Utah Tech University


We interview students and faculty about their research.
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Fall 2021

Faculty Highlight: DSU Faculty Engage in “Action Research”

Display image of Dr. Jamie Kearra

Dr. Jamie Kearra

Display image of Dr. Hailey Nailor

Dr. Hailey Nailor

Display image of Dr. Lauren DiSalvo

Dr. Lauren DiSalvo

“Action Research” is a form of investigation designed for use by teachers to attempt to solve problems and improve professional practices in their own classrooms. A number of DSU faculty who are engaged in such research presented their data at this year’s Teaching and Learning Symposium held during the Spring semester of 2021.  Jaime Kearra, Director of the Structured Enrollment Program at DSU’s Student Success Center and Hailey Nailor, Student Success Coach presented data that they have collected that provide insights into how students handle time management.  With the help of a mini-grant from DSU’s Center for Teaching and Learning, they implemented an intervention that included direct teaching of time management skills and required students to use a paper planner in which they blocked out time for studying, assignments, papers, and projects.  The data they presented showed that, although students were required to use a paper planner, most students used other systems more frequently (Canvas To-Do list, Canvas Calendar, Google Calendar, paper task list, etc.).  During the Fall 2021 semester, Kearra and Nailor plan to extend the study to 300 new freshmen and track the effectiveness of new lesson plans and time management strategies.

Lauren DiSalvo, Assistant Professor of Art History, presented her data on “Ungrading” in which she evaluated the comparative usefulness of grades and feedback without grades by collecting data on her students who take sections of her upper division art history classes.  In some sections she uses traditional grading. Other sections consist of feedback, rubrics and formal learning reflections instead of grades.  Because university policy requires the assignment of a letter grade at the end of the semester, students in “ungraded sections” assign themselves the grade they think they have earned in the class for the semester. DiSalvo has collected data over the past two years comparing grades in her traditional graded classes and her “ungraded” classes.

“There is not much difference between the distribution of grades and the grades that I would assign to students and the grades that students assign for themselves,” says DiSalvo. Her findings are consistent with other research in the education literature showing that “ungrading” can serve to redirect time and attention to more important things such as increased reflection, increased motivation, creativity and individuality.

Action research is a legitimate aspect of the research process and often expands into more extensive controlled research studies. The Office of Undergraduate Research plans to highlight other DSU faculty who are engaged in such research.

For more information on the above research projects, contact hailey.nailor@utahtech.edujamie.kearra@utahtech.edu or lauren.disalvo@utahtech.edu .

Student Highlight: Three Students Receive Naythan M. Bell Awards for their Creative Contributions

Display image of Abby Patterson

Abby Patterson

Display image of Spencer Soule

Spencer Soule

Display image of Brianna McFadden

Brianna McFadden

The Council on Undergraduate Research defines undergraduate research as “An inquiry or investigation conducted by an undergraduate student that makes an original intellectual or creative contribution to the discipline.” Recently, three DSU students were honored for their outstanding creative work published in The Southern Quill.

Growing up in Wisconsin, Abby Patterson was familiar with heavy woods, mirky stormy skies and chilly weather. Such an environment provided the setting for her story, “Hair of the Dog,” which received first place.  The story is about a young adult who heads home late at night after a party on what becomes a deadly trip. When asked why she likes writing horror stories, Abby said, “The world is constantly revolving around really dark stuff. It helps to take an artistic view of the darkness around us.” Abby is a Junior with a double major in English with a creative writing emphasis and Art and Media Studies.

Spencer Soule, graduated this past May with a BA in English with an emphasis in creative writing. His story, “Whatever It Takes,” won first runner up. “Whatever it Takes” about a person who finds a unique way to deal with his alcoholism, is Spencer’s second story to win the award.  In discussing the similarities between creative work and traditional research, Spencer pointed out that both involve being aware of gaps within your field that you can fill and searching for things that only you from your collected experience can shed light on.  In both research and creative work, he explains, “you start with a curiosity to understand why things are as they are and so you pursue it relentlessly.”

Brianna McFadden, a second-year graduate student in Technical Writing and Digital Rhetoric, didn’t become aware of the Bell Awards until they told her that her story, “An Unfulfilled Craving” had received second runner up.  Coming to DSU with a BA in Criminal Justice and Forensic Science, the forensics associated with serial killers had been a long-time interest of hers.  Brianna had done a huge amount of background reading and research on the forensics of serial killers before writing her story. “Writing helps me keep my creativity going and it is such an important skill no matter what field you go into,” she said.

For more information on the Naythan M. Bell Awards, contact Cindy King at Cindy.King@utahtech.edu.

