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Office of Engaged Learning Office of Engaged Learning – Research

Interview With Abigail Hays (SMU Lyle School of Engineering)

by Aya Bellaoui ’24

Abigail Hays is a senior in the Four-Plus-One program working toward a master’s in mechanical engineering with an emphasis on fluid and thermal sciences.

INITIATING THE PROJECT:

The project in which Hays partakes had already been set up by a master’s student and built upon when she became involved. Hays’ interest in adding her own twist to the project was sparked by her passion in the various scientific fields, and the associated concepts. She was eager to begin applying what she was learning in her classes!

MENTORS

One of Hays’ professors,  Dr. Paul Krueger, oversees the lab and the several experimental and confrontational-based projects it is composed of. Hays is involved in the fluid sciences project. Dr. Krueger’s experience in vortex formation allows him to help Hays review all of her data and steer her in the right direction.

Hays has also been working with post-doctoral researcher and adjunct professor, Dr. Matt Saari, who taught her how to code and run various equipment, two concepts she had not yet learned in school. In addition, Dr. Saari also taught Hays how to present her work in a group setting.

SUMMER RESEARCH INTENSIVE

 The Summer 2021 Research Institute allowed Hays to narrow her focus to her specific project. By immersing herself in the intensive workshops, she acquired skills she is not typically taught in school. For example, she learned how to present and write a research thesis, put together a research paper, and conduct research on previous research and then create a literature review over it.

Hays found the program to be insightful for her master’s degree because she could turn the acquired information into her master’s thesis.  Though it was more research-specific and not so much engineering-based, Hays was able to apply what she learned throughout the institute to her research project.

THE FLAPPING FIN PROJECT

Hays’ project consists of two parts:

Part 1

This past summer (2021), the team worked to get thrust in the small-scale proportion system in a lower Reynold’s number range, which is difficult to achieve because it has primarily been higher. They successfully obtained thrust and are now transitioning into the second part of the project.

Part 2

The team is currently working to narrow the ranges to two conditions and compare it to a fin with different surface boundary conditions. The varied conditions on the fin serve to decrease the friction with the water. The less friction there is, the less drag there is, and the less drag there is, the more thrust there will be.

TRIAL AND ERROR

In part one of their research, the team successfully obtained thrust in their data.  What this basically means is that they were able to see the artificial fin flap like that of a fish, while submerged under water.  In attempt to replicate how a fish moves, they observed some thrust. The challenge was that the team was operating at a lower range than Reynold’s number, which is the successful range for thrust to occur, as demonstrated by numerous previous research. Because water acts differently, it was difficult to figure out how to get thrust in a non-thrust condition.

Additionally, because of how time-demanding the experiment has been, equipment has worn down. For example, the team’s tunnel collapsed, thus spilling water everywhere and extending the damage to other equipment. The team also struggled to find glue that worked for the fin underwater because water’s properties do not favor those of glue. Furthermore, water’s characteristics, including its evaporative properties, made it difficult to maintain repetition.

CURRENT POINT IN THE PROJECT

Hays is currently collecting and analyzing data of two different systems: One fin with a lower friction boundary condition, and one without. The team is currently setting up the system and collecting data over vertices that were formed by the movement of the fin.

ADVICE FOR THOSE INTERESTED IN RESEARCH

If you are interested in research, do not be afraid to pursue it. People who are considering research often feel overwhelmed by the technical terms, but there are mentors and various resources available to guide you through it. If you complete a course and find that you loved it, pursue something in that area! Do not let that ambition go to waste.

Thank you, Abigail Hays!

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Office of Engaged Learning Office of Engaged Learning – Research

Interview With Regina Nguyen (SMU Lyle School of Engineering)

by Aya Bellaoui ’24

Regina Nguyen is a second year student majoring in Civil Engineering. She is involved in Asian Council, Gamma Phi Beta, and research!

