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Ahead of the Research Curve

News Story

Pace students go for the opportunities presented to them; an ethos that has recently been exemplified by outstanding achievement in undergraduate research. Read about three students, who with the support of faculty mentors, will be presenting at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research.

From  April 12–14, three students, with the support of faculty mentors, will be presenting original research at this year’s virtual National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR). An annual event held by the Council on Undergraduate Research, this national conference is dedicated to promoting and celebrating undergraduate research, scholarship, and creative activity.

It is a unique event due to its size and reach involving approximately 4,000 students from US and international colleges and universities and drawn from all disciplines. Since the first NCUR conference in 1987  that began with 400 participants, its growth reflects the significant expansion of undergraduate research as a best practice for student success in higher education. Pace has a distinguished forty-year tradition of providing faculty-mentored undergraduate research and creative inquiry; the opportunity for students to work closely with faculty advisors on research and artistic projects and even develop scholarly collaborations  has been more typically reserved for graduate students  in  many university environments.

The three Pace students attending NCUR were among twenty-five Summer 2020 Provost’s Student-Faculty Undergraduate Research Awardees, one of the signature programs of the Center for Undergraduate Research Experiences led by Assistant Provost for Research Maria Iacullo-Bird, PhD. With the support of this summer program these students developed and completed their projects under the guidance of their  faculty advisors and presented their final work at the Pace Fall 2020 Undergraduate Research Showcase.  Impressed by the excellence of the student projects, Iacullo-Bird encouraged this outstanding student research cohort to apply to present at external conferences, including NCUR.

Below, read how each project evolved, the impact of faculty-mentored  undergraduate research on student learning, and opportunities  for innovation and collaboration. 

Behavioral Economics, The Media, and COVID-19

When her summer internship plans fell through as a result of COVID-19, Isabelle Labianco '22 was able to rebound quickly. Instead of a summer in an office cubicle, Isabelle was accepted to the Provost’s Summer 2020 Student-Faculty  Undergraduate  Research Award Program, and spent the next several months researching the intersection between behavioral economics and media messaging; particularly, how they combined in rather unique fashion during the early months of the pandemic.

“I was talking with my dad, we had the news on while we were chatting. I remember listening to what was going on in the news, and seeing and remembering how people might use that information to make decisions,” said Isabelle. “I decided I wanted to look at how the news affected consumer behavior in the early months of the pandemic.”

Specifically, Isabelle looked at how the news media affected consumer behaviors at grocery stores. The results she found were quite interesting.

“What we found was that consumers who relied on the media as the main educational point throughout the pandemic were influenced in their consumer patterns at grocery stores,” said Isabelle. “For consumers who watched news outlets that were more left leaning, they demonstrated behaviors including stockpiling; mass purchasing of items at one time to sustain their need. On the other hand, we found more right leaning news consumers demonstrated the virus as less of a risk—we called that the 'status quo' bias.”

In addition to presenting at the National Conference of Undergraduate Research, Isabelle presented at the Eastern Economics Association Conference—an experience that both Isabelle and her faculty advisor, Dyson Economics Professor Joseph Morreale, PhD, highly valued.

“We have found over the years that it’s really important to have students do this kind of innovative research,” said Morreale. “In Isabelle’s case, she’s crossing two disciplines. Secondly, the experience going to a conference to deliver the paper gave her tremendous feedback—which she would not have necessarily gotten if she was just here. We’re hopeful that once it’s revised, we’ll try to get it published. We think it’s valuable enough to put forward.”


Health Data, and the Law

“I took Professor Magaldi’s Digital Media Law Class, it got into interesting territory—we really focused on how new media and the law meshes together—how new technologies are introduced, and how the law catches up or doesn’t catch up, and how you might interpret that,” said Lubin student Joseph Peterson ’22.

Peterson was thinking about these ideas at a time in which they were arguably more prevalent than ever. As the COVID-19 pandemic took hold of the world, the intersection between public health, safety, technological data, and the law became rather complicated. These questions prompted Peterson to formulate a research topic titled “Who Has Your Health Data, What Are They Doing with it, and What Can You Do About it?: Legal and Technological Issues Related to Contact Tracing of COVID-19 Infections.”

Thus, with the assistance of Lubin's Ivan Fox Professor and Scholar of Business Law Jessica Magaldi, JD, Peterson dove into the contract tracing process, and spent his summer working with Magaldi and conducting empirical research focusing on the intersection between the law and different contract tracing policies; interpreting laws, and doing a ton of reading to better understand the vital and contingent relationship between health information and personal privacy.

Through the Provost’s Undergraduate Student Faculty research award, Peterson, an Arts and Entertainment Management student, was able to fully immerse himself in a subject previously unfamiliar to him. The experience has really enabled him to reimagine what is possible for both his education, and his career going forward.

“I’ve never thought law was something I could understand. It’s really cool that I can. It shows that if you really focus and learn something, you do learn it,” he said.

Magaldi, who has worked with students in a research capacity for quite a long time, finds the current model of student-centered research espoused by the Office of the Provost and Center for Undergraduate  Research Experiences to be effective, rewarding, and a great way to empower student researchers.

“Joe did the work. I was a sounding board, but he was the driving force behind it,” said Magaldi. “My role is to support, assist, lift up—I was incredibly impressed with Joe’s work. He defined his research goals and determined where he was going with his project.”


Finding Their Voice

When Christine Suddeth ’21 enrolled in the Pace School of Performing Arts as a musical theatre student, she was in the midst of recovering from a voice injury—one that her voice teacher, PPA Professor Amanda Flynn, helped her recover from.

“I suffered a voice injury in high school and went through  a hard recovery process. When I came to Pace, Amanda helped me rehabilitate and get me back to where I was—and further,” said Christine.
Several years later, as she began to conduct her honors thesis, an opportunity came around for Christine to channel that experience for the better—Flynn had emailed a select group of students inviting them to apply to the Provost’s Undergraduate Student Faculty Research program. Sensing an opportunity to broaden her undergraduate experience, Christine immediately went for it—one email later, and Flynn and Christine started brainstorming potential topics.

I have a published paper in the Journal of Voice looking at vocal health in undergraduate performing arts training programs—looking at how we teach vocal health, is it effective, are students able to navigate through their performing careers—this survey study left a lot of questions,” said Flynn. “Christine got excited at looking at the student experience going through a very intense, fast-paced BFA program coming in injured. We crafted this survey study looking at the student experience—what was it actually like to be injured in school. Christine is also a psychology minor, so this was a nice tie-in.”

Flynn and Christine developed a thorough survey study, and with considerable effort to find an adequate sample size of individuals who fit into the research category, were able to analyze and synthesize the responses to the study. The duo hopes that their findings—which will be more widely displayed through presentations at both the NCUR and the Voice Foundation, and potentially a published paper—will be used to better educate voice teachers, universities, students, and faculty as to how to best manage a vocal injury.

“Doing this research opened my mind a bit more—as a performing arts major, you can get tunnel vision,” said Christine. “It was liberating in a way that I could expand my breadth of study.”
“I’m grateful that Pace has such an initiative to get undergraduate involved in research because I think it’s a really fulfilling experience,” said Flynn. “You learn a lot, and it opens people’s minds that there’s more out their than what they’ve been doing for the last four years.”

Learn more about undergraduate research opportunities at Pace by visiting the Center for Undergraduate Research Experiences website.