Grants awarded to 12 faculty members to further UCCS research

Brandon Flanery 

bflanery@uccs.edu 

     Every year, UCCS awards seed grants that come from indirect cost recovery funds to junior tenured-track faculty.  

     According to the Office of Research’s webpage, “The objectives of this investment program are to promote research excellence, to help junior tenure-track faculty members establish research programs, and to assist faculty members in becoming nationally competitive when seeking funding from sources external to UCCS.” 

     This year, 12 faculty members were awarded grants for research: Brynn Adamson, Christine Biermann, Justin Cole, Elizabeth Daniels, Dylan Harris, Shannon Johnson, Karin Larkin, Byeong Lee, Deborah Pina-Thomas, Matt Quinlan, Diana Selmeczy and Diane Stutey. 

     The Scribe inquired with each faculty member to learn about their research and what they plan to do with the grants.  

Brynn Adamson, associate professor — Health Science 

     How long have you been with UCCS? 

     “I am brand new! I just started in January, 2021 so the Spring, 2021 semester was my first.” 

     What drew you to UCCS? 

     “The biggest draw was the department and program – Health Sciences with degrees in Health and Wellness Promotion. That is my background and this program is exactly what I was looking for! Additionally, I was so excited to learn about the Center for Active Living at the Lane Center where community-based physical activity programs are held that allow for the important intersection of community health programming, student involvement and hands-on learning, and research! I am bringing a group exercise program – MOVE MS – to this center and so excited to have a place to host the program and bring in community members with multiple sclerosis.” 

     Why did you apply for the grant? 

     “I work with a lot of partners (other researchers, community members living with disability, exercise instructors and health and wellness practitioners) and recently connected with an organization called the NeuroStudio through my biggest supporter, a peer MOVE MS Pilates instructor. She received her training on Pilates and functional exercise from the NeuroStudio and we started meeting with another collaborator about how to systematically evaluate a specific style of teaching movement. We wanted to start small to see what changes we would see in participants with MS if we taught Pilates with and without a particular movement and cuing pattern. This will help us optimize the MOVE MS program (which incorporates yoga, Pilates, Zumba and many other types of exercise) to improve functional outcomes. Right now, our program really focuses on psychological benefits of community and movement in groups, but we also want our participants to feel like they can move more comfortably in their daily lives.” 

     What do you plan to do with the seed grant now that you’ve been awarded it? 

     “The plan is to develop two parallel Pilates classes, one that includes teaching participants about the importance of hip and shoulder stability with exercise and one that is a standard class. We will recruit adults with moderate multiple sclerosis and randomize into the two groups for 12 weeks of class. We will evaluate the impact and difference between the classes on variables like balance, mobility, function and also exercise participation outside of class.” 

     What do you hope to produce and learn from this research? 

     “We hope to see that this method of focusing on hip and shoulder stabilization with exercise can then be included in all our MOVE MS exercises so that while participants are focused on enjoying the exercise and building camaraderie, the instructors can teach in ways that will increase the functional benefits of the program.” 

Christine Biermann, assistant professor — Geography and Environmental Studies; and Emily Mooney — Biology 

     How long have you been with UCCS? 

     “I have been at UCCS for three years.” 

     What drew you to UCCS? 

     “I love working at UCCS because of my phenomenal colleagues! We have amazing researchers and teachers here at UCCS.” 

     Why did you apply for the grant? What do you plan to do with it? What do you hope to produce and learn from this research? 

     “Dr. Emily Mooney and I applied for the CRCW to study how climate change is impacting alpine and subalpine ecosystems in Colorado. We are revisiting a site on Pennsylvania Mountain, a 13er mountain near Fairplay, Colorado, that UCCS researchers previously studied in the 1970s and 80s. Now, we get to go back and find out how the ecosystem has changed since then – and how climate change might be affecting these changes. Often people think about climate change as something that is occurring elsewhere, or something that will happen in the future, but our research will look at how changes to climate in Colorado have already affected plant and insect communities in mountain ecosystems.” 

