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Undergrads Present Research at PA Capitol

Pictured (left to right) at the Capitol: WCU faculty Susan Gans, student
Katy DeLong, faculty Eleanor Shevlin, student Kerri O'Brien, faculty Rachel
Joseph (blue scarf), student Erin Yentz, and faculty John Kennedy

Three WCU seniors showcased their research to legislators in Harrisburg on March 3 at the annual poster session Undergraduate Research at the Capitol (URC-PA).

The event has two goals: To demonstrate to key decision-makers that undergraduate research is important to students' educational development; and to show that undergraduates can produce valuable research results that help communities, the state and the nation. Participants and their faculty mentors were able to meet with legislators during their visit to discuss their research and to meet students from other schools.

Susan Gans, professor and advisor to psychology major KatyDeLong, noted that legislators did visit and talk with students. "We all agreed that our participation was important, and that the special attention given to our students was a boost for them and for our University."

DeLong (Reading, Pa.) is investigating "Equine-Assisted Therapy: The Power to Modulate Stress" with Gans, assistant chair of the department. A volunteer at Thorncroft Equestrian Center, DeLong said she enjoyed sharing with legislators "how important research is at the undergraduate level, and how my experience with research and this conference is preparing me for my future career goals as a scholar."

DeLong is examining the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in equine-assisted therapy clients and a non-riding control group. Anecdotal evidence suggests this therapy is effective, but a physiological correlation has not yet been directly examined.

Gans said DeLong has a solid foundation in research, having assisted "three faculty members on their independent research projects. She also wrote her own application to the Institutional Review Board and wrote for and received funding from the College of Arts and Sciences Student Research award, collected all of the data, and is now setting up the immunoassay laboratory."

The other two students are also determined researchers. Nursing major Kerri O'Brien (Bucks County) is conducting a study of health literacy among WCU's undergraduate population under the supervision of Rachel A. Joseph, assistant professor of nursing.

O'Brien hopes her results "will help educators focus on preparing students, particularly students in health-related majors. The results from the study may draw the attention of students and faculty from other colleges and universities to this topic of national importance. College students preparing for careers in the healthcare field and as individuals managing their own health should be adequately prepared to help families seeking assistance and make better decisions."

Erin Yentz is creating biographies of authors, inventors, educators and other cultural figures with ties to Pennsylvania for a state-supported academic/public humanities crossover project, the Pennsylvania Literary and Cultural Heritage Map, a project of the Pennsylvania Center for the Book. Her advisor, English professor Eleanor Shevlin, reports that Yentz's biography of Peter Krok, a living poet, journal editor and director of the Manayunk-Roxborough Art Center, was published in the fall. "That the entry was accepted virtually as submitted — with only one small request for a date — attests to her skills as both a thorough researcher and writer."

The English and Honors College (B.S. Ed.) student from Springfield (Delaware County) is now researching contemporary author and book reviewer Helen W. Mallon.

John J. Kennedy, WCU associate professor of political science, was guest speaker for the event. For 20 years, he has researched what drives the Pennsylvaniaelectorate while comparing state and national voting trends, and has written and revised his book Pennsylvania Elections. He serves on the executive board of the Pennsylvania Political Science Association and is a charter member of the Pennsylvania Policy Forum. He is also director of the department's legislative fellows program and internship director within the department.