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Mentored Research Projects

Click on each faculty name to read more about their research!  

Dr. Jennifer Bailey

Dr. Jennifer Bailey (Biomedical Engineering) implements hands-on activities that incorporate Design Thinking and Spatial Visualization (SV) skills into the Biomedical Engineering freshmen curriculum because they represent important skills for engineers and all STEM students.  Since chirality is especially relevant in chemistry and biology and related to SV skills, a collaboration is forming between Chemical Engineering and Biomedical Engineering.  Opportunities in Dr. Bailey's project include developing activities (ex. paper folding, 3D printing, magnetiles) and assessment materials (ex. interview protocol, surveys, quizzes) to measure the impact of introducing these skills early into the engineering curriculum as well as analyzing previously collected data and planning future data collection.  Please see here and here for examples of previous student work.

Dr. Scott Franklin

Dr. Franklin has recently engaged in a variety of qualitative and quantitative projects that defy easy categorization.  He recently has collaborated with Dr. Tony Wong in the School of Mathematical Sciences on novel, non-linear metrics for measuring student retention.  These include generating "Markov chains", essentially transition matrices from one year (or course) to another.  While the concept is reasonably straightforward, applying the method to small populations requires careful conditioning of data.  One recent result found that students in STEM courses that were assisted by Learning Assistants (undergraduate students trained in facilitating small-group discussions) - regardless of what course was taken - were 8% more likely to graduate.

Another recent project was qualitative, analyzing student interviews to identify tensions between students' desire to be good (study a discipline they were strong in) and to do good (enter a career with societal benefits).  Students framed the choice to go to graduate school as fundamentally sequential: first they would go learn a subject and then they would move onto a career that was satisfying.  This sequencing is artificial; there are many opportunities to do good while in school, and the absence of visibility of this concurrency may be one factor in students leaving physics and other STEM graduate schools.

Dr. Franklin is also very interested in how student individual identities, including gender, race, LGBTQ+ status, and others, give rise to different experiences within physics and STEM environments.  This extends beyond the classroom, and recent research has looked at differential perceptions of undergraduate research experiences, exploring understanding of what faculty can do to promote inclusive, respectful environments in both the classroom and research lab.

Dr. Kelly Martin

Theories and research methods of visual communication are particularly valuable for students as they engage with the world around them through making, doing, creating, and articulating arguments in visual form.  Dr. Martin plans to review information from a wide range of scholarly backgrounds and expertise, especially STEM and communication, to create a text that would introduce students to complex concepts of visual communication through various pedagogical activities.  Topics may range from the impact of visuals on learning, the benefits of different types of modeling in STEM courses, improving crititical thinking skills by engaging in visual argument, analysis of museums using a visual vocuabulary, shaping social issues through mediated activism, exploring the unseen ways that sight affects society, crafting infographics that explain complicated concepts to a lay audience, and using media samples to illustrate a non-verbal concept.

Deaf and hard-of-hearing (D&HH) students are often asked to make public presentations in STEM courses that have a presentation component.  Inevitably, the expectations for the deaf students and their experiences in the course are different for those of hearing students.  Although instructors make efforts to accommodate D&HH students, there are very few existing resources to help give instructors a full understanding of the nuances, complexities, and impact of introducing variables such as ASL, captioning, interpreters, etc. into communication situations that are traditionally oral.  Dr. Martin seeks to continue interviews with D&HH students and hearing students, interpreters, NTID librarians, and instructors to uncover emotions, assumptions, and preferences of D&HH students and faculty as well as best practices for evaluation and feedback.

Dr. Dina Newman

Genetics is a difficult subject for students since the mechanisms are only indirectly observable, and we must rely on abstract or simplistic visual representations to build mental models of complex processes. Dr. Newman’s interests lie in uncovering how experts and novices differ in their conceptions, as well as how to more effectively lead learners to expert-like thinking. For example, we hypothesize that students who focus on process rather than outcome have more expert-like reasoning abilities and therefore have a higher success rate in more advanced courses. To study this question, we are examining course artifacts and interview data. We are also interested in developing new activities that promote thinking about process, such as this one that a former REU student helped design (https://iubmb.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/bmb.21583). Other questions include whether certain terms (e.g., gene expression), promote retrieval of inappropriate information, and thereby hinder learning. This project continues work done by former REU participants (https://www.lifescied.org/doi/full/10.1187/cbe.21-01-0004). A third line of inquiry, also inspired by a prior REU student, involves understanding how biology classes can address issues of racism by teaching students explicitly about genetic diversity in human populations along with the fallacies of racial classifications.