Faculty Highlight: Examining the Connection Between Victimization and Delinquency

Dr. Korey Phelan

Dr. Korey Phelan, Assistant Professor in the Department of Applied Sociology and Criminal Justice, has had a long-term interest in the social psychology of crime.  Having received her MA in mental health counseling and her Ph.D. in sociology, she is uniquely qualified to examine the link between personal traumatic experiences and involvement in delinquency and crime.  According to her research, exposure to adverse childhood experiences (such as abuse or assault) is an integral link in the pathway to delinquency.  Dr. Phelan’s research also looks at the buffering effects that social and cultural resources can provide to mitigate the negative consequences of childhood trauma.  As part of her research, Phelan examined the degree to which the unique cultural environments and cultural identity of Native American youth can moderate the risk of delinquency and involvement in the criminal justice system.  Family, community and enculturation can serve as cultural buffers that lead to a healthier outcome.  Most recently, Dr. Phelan presented her research at the Midwest Sociological Society Annual Meeting in March of 2021.  That same month, she also gave a presentation entitled, “Adverse Childhood Experiences and Gendered Pathways to Offending” at the DSU College of Humanities and Social Sciences Brown Bag Seminar.

“Research allows me to find out more information about things I’m passionate about,” says Phelan.  “Also, being involved in research gives me a deeper familiarity with the literature in my field that I can pass on to students.”

For more information, contact Korey Phelan at korey.phelan@utahtech.edu.

Faculty Highlight: Raider of Lost Art

Dr. Robert Matheson

Although he doesn’t wear a Fedora or carry a bullwhip, one of Dr. Robert Matheson’s passions is recovering lost musical treasures—in particular, the concert works composed by Theodor Albin Findeisen.  Findeisen, who was professor of double bass at the Konigliches Konservatorium der Musik in Leipzig, Germany, died in 1936.  His concert works for double bass fell out of print shortly after.  These compositions represented a style and period that is otherwise unrepresented in the double bass repertoire.  This past year, Matheson was able to realize his search for these works.  With a grant from DSU’s Undergraduate Research Office, Matheson performed and recorded three Findeison concert pieces and revised print editions of Findeison’s Nixenreigen Fantasie, Elegie, and Romantische Suite.  The resulting album represents a glimpse into the life and work of this important German composer in an historically important period. Dr. Matheson presented his performance to the biennial conference of the International Society of Bassists and ISG published his edited print editions of Findeison’s music.

“I think it’s important to show my students my passion and to instill in them the importance of research and creative work,” commented Dr. Matheson.  “I want to show my students that music and discovery is a lifelong pursuit.”  For more information, contact Robert Matheson at matheson@utahtech.edu.

Alumni Highlight: Undergraduate Research and Getting into Grad School

Dakota Witzel

Doing research as an undergraduate is an important part of preparing for careers that require a graduate degree.  DSU alum Dakota Witzel is a case in point.  By the time she graduated from DSU in 2017 with a B.S. in Psychology, Dakota had already made several presentations of her research at state and national professional meetings.  Now, as a Ph.D. candidate at Oregon State University, she is continuing with an active research and publishing program.  In 2018, she published a paper in psychosomatic Medicine.  More recently, her paper entitled, “Resolution Status and Age as Moderators for Interpersonal Everyday Stress and Stressor-Related Affect” was published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The Gerontological Society of America.

Upon entering DSU, Witzel did not have plans to go to grad school.  Her first experience doing research showed her how exciting and challenging it can be to apply the scientific method to questions that interested her.  “After that, I was hooked,” she says.  “What DSU did well was provide access to professors who were willing to give me opportunities to engage with research and explore my interests,” Witzel says.  “I don’t think I would have found that at a big university.”  Her advice to DSU students?  “If you want to go to graduate school, it’s important to have research on your curriculum vitae.  A great first step is to reach out to faculty you want to work with, even if you don’t know if they are doing research.” For more information on Dakota Witzel’s research, contact Dakota at witzeld@oregonstate.edu.

