Student Researchers to Present Big iDeas at Fall Symposium

Dallas-SMU.jpg At the Big iDeas Symposium November 12, students will update their progress on research projects aimed at improving the quality of life in Dallas. Their presentations, which are open to the campus community, begin at 2:30 p.m. in the Hughes-Trigg Student Center Forum.

Big iDeas was launched by the Provost’s Office in 2008 to support undergraduate researchers in addressing key Dallas issues. The program awarded grants this year to 11 interdisciplinary teams who are investigating problems including energy, immigration and education. The deadline for new student proposals is January 28, 2011.

“Dallas, like every major city, faces complex challenges that require insights from many disciplines,” says SMU Provost Paul Ludden. “Through Big iDeas, student researchers from across campus are working together to find innovative solutions.”

Featured below are three of the 11 teams that will be reporting on their projects at the symposium.


Preventing teen pregnancy

BigiDeas-K.jpg At the Dallas Hispanic Youth Symposium at SMU in June, Kappa Delta Chi sorority members presented a high-energy skit, “Becoming a Successful Latina Queen,” to more than 100 high school girls. Their skit focused on careers and healthy relationships, and included a panel of accomplished community leaders and college graduates.

“We want to offer Latina girls role models and mentors,” says Maillil Acosta, the sorority’s president and a senior majoring in political science, with minors in human rights and Spanish. “By presenting alternatives, we hope we can get to the root of the very big problem of teen pregnancy. More than half of Latinas become pregnant by age 20.” (In photo, from left: seniors Bailey Alvarez and Maillil Acosta.)

Acosta’s team invited the high school girls to return to campus this fall for a workshop featuring community experts on sex education and relationships. The SMU students also plan to survey and maintain mentoring relationships with the girls.

“When we visit our hometowns, we’re astonished to see so many of our old classmates and friends with babies, but no husbands or college plans,” Acosta says. “We’re all responsible for trying to fix these problems.”

Health Literacy Dallas

BigiDeas-health.jpg Another Big iDeas team is investigating health literacy, or the ability of patients to understand and correctly use medical information. Led by junior Matthew Gayer, the 12 undergraduates hope their research will benefit patients’ health while lowering health care costs and raising awareness.

“Low health literacy affects 90 million Americans, rich and poor,” says Gayer, a President’s Scholar and public policy, economics and political science major from St. Louis. Gayer said he learned about the impact of low health literacy on patients’ chronic illnesses and emergency room visits while serving a summer internship with the Jefferson County Health Department in Missouri.

The team, which received a Big iDeas planning grant in 2009 and a full grant for 2010, has gained nonprofit status for its organization, Health Literacy Dallas. As part of the project, team members have surveyed nearly 100 health care providers at Doctors Hospital of Dallas and learned that most experienced providers say communication issues affect patient health. Gayer said the students are expanding their survey to Parkland Hospital and plan to work with providers to develop literacy training programs.

The students also have teamed up with a North Texas literacy organization to provide books on children’s health to young parents. In addition, Gayer has participated in state conferences on health literacy in San Antonio and Austin.

Tale of One City

BigiDeas-Tale.jpg Seniors Rebecca Quinn and Drew Konow hope to inspire communication among different ethnic and socioeconomic groups in Dallas high schools with their Big iDeas project. They’ve launched a literary magazine and website called “Tale of One City,” which will feature high school students’ writing and artwork about their Dallas experiences.

The team was inspired after examining Dallas’ decades-long struggle to desegregate its schools, which still have significant inequalities and divisions, says Quinn, a President’s Scholar majoring in Spanish, French and art history. Konow is a religious studies and foreign languages and literature major, with a human rights minor. “There is no interaction – not even a conscious knowledge of other groups, whether it’s the richer or the poorer group,” Quinn says.

Quinn and Konow have reached out to high schools and will judge submissions with the help of SMU faculty and students. They plan to award a $500 college scholarship to a first-place winner and host a coffeehouse discussion for all participants.

“We really believe in the power of literature and the arts, and in giving people a forum to express themselves,” Quinn says. “If one kid becomes friends with another kid, that would be exactly what we hoped for.”

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