Utah Tech University


We interview students and faculty about their research.
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Fall 2022

Student Highlight: Investigating Suicidal Behavior Among College Students

Stephen Gubler

Stephen Gubler transferred to Utah Tech University from Las Vegas as a sociology major and quickly discovered that Utah Tech’s Institute for Social Research (ISR) was a good fit for their interest in research and statistics. As part of their work with ISR, Stephen investigated suicidal behavior among college students in southern Utah. Stephen’s analysis of a data sample of 347 Utah Tech students, who filled out the 2021 National College Health Assessment II Survey, revealed a high prevalence of suicidal behaviors among Utah Tech students. Some 28% of participants reported having thought about suicide, 21.9% had made a plan, 8.2% had attempted suicide during their lifetime, and 4.3% had attempted suicide in the previous 12 months. Overall, 33.4% of the sample had a suicidality score that exceeded the critical threshold for positive suicidal screening. Stephen was also able to identify factors associated with a high risk of suicidality including psychological distress, loneliness, substance use, exposure to negative life events and abuse, having a child, having received mental health services, having a disability, and being a sexual minority. On the other hand, psychological well-being, resilience, academic and social participation, and religiosity were significantly associated with a lower risk of suicidality.


Last February, Stephen presented the results of their research at the Utah Conference on Undergraduate Research held on the Utah Tech campus. Stephen also presented their research at the Pacific Sociological Association’s annual conference last April and plans to submit their research for publication this semester. “Doing research like this allows me to apply what I’m learning in the classroom. It also helps me make sense of the world I live in,” Stephen commented. “The skills I’ve developed here will certainly be helpful when I enter the job market,” they added. For more information, contact Stephen at stephen.gubler@gmail.com or their faculty mentor Muhammed Yildiz at muhammed.yildiz@utahtech.edu.

Student Highlight: Social Media Use Among Adolescents

Michael Bokinskie

Michael came to Utah Tech with the goal of becoming a school psychologist. As a psychology major, he participated in the Utah Tech Neuroscience in Relationship Development (NiRD) Lab and led a team of student researchers investigating the effects of social media use on adolescents. In February, Michael presented the results of his research at the Utah Conference on Undergraduate research held on the Utah Tech campus. His presentation, “Social Media Use and Academic Engagement in Adolescence: Implication for Social Policy” revealed a number of important findings about the effects of social media on adolescent mental health. “The way teens use social media influences the amount of positive or negative effects,” Michael points out.  According to the study, teens who actively post and reply to posts on social media tend to experience fewer negative effects than teens who simply scroll but never respond or post. “Passive use of this kind leads to an increase in upward social comparison, which lowers self-esteem and decreases mental health,” said Michael. Based on their findings, the researchers advocate more transparency from social media platforms and warnings to teens and parents about the possible negative effects. “Teens should be aware of the risks and should try to avoid passive social media use so as to avoid altered expectations and upward social comparisons,” commented Michael.

Before graduating from Utah Tech in May, Michael had been accepted to the graduate program in psychology at the University of Utah and was awaiting acceptance decisions from several other graduate programs. “There are some things you can learn in the classroom but there are many things you wouldn’t learn without the research experience,” said Michael. “Doing research like this allows anybody to contribute to the growth of the discipline.” For more information, contact Michael at bokinskie.michael@gmail.com or his faculty mentor Dannelle Larsen-Rife at dannelle.larsen-rife@utahtech.edu.

Student Highlight: How do People Recover from Opioid Addiction?