Program Highlight: English Professor Lays Plans for Humanities Research Lab

Dr. Joy McMurrin

Associate Professor of English Joy McMurrin believes in the DSU philosophy: “Active Learning. Active Life.” As DSU moves toward becoming a polytechnic university which includes a strong emphasis on the humanities and hands-on learning, McMurrin wants to highlight the ways in which College of Humanities and Social Sciences (CHASS) students do research and collaborate with faculty on creative projects. With a small grant from DSU’s Office of Undergraduate Research, McMurrin is laying the groundwork to establish a humanities research and production lab for use by students and faculty. “My goal is that the lab will be a place where faculty can work directly with students on research and creative projects,” McMurrin says. “We currently have eye-tracking equipment and we are acquiring video recording equipment and lighting equipment, a podcasting station, an OCR document scanner and other technology that will facilitate CHASS research and creative projects.” McMurrin is interested in using the lab with her students to study and improve user-centered design, but she emphasizes that the lab could be used by faculty and students across CHASS, whatever their research interests. “I’m impressed with the degree to which DSU students are becoming involved in research and I want to contribute to that in a more formal way,” McMurrin says. For more information on plans for the CHASS research and production lab, contact joy.mcmurrin@utahtech.edu.

Program Highlight: NiRD Lab Helps Launch Students into Research

Dr. Dannelle Larsen-Rife

One great exhibit of DSU’s commitment to Active Learning is the Neuroscience in Relationships and Development (NiRD) Lab. Located in the Department of Psychology in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences run by Associate Professor of Psychology, Dannelle Larsen-Rife, the NiRD Lab helps students conduct interdisciplinary research in psychology and integrative medicine. The NiRD Lab provides opportunities for ethics training, and comprehensive research experiences such as literature review, research design, data analysis and presentation at professional conferences.  Since the lab’s creation in 2013, NiRD Lab students have delivered numerous presentations at the Utah Conference on Undergraduate Research and DSU’s Undergraduate Research Symposium as well as at national and international professional meetings. Several NiRD students have been accepted to Ph.D. programs. NiRD Lab students have presented their research at the annual conferences of the World Association of Infant Mental Health, the American Psychological Association, the Rocky Mountain Association, and the Western Psychological Association.

Some of the major research studies that NiRD Lab students have been involved in include:

  • Utah Health and Relationship Time (UHART) Study is an evaluation of attachment, early life experiences and health.
  • Early Experience Study examines women’s early childhood experiences, pregnancy, labor and delivery, and mother and child outcomes.
  • Sexual Literacy Study examines sexual literacy, health and well-being.
  • Family Support Study is a needs assessment for students and employees at DSU.
  • Healthy Campus Initiative is an examination of Best Practices for mental health and well-being on college campuses.

When asked how she motivates students to participate in research, Lab Director Dr. Larsen-Rife responds, “Trying to do research on your own is time consuming and difficult both for faculty and students, but working together is very motivating.” The lab accepts students from psychology, chemistry, biology, nursing, statistics and other fields. Students are able to sign up for credit through independent study and practicum courses, or participate in the lab on a voluntary basis. Finally, faculty members who would like assistance in research design, data analysis or statistical methods can contact Dr. Larsen-Rife.  For information, contact Dannelle Larsen-Rife at dlsrsenrife@utahtech.edu.

Student Highlight: Undergraduate Research Helps Prepare for a Career in Psychology

Michael Guynn

Originally from Salt Lake City, Utah, Michael Guynn’s personal experiences as a teenager in a St. George residential treatment program motivated him to return to St. George and enroll in DSU as a psychology major. His interest in cognitive behavioral therapy and neuroscience led him to become an avid researcher. Currently a senior, Michael has already presented papers at the Utah Conference on Undergraduate Research, the Western Regional Honors Council Conference and the Utah Academy of Science, Arts, and Letters. This past April, Michael presented his most recent research at the DSU Regional Research Symposium. In his presentation entitled “Forgive Me Father for my Children have Sinned: Religiosity, Intrusive Parenting and Attachment Styles,” Michael described the psychological assessments and regression analysis he is using to examine the degree to which religiosity and intrusive parenting are associated with an inability to form secure personal relationships later in life. “Our hypothesis,” Michael points out, “is that religious doctrine may prompt intrusive parenting via interpersonal guilt and social pressure. There is evidence in the psychological literature showing that parents who make decisions for their children, use psychological or religious control and do not respect children’s need for autonomy, cause their children difficulty in forming secure personal relationships later in life. We want to examine the degree to which this is the case in Utah residents.”

Michael places a high value on his undergraduate research experience. “Doing research gives meaning to your education because it allows you to apply it to your interests,” Michael says. “And if grad school is the next step for you, research is an exquisite way to get a taste of something beyond the typical undergraduate experience and to forge a vision of what you really want for your future.” Michael plans to apply to graduate school to pursue a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology with an emphasis in Neuroscience. For more information, contact Michael Guynn at mikeyguynn@gmail.com.


Research office

Email: research@utahtech.edu

Phone: 435-879-4488

Office: HCC 488