During her first year of college, Nguyen was on the brink of leaving the engineering department and changing majors because she could not see herself doing the work she was learning about. After some discussion with her Intro to Civil Environmental Engineering professor, Dr. Smith-Colin, she proposed an incoming summer research opportunity. To Nguyen, this sounded much more different and interdisciplinary, so she decided to give it a try. During one of her class periods, Dr. Zarazaga gave a speech which further sparked Nguyen’s interest. She later reached out to Dr. Zarazaga and realized she works closely with Dr. Smith-Colin. In the end, both Dr. Smith-Colin and Dr. Zarazaga worked with Nguyen as her mentors throughout the research project.

THE MENTORS AND PARTNERSHIPS

Dr. Zarazaga and Dr. Smith-Colin provided Nguyen with the ideal independent structure that allowed her the freedom to work on her own but still feel supported. Because of their guidance, she knows the direction she is working toward and what deadlines she needs to meet. Nguyen finds the project to be fun and relaxed because her mentors give her the room to do what she needs to do when and wherever she needs to do it, but when she needs a helping hand, they are there for her.

Nguyen is also grateful to be working with graduate student Collin Yarbrough because he provided her with the necessary literature to review before beginning the project, and continues to give Nguyen oversight and assistance throughout her think sessions. She is grateful for the tools Yarbrough has given her throughout the research process.

Additionally, Nguyen collaborates with undergraduate student, Odran Fitzgerald, to share the project responsibilities. Both students have different fields of study but work on the same deliverables. After finding literature online and forming drafts, Fitzgerald and Nguyen provide each other feedback before handing it over to the mentors.

RESEARCH INSTITUTE

Nguyen partook in the 2021 Summer Research Intensive where she claims to have learned very valuable lessons. She enjoyed listening to weekly insightful workshops and learning about the various resources available on campus that she did not previously know of. She enjoyed having some structure in her research project and creating a three-minute thesis presentation which enabled her to lecture others about what she is passionate about. Nguyen got the opportunity to meet people and learn how to complete a literature review, which expanded her network and knowledge. Learning about other students’ work was an inspiring, educational experience for Nguyen. For example, learning about the various unique ways in which other students formatted their work allowed to her better format hers. Technical communication was another learning curve for her because analyzing how others explained and described things taught her how to rephrase things to make them easier to understand. Nguyen became confident in her presentation skills by the end of the research-intensive program.

THE PROJECT

Nguyen worked closely with a group in Garland, Texas to advocate for proper community cleanup. The team used CBPAR (Community-Based Participatory Action Research) to collaborate with all stakeholders and community members throughout their research. Any deliverable or product Nguyen makes (not physical deliverables, just outcome) is completely based on what the community wants fixed. Nguyen has been asking the community about their needs and applies it to her deliverable work.  She claims it is like consulting work, or a feedback loop. Nguyen first asks the community members about the situation and contamination. After the members’ responses, her role as a researcher is to then figure out how to help the citizens advocate for their specific community needs. She specifically utilizes CBPAR and Cleanup Garland to help communities communicate their concerns and risk. Her sub focus is to understand how community groups interact with these greater entities (the city for example) to see what gaps exist between them and determine how outside researchers confess interacting with these groups and make sure their needs are met. Nguyen stresses that infrastructure causes long-term and serious effects on daily life, so it is crucial that issues are resolved equitably and thoroughly.

OVERCOMING HURDLES

Nguyen initially had an idea for a deliverable that would be the final product, but over the summer she realized it would not be a feasible solution because Cleanup Garland does not have the access to the necessary tools. Despite the unexpected outcome, it ended up pathing a path for a better route for Cleanup Garland. Nguyen would not have come to this conclusion if not for the trial and error, and her consistent communication with Cleanup Garland.

RESOURCES  

Ms. Lydia Allen, the Writing Center Director, and Dr. Adam Neal, the Assistant Director of Research, served as spectacular resources for Nguyen. Ms. Allen provided her with an organized template to better format her research report and helped her put together a successful paper. Dr. Neal helped Nguyen put together a quality three-minute presentation.

PERSONAL LONG-TERM AND SHORT-TERM GOAL

Short-term, Nguyen hopes to continue helping Cleanup Garland resolve their challenges and barriers. She would also like to stay involved with research throughout school. Long term, she hopes her experiences will properly prepare her for the field of academia (post phD). She also wishes to do more community-based work in the future.