Justin Cole, assistant professor — Mathematics 

     How long have you been at UCCS? 

     “This is my first year at UCCS. However, I actually think of it as my “zeroth” year since it clearly isn’t normal. I am looking forward to things getting back to normal as much as possible next Fall.” 

     What drew you to this school? 

     “I think UCCS was and still is a great fit for me professionally and personally. The Mathematics Department here has a history of good instruction that prepares our students for their careers. Coupled with that, the university was recently designated an R2 institution by the Carnegie Institute indicating a commitment to scholarly research and doctoral level work. Also, I do research in nonlinear waves and the Applied Mathematics group here has a research focus in that area. Finally, having lived in a couple other parts of the country, I really felt like Colorado is a great place to live and raise a family.” 

     Why did you apply for the grant? 

     “I am looking to develop an active research group. The CRCW seed grant will provide me with the resources I need to reach my goals.” 

     What do you plan to do with the seed grant now that you’ve been awarded it? 

     “I am going to use a portion of the grant to reduce my teaching load this upcoming year. This time will then be used to focus on research and mentor a student. I have also set aside funds to hire a talented student for a research project.” 

     What do you hope to produce and learn from this research? 

     “My goal is to discover important results in the field of topological insulators that will be embraced by the scientific community and contribute to the fundamental understanding of these systems. I am hoping to develop a mathematical description of topological insulators in electromagnetic systems. I also want to take this time to mentor a student researcher and prepare them for their career in science.” 

Elizabeth Daniels, research fellow and associate professor — Psychology 

     How long have you been at UCCS?  

     “Since 2014.” 

     What drew you to this school? 

     “The research focus of the Psychology department including student-faculty research.” 

     Why did you apply for the grant? 

     “To fund the study I’m conducting.” 

     What do you plan to do with the seed grant now that you’ve been awarded it? 

     “I’ll be collecting data with youth from diverse ethnic/racial backgrounds on their media use and how media use relates to mental health outcomes. In addition, I’ll be studying whether ethnic identity buffers negative effects of media consumption.” 

     What do you hope to produce and learn from this research? 

     “Much of the research on media use in teens is with White adolescents even though youth of color use media at a higher rate. I’m interested in better understanding the impacts of media on the psychological well-being of minoritized youth.” 

Dylan Harris, assistant professor — Geography and Environmental Studies 

     How long have you been at UCCS? 

     “I began my role as Assistant Professor of Geography & Environmental Studies last August (Fall 2020). I am officially wrapping up my first academic year here at UCCS.”  

     What drew you to this school? 

     “There are several reasons I am drawn to UCCS, and to Southern Colorado in general. But, for the sake of keeping things short, I’ll mention only a few. First, beginning with my on-campus interview in the fall of 2019, I felt immediately welcomed by my now-colleagues in the GES department. Further, everyone I met – students, staff, random folks in town, etc. – were also accommodating and warm to me, making me feel like UCCS would be a kind, productive place to work. Second, I think UCCS’s recent recognition as a R2 research institution presents several opportunities for growth and support, and it feels exciting to be a part of that experience. Third, Colorado – and Southern Colorado in particular – presents important research opportunities for me to continue my ongoing work on what I call ‘climate consciousness,’ which examines how ideas of empire, energy, and progress inform how people in the U.S. have come to understand climate change. Fourth, I really wanted to live somewhere beautiful. Walking has always been an important part of my intellectual and creative process, and I am grateful to live in a place where I can walk out my front door and into beautiful spaces when I encounter a puzzle in my work, to think and process.” 

     Why did you apply for the grant? 

