Students show off scientific and artistic skills at this year's Undergraduate Research Fair & Exhibition
This year, Penn State Scranton combined a traditional research fair with a creative arts exhibition.
By: Josh McAuliffe
The Circle Drive-In Theatre in Dickson City has been a local institution for 70 years. Despite its devotion to preserving a classic piece of 20th century Americana, it still needs to keep up with the times in order to survive.
Its website, for instance, was recently in the market for a major upgrade. To get the job done, the Circle’s owners enlisted the services of a group of young, innovative minds from Penn State Scranton.
In the end, the Circle got a new, modern website, while the designers, campus Information Sciences and Technology (IST) students Todd Snee, Akash Patel, Ronny Patterson and Matt Walsh, got rewarded for their hard work at this year’s Penn State Scranton Undergraduate Research Fair and Exhibition.
The group took first place in the Technology category at the fair, which was held April 4 in The View Cafe. There, campus students from a variety of disciplines had the opportunity to showcase their scholarly work via glossy poster presentations that filled most of the space in The View.
Earlier in the evening, the fair kicked off in the Sherbine Lounge with the inaugural Art and Creative Exhibition, featuring fine art of various mediums, video installations, musical performances and creative writing readings. From there, attendees filtered into three SLC classrooms for the Oral Panel Presentations portion of the fair.
The posters and oral presentations were judged, while the artistic works were not. Entries, submitted as individual or group efforts, came from class projects, senior theses or research projects, independent studies, internship projects or creative projects in studio art, creative writing, music, photography or theater.
In his remarks at the event, fair organizer Dr. P. Douglas Sellers II, assistant professor of psychology, said the fair allows students the opportunity to go “above and beyond to not only engage with academic material in the classroom, but to participate in the formation and construction of informative, evocative, and thought-provoking academic scholarship.”
“I thought it was a fantastic event,” Sellers said. “It really showcased and highlighted the amazing work that students do throughout the year.”
For the Circle Drive-In project, Snee, Patel, Patterson and Walsh spent the winter months working closely with the business’ staff to design website through wix.com, a cloud-based web development platform that’s more aesthetically pleasing, user-friendly and content-driven than the previous version.
There’s also a new logo, and moviegoers can now purchase their tickets on the site, which the team put through rigorous usability tests on mobile and tablet platforms.
“They’d also like us to do an app eventually,” Walsh said.
Senior biology major Kyle Franceski took first place in the Health and Aging category for his poster examining the effects of exercise-based cardiac rehab versus standard care on cardiovascular mortality for American men and women.
Through an extensive literature review of timely journal articles, Franceski concluded that “participation in an exercise-based CR program was found to improve cardiovascular function and reduce cardiovascular mortality.”
“However,” he stressed, “future research is needed to examine the effects of exercise-based CR long-term.”
Maren Lindemuth, a junior nursing major, took second place for her poster in the Injury and Disease category, “Benefits of Pet Therapy in Alzheimer’s Patients.”
The inspiration for the project was her late grandfather, who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease during the last few years of his life.
His joyful response to a therapy dog visiting his hospital room spurred Lindemuth to action, and her research found that “animal-assisted therapy is one non-pharmacological intervention that has been shown effective in reducing behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia.”
“What I found is that it reduced symptoms of sadness, aggression and anger in Alzheimer’s patients,” Lindemuth said, noting additional research needs to be done on the subject.
During the Oral Presentations part of the fair, sophomore English major Julia Fessenden was among the standouts for her first place-winning research piece, “Beauty is Terror,” which looked at the similarities between F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” and modern-day author Donna Tartt’s “The Secret History.”
Through examining both texts, she was able to see that both books put “an emphasis on both beauty and illusion, which characters in both explore throughout the course of their respective novels.” Because of these similarities, Fessenden believes “The Secret History” was inspired in part by “Gatsby.”
“Understanding one in detail can help aid the understanding of the other,” she said.
Another presenter, sophomore Jacob Lidle, took an intriguing look at the highly influential studio experimentation of his favorite band, The Beatles. A good portion of his talk focused on the band’s revered producer, the late Sir George Martin.
Lidle was first turned on to the Beatles through, off all things, a juggling video on YouTube.
“It was a guy juggling to ‘Golden Slumbers’ from ‘Abbey Road,’” said Lidle, referencing the iconic Beatles album. “Eventually, my parents bought me ‘Abbey Road,’ and I just thought it was great. I thought, ‘I need to know more about these guys.’”
As a secondary education major, Lidle takes advantage of any opportunity to get up and speak in front of an audience.
“I think it’s awesome,” he said of the fair. “And getting to talk about the Beatles is just the cherry on top.”
Sellers said the event took several months of planning, but the end result was well worth the effort.