Brooklyn Price

Opiods are the leading cause of drug overdose deaths in the U.S. and opioid addiction is a prevalent issue in Utah. Opioid drugs may be prescribed after a surgery, during cancer treatment, and for other chronic pain. But because opioids are highly addictive, the risk of becoming addicted increases as time spent on the medication increases. Using data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and other sources, Brooklyn was able to construct a mathematical model that sheds light on the addiction and recovery process. “In our model, we are able to show the different ways that people move between being susceptible, prescribed, addicted, and recovering individuals,” Brooklyn explained. “We also track the different ways that individuals recover. Some addicted individuals recover in the hospital or as outpatients with assistance from pharmaceuticals. Some recover without using pharmaceuticals and some recover through a rehab or long-term care facility.” She added, “Most patients recover as outpatients without the assistance of pharmaceuticals.” Brooklyn presented this model and two other papers at Utah Tech’s annual Trailblazer Symposium for Research, Innovation, and Creativity in April 2022. One paper, “An Interdisciplinary Modeling Approach: Is the Dam Half-Full or Half-Empty?” addresses the demands for water on the Hoover and Glen Canyon Dams, and the other paper, “A Mathematical Model for the Transmission of Dengue Fever with Multiple Serotypes” addresses how individuals gain immunity from Dengue fever.

After her graduation date of May 2023, Brooklyn plans to pursue a Master’s degree in data analysis. “I’ve gotten a lot of real-world experience at Utah Tech,” Brooklyn observed. “As an undergraduate, I’ve had opportunities to be creative and to learn to solve real-world problems. This experience will help me in my professional career.”  For more information contact Brooklyn at brooklyn.price@utahtech.edu or her faculty mentor Vinodh Chellamuthu at vinodh.chellamuthu@utahtech.edu

Faculty Highlight: The Benefits of Ungrading

 Lauren DiSalvo

When Assistant Professor of Art History Lauren DiSalvo encountered an article about ungrading, she felt this might have many benefits to students at Utah Tech University. “As an open enrollment university, ungrading provides benefits such as increased student engagement and social equity,” she commented. Ungrading typically means replacing the use of points or letter grades with ongoing quality feedback for student assignments and overall progress. In DiSalvo’s courses, she meets with each student several times during the semester to review their progress. At the end of the semester, her students engage in what’s called metacognitive self-assessment and assign themselves a grade.

Using her own students and classes as research subjects, DiSalvo teamed with Associate Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies Nancy Ross to investigate the effects of ungrading on students’ engagement and apathy, and to compare the final grades that students self-assign with traditional grades. Their article, “Ungrading in Art History: Grade Inflation, Student Engagement, and Social Equity” was published this year in Art History Pedagogy & Practice (Volume 7, Issue 1). Results based on both traditionally graded and “ungraded” classes taught by DiSalvo during the last few years showed that the self-assigned grades from her ungraded sections were not inflated grades. Students consistently assigned themselves slightly lower grades, as measured by class averages, than the traditionally graded sections. DiSalvo and Ross also used a word analysis to look at what course evaluations revealed about student attitudes toward ungrading. In the ungraded course evaluations, student comments focused less on what the teacher did and more on what they learned in the course, and included a higher number of words like “trust,” “respect,” “standards,” “learning,” and “feedback.”

“The most common concern people raise about ungrading is that students will inflate their grades,” DiSalvo commented. “My experience is that students are harder on themselves than we are and I often encourage students to raise their assigned grades.” For more information, contact Dr. Lauren DiSalvo at lauren.disalvo@utahtech.edu.

Faculty Highlight: What Happens when Ecotourists Feed Grapes to Lizards?

 Geoff Smith

Tourists love coming across wildlife, especially exotic wildlife. Unfortunately, tourists often feed wildlife foods that may not be part of the animal’s natural diet. Such is the case of the Bahamian rock iguanas that inhabit the Exuma island chain of The Bahamas. Ecotourists who visit these islands often feed grapes to the iguanas. Grapes are very high in glucose and researchers wanted to know how such a high sugar diet was affecting the iguanas. Assistant Professor of Biology Geoff Smith recently published an article addressing this question. “Glucose Tolerance of Iguanas is Affected by High-Sugar Diets in the Lab and Supplemental Feeding by Ecotourists in the Wild” was published this year in the Journal of Experimental Biology.

Because the Bahamian rock iguanas live on islands visited by tourists and on adjacent islands not visited by tourists, Smith and his colleagues were able to compare the glucose levels of the tourist-fed iguanas with iguanas that are not fed by tourists. Their study showed that unnatural consumption of high amounts of glucose alters glucose metabolism in iguanas and may have negative health consequences. The condition is similar to type 2 diabetes in humans which begins with insulin desensitization.