CURRENT POINT IN THE PROJECT AND THE ULTIMATE GOAL

Nguyen is currently in the prototyping stage of the project. One of their deliverables is a series of infographics for the community to distribute around each other so that everyone is more informed of the risks and how they can keep themselves safe. They are currently working on more of those infographics which they will then send out for feedback. They also have some mapping activities that they will be doing to consolidate all the community information and some of the sampling data from the past.

The team’s main goal is to help Cleanup Garland access resources that will enable them to continue advocating for themselves and making sure the citizens remain well-informed about the situation and how they can communicate to the rest of their community.

ADVICE FOR THOSE INTERESTED IN RESEARCH

Ask questions! Nguyen would not have gotten into research if she had not asked questions. It also enables you to be confident you are doing things correctly and are heading down the right path!

Thank you, Regina Nguyen!

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Office of Engaged Learning Office of Engaged Learning – Research

Interview With Maria Katsulos (SMU Dedman College of Humanites & Sciences)

by Aya Bellaoui ’24

Maria Katsulos

Maria Katsulos is a Senior from Plano, Texas. Katsulos is majoring in History and English (Creative Writing Specialization), and minoring in Art History, Classics, Women and Gender Studies, and French. Katsulos is Dr. Emma A. Wilson’s research assistant, a McNair Scholar, and a President’s Scholar!

Katsulos is a historian of gender and sexuality in the West, spanning ancient Rome to the Victorian era. She is also the editor-in-chief of Kairos, the creative and literary magazine at SMU.

THE PROCESS OF STARTING THE PROJECT

The project has been in the works since Katsulos’ sophomore year. She was introduced to it by Dr. Emma Wilson after she took her digital humanities class. The class taught Katsulos how one can use computer programs to understand literature in a way that deepens our understanding. In the digital humanities class, Katsulos took a play from a lesser-known author, transcribed his play, and formatted it so that the computer could comprehend the stage directions. She was very intrigued by the playwright, which sparked further interest in both the author’s craft and his network, thus leading to the start of the project.

THE MENTORS 

Katsulos has been working with both Emma Wilson and Jackie Lowrey throughout her project. Jackie’s role was to help Katsulos structure her research project, prepare her for the graduate school process, and connect her to various resources and scholarships. Dr. Wilson provides Katsulos with academic mentorship, edits her papers for publication, and helps her formulate research questions that have not yet been answered through certain perspectives.

THE RESEARCH INSTITUTE

Katsulos was the only English history major at the 2021 McNair Summer Research Institute. She had to translate an older version of English in a way that others would understand and embraced the opportunity to share information about her topic. She found a thrill in getting non-historians excited about history. As a future graduate student and beyond, she must learn to appropriately prepare for conferences by reading excerpts and creating PowerPoints for nonspecialists and others in her field. Furthermore, Katsulos aspires to teach someday, so lecturing and breaking down complicated concepts are also necessary skills for her to acquire. Katsulos found that the Research intensive allowed her to sharpen all these skills.

LEARNING CURVES

 Katsulos learned to be realistic about the amount of source material she needs to get through. While she is a fast reader – and loves to read – she still found her initial plan to be an overwhelming load. Roadblocks for her studies included hard-to-decipher fonts, unfamiliar historical and theatrical terminology, and time management challenges.

Katsulos also realized the importance of making connections with faculty members and students with similar interests but who bring different perspectives to her work. She feels that interdisciplinary learning is essential to academic growth, immersing ourselves in other perspectives, and broadening our knowledge.

THE PROJECT

Katsulos became interested in the Earl of Rochester after reviewing the various primary sources he wrote. Throughout Rochester’s time serving King Charles II, he wrote progressive, libertine-style poetry that sparked Katsulos’ interest in learning more about the Earl.

For her summer research project, Katsulos read several plays by playwright Nathaniel Lee. She analyzed these plays through lenses of gender and sexuality to see what she could learn about his networks of patronage. Katsulos used prosopography (the study of social networks and how people know each other) to investigate relationships between the playwright and his patrons (those who would pay him to write plays), and the relationship he had with his fellow playwrights (for instance, sometimes they would collaborate, and other times they would compete).

