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Although the College is a teaching institution, its emphasis on engaged learning across departments encourages students to inquire, research, reflect, and think critically about their subjects.
Florida Southern’s Department of Biology was one of a select number of schools invited to participate in the Tiny Earth Network, a program that endeavors to discover new antibiotics needed to combat the growing problem of infections resistant to long-used antibiotics. FSC biology students cultivated bacteria from soil samples and noted which ones showed potential for producing compounds that would kill other bacteria.
A conversation between FSC Assistant Professor of Biology Brittany Gasper, who was overseeing the Tiny Earth Network research, and Assistant Professor of Chemistry Deborah Bromfield Lee prompted Dr. Lee to take the research to the next level. Why not try to isolate and identify the compounds that have antibacterial properties?
Dr. Lee is a specialist in organic chemistry, the branch that works on complex carbon-based compounds found in life forms, and she recruited students Lauren Harris and Suzanne Wilson to assist her in the research project. The task has not been simple or easy. The different compounds, known as metabolites, produced by the bacteria, first had to be purified.
“Purification takes a lot of effort and thought. Identification takes even more,” said Dr. Lee. “It’s like a jigsaw puzzle where the picture is fuzzy.”
Wilson, a junior biochemistry and molecular biology major, worked on the project last summer. She spent most of that time just figuring out what purification protocols to use. Finally the procedure produced small samples of pink-colored liquid suspension that still showed antibacterial activity. But what was it?
Wilson and Lee have faced several problems trying to identify the compound. First, the gas chromatograph used to analyze the liquid requires a minimum amount of the sample, and the purification procedures sometimes did not yield enough.
“We have to try different methods and instruments and figure it out as we go along,” Dr. Lee said.
Another problem is that the samples decompose, especially if exposed to light, as Wilson discovered to her chagrin.
“The compound is generally pink, but it turns red or orange after exposure. I left some samples out in the lab one day and the next they were all orange,” she said.
Wilson and Dr. Lee have not yet been able to identify the chemical structure of the compound. The project is still ongoing, but Dr. Lee thinks that the compound belongs to a class of metabolites known as prodigiosins, which have been used in antifungal, immunosuppressant, and antibacterial agents.
“It’s a very wide range of compounds. Our samples show the same response to ultraviolet light but with a different pattern,” she said.
For Wilson, it’s an opportunity to conduct research in her field of choice.
“I really wanted to do something related to biochemistry, and this has been a challenging project,” she said.
Small businesses traditionally have been at a disadvantage in marketing their products or services, lacking the money and personnel to mount massive ad campaigns like big corporations. Social media has been a powerful equalizer, with its do-it-yourself capacity to inexpensively produce marketing campaigns that can target large numbers of potential customers or clients.
Students of Assistant Professor of Marketing Jennifer Dapko wondered how effectively small businesses are taking advantage of social media as a marketing tool. With Dr. Dapko’s guidance, they applied for and received a grant from the Faculty Professional Interest Committee at FSC to conduct a summer research project.
Four undergraduate students—Sarah Kahn, Matthew Lalli, Breanna Wilson, and Sam Parsons—plus MBA student Nicholas Palmerton carried out two studies and a portion of a third. In a sign of how the digital world has made long-distance collaboration possible, Lalli conducted his portion of the research from his home out of state and communicated with the rest of the team via Skype.
“The project focused on best practices on Facebook,” Dapko explained. “We looked into what businesses should do on Facebook to increase their engagement with their customers. The students had to design the study, administer the surveys, and analyze the data.”
The students examined literature from academics and practitioners to identify best Facebook marketing practices, then investigated consumers’ expectations about the information they want to see on a business’s Facebook page as a measure of attracting new customers and retaining existing ones.
The students documented more than 1,000 practices businesses should or should not do and categorized them. The study showed that businesses make best use of Facebook as a marketing tool when they post photos, ask customers questions, and include a variety of content, links, and sales incentives to keep them interested.