     “To date, much of my research has focused on Appalachia and Alaska, and I see this grant as an opportunity to establish more of a research program here in Colorado. I am still very much working in Appalachia and Alaska, but this grant will help me tie together some threads from those research sites into programs here in Colorado. Eventually, I see my work on ‘climate consciousness’ as a book project that will involve research in a few other regions of the U.S., and this grant will be helpful in giving me resources to further refine my ideas and methodologies as this project grows. Finally, I appreciate that the CRCW grant encourage student research, and I am excited to create opportunities for students to develop their own research ideas.” 

     What do you plan to do with the seed grant now that you’ve been awarded it? 

     “The title of my CRCW project is ‘“Seeing” the Changing Climate in Changing Cultures in Georgia & Colorado,’ which speaks to what I see as a need to diversify how we produce knowledge about climate change. Traditional climate archives – or proxy records of past climate change – can be as varied as ice cores, ancient pollen grains, and cored tree rings. These archives highlight past climate change by giving researchers information about topics as diverse as atmospheric chemistry (taken from gas bubbles trapped in ice) and precipitation patterns (as seen in the size of specific tree rings). Together, these archives allow scientists to study conditions of past climates, which give information about the present climate and help to model the future climate. While these archives are critical for climate science, they are also largely inaccessible both in terms of reaching them (e.g., having the technology to drill for ice cores) and studying them (e.g., having funding for equipment and lab space). Further, the way this science is often communicated – in technical language and mostly in academic journals – has been criticized for being out of touch with public perceptions of climate change. Keeping in mind the scientific necessity of more traditional climate archives, but also working to make this research more accessible, this project aims to re-imagine climate archives by way of ‘looking’ for the changing climate in other kinds of proxy records. In particular, I aim to use folklore archives to ‘see’ the changing climate from a perspective that is both more accessible and potentially more relevant to people’s daily experiences and understanding of climate change. 

     “For example, while doing archival research in Southern Appalachia I could see how foodways have adapted to the changing climate (e.g., smokehouses quit being used in the 1980s) and how material cultural production has shifted (e.g., dying practices have changed as plants migrate away from the region due to warmer temperatures). On the topic of dying practices, it is possible to visualize climate change over the past century or so by looking at the shifting colors of yarn used in quilting, etc. Though dyed yarn does not immediately provide the same information as ice cores, it does provide a way of seeing climate change viscerally represented in the material culture of a region that has historically been ‘opposed’ to climate science. I found that this was a critical point of entry for building climate consciousness during my work. 

     “With this grant, I hope to return to archives I have formerly worked in to more explicitly look for evidence of past climate change, further developing methods for ‘seeing’ climate change in archives that do not overtly discuss it. I plan to work with students in Georgia to develop these ideas, and I plan to bring these methods back to UCCS where I will also work with students to begin conducting archival research here in Southern Colorado. Of course, because of COVID-19, I need to be flexible with my timelines and considerate of the needs of both research sites and students, but I am excited to get to work on this project and am deeply appreciative for the CRCW grant!” 

     What do you hope to produce and learn from this research? 

     “My short-term goal with this research is to further develop methods for ‘seeing’ climate change as a means of diversifying climate knowledge production with the aim of better understanding, and ideally shaping, how people come to understand climate change. I look forward to developing these ideas further with the help of students, especially because I think collaborative knowledge production in general – but specifically about climate change – is necessary. My longer-term goal is to develop these ideas into a book project that examines how knowledge of climate change has developed in the U.S. over time, looking specifically at the ways that powerful ideas – of empire, energy, and progress – shape how people relate to and act upon climate change. I find that so much of climate research focuses on adding more evidence to what many people already know: that climate change is real, that is it happening, and that it is already impacting people across the globe.  

     “This work is vital and absolutely necessary. The issue isn’t the science. Rather, it is convincing others that it matters. There is lots of important research as well that suggests that people’s relative inaction on climate change is not because they are not aware of it – having more information is not necessarily the issue. It is, as with most things, more complex. This project, and my work more broadly, aims to address how power differentials, as manifested in cultural and political contexts, are key for understanding not only if someone ‘believes’ in climate change but also how they come to know about it in general. With a clearer sense of power differentials – and the ways that climate change impacts are felt unequally – in mind, I think it is possible to begin enacting something like climate and energy justice.” 

