Research Projects Shape Students’ Futures

Emily Barrett and Jessica Reyes, assistant directors of communications
Kevin stands in front of his art
Visual and performing arts major Kevin Lamarra put his art and presentation skills on display during this year's Honors Week.

The arrival of spring at Widener is an exciting time. As we welcome the sight of new blooms on campus, the university also welcomes new ideas and scholarship in the form of student research presentations.  

Annual events such as Honors Week, Student Presentation Day, the Graduate Research Symposium and more showcase yearlong investigations and projects from students across levels and disciplines.

For many, the presentations are an opportunity to build a portfolio, master the art of public speaking, or practice working and presenting in a virtual format.

For Steven Wysocki ’19, his senior project was the first step toward his current career as an electrical engineer.

“Widener opened a lot of doors for me,” Wysocki said. 

As a student, Wysocki was sponsored by Public Service Enterprise Group (PSEG), a diversified energy company located in New Jersey, to revise and update the stator water cooling system responsible for cooling the central generator for the entire plant.

Steve Wysocki '19 poses with project teammates Randy Brown and Julian Perotti
Steve Wysocki (right) poses with former project teammates Randy Brown (left) and Julian Perot (middle).

Wysocki and fellow students worked alongside the engineering team at PSEG’s Hope Creek generating station, which produces nearly half of the Garden State’s electricity and more than 90 percent of the state’s air pollution-free generation.

“We were able to develop our project and build relationships with that entire team,” Wysocki said.

Those relationships led Wysocki to where he is today: a digital control systems manager with the Hope Creek system engineering team.

The same team that I interfaced with as a college senior I’m now an active member. Knowing everyone on the team allowed me to hit the ground running. — Steven Wysocki '19

Wysocki’s experience is one example of the value of student research at Widener. Whether partnering with faculty or industry leaders, students have the chance to explore their interests while laying the foundation and building skills for their future professions.

The Portrait of the Artist

During Honors Week, visual and performing arts major Kevin Lamarra ’21 presented “The Portrait as Archetype,” a discussion of his 12 portrait paintings inspired by psychiatrist Carl Jung’s personality archetypes. 

These archetypes, which Jung believed to part of the collective unconscious, include such universal motifs as the hero, the mother, the wise old man, and the trickster. They are repeated and contextualized throughout literature, cinema, and popular culture.  

Lamarra’s turn at interpreting the archetypes began as a class assignment, and he soon had a collection of a dozen, each representing a different archetype, with many drawing on inspiration from his own life and acquaintances. The trickster, for instance, is a self-portrait, as Lamarra was born on April Fools’ Day.

“I wanted to explore portraiture and I wanted it to have a narrative aspect,” he said. “I liked the simplicity of the archetypes idea to make a set of characters. It provided a framework, and I could build on that.”

Honors Week offered Lamarra an opportunity to not only share his research and work with the Widener community, but also to help him practice and hone his presentation skills. Knowing he’d be speaking to people from various backgrounds and academic disciplines, he worked to “tailor my speech and presentation to everyone. You can’t be too abstract. Artists have a tendency to do that,” he said.

An aspiring art educator, Lamarra added: “I have gratitude toward the whole experience. You get the opportunity to share what you’ve been working on, and it’s cool to hear other projects and what others have been working on.”

Finding Growth in a Virtual World

At the graduate level, students celebrated and discussed their research endeavors at the Graduate Research Symposium. This year, posters were displayed on the university’s Digital Archive Collections ahead of a “Meet the Authors” virtual event.

Cierra Martinez
Cierra Martinez.

Cierra Martinez, who is completing a Master of Social Work (MSW) this May, presented a field placement case study involving the use of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) in a virtual setting for a 12-year-old male student who needed assistance with handling behavioral challenges.

“Because of my background in the MSW program, I learned many intervention theories, and I thought CBT would be beneficial,” she said. “The tough piece was the district was fully virtual for the year so I never met the student face-to-face.”

The Southeast Delco School District employee found that school-aged children can benefit from CBT treatment, both in traditional face-to-face therapy sessions and virtually. However, the virtual setting was challenging at times, especially when the student did not have reliable internet access or when privacy concerns arose in the home.

Martinez was proud to share her findings and discuss these challenges at the symposium with her peers.

We have all been stressed and overwhelmed by what has been occurring during the pandemic. I felt inspired to share with my cohort the message that we can still practice social work safely in a virtual setting. This just proves that we are as resilient as our clients prove to be every day. —Cierra Martinez '21

Alexandria Gibb, an education doctoral candidate who presented preliminary findings from her dissertation, agreed that the experience was valuable, both because she learned about the work of graduate students in other disciplines and for honing her own virtual presenting skills.

Alex Gibb
Alexandria Gibb.

“This was a learning and growing experience for me to present virtually on Zoom,” Gibb said. “I think anytime you can get people in person or virtually to share their research across disciplines is a valuable thing.”

Gibb’s dissertation focuses on how diverse groups, in terms of authorship and character portrayals, are represented in young adult literature, specifically texts honored by the Alex Awards. Her preliminary findings showed that while some diverse groups are well represented in the awarded books, others are poorly represented, especially people with disabilities.

Gibb, who teaches middle school, is using this research to inform the materials she uses in her own classroom, with a specific focus on finding books that celebrate all cultures, rather than books that adopt a ‘melting pot’ philosophy of assimilation into the normative culture.

“I’m always looking at books critically to decide whether they are pushing everyone together or celebrating differences,” Gibb said. “Anytime I have the opportunity to share that point with others, I do.”

 

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