Students Showcase Range of Work at Research Days 2016

More than 500 students across disciplines exhibited original research projects.

research days
Chris Evans presents his work on electability to Dean of Student Affairs Peter Konwerski at Research Days 2016. (William Atkins/GW Today)
April 04, 2016

By Ruth Steinhardt and C.J.Trent-Gurbuz

George Washington University student Chris Evans has been interested in campaign politics since high school. But Mr. Evans, who votes in Washington State, said his curiosity about electability was particularly piqued when he scanned his absentee ballot.

“I know who I want to vote for for senator and representative,” he explained. “But when I get down to judge, city council, I don’t know those names. I haven’t seen the yard signs, I don’t get the mailers, I don’t get the election guide. Sure, I can Google them, but ultimately I’m casting a vote on people I don’t know.

“What makes one person jump out? I thought maybe there were heuristic stereotypes that might be guiding voters.”

Mr. Evans, a senior in the School of Media and Public Affairs whose two fields of study are political communications and sociology, decided to find out if his suspicions were correct. He set up an online survey in which all respondents were shown an identical candidate profile—with just one difference. For each respondent, the profile either provided no personal details or was randomly assigned one of four photos and names: a black man, a black woman, a white woman and a white man. Respondents then rated the candidate on categories like fitness for office and ability to handle crime, education or budget issues.

He found what commentators have long posited: when the candidate statement was attached to a white man’s name and photo, respondents as a whole were significantly more likely to consider “him” fit for office. And although survey responses varied across demographics, overall they gave the lowest “fitness for office” rating when the photo and name belonged to a black woman.

“It’s horrifying, right?” Mr. Evans said.

He presented his findings last Tuesday as part of Research Days 2016, the annual two-day celebration of student research at GW. Research Days, an initiative of the Office of the Vice President for Research, received more than 500 poster submissions this year—a record in the event’s 21-year history. Posters are awarded prizes by category. Mr. Evans’s presentation placed first in socio-cultural studies.

“Research Days is a special opportunity to come together as a community and celebrate the hard work of student researchers and the faculty who serve as their mentors,” said Vice President for Research Leo Chalupa. “This year’s event, marked by record participation from across the university, was no exception. Poster presenters were eager to share the results of their research and clearly passionate about their work.”

For the first time this year, the Honey W. Nashman Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service recognized community-based research with its own prize, which went to CCAS senior Shanna Helf for her project “Aging Through Change: Gentrification, Social Capital and Senior Citizens of Washington DC’s Wards 1 and 6.”

This also marked the first year of the Milken Institute School of Public Health’s People’s Choice Award, where attendees could vote online for their favorite SPH-affiliated poster.

Nitasha Chaudhary Nagaraj, a senior research associate in the Department of Prevention and Community Health, took home the award for “Childhood Violence, Adult Relationship Violence and Adult Health Outcomes among South Asian Women in the U.S.”

The first day of the two-day event featured projects in the arts, business, education, engineering, humanities, law, mathematics and the sciences. Students crowded shoulder to shoulder into the Grand and Continental Ballrooms on the third floor of the Cloyd Heck Marvin Center, exhibiting work on topics from quantum mathematics to the future of the historically black church.

As a sales associate at luxury fashion retailer Kate Spade, Rachel Basoco noticed that her own “outgoing” personality was an asset in a way that was not the case for her peers at cheaper “fast fashion” outlets like H&M and Forever 21.

Rather than shrugging the difference off as one of the quirks of the fashion industry, Ms. Basoco decided to quantify exactly what it meant. She surveyed consumers on their interactions with luxury and fast-fashion sales associates to see whether the sellers’ personalities made a difference in their purchasing decisions.

As it turned out, they did. Ms. Basoco found that luxury buyers consistently made purchasing decisions based on their sales associates’ extroversion, agreeableness and other personality factors.

Fast fashion consumers rated their own interactions with associates as neutral on personality continuums—which makes sense, Ms. Basoco said. Unlike at luxury stores, which base their sales model on building strong long-term client relationships, “those [fast fashion] businesses are designed so you don’t even have to have an interaction [with a sales associate],” she explained.

Ms. Basoco, a graduating junior in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, will take a job after graduation in the management program of department store Bloomingdale’s. She said her research has absolutely affected the way she will approach luxury retail management.

“It’s made me ask questions about how we hire, how we develop and how we train sales associates,” she said. “And it’s not limited to fashion. It could be cars, furniture, real estate—any industry that follows this similar model.”

The second day featured work by students from the School of Medicine and Health Sciences, the Milken Institute School of Public Health, the School of Nursing, the Biomedical Engineering Program and the Institute for Biomedical Science.

School of Medicine and Health Sciences keynote speaker Stanley R. Riddell, a member of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center Clinical Research Division Program in Immunology and professor of oncology at the University of Washington School of Medicine, explained how he got his “first taste” of research while a medical student. He spent more time in the chemistry lab than on the wards. Not ideal for his clinical skills, he joked, but it launched his research career.

“I would remind you to really treasure the time you have in medical school and particularly to take advantage of every opportunity you can to do research: clinical research, public health research or lab-based research,” he urged the student audience before transitioning to his address, “Designing Safe and Effective T-Cell Therapy for Cancer.”

Following the speakers, students gave poster presentations on their projects, which varied from basic to translational science.

SMHS awarded the Donald H. Glew Prize to Alexa Lean, a second-year M.D. student, for her research, “Circulating miRNA Biomarkers in Early Breast Cancer Detection Following Mammography.”

First-year medical student Siyang “Charlie” Chaili and second-year medical students Nicole A. Doria and Angeline Pham won the William Beaumont Research Award. The editors of Fusion, the William H. Beaumont Medical Research Honor Society’s student-led publication, selected the winners.

“It’s a real privilege to help augment the research presence here at GW,” said Mr. Chaili, who discussed his first-place study, “Efficacy of Intravenous Kinocidins in a Neutropenic Murine Model of Multi-Drug-Resistant Acinetobacter Baumanii (MDRAB) Pneumonia.”

Ms. Pham said med school students often worry about conducting research while in school.

“It’s a very enriching and complementary part of the whole field of medicine,” she said. “It’s nice to be able to have the clinician’s perspective of how to treat to patients, but also to be at the forefront of potential new therapies for different diseases and medical conditions.”

The afternoon keynote at the Milken Institute School of Public Health featured Brian King, deputy director for research translation in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Office on Smoking and Health.

Dr. King gave a lively talk on the rise of e-cigarettes and their potential benefits and dangers. While the electronic inhalers did have “potential benefit…under certain circumstances,” he said, the tobacco industry—whom he characterized as “a sheisty bunch of goons” and “adjudicated racketeers”—were in many cases exaggerating their possible advantages in order to subvert advertising and other restrictions on traditional combustible cigarettes.

“[Are e-cigarettes] safer? Yeah,” he said. “Safe? No.”

Retail researcher Rachel Basoco took first place in the Media, Business and Consumer Studies poster category. She concisely summed up the appeal of Research Days: Her participation in it was “the best part” of her project.

“When you’re doing research, it’s months of meta-analysis, perfecting survey questions and poring over numbers and data,” she said. On Research Days, “For the first time it’s not just you in the library trying to figure out multiple regression analysis. The previous research and hours finally create something that’s worth talking about.”

A full list of Research Days winners is available on the Office of the Vice President for Research website.