Dr. Tony Wong

Dr. Wong's reserarch focuses on how data and models can be used to better understand the structure and dynamics of student progress through college academic programs.  These kinds of projects in education data analytics might include, for example, using large longitudinal student grade data sets to compare student retention and persisitence based on the pathways students take though their lower-division coursework.  This also often includes looking at cross-sections of different underrepresented groups in higher education, such as first-generation college students, women in science, or underrepresented minority groups.  Dr. Wong's research centers around how data can yield insights into how to enhance retention and graduation rates among these underrepresented groups, as well as students in general.

Broadly speaking, Dr. Wong has found that students who are interested in tackling research projects with him are well-served by having taken an introductory probability and statistics course and some experience with a programming language (for example, MATLAB, Julia, Python or R).  This gives rise to another ongoing project that examines students' development of Computational Literacy (joint work with Dr. Ben Zwickl).  Computational Literacy describes how we interact with computational media and think algorithmically to solve problems and communicate with one another.  Dr. Wong's work in Computational Literacy involves analyzing assignments and interviewing students and faculty to answer questions like: What are important elements of Computational Literacy for different scientific disciplines?  And: How do different types of course assignments facilitate students' development of different components of Computational Literacy?  To read more about Dr. Wong's ongoing work, please visit his RIT website here, or his personal page here.

Dr. Kate Wright

The field of Molecular Biology seeks to uncover and understand the underlying mechanisms that govern gene expression, cellular communication and the flow of genetic information. Since concepts and processes of Molecular Biology are not directly observable, experts and learners must rely on visual representations (e.g. graphs, illustrations, diagrams) to communicate, explore and test ideas in this domain.  Dr Wright is interested in how individuals choose to represent their knowledge of molecular biology phenomena through drawings of there own (see here) and whether learners are able to find meaningful connections between multiple visual representations of the same phenomena.

Using a new framework that describes DNA-based representations on metrics of scale and abstraction, the research group is developing a novel assessment tool to help explain student thinking in Molecular Biology and foster the creation of novel research-backed activities to improve student learning.  Dr. Wright also plans to use this framework to explore student ideas and learning challenges in Genomics, a field that lies at the intersection of molecular biology, genetics and bioinformatics.  Interviews with experts and analyses of teaching resources will be used to articulate "big ideas" in Genomics Education and to position Genomics Education within the wider community of Biology Education Research.

To read about other work from the lab please click here and here.

Dr. Ben Zwickl

An emphasis on STEM education has surged within formal and informal education at all levels. Although many reasons exist for this trend, it is the link between STEM, economic development, and job creation that has received the broadest support at both local and national levels. However, there is a dearth of research examining the connection between STEM education and professional success. Dr. Ben Zwickl’s research benefits students, employers, and communities by addressing aspects that gap through several projects. Dr. Zwickl’s group is developing an assessment tool for physics majors’ career decision-making. The survey will uncover how students develop and pursue interests in different methods (theoretical, computational, and experimental), sub-fields (e.g., optics, astrophysics), and post-BS career paths (e.g., graduate school, job). The survey development involves qualitative interviews as well as statistical analyses and will help identify the positive and negative influences on students’ decisions. A second project is examining the mathematical practices used by theoretical physicists. The goal is to identify practices that may not be explicitly taught in the classroom, but which are relevant for using mathematics to solve real-world problems. A third project is studying learning in undergraduate research, graduate research, and project-based courses. By conducting these studies, Dr Zwickl hopes to reveal factors that are often hidden, but are important for successful outcomes for students. Learning is viewed through a social-cultural perspective that not only includes disciplinary knowledge, but also ways of thinking, science and engineering practices, social interactions, communities, and cultures within lab groups, departments, and disciplines.  To read more about Dr. Zwickl’s work please click on the publications below.

Hands-on Lab Skills Key for Quantum Jobs

Preparing for the quantum revolution: What is the role of higher education?

Characterizing mathematical problem solving in physics-related workplaces using epistemic games

Typical physics Ph.D. admissions criteria limit access to underrepresented groups but fail to predict doctoral completion

On being a physics major: student perceptions of physics difficulties, rewards, and motivations