For 10 years, UNO’s Office of Research and Creative Activity (ORCA) has been helping students, from undergraduate to Ph.D., share and support their scholarly research and creative activities.
On Friday, March 2, hundreds of students participated from across UNO’s six colleges and UNL’s College of Engineering, with a number of the presentations being considered for awards and cash prizes.
Each competitive entry was evaluated by a group of community judges made up of Omaha business leaders, non-profit organizers, UNO alumni and others. A full list of awardees can be found below, as well as brief summaries of some of this year's student projects.
Graduate Oral Presentation
Best: Keaton Young - Biomechanics
Outstanding: Emily Pachunka - Biomedical Informatics
Meritorious: Michael Mazgaj - Business Administration
Honorable Mention: Nicole Damen - Management Information Systems
Best: James Pierce - Biomechanics
Outstanding: Anna Buhman - Computer Science
Meritorious: Vikas Sahu - Management Information Systems
Honorable Mention: Christina Angeli - Exercise Physiology
Undergraduate Oral Presentation
Best: Samantha Sack - Biology
Outstanding: Zachary Meade - Electrical Engineering
Meritorious: Alyssa Averhoff - Biotechnology
Honorable Mention: Harim Won - Biotechnology
Best: Kyle Dlouhy - Computer Engineering
Outstanding: Lauren Wehrle - Elementary Education/STEM
Meritorious: Haley Hassenstab - Biology
Honorable Mention: Henamari Ybay - Biology
All of this year’s entrees can be found on the ORCA website. Here are a sampling of the more than 200 entries in 2018:
Kim Gangwish - College of Education
Sam Fee - College of Communication, Fine Arts and Media
Gabrielle Wethor - College of Information Science and Technology
Michael Mazgaj - College of Business Administration
Angie Helseth - College of Public Affairs and Community Service
Daniel Ewart - UNL College of Engineering
Kim Gangwish (Doctoral Program – Educational Leadership)
Months of reading and research lead Kim Gangwish to uncover some harsh truths about how deaf individuals are represented in modern young adult fiction novels.
In her 2018 Research and Creative Activity Fair presentation, which is pulled from her recent dissertation, Gangwish, who recently earned her Ed.D. in educational leadership, explained that since 2000, only 30 novels have had any lead characters who are deaf or hard of hearing and many of those are characterized negatively. She read and analyzed these novels to uncover their common themes.
“I looked at three different models across the spectrum from deafness as an illness that needs to be fixed all the way up to deafness as one part of a person’s identity,” she said. “In addition to these models, which existed from previous research, I also found themes of my own, including representations of deaf culture, communication issues and societal issues.”
Gangwish is not just a recent graduate, but she also oversees the College of Education’s IDEAS Room and teaches several courses on technical education. She said that it is important for adolescents of all kinds to see themselves represented in literature.
“If they don’t see themselves in literature, if they don’t have that access, then they aren’t receiving quality representation.”
Gangwish hopes to pursue the issues of representation further with future research, including representations of Asian Americans in young adult literature.
Read the Abstract
Prior to an assignment in her first-year, “Why the Arts Matter” College of Communication, Fine Arts and Media course, Sophomore studio art major Sam Fee didn’t know much about the lives of child soldiers in countries across the world, but now she is a fierce advocate for them.
“There is not a lot of information on the topic, even though there are 300,000 child soldiers currently fighting in the world right now,” she said. “No one is talking about it, but it is so important.”
In her presentation, “The Forgotten,” Fee converted a staged photograph of a 3D-printed child’s skull next to a rifle and then converted it into a black-and-white painting. However, the painting’s true nature is only visible under a black light where, through the use of a special paint, she was able to depict a child superimposed over the scene to make it look like they are holding the rifle.
This is also not the last time Fee will use her artistic talents to explore important issues. She is currently working on a three-part multimedia project to bring attention to the need for organ donation for transplants.
“This project the first time I’ve used art to draw attention to a particular issue, but it really provided me a new outlook on the world.”
Read the Abstract
Gabrielle Wethor, a graduate student in the College of Information Science and Technology, chose to examine the topic of human trafficking partially to bring attention to a subject not commonly discussed.
“I’ve always thought that human trafficking is a terrible issue that impacts so many people and I noticed that it seems like it’s such a taboo topic, people don’t really talk about it,” she said. “There’s not enough change being petitioned for it, so with the experience I’ve gained within my degree field, I wanted to utilize my skills to help with the matter.”
Wethor’s research project, “Examining the Feasibility of Transparent Human Trafficking Data” brought to light the lack of information shared between agencies working to stop human trafficking and the general public.
“There are so many laws and regulations for classifying data—It makes it difficult for the public to petition for change,” she said.
Wethor explained that participating in the fair has given her, and fellow students, the opportunity to research issues that they see as gaps in society, in which they can increase awareness, or increase research.
“To have so many pathways to expanding the boundaries of human knowledge I think it’s really amazing.”
Michael Mazgaj, a graduate student in the College of Business Administration, used his research project to apply his knowledge of business organizations to study the Islamic State.
“I just think it’s interesting because it’s kind of across my industry,” Mazgaj said. “I’m not a social scientist, all I did was I learned curriculum about business organizations and then I applied that to a different science.”
Mazgaj’s project, “Understanding Leadership Development Through Virtual Content of Violent Extremist Organizations” featured a case study that focused on the Islamic State, and their virtual media campaign.
“We were kind of inspired to ask three research questions about leadership development and skill development,” Mazgaj said. “I applied a lot of organizational theories a lot of other organizations had done. I applied an organizational lifestyle to the Islamic State, kind of like similarities between regular organizations and Islamic extremists’ organizations."
He said that the was kind of an inspiration for a larger project that his advisor, Gina Ligon, associate professor of management, had received grant funding for from the Department of Defense.
Doctoral student Angie Helseth is someone who has always been fascinated by the human body and how it works. At UNO, she has been able to combine her research on older adults with UNO's world-class Biomechanics Research Building.
Helseth's project, which looks at the areas of the brain that impact cognition in older adults, is a part of a much larger dissertation effort examining how older adults can age successfully.
In her research, the doctoral candidate found that she was able to bring together two seemingly unrelated effects and unite them.
“Through my research, I found that memory loss and falls are common signs of poor aging among senior citizens,” Helseth said.
To uncover her results, she studied the physical attributes of the average senior citizen to better understand why trips and falls are so common among that age group. She also conducted studies to help understand why memory loss is another common factor for older adults.
“I had asked them to memorize a list of animals and I was surprised to see how many were able to read the list back to me,” said Helseth.
She hopes to find applicable solutions as she dives deeper into her research.
Daniel Ewart, a senior studying architectural engineering at the Peter Kiewit Institute, believes that his research project could potentially save the university money through energy savings.
“It’s a cost comparison of LED and florescent fixtures; LEDs are much more energy efficient, so I was trying to see if it would be economically efficient to switch from Florescent in [Scott] Campus’ Scott Hall to LED.”
For his project, Ewart compared the maintenance cost and energy used in each fixture type. He said his last step would be to come up with a pay-back period that would detail how long it would take for the lights to pay for themselves.
“LED is always energy efficient, the question is if they’re worth the money,” he said.
Ewart explained that even though he was originally required to participate in the fair as part of his Scott Scholarship, he found the experience valuable.
“I still feel responsible for trying to present useful information, and I think it’s good information to know.”
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