Smith, who also studies lizards local to Washington County, has published a number of articles about lizards including, “Life-History Differences across Latitude in Common Side-Blotched Lizards” in Ecology and Evolution. Smith likes to point out the importance of looking closely at nature. “Because we don’t know until we look,” he said. “I find it more interesting to investigate reality directly and personally,” he added. Dr. Geoffrey Smith is currently chair of the Biology Department and can be reached at geoffrey.smith@utahtech.edu.

Faculty Highlight: Without Research There Would Be Nothing New to Teach

Jeremy Bakelar

Assistant Professor of Biology Jeremy Bakelar’s latest publication in Nature Communications represents a line of research that he began as an NIH postdoctoral fellow at Purdue University. The article, “Plasticity Within the Barrel Domain of BamA Mediates a Hybrid-Barrel Mechanism by BAM” deals with an essential protein machine found in many bacteria that is a promising target for antibiotic development. In 2016, Bakelar was the author of an important paper in the field which revealed for the first time the molecular structure BAM. His most recent paper reveals new mechanistic detail about how the BAM complex may function in cellular membranes.

Currently, Bakelar is conducting research investigating virulence proteins from the pathogen that causes tuberculosis. Partially funded by a $3,000 faculty research grant from the Utah Tech Research Office, the current project includes BAM tb and a novel catalase enzyme discovered in tuberculosis. Bakelar believes in the importance of involving students in his research, giving them the opportunity to gain hands-on experience and develop the fundamental skills that they can immediately use in the workplace or as future graduate students. “What students learn in the classroom doesn’t mean anything if you can’t do something on the edges,” commented Bakelar. “Research allows students to see themselves on the cutting edge of some aspect of their field, and without research there will be nothing new to teach.” For more information, contact Dr. Jeremy Bakelar at jeremy.bakelar@utahtech.edu.

Student Highlight: Summer Interns Return from Stanford and Johns Hopkins

Thanks to a collaborative effort between Stanford University and Utah Tech University, five Utah Tech students spent this past summer at Stanford’s Cancer Research Center conducting medical research. Three other Utah Tech students traveled to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD. “Summer internships provide an amazing opportunity for our students,” says Doug Sainsbury, Instructor of the Practice and Biotechnology Program Coordinator. “Past recipients have gone on to top graduate and medical schools because of their research experience at Stanford and Johns Hopkins.”

Rosemary Mwithiga

Rosemary Mwithiga spent her summer at Stanford University working in Dr. Jim Ford’s lab on a project to investigate mechanisms of chemotherapy resistance in breast cancer cells. Rosemary is majoring in biology with an emphasis in biomedical science and a minor in chemistry and will graduate in May 2023 with plans to apply to a combined MD and PhD program.

Brianna Miles

Brianna Miles, a biochemistry-molecular biology major with a minor in mathematics, graduated from Utah Tech University in spring 2022. Brianna spent her summer internship as part of Dr. Laura Ensign’s Women’s Health team at John Hopkins researching preterm birth. Brianna intends to pursue a PhD in biochemistry or pharmacology and go into industry.

Raegan Wood

Raegan Wood is a senior working on her BA in biological sciences with a minor in chemistry. Raegan spent her summer working with Dr. GiWon Shin at Stanford University on medicine in cancer genetics. After graduation, Raegan plans to enter a medical scientist training program and to obtain an MD and PhD.

Jase Jensen

Jase Jensen graduated from Utah Tech in spring 2022 in biochemistry and completed his internship at John Hopkins University developing biochemical sensors to measure drug metabolism. Jase is currently employed as a biochemistry reagent formulator at Idaho Molecular in Salt Lake City.

Emily Flory

Emily Flory is a biochemistry-molecular biology major who will graduate in May 2023. Her interest is in pharmaceutical research. Emily spent her summer at Stanford University as part of a team researching antibiotic resistance. After graduating, Emily plans to attend graduate school and do research in the areas of biochemistry-molecular biology, chemical biology, and pharmacology.


Research office

Email: research@utahtech.edu

Phone: 435-879-4488

Office: HCC 488