Breanna Wilson, who used a research tool in the Roux Library to help track down existing literature, said she learned that research is not just an academic exercise.
“A lot of people are interested in the results of research projects like these. Many people in the course of the study asked what kind of patterns we uncovered and what kind of impact this could have on how they were using social media,” she said. “The impact of the findings are more far-reaching that just what we learned here at FSC.”
The lessons of history are often gleaned from times of crisis, and that was the case for two students of Assistant Professor of History Erika Vause. Analyzing commodities in two very different places—salt in Northwest England and citrus in Central Florida—yielded insights about the nature of capitalism and human behavior.
Dr. Vause teaches a course on capitalism and commodities in world history, and she requires her students to pursue independent research on a related topic.
Junior history major Michael Davidson’s interest was peaked by problems in the salt mining region of Cheshire County, England, in the late 1800s. Over-mining of salt caused cave-ins, resulting in destruction of homes and businesses. An act of Parliament compensated the miners.
“That fueled the salt union, and its power grew. What started as a family-owned business became a monopoly,” Davidson said.
Davidson had to find archive websites containing primary documents of the time and books that explained the effects of Parliament’s act.
“Being able to turn the research into a valid argument and a paper increased my research and writing skills,” said Davidson, who is planning to attend graduate school at George Washington University.
Junior history major Michael Leake found a topic closer to home—the freeze of 1895 that had a disastrous effect on the burgeoning Florida citrus industry.
“Something that so many people relied on was wiped out. I found it fascinating because it represented such a dramatic reversal of fortune,” he said.
Leake primarily used newspaper accounts of the freeze and found secondary sources of the number of oranges picked and sold. He concluded that natural disasters aren’t the end of aspirations.
“In the agriculture industry, even if the worst happens, if there is a spark of hope, people will try to rekindle the fire,” said Leake, who is considering attending law school.
The papers Davidson and Leake wrote on their respective topics were accepted for presentation at the Richard Robinson Business History Conference at Portland (Ore.) State College in April.
“It’s important for undergraduates to have these opportunities to present their research. They had strong arguments and use of primary sources, but they also explored the intersection between business and the environment,” Dr. Vause said. “This demonstrates the humanities have real-world implications.”
Four political science majors from Florida Southern College presented research projects at the annual meeting of the International Studies Association-South. The meeting, which was held in Orlando, Florida, attracts scholars of international politics from around the country; attendees share their research on topics including U.S. foreign policy, terrorism, international economics, and Middle East politics. Our majors were part of a select number of undergraduates who had papers accepted for presentation at the event.
Reymond Munson ‘20 presented a research paper titled, “Friend or Foe: Should the U.S. Reduce Economic Aid to Pakistan?” In his presentation, he detailed the historical relationship between the two countries, before considering whether or not the U.S. should continue its current level of aid to that government. Rey concluded that although Pakistan is not always a reliable ally, the U.S. has important security interests in the region, and needs Pakistan’s support.
Cheyenne Caswell ‘20 presented a research paper she is working on this semester in my U.S. Foreign and Security Policy class. In the paper, titled, “Dishonorable Conduct: Combating Sexual Assault in the U.S. Military,” she addresses the problem of sexual assault in the military, and its impact on morale and recruiting. During her presentation, Cheyenne considered various policy options the U.S. could implement to deal with this serious issue.
Carly Chetham ‘19 presented a paper titled “Terrorism and Counterinsurgencies.” Last semester, along with three other students, she completed this paper as a final project in the class Conflict in War. During her presentation at the conference, Carly addressed several major national security challenges faced by the U.S., including the ongoing war in Afghanistan and the rise of “lone wolf” terrorism. At the conclusion of her talk, Carly outlined multiple policy recommendations the U.S. could use to successfully combat these threats.
