may also conduct similar work (creating and conducting surveys and interviews) in association with SLICE to understand the influence of service-learning on the career outcomes of UML alumni.

Transcription and Analysis of Jazz Improvisation
Garrett Michaelsen
Department: Music
Student: Daniel Miller, Music Studies

One of the biggest issues facing the study of jazz improvisation is that only a small number of solo improvisations have been transcribed into musical notation. This severely limits our understanding of what musicians do during their improvisations and how their improvisational practice has changed over time. Fortunately, new methods of analyzing a repertoire of music have emerged in recent years. For this project, we will develop and examine important and unanswered research questions, focusing on the improvisations within a single jazz standard. Specifically, we will examine the ways musicians have approached this same structure over time by analyzing accurate preexisting transcriptions of improvisations from online and print sources as well as our own transcriptions of as many other versions as possible. The approach will involve various methods of computational analysis. Ultimately, we hope to gain a better understanding of how jazz improvisation has changed over its history.

The Emerging Scholar best suited to this project will be a proficient jazz improviser, have highly developed ears, and have experience with music notation software. The student will help collect existing transcriptions and recordings of improvisations, notate and transcribe improvisations, and help craft and answer research questions from our dataset. Work on this project will vastly expand the student’s knowledge of improvisational styles over time, as well as increase aural skills.

The Science of Proverbs:  Parenting for Peace or Discord  
Yahayra Michel
Department:  Criminology and Justice Studies
Student: Debby Fernand, Psychology and Sociology

Proverbs are brief sayings or phrases that are passed down from generation to generation and are often perceived as truth based on common sense and/or experience.  As a function of our environment, we can do one of two things:  passively learn and adopt the attitudes and behaviors of our parents or actively decide do things differently.  But what does the empirical evidence say about effective parenting practices? This project will focus on exploring the science of proverbs as it pertains to conflict resolution and violent socialization within the context of the family. 

Using the International Parenting Study, this project will make cross-national comparisons based on the reports of more than 10,000 students attending 31 universities in 15 nations.  We will look at parenting practices, styles, and perceptions associated with dysfunctional family dynamics, violence approval and criminal behavior.  We will then compare this to the parenting practices associated with relational restoration, family-based loyalty, and socio-emotional competence.  

The Emerging Scholar will work, in collaboration with the project manager, through all parts of the research process:  from updating and revising the literature review to conducting data analysis and disseminating research findings.  Familiarity with SPSS is preferred.

Past Emerging Scholar Projects

To learn more about what the students have done, view their mid-year presentations.

These articles document past Emerging Scholar Projects in action!

The Emerging Scholars Program is administered by the Center for Women & Work, and funded by the Office of the Financial Aid and the College of Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences.