Students Share Research with LMU Community

Every year, high-achieving students from all majors share results from faculty-guided research with the LMU community at the Undergraduate Research Symposium. Below are descriptions of 10 selected student research projects from the Seventh Annual Undergraduate Research Symposium, which took place on Saturday, March 21, 2015.

Cheyenne Weinstein ’16, Psychology, Philosophy
“Do Coping Strategies Mediate the Relationship between Subjective Well-Being and Positive Affect?”

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Cheyenne Weinstein, a junior psychology major, has a profound interest in the concept of positive aging. For her project, entitled “Do Coping Strategies Mediate the Relationship between Subjective Well-Being and Positive Affect?,” Weinstein wanted to see how people are able to age in a “positive light,” and she went about analyzing data to see how subjective well being (or the combination of life happiness and overall satisfaction) were affected by positive reinterpretation—or basically learning from new challenges that come about in life. “[These people] try to learn from a situation and grow,” says Weinstein about those individuals who utilized positive reinterpretation in their lives. Weinstein, who worked with her mentor Nora Murphy, enjoyed the opportunity to delve into a complicated research topic—in fact, the symposium served as an opportunity for Weinstein to prove to herself that she’s fully capable of handling heavy-duty research. “For me I gained the confidence in myself that I can do research and I can present it all in way that’s well done,” she says.

Catherine Perl ’16, History, Theology
“Inside and Outside of Empire: Imperial Conflict in England, Northern Ireland, and Morocco”

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Junior history major Catherine Perl partnered with her fellow students Dean Messinger and Patrick Scheuring to examine how scholars approach the coverage of particular historical events. For the project, entitled “Inside and Outside of Empire: Imperial Conflict in England, Northern Ireland, and Morocco,” Perl examined events in Northern Ireland during the 1920s from a different historical angle, in order to revaluate the entire narrative from a fresh, modern perspective—namely, while scholars tend to think of conflicts in that region as stemming from religious and sectarian concepts, Perl research points out that the conflicts may have stemmed from political and colonial issues. She points out that previous scholars may overlook certain details, and their narratives may be influenced by outside thinking. Perl enjoyed working with her partners and her mentor, Amy Woodson-Boulton, and she notes that her research deeply influenced her way of thinking about past historical events and narratives. “It makes me question how not only how I think about things,” she says, “and whether I’m reading something the way that the dominant narrative has written it or whether I need to give it a more critical approach and see what powers are behind the writings.”

Mark Ciafullo ’15, Marketing, Economics
“Trends of Q-Scores for Celebrities and Athletes”

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“If everyone loves them, that’s an opportunity for growth,” says Mark Ciafullo, senior marketing and economics double major. His project, entitled “Trends of Q-Scores for Celebrities and Athletes,” focused on celebrity scandals. Under the guidance of his mentor, Robert Windsor, Ciafullo researched “Q-score” data, which is a measurement that basically assesses both the appeal and the popularity of a celebrity (or brand). “I wanted to see how Q-scores are affected when celebrities have a scandal,” he says. After studying Q-score data for several celebrities who’ve experienced scandals in the past, Ciafullo noted that while a scandal might improve an actor’s familiarity, it could also derail their likability. “One scandal can wreck a show—no one will watch it if the celebrity is infamous instead of popular,” says Ciafullo, noting that the Q-score is a powerful marketing tool, which can sum up just how valuable a celebrity really is from a marketing perspective. Ciafullo, who wants to go to law school, has relished the research process, and he notes that he practiced his presentation well into the early morning before the symposium, just to make sure he got everything right. “I was really thrilled. I was practicing until 3 A.M. last night,” he says.

Narek Mkrtoumian ’15, Urban Studies
“Did LA miss the bus?”

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Narek Mkrtoumian, senior urban studies major, thinks that Los Angeles isn’t looking at the issue of public transportation in the right light. Under the mentorship of Brianne Gilbert, Mkrtoumian researched current public transportation projects in Los Angeles, such as the light rail project that will extend from downtown L.A. to downtown Santa Monica. He pointed out that while new rail line projects are important, areas where bus ridership is high—in other words, areas where people already rely heavily on public transportation—aren’t receiving the attention and future development plans that they probably should. Mkrtoumian, who wants to be a city planner, wants to make transportation a primary part of his future career. “My focus is on bringing greater equity into public transit,” he says, adding that one day, he’d like to work on expanding bikeways in L.A. too. For Mkrtoumian, he notes that the symposium allowed him to explore a subject matter that he’s interested in, but hadn’t had the chance to truly research until now. “The symposium has given me a chance to show that there are people who are disadvantaged that could use these services,” he says.

Sara Cohen ’16, Sociology, Women Studies
“Poverty and Obesity: The Risk of Health for Affordability”

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Sara Cohen, junior sociology and women studies major, sought out to study the prevalence of obesity in low-income communities in Los Angeles for her project, “Poverty and Obesity: The Risk of Health for Affordability.” Under the mentorship of Stella Oh, Cohen studied research regarding income, diet and general health in low-income neighborhoods in L.A., and she noted that in these particular areas, it was harder to find supermarkets that offered healthy food items. These regions were also considered to be “food swamps,” or basically areas that were oversaturated with fast food restaurants that specifically offered foods that were high in fat, sugar and salt. She noted that in areas of L.A. that had higher incomes, like West L.A., there were more government resources available for promoting both health education and physical activity—these sorts of resources typically aren’t available in low-income neighborhoods. “I love research, and I wanted to look at how policy can be used to promote a healthier social alternative,” says Cohen, who believes that with the right data and research, obesity rates and unhealthy lifestyles can be improved in Los Angeles.

Nicholas Lepore ’15, English, History
“Modern Discourse: The Loss of Lingua Franca”

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For Nicholas Lepore, a senior English major, the symposium profoundly influenced his overall approach concerning both storytelling and writing. For his project, he presented a short story that focused on “the state of human communication, interpersonal relationships and political dialogue” and analyzed how we, as human beings, communicate with one another. The story also serves as an opportunity for Lepore to examine contemporary communication, and if we, as a society, are losing our abilities to share ideas effectively with one another. When he was composing his presentation, entitled “Modern Discourse: The Loss of Lingua Franca,” for the symposium, Lepore had to work with his mentor, Chuck Rosenthal, to fully comprehend how literature and storytelling could fit into the category of research. “[Storytelling] is, in many ways, a true form of research,” says Lepore, adding that in order for readers to understand the protagonist’s struggle with not being able to communicate with those around him, he had to research contemporary language and interpersonal communication. He also notes that working on the story helped him to grow as a writer. “It influenced the way that I approach storytelling, especially for a piece of this length,” he says.

Ashley Rodriguez ’15, Political Science, Spanish
“A Comparative Analysis of U.S. & U.K. Campaign Systems: Requisites & Relative Success”

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Ashley Rodriguez, a senior political science and Spanish major, has always had an interest in the campaign systems of different countries. That’s why for her research project, entitled “A Comparative Analysis of the US and UK Campaign Systems: Requisites and Relative Success,” Rodriguez worked with her mentor, Michael Genovese, to analyze how or if the length of a political campaign has a direct impact on the quality of a nation’s elected leaders. She researched and compared data on both US presidents and UK prime ministers after World War II, and Rodriguez also examined those previous leaders’ overall political experiences and relative successes while in office. Her hypothesis, which she notes that her researched proved, was “that the longer the campaign period, the less likely to produce a more successful leader.” For Rodriguez, she notes that delving into a complicated research topic of her own interest will definitely help with her post-graduate studies. “I think having the experience of doing in-depth research will lend itself to law school, because we’ll have to get into the deeper meaning of cases and constitutional law,” she says.

David Hawryluk ’15, Political Science
“School Discipline Reform: PBIS Analysis”

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School discipline reform is of great interest to David Hawryluk. For his research symposium project, entitled “School Discipline Reform: PBIS Analysis,” Hawryluk chose to assess “school discipline reform in order to see how these reforms affected behavioral and academic outcomes and rates across schools in California.” Guided by his mentor, Lance Blakesley, Hawryluk examined three discipline reforms designed to limit violence, drug-use or general disruptive behavior: a zero tolerance reform, restorative justice and a support system called “school-wide positive behavior support” (SWPBS). Hawryluk hypothesized that schools that utilized a positive support system were able to help lower suspension rates and boost academic performance, while zero tolerance had noticeably negative effects on student’s behaviors and academic performances. The senior political science major notes that, because of this project, he developed a passion for the research aspect of education. “I’ve been interested in doing a lot of work with students, hands-on work,” he says, “but then doing this research was very intriguing in a completely different way than I expected—[it] made me more interested in that aspect of education.”

Beth McGowan ’16, Dance, Psychology
“Effects of Attractiveness on Perceived Credibility”

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A junior double major in psychology and dance, Beth McGowan worked with fellow student Natalie Weaver on their project “Effects of Attractiveness on Perceived Credibility” to examine the effects of attractiveness on people’s perceptions, especially concerning trustworthiness. Under the mentorship of Judith Foy, McGowan wanted to test to see if a person’s attractiveness would directly influence their ability to be an eyewitness in a trial—in other words would a jury deem an eyewitness to be more credible simply because they were attractive? “Attractive faces are general more symmetrical,” says McGowan, who presented images of “eyewitnesses” to participants as part of the research. Some of the images were altered slightly to give certain witnesses a more symmetrical look. “It’s so subtle, which is interesting when people saw differences.” The duo ended up discovering that an individual’s attractiveness, along with their credibility, is also influenced by the overall attractiveness of the people around them. McGowan adds that she was surprised by how much attractiveness plays a role in people’s biases—which also influenced her thoughts on justice in this nation. “With the way our prison and judicial systems are, making sure it’s fair as possible is so important, especially with these little biases that we don’t even realize are happening,” she says.

Bennett Williams ’16, Economics, Dance
“The Change of Loyalty Programs and Their Effect on Airline Competition”

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“As an economics major, it’s important to be able to analyze a market,” says Bennett Williams, junior economics and dance double major. Together with Mark Barrett, the two students focused their symposium project—titled “The Change of Loyalty Programs and Their Effect on Airline Competition”—on examining the financial consequences of popular airlines restructuring the rewards for their frequent flyer programs (FFP). They analyzed these recent FFP changes in order to better determine how or if they affect a flyer’s loyalty to specific programs and overall choices—in other words, they’re aiming to see how these changes affect the market and the various airlines too. Being someone with a passion for economics, Williams relished the opportunity to explore the ins-and-outs of a real world market. “Being able to understand the market and customer retention is key,” says Williams. Lastly, Williams worked with his mentor, Dorothea Herreiner, to refine this project, which he notes was valuable, since it offered him the opportunity receive direct feedback on a project that he was deeply invested in. “Being able to collaborate with my mentor was valuable,” says Williams.