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Festival Showcases Student Academic Research Contributions

Projects have the potential for positive changes in health care, conservation and more

Sacred Heart University's Annual Academic Festival in University Commons

By Jamie Cassata

Sacred Heart University’s sixth annual Academic Festival unveiled projects that showed a good deal of potential for positive change in such critical fields as health care, conservation and economics, among others.

The Academic Festival is an annual event coordinated by the Committee for Undergraduate Research. It highlights original research from Sacred Heart students, who present their projects to faculty and fellow students. The festival took place near the end of the spring semester and set a new record for SHU with 175 participants

In a culture sometimes described as “post-truth,” disciplined research challenges the tendency to embrace easy answers to complex societal and individual problems. The capacity for such research is vital for those moving on to graduate work in their fields. In fact, the preparation and presentation involved impart skills beneficial not only to those continuing in academia but also to those looking to enter the workforce after graduation.

Awards were bestowed on students who distinguished themselves in the following categories:

Most Meaningful

Casey Culkin, a nursing student in the Thomas More Honors Program who graduated in May, won the “Most Meaningful” award with her capstone poster project titled, “SVMC Emergency Department Handoff Reinforcement Using SBAR.” The acronym stands for “Situation, Background, Assessment and Recommendation”—a tool that guides communication and allows health care providers to include all-important patient information when giving a report.

Culkin created the project after nurses expressed concern over faulty communication in the emergency room. “Adverse medical events occur each and every day across the nation due to these issues,” said Culkin’s faculty mentor, Susan Goncalves, assistant professor of nursing.

To keep patient safety at the center of health care, Culkin developed reinforcement teaching tools to stress the importance of effective communication and to reinforce the use of SBAR.

“SBAR provides a communication framework to be used among members of the health care team regarding a patient’s condition. This project helped to revitalize current high reliability and communication efforts to decrease ineffective handoffs and patient safety risks, thus keeping patient safety in the forefront as top priority,” Goncalves said,

Culkin’s professional priority exemplifies why her project was deemed most meaningful. “As a soon-to-be nurse, my priority is always my patients. Anything I can do to keep them safe is worth it,” she explained.

Most Creative

Also benefitting the nursing field were the winners in the “Most Creative” category: computer science students Emily Jones, Alaina Silveri and Hissah Al Karam, with their research project, “Quality Nursing Scheduling”—a website that generates a nurse roster table for a group of nurses over a certain scheduling period. This Java program will allow nurse managers to create a schedule that considers staff members’ needs while eliminating personal bias or favoritism in the schedule’s creation.

One participant’s faculty mentor, Clinical Associate Professor Mary Dietmann, said,This project impacts work-life balance for staff nurses employed in hospital settings requiring 24-hour coverage for patient care, which is a challenge. Using nurses efficiently while balancing workload could significantly influence the turnover rate of nurses and improve job satisfaction. These students are to be commended on their diligence and creativity in developing this program.”

Assistant Professor Samah Senbel, who organized the interdisciplinary effort, said, “We tested the quality of our program by demonstrating it to several nursing faculty and nurse managers who have experience in nurse rostering and management, with positive results. The main positive points were the ease of use by both nurses and nurse managers, and the fairness of having a program, not a human, generate a schedule, as this guarantees a fair and bias-free schedule.”

Provost’s Prize

Honors student Trent Thompson won the “Provost’s Prize” and “Welch College of Business Dean’s Prize.” Thompson, an economics student now moving on to doctoral studies, titled his project, “The Impact of a Nation’s Research and Development Expenditure on Scientific Literacy.” It examined the relationship between a nation’s spending on research and development and the scientific literacy of that country’s population.

Thompson also had presented his research on Washington D.C.’s Capitol Hill in the spring at the Council on Undergraduate Research’s “Posters on the Hill” conference. There, he emphasized the policy implications of his research: to increase the nation’s scientific literacy—and thus its citizens’ civic engagement and economic prosperity—we ought to increase national research and development activities.

“The one big challenge in preparing my research was that there isn’t any literature out there that I know of (and I’ve searched long and hard) that considers the relationship specifically between research and development and scientific literacy,” said Thompson. “This presented a challenge in that I didn’t really have a starting point to spring from. But it also presented an opportunity to do original research, and not just replicate someone else’s study.”

Thompson’s faculty advisor, Associate Professor Khawaja Mamun, chairman of the Economics Department, said, “Trent Thompson has a very inquisitive mind and is that rare student who asks questions that are far deeper than the norm. He is one of the best academic products to come out of the Jack Welch College of Business.”

College of Arts and Sciences Dean’s Prize

Biology students Amanda Beecher and Christina Cerreta took the “College of Arts and Sciences Dean’s Prize” with their research project “Block Island: Horseshoe Crab Paradise.”

The starting point of Beecher’s and Cerreta’s research involved a peculiar feature of horseshoe crab migrations in Block Island, Rhode Island: horseshoe crabs and invertebrate populations in Block Island thrive in comparison to those of Connecticut. Why? Lower pollution and fewer human disturbances in Block Island. Beaches in Connecticut, on the other hand—especially in Stratford Point and Milford—are highly polluted.

“Block Island, Rhode Island is a pristine oasis,” said Beecher. “Our hope is that, with the coastal restoration work we took part in and in years to come, more horseshoe crab species and benthic fauna will begin to inhabit the beaches and the population density will rise.”

College of Health Professions Dean’s Prize

Christopher Cote and Douglas Terrone won the “College of Health Professions Dean’s Prize” with their “Reliability of C3Logix™ Ability to Detect Postural Sway Compared to a Gold Standard Force Plate System.” This project tested a reliable and more affordable way to detect concussions, saving athletic programs thousands of dollars.

“We believe our research can have a huge impact on concussion management and research and are excited to share it with the academic community,” Terrone said,

Other Awards

Brandon Capuano won the “Best Visuals” category with “Green HR.” Anna Brown, Margot Simeone, Noelle Mayne and Gabriella Monferrato won “Most Scholarly Impact or Potential” for their project, “How Does Reading Fiction Improve Theory of Mind?” Christina Masciale won the “College of Nursing Dean’s Prize” with her “Understanding and Managing the Symptoms of Chemo Brain in Oncology Patients.” And first-prize, “Campus Choice,” went to Molly Barker and Alicia Buynovsky for their “Educating Indigenous Populations in Rural Guatamala about Menstrual Hygiene Management in Collaboration with Days for Girls International.”

Visit to see the digitally archived research projects.