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Research on the Rise

Sep 29, 2014

For the second year in a row, Flagler College students took home the Excellence in Undergraduate Research Award at an April psychology conference held at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. And while many may not equate research with a liberal arts college, work much like that done by students Kayla Hoelzel, Jessey Mitchell and Brittany Kassis, is becoming common at Flagler College.

Research across all disciplines has been conducted for many years at Flagler, but the college’s newly formed Office of Undergraduate Research is hoping to take it even further.

“One of the things we do so well as a college is the interaction between faculty and students, and many other colleges don’t have that experience,” said Associate Professor of Natural Sciences Barbara Blonder, who serves as the director of undergraduate research. “This is just one more area where we can use that interaction to help our students to excel.”

While some programs, such as Coastal Environmental Science, require participation as part of their course requirements, most departments offer research on a voluntary basis.

Hoelzel and Mitchell were taking a Human Factors in Psychology class with adjunct professor Tracy Litzinger when they became interested in doing a research project.

“Jessey and I are looking into careers in human factors and after talking with Professor Litzinger we found ourselves really wanting to try this,” said Hoelzel, a junior. “What’s interesting is that the conference primarily consisted of graduate students. Each of us are only 20, yet we have now not only been to a conference, but also won an award.”

Under the guidance of Litzinger and Assistant Professor of Psychology Jeremy Krause, the students conducted research on the eating habits of young adults.

“We were interested in how peers influenced an individual’s decision in relation to food,” Hoelzel said. “We wanted to see if people would deviate from their usual standards on food to conform to what their group was doing.”

While the study’s hypothesis was that participants would be more likely to base meal choices on what their friends were eating, their research showed that participants were not swayed by peer pressure and chose meals based on their normal eating habits.

Even though the Embry-Riddle conference was held in Daytona Beach, many conferences are not within driving distance. This is where Flagler’s Internal Funding Awards may be of assistance. Students may apply for research grants that can max out at $500 for assistance such as materials and conference travel costs. That might not sound like much, but Blonder says that for a budget-conscious college student, $500 can go a long way toward a research project.

Communication students Alexandra Holmes, Katie Lutz and Stephanie Spadea took their work all the way to the Big Easy at the annual Southern States Communications Conference in New Orleans.

The three students came up with their idea for researching how female sportscasters continue to struggle in the male-dominated world of sports broadcasting in Associate Professor of Communication Helena Särkiö’s Race, Class, Gender and Media class.

“It’s been a long road for female sportscasters, and although strides have been made, negative stereotypes and generalizations have pushed women underneath a glass ceiling, making it almost impossible to gain the same respect as many male sportscasters,” Lutz said. “In this paper we discussed why females are still having such trouble breaking these barriers.”

They argued in the paper that the entire sports industry continues to stereotype and generalize female sports reporters, and that the public is “inadvertently taught to stereotype female sports reporters from the moment they step onto the screen.” To support this, they researched Twitter posts about female sports reporters and found hundreds of comments discounting women in sports media.

“The media makes an emphasis on the women’s physical attributes and does not allow any leeway for women to showcase their know-ledge and expertise,” they wrote. “When the medium is the message, audiences, athletes and other sportscasters are going to continue to discriminate against female sports reporters.”

Many of these presentations, like the one done by Holmes, Lutz and Spadea, are now also published in an online research journal, the first of its kind at Flagler College. The journal can be found at

But research isn’t just limited to papers and presentations. Students in the Natural Sciences program have been undertaking field research with Flagler faculty and other experts, and in 2013 two students were picked for the National Science Foundation’s 10-week Research Experience for Undergraduates program.

Whether it’s in science, communication, English, math, psychology or any number of other disciplines, Blonder says the value for students to get their hands dirty in their field is immeasurable. 

“In science especially, many of these kids would never see a professor outside the classroom until they hit grad school and some not even then. But it’s the same with any discipline,” Blonder said.

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