Diana Selmeczy, assistant professor — Psychology 

     How long have you been at UCCS? 

     “This is my second year at UCCS. I joined the Psychology Department in Fall 2019.” 
     What drew you to this school? 

     “UCCS has a wonderful community and environment that supports teaching and research productivity. I was excited to be able to bring new areas of research to the Psychology Department and opportunities for students to get involved with research. I also appreciated that UCCS has lots of non-traditional college students and I would have the opportunity to teach, and hopefully positively impact, a diverse student body.” 
     Why did you apply for the grant? 

     “I applied for the CRCW grant in order to help launch a new project examining how children and adolescents benefit from seeking help during their learning.” 
     What do you plan to do with the seed grant now that you’ve been awarded it? 

     “We plan to launch our research project this upcoming Fall, and this seed grant will help support related costs such as participant compensation and graduate student research hours. We are also particularly excited to be working with Harrison School District students as part of this research project. By participating in our research, we hope to provide local students with an opportunity to contribute to science and learn about the research process.” 
     What do you hope to produce and learn from this research? 

     “The funded project will help answer important questions about how children learn information and whether certain learning strategies correlate with academic achievement. We are particularly interested in understanding when children seek help and whether different types of help are more beneficial for their learning. For example, when students are uncertain about an answer, they may ask their teacher to provide them the correct answer or they may ask their teacher to guide them to the answer through a clue or hint. We are interested in understanding what type of help children prefer, how help-seeking develops throughout childhood and adolescents, and how help-seeking strategies contribute to long-term learning of information and academic achievement. The results of this research will be presented at local and national research conferences and submitted as a peer reviewed empirical journal article. We will also share our results with students and teachers from our collaborating schools and use this research to apply for additional national funding opportunities to further investigate the development of help-seeking behaviors.” 

Diane Stutey, assistant professor and school counseling program coordinator — Counseling and Human Services 

     How long have you been at UCCS?  

     “I am finishing my third year at UCCS as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Counseling and Human Services in the College of Education. I also serve as the School Counseling Program Coordinator and am the Co-Director for the Campus Connections Therapeutic Youth Mentoring program: https://coe.uccs.edu/departments/counseling-human-services/campus-connections.” 

     What drew you to this school?  

     “I am a graduate of UCCS; I received my Master’s in Counseling and Human Services in 2002. I loved my time at UCCS and knew that I always wanted to come back and teach in this program. I was an adjunct faculty member in summer 2012 and became a full-time faculty member in 2018 (after teaching at Clemson University and Oklahoma State University). I enjoy so many things about UCCS and love to see the growth of this university over the past 20 years. And I especially love that our department now has an undergraduate major in Counseling and Human Services and that we are able to work with the youth in the community and bring them to the UCCS campus each Thursday through Campus Connections.” 

     Why did you apply for the grant? 

     “I applied for the CRCW seed grant to help support some research I am doing with pet therapy. During my time at Oklahoma State University I participated in the OSU Pete’s Pet Posse Therapy Dog program. I was trained as a handler and my dog, Lizzie, is registered with the Alliance of Therapy Dogs. When I started working at UCCS I looked for ways to incorporate Lizzie into my teaching and work with students. I completed a qualitative research study at the end of my first year with our counseling students in the AOC program to see what impact having a therapy dog in the classroom had on their overall learning and well-being. The participants of this study shared that the presence of a therapy dog in the classroom was a positive experience. In particular, participants had the shared experiences of seeing the benefits of a therapy dog helping to build relational connections, emotional and social support, positive change in climate, and meeting basic needs.” 

     What do you plan to do with the seed grant