Bradley Denault ’17 also presented a paper written last year in the class History of the Middle East. In his presentation, Bradley examined the legacy of Egyptian president Gamal Nasser, who held office from 1956-1970. His paper examined how subsequent Egyptian leaders have tried to emulate Nasser’s governing style, and Bradley also considered the future of politics in Egypt, in the wake of the country’s 2011 revolution.
Some research projects, even if they’re conducted in an objective fashion, have a personal meaning for the researcher. So it is with junior psychology student Kelsey Bacharz. When Kelsey’s mother, a single parent, developed cancer, Kelsey became her emotional caregiver.
“My mom and I are very close. She relied on friends for her physical care, but she confided in me for emotional support and about her treatments,” Kelsey said.
At a seminar about how cancer patients experience post-traumatic stress disorder, she asked about PTSD in caregivers and was told that no studies had been done on caregivers in her age group. Under the guidance of Associate Professor of Psychology Leilani Goodmon-Riley, Kelsey resolved to conduct her own research.
“I have a couple of friends who have gone through the same thing. They all had the same feeling, of being different from their peers,” she said.
In the first phase of her project, Kelsey looked at prior research and found studies about the psychological effects of illness on children and on parents and adults. She then conducted a series of surveys using standard, validated scales to gather information on social supports and levels of financial security. She surveyed a pool of participants in the Department of Psychology and then a second, online survey and compiled the results.
“I found that if you’ve been a caregiver, you’re more at risk for PTSD and depression,” Kelsey said. “Also, you feel a lot less secure financially, and you’re anxious about that.”
Dr. Goodmon-Riley said Kelsey’s findings support those of previous studies.
“The goal is to find out what factors insulate young caregivers from developing stress and depression. Are they more resilient? Is there an environmental factor that can alleviate stress?” she said.
Kelsey wrote a paper on her project and presented it at two conferences in the spring, the meetings of the American Psychosocial Oncology Society in San Diego, Calif., and the Southeastern Psychological Research Association in New Orleans. She was one of two students to win an award in San Diego and was selected to give an oral presentation in New Orleans, which is rare for an undergraduate.
Although her mother survived cancer, and Kelsey is planning to pursue a Ph.D. in clinical health psychology, she is left with a haunting question about young caregivers like herself who weren’t so fortunate.
“What about people who had to drop out of college?” she said.
For Assistant Professor of Psychology Leilani Goodmon-Riley, Ph.D., conducting research projects with her students is a reciprocal arrangement. She receives academic credit for being a principal investigator, and the students receive valuable experience. “They gain research skills and the opportunity to present at conferences, which allows them to network with others and sometimes to receive offers from graduate schools,” she says.
Some of Goodmon-Riley’s students recently participated in a research project in collaboration with the Department of Education. Along with students Raven Leverett, Amanda Royer, Gracia Hilliard, and Lauren Dill, Goodmon-Riley, Dean of the School of Education Tracey Tedder, and Instructor of Education Lori Rakes conducted experiments with students at The Roberts Academy, FSC’s school for gifted children in grades 1–6 with dyslexia. The sensory modulation experiment tested whether the behavior of students with attention deficit problems would improve if they sat on large rubber fitness balls instead of chairs.
The project took more than a year and employed the necessary controls to eliminate other factors. The result?
“We found the students’ behavior was much better when they were sitting on the fitness balls. They were more likely to stay on task,” Goodmon-Riley says.
The results were replicated in a second classroom setting, and Goodmon-Riley and her students presented the results of the experiment at the annual meeting of the Eastern Educational Research Association. They also published a paper about the experiment in the Journal of Research in Education.
“It was a very, very fruitful collaboration,” Goodmon-Riley says.
Two of her students have gone on the graduate school, and one is now a certified applied behavioral analyst.
In every field of study, our students and professors are working together to make the world a better place.
Through our partnership with the Tiny Earth Network our students are able to conduct relevant research during their freshman year.
Interested in learning more about engaged learning at Florida Southern College? Join us at one of our special events or a daily tour; request to sit in on a class or meet a professor to get a first-hand look at applied learning in the classroom.