RESOURCES

 Katsulos used Early English Books Online and the Interlibrary loan system, used for acquiring books that SMU does not own. Katsulos enjoyed this endless supply of accessible books! The Research Institute was another useful resource because the structure forced Katsulos to meet program-specific deadlines.

LONG-TERM AND SHORT-TERM GOAL

 Short-term, Katsulos wishes to complete graduate school applications and her 50-page history senior thesis. Long-term, she aspires to become a successful professor and mentor much like her own mentor, Dr. Wilson.

CURRENT POINT IN THE PROJECT AND THE MAIN GOAL

Katsulos is currently seeking conferences to which she will submit her presentation ; these applications will be funded by Engaged Learning. This process involves selecting multiple conferences, submitting her presentation to them, and waiting for the decisions. Thus far, Katsulos has the American Theater Association and the South-Central Renaissance Conference in mind. Once (hopefully!) accepted, she will deliver the presentation, answer questions from the audience, and receive feedback from graduate students and professors in her field. Katsulos looks forward to expanding her network throughout this process, but her main goal is to educate as many people as possible and “get [her] foot in the door for academia.”

A PIECE OF ADVICE FOR STUDENTS INTERESTED IN RESEARCH

Pick a topic you are passionate about because there will be a lot of reading involved, and make sure it is something you will still be passionate about at the end.

Thank you, Maria!

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Office of Engaged Learning Office of Engaged Learning – Research

Interview with Dr. Andrew Davies (Dedman School of Law)

 

by Aya Bellaoui ’24

Dr. Davies is the Director of Research at the Deason Criminal Justice Reform Center in the Dedman School of Law. It was ultimately the creation of this Center that drew Dr. Davies to SMU. The university does not have a criminal justice department like other universities, but a gift from the Deason Foundation helped to establish the Center in 2016 to conduct innovative research and educational programs to address need for reforms in US criminal justice system. Davies’ background is in social science, not law, but his research prior to arriving at SMU was in regard to legal representation for accused people who cannot afford a lawyer.

Prior to working in Albany, Dr. Davies was a Research Associate at the New York State Defenders Association. He has received degrees from Oxford University (BA Modern history, 2002; MSc Criminology, 2004) and the University at Albany School of Criminal Justice (MA, 2006, PhD 2012). He has also received large national grants on access to counsel and quality legal representation from the National Institute of Justice, the Bureau of Justice Statistics, and the National Science Foundation.

The Deason Criminal Justice Reform Center had hired its Director, Pamela R. Metzger, who then hired Dr. Davies as Director of Research at the center. Professor Metzger states that “Dr. Davies is among the nation’s top criminal justice researchers. He is a pioneer in the growing field of multi-site, data-driven, and evidence-based indigent defense research. He brings with him the substantial experience of nearly a decade of work in the field.”

What previous research have you done and what have you found?

Much of Dr. Davies’ research is centered around indigent defense service. It is mostly regarding whether people have access to defense representation, and if the quality of that service is good or bad. To initiate the process of providing representation for supposed criminals, Dr. Davies wrote the article, “Gideon in the Desert,” which examined the difficulties facing defendants in rural Texas accessing indigent defense services. Access to counsel for criminal defendants is an ongoing challenge in rural localities, notwithstanding the mandates of Sixth Amendment jurisprudence. He and his co-author analyzed Texas as a 254-county study (every county in Texas organizes its own defense). They evaluated every county and identified the patterns. One finding revealed that in rural counties, significantly fewer defendants were using indigent defense resources; about 39% of those prosecuted for a misdemeanor in Texas urban counties received these resources, but only about 25% in rural counties would.

In addition to these statistics, they obtained data from various policy documents and 46 interviews with rural county officials. The biggest finding was that indigent defense resources are delivered in two ways: The assigned counsel system (a judge meets the defendant in court and picks the lawyer for them), and the more modern version which goes through the public defender’s office where all the lawyers perform criminal defense work for the poor. The latter is more professional and formal. In rural counties, it is significantly less likely for a defendant to get representation, but if a rural county has a public defenders office, indigent defendants were significantly more likely to be represented. That closed the gap with the urban counties. Rates of representation in rural counties could match that of urban counties if they incorporate public defenders offices.