“Working with all the different offices, as well as the faculty and students, to coordinate everything, it really is a team effort across the campus,” he said. “I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out.”
2019 Undergraduate Research Fair & Exhibition Winners:
Category 1 (Health and Aging):
1st Place - Kyle Franceski
2nd Place - Casia Burley
Category 2 (Injury and Disease):
1st Place - Melanie McAndrew
2nd Place (tie) - Shannon Talarico & Maren Lindemuth
Category 3 (Prenatal and Pediatrics):
1st Place - Brittany Hebron
2nd Place - Brooke Tanana
Category 4 (Science):
1st Place - Nick Kremp
2nd Place - Cheyenne Tussel
Category 5 (Technology):
1st Place - Ronny Patterson, Matt Walsh, Todd Snee, Akash Patel
2nd Place - Dylan Webb, Jeff Panetti, Dorian Anderson, John Martin
Category 6 (Social Science and Liberal Arts):
1st Place - Stephanie Earle
2nd Place - Jim Tuttle
Category 7 (Oral Presentations):
1st Place - Julia Fessenden
2nd Place (tie) - Lauren Sciabbarrasi and Russell Filip
2019 University Libraries' Undergraduate Research Awards for Excellence in Information Literacy:
Newly added Art and Creative Exhibition gives annual research fair a bit more flair
This year’s Penn State Scranton Undergraduate Research Fair and Exhibition came with a bit more artistic flair than usual.
Recognizing a gap in the format, the fair’s planners added an entirely new element to the proceedings – the Art and Creative Exhibition.
Held in the Sherbine Lounge at the beginning of the fair, the non-judged event featured an array of fine art works in various mediums – sculpture, acrylics and oils on canvas, photography, etc. – as well as musical performances, video installations, and poetry and fiction readings.
Fair organizer P. Douglas Sellers II, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology, said the Art and Creative Exhibition came about when faculty and staff realized there was a genuine need for campus creatives to be able to showcase their talents in a public setting.
“It really started the event off with a bang and exceeded everyone’s expectations with the quality of the work presented,” he said. “There were these latent student abilities that needed to bubble up into this format and be presented. Adding this new format brings this well-rounded richness to the campus academically.”
Lecturer in art Corianne Thompson curated her students’ work for the event, while assistant teaching professor in music Sharon Toman used the exhibition as an opportunity to discuss and provide recorded samples of the campus’ three ensembles -- Chorale, Jazz Band and Roc[k]tet.
“What’s so great about Penn State Scranton is the abundance of talent we have here,” Toman said.
Kelley Wagers, Ph.D., associate professor of English, and Kara Stone, Ph.D., assistant teaching professor in English, coordinated their students’ performance pieces and oral presentations.
“I'm always blown away by the quality of research and creative work our students are doing when we give them a chance to show it off,” Wagers said. “For me, this year's addition of oral presentations and musical, visual, and verbal arts made the value of their interdisciplinary work especially clear. I'm certain that these new formats will help the event grow. It really demonstrates the benefits of linking research and creativity and bringing all kinds of inquiry to the table.”
At the event, sophomore Magdalene Kish read her poem, “Government and Alphabet,” which was inspired by the Adinkra symbols of the Akan people of the West African country of Ghana, where she was born. In the poem, God shows his whimsical side by spending a day at the beach.
In everyday Akan culture, the Adinkra symbols adorn clothing worn to funerals and weddings, and figure prominently on monuments and palaces. In the alphabet, the symbols play several roles.
“To the unschooled eye, they are merely elaborate works of art,” said Kish, an immunology and infectious disease major who also displayed a poster at the research fair. “To the scholar and teacher, they are teachings and philosophy, and lastly letters from which one is able to convey basic concepts and thought.”
Also at the exhibition, Jeremy Brown, Tiffany Dukauskas, Rachel Johnson, Morgan Collins and Kelly Sweeny presented their video, “The Pill,” a historical examination of the culture-shaking invention of birth control. The project was undertaken in their Small Group Communication course taught by James Hart, lecturer in communication arts & sciences.
Sophomore psychology major Caitlyn Powell displayed two sculptures at the exhibition. One featured a grouping of 12 congruent triangles cut from a single 20-by-30-inch sheet of foam board, hot glued together “in an arrangement to create balance and height.” For the other sculpture, she covered a plastic plant with googly eyes.
“We think of plants as not being alive, but then when you add eyes to them, it becomes something more humanoid,” said Powell, noting the sculpture carries a pro-environment stance in its subtext.
Thompson said she’s thrilled that her students now have a high-profile showcase for their creativity.
“It was really exciting, and a great opportunity for my students. I really wanted the exhibition to look good for them,” she said. “And to have the support of everyone on campus made all the difference. It was a real team effort.”