Shenango faculty encourage undergraduate research

July 02, 2013

Faculty members at Penn State Shenango are encouraging students to engage in undergraduate research projects. Engaging in undergraduate research helps students appreciate the scientific research process, helps students develop project and time management skills that carry over to the workplace and promotes critical and creative thinking. The Council on Undergraduate Research, a national organization that promotes student-faculty collaboration on research and scholarship, also suggests that undergraduate research increases student retention and future enrollment in graduate programs. 

Kathy Mastrian, associate professor of nursing and nursing coordinator, offers a research series in sociology for students enrolled in the Letters, Arts and Science baccalaureate program. The series consists of two courses: Sociology 471, Qualitative Research Methods in Sociology, and Sociology 494, Research Project. In the Sociology 471 course students learn the fundamentals of the qualitative research process. Qualitative research involves the collection and analysis of information from multiple sources such as first-person accounts, life histories, visual records, semi-structured and open-ended interviews, and informal and formal observations in natural settings.  

This type of research in sociology almost always involves human subjects, therefore students are required to complete the CITI (Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative) to ensure that they understand how to protect human subjects in research. The CITI training is nearly universal for colleges and universities, so once students have completed this initial training they are certified for a period of three years and can carry this certification forward into graduate programs. After earning certification, students in Sociology 471 design and carry out a qualitative research pilot study, presented as a class project. The purpose of designing and carrying out a pilot study is to give students firsthand experience with the research process and to provide a basis for carrying the research forward in Sociology 494. 

In the Sociology 494 course, the students revise and refine the pilot project and earn Office of Research (ORP) protections approval to carry out the study and disseminate the results. Federal regulations for the responsible conduct of research require that all research involving human subjects and disseminated outside of the classroom must be approved by the Institutional Review Board (IRB) of the ORP. The application for IRB approval is lengthy and requires the student to describe all research procedures such as recruiting subjects, sampling, data collection, data analysis and dissemination of results to the satisfaction of the board. 

The approval process is an excellent learning experience for the students. Once students earn IRB approval, then they recruit subjects and collect their data. In qualitative research, data are typically collected during in-depth tape recorded interviews. Students then transcribe the data and analyze it for recurrent topics and themes that describe a social issue in a natural setting. The Sociology 494 course ends with the presentation of the research via a poster designed by the student at the Shenango Campus Undergraduate Research Fair. At the research fair, students stand with their posters and answer questions posed by students, staff, faculty and community members. 

The Undergraduate Research Fair was held at the end of the spring semester. Sociology students presenting at the fair this year included Emily Astey who studied discourse markers used in everyday speech, Andrea Delgros who studied student and faculty perceptions of grade inflation, April Mills who studied expectations of military veterans in college and Maggie Cirillo who studied the changing nature of libraries. Students from other disciplines including human development and family studies, criminal justice and business, also presented at the fair. The Shenango campus faculty are planning to host undergraduate research fairs next year in both the fall and spring semesters. 

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Last Updated July 03, 2013