What are your goals?

Dr. Davies and his research team will be reviewing the data and analyzing it to further flesh out and test their findings. Long term, they wish to prove the value of indigent defense representation in the state of Texas. The main concern is that there are financially unstable defendants being put through the judicial system without appropriate representation and are prosecuted unfairly. This can lead to serious, but avoidable, consequences. There may be people that plead guilty even though they are innocent simply because they are not represented. When you are charged for something and don’t have anyone to help you find evidence, you may give in to the deal/charge presented to you by law enforcement personnel. The number of people who agree to these deals, just so they can return home, is shockingly high. The alternative is an undetermined period spent in jail. This results in a criminal record which prevents one from being able to work at certain places and disqualifies you from various benefits.

Dr. Davies is hoping to make clear recommendations to Texas to support the creation of indigent defense resources across the state, particularly in rural areas where people are not receiving proper representation. As a large-scale approach, his team must figure out the financial angle—because if prisons hold fewer people, they have to make budget cuts which lead to worse living conditions in the prison, and even limit the necessities. Overall, the pitch is to improve defense services and guarantee more equitable justice.

What resources have you needed to further your work? Have those resources been accessible?

The team received a grant from the Texas Bar Foundation, which lasted one year and funded the collection of the data. They have only worked to collect all the data, but they have not yet analyzed it. That is this coming year’s objective.

Have you faced any challenges? What are you doing to overcome them?

Knowing how to approach this research was a challenge at first. They found it difficult to conceptualize what they’re looking at and how they were going to do it. Developing the pieces for that was also a demanding task. For example, they needed to know who they were going to interview, and what type of questions they needed to ask. The interviews ended up being a total of 400,000 words, which is difficult to get through. They struggled to summarize everything since interviews are unstructured. To boil it down, they used a software program called NVivo, which acts as color-varied highlighters on steroids. They were able to create a list of texts to highlight, which the software would then categorize. They successfully developed one single list and had all researchers categorize the text once again. They then used statistics to compare whether each research member is categorizing the data the same way.

Having a consistent system where multiple people are working on the data can be beneficial as the entire group could better come to an agreement and be on the same page. The struggle is getting a team with a massive load of unstructured information to come to a consensus interpretation of what the information means. Fortunately, Thematic Analysis assisted the team in consolidating the information. It is easy to conduct research so long as every team member performs it the same way.

Thank you, Dr. Davies!

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Office of Engaged Learning Office of Engaged Learning – Research President’s Scholars

Isabelle Galko: My experience at IUCN in France

Isabelle Galko at IUCN

by Isabelle Galko ’22

This month, I traveled to Marseille and presented at the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) World Conservation Congress, a global meeting that takes place once every four years and serves as an assembly of leaders and decision-makers from government, academia, society, indigenous cultures, and industry working towards conserving the environment.

My presentation for the forum at IUCN was titled “Preparing Families to be Act as Stewards to Combat Climate Change and Restore Ocean Health.” The presentation showcases three projects (including my own) designed to increase individual stewardship and mitigate climate change risks in local communities. I specifically focused on female leadership in conservation and using the featured projects as models for future youth-led community-based initiatives. I also worked with IUCN’s Commission on Education and Communication (CEC) over the 10 days at the conference. The commission’s current focus is an initiative called NatureForAll, which promotes equitable access to nature to cultivate love and appreciation for nature, with the goal to increase conservation of nature. When I arrived in Marseille, I set up the CEC’s “Youth Oasis,” where I connected with other young conservation leaders from around the world, helped put on interactive programs for the conference, and shared information about NatureForAll.

The first night, I saw French President Macron and the actor Harrison Ford speak at the Opening Ceremony. I attended sessions on many different topics, including the blue economy, environmental law, and amplifying indigenous voices in conservation, sat in on the member’s assembly, and heard from amazing experts, including the Prince of Monaco, the UN Special Envoy to the Ocean, and National Geographic explorers. I learned so much in Marseille, but my biggest takeaway from IUCN is that future approaches to address environmental challenges must be transgenerational, intersectional, and inclusive. Ultimately, conservation must be re-centered around people.

