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Washington State University
CAS Connect Summer 2015

Innovative student–faculty teams get funding, results

  • Two original music compositions with health and environmental messages
  • New insights about the effects of stress on unborn children
  • Improved tools to advance public education with cultural understanding
  • Hands-on training to detect mental illness

These and other innovative projects by CAS undergraduates and their faculty mentors are making significant positive impacts across the Pacific Northwest and beyond.

With financial support from the college’s Undergraduate Innovators Grant program, students in a variety of majors have been applying their classroom knowledge and gaining new skills while working on important, real-world challenges.

Last fall, the program helped launch more than a dozen student-led, faculty-mentored projects aimed at answering big questions in arts and sciences.

“Our undergraduate innovators and their faculty mentors produced substantial research and creative work this year,” said Paul Whitney, CAS senior associate dean for research and graduate education and professor of psychology.

“Their projects are providing new scientific knowledge and artistic and cultural works while developing leadership, creativity, and communication skills that the students will use regardless of their ultimate professions.”

In November, the college awarded a $5,000 grant to each of four CAS units to promote relevant research and creative activity by student–faculty teams collaborating in innovative ways.

A request for new project applications will be announced early in the fall semester.

Greg Yasinitsky and music students in the WSU Recording Studio
Greg Yasinitsky, center, works with music students Andrew Dodge and Brandon Nelson in the WSU Recording Studio as they prepare to record Dodge’s original jazz composition.
Wide variety of projects considered

To qualify for funding, proposed projects must be student-led with faculty mentorship, and designed to provide insights that address a local, regional, or global challenge. A means to evaluate the project’s success also is required.

The Undergraduate Innovators program allows great latitude in the scope and type of projects considered for funding, Whitney said. Projects may be interdisciplinary in nature or driven by the tools of a particular discipline. Additional external support can be pursued to expand or continue projects beyond the initial grant year.

Projects funded by the program in AY 2014-15 include development of two new jazz compositions by students in the School of Music, mentored by Greg Yasinitsky, director and Regents professor. Guitarist Andrew Dodge and pianist Brandon Nelson each wrote an original composition, which they performed and recorded in WSU’s state-of-the-art Recording Studio.

The new musical works were designed to be “‘message pieces,’ with the goal of increasing awareness of health and environmental issues at WSU, in the community and region, and around the world,” Yasinitsky said. The grant supporting their development also enabled a small but necessary equipment upgrade to the University’s professional recording studio.

In the School of Biological Sciences, five undergraduate researchers are working with a faculty team led by Patrick Carter, associate professor, to investigate how plants and animals respond or adapt to extreme environments. Their projects range from an evaluation of lichens as a natural indicator of atmospheric nitrogen deposition, mentored by Professor Dave Evans, to studies into the effects of maternal stress on offspring behavior, mentored by Assistant Professor Erica Crespi.

The projects aim to train a new generation of scientists to understand and predict the impacts of global climate change.

Museum of Anthropology student researchers
Shannon Tushingham, right, and Nez Perce tribal consultant Josiah Pinkham, third from right, talk with anthropology and environmental sciences students about their work developing exhibits for the WSU Museum of Anthropology.

In an interdisciplinary project mentored by Shannon Tushingham, assistant director of the Museum of Anthropology, five anthropology and environmental studies students gained first-hand collaborative experience in cultural research and museum exhibit development through three projects focused on fish, water, and people of the Northwest.

The students practiced collaborative community-based methods as they interacted with Nez Perce tribal consultants, participated in informal conversations, and conducted interviews and research for current and future museum exhibits.

And an ongoing project in psychology, led by Professor John Hinson and Associate Professor Lisa Fournier, will train students in the use of specialized technology to address basic questions in cognitive neuroscience and to develop clinically relevant studies to advance diagnosis and understanding of posttraumatic stress, dissociative identity, and panic disorders.