New NSF grant deepens undergraduate scholar's academic experience

October 14, 2009

University Park, Pa. -- A two-year study in Penn State’s College of Education is benefiting from a new supplemental grant that will augment the research experience of an undergraduate student member of the research team. The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) grant to Penn State senior Carolyn Weber of Doylestown, Pa. Weber is a Schreyer Honors College scholar who is completing an education policy studies minor in Penn State’s College of Education while double-majoring in sociology and marketing.

David P. Baker, professor of education and sociology, is heading the study; he nominated Weber for the REU "because of her excellent dedication, skill and the energy she brings to the team." Weber, who has been researching with Baker since September 2008, has been involved with data collection and English-Spanish translation.

The award will enable Weber to work intensively with the team, including traveling to Peru in November to help collect data in Andean communities. Baker praised Weber, who studied abroad in the Semester at Sea program this spring, for her keen interest in developing countries and being "one of the top" undergraduate students he has had in the last 10 years. She currently is applying to the Peace Corps and for a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship in Vietnam.

"I am so grateful for the opportunities I have had working with Dr. Baker," Weber said. "Thinking back on the past year, I could not imagine a better way to immerse in academia as an undergraduate or prepare for my future career."

The project is designed to test how formal schooling influences reasoning and decision-making skills for navigating everyday health risk. Titled "Explaining the Education Effect and the Demography of Risk: Comparing Unschooled and Schooled on Everyday Reasoning and Decision-making Skills about Health Behavior," the project began on Oct. 1, 2008, and is scheduled to conclude Sept. 30, 2010.

The project compares unschooled and moderately schooled adults in Peru on their numeracy ability, cognitive skill, reasoning about risk and decision-making skills related to health behaviors. Local conditions in the Peruvian Andes allow for a naturally occurring experiment on the effects of education.

Baker notes that most demographers and health researchers acknowledge that formal schooling has a positive influence on health outcomes, but the reason for this influence is not clearly understood. It is hypothesized, he said, that schooling enhances a person’s reasoning skills, resulting in improved risk assessment and decision-making related to everyday health issues.

Co-investigators are Paul Eslinger, professor of neurology at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center; Martin Benavides, a researcher with the Group for Analysis of Development, a development research organization in Lima, Peru; and Ellen Peters, senior research scientist with Decision Research, a research group in Eugene, Ore.

Access the College of Education's Web site at online. The Schreyer Honors College is online at, and the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center can be found on the Web at

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated January 10, 2014