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Office of Engaged Learning Office of Engaged Learning – Research Student Academic Engagement & Success

Interview with Dr. Andita Das (SMU Chemistry)

by Aya Bellaoui ’24Anindita Das

This summer we talked with a few of the faculty who hired students to be part of the Office of Engaged Learning’s Summer Research Intensive. Dr. Anindita Das is a new assistant professor in the department of chemistry at SMU who is working with 3 post-doctoral fellows, 2 graduate students and 8 undergraduate students to create renewable energy and deliver drugs using atomically precise nanomaterials. Dr. Das and her students have been working on these highly interdisciplinary projects in collaboration with various other research groups at SMU including the Lippert Lab.

Dr. Das attended Osmania University 2004-2007 for her Bachelor of Science, the University of Prune 2007-2009 for her Master of Science, Carnegie Mellon University for her PhD in 2010-2015, and Northwestern University for her post-doc in 2016-2020. She is an expert in biocompatible nanomaterials synthesis, materials chemistry, nanoparticle characterization techniques, inorganic chemistry, and catalysis.

What led you to conduct your current research?

The field of nanotechnology is making itself present in many kinds of scientific research areas. Dr. Das learned about the field when she moved to the United States ten years ago. For her PhD at Carnegie Mellon University, she got to know about the exciting field of designing materials at the nano scale and then and using this to address challenges in a variety of fields such as, renewable energy and drug delivery. That was the beginning of Dr. Das’ journey.

A major limitation in the field of nanotechnology pertains to the inherent structural inhomogeneity associated with conventional nanoparticles which precludes an atomic-level understanding of their structure-property relationships (e.g., exact catalytic and biological mechanisms). During her PhD, Dr. Das developed strategies to make nanomaterials with atomic precision and molecular purity in order to understand catalytic mechanisms at the atomic level.

What challenges have you encountered throughout your research and how have you worked to overcome those challenges?

Dr. Das says that there is always more to learn. For example, in Organic Chemistry I and II, they do not usually teach you about nanoparticles and how to address issues pertaining to renewable energy or drug delivery. There are techniques you are taught in chemistry courses that you may never use in research, and there are techniques that you will learn about throughout your research which will not be taught in school. So you have to learn throughout the process and adjust. It is all about applying what you learn in school to real-world problems.

What are you currently researching and why? What is the essential question that motivated you to conduct it?

There are different projects within the lab being conducted by different people. The main goal of lab is to circumvent some of the current challenges in the field by developing multifunctional atomically precise nanomaterials to answer critical questions in areas like catalysis, energy storage, targeted drug delivery and sensing, wherein efficiency and reproducibility heavily rely on materials that can be synthesized without batch-to-batch variations.

For example, we are currently collaborating with the Lippert group to develop novel nanoclusters which are capable of exhibiting chemiluminescence, which can help detect diseases at earlier stages. Another important criteria for using nanomaterials for bio-applications is that the probes need to be biocompatible. For instance, the FDA requires that all the drugs and probes that are used to diagnose diseases to be cleared out of your body after its action is done. Hence, our group is focusing on developing nanomaterials which are less than 2 nanometers in size so that these can be cleared from the kidneys after their intended use.

We are also involved in several other projects, such as making new kinds of catalysts based on metal nanoclusters for sustainable reactions including electroreduction of carbon dioxide (which is the main reason for global warming). In this regard, we have synthesized and characterized several new metal clusters with different surface structures and are currently evaluating their catalytic performance.

What resources have you needed to further your work? Have those resources been accessible?

We use the library to try to track down articles that aren’t easily available through other sources. It has also allowed us access to thousands of articles on nanoparticles. Also, in order to accurately study the properties of these interesting materials which lie at the interface of small molecules and solid-phase materials, these need to be analyzed by several techniques such as X-ray diffraction, NMR, FTIR, fluorescence microscopy, etc. Given the highly diverse research groups at SMU, these resources have been easy to access which has allowed our new group to establish various collaborations with the neighboring research labs.

What one piece of advice would you give someone who is interested and conducting an experiment or research project?

Do not be afraid to reach out to professors conducting research in areas you are interested in getting involved with. Take your chances.

Thank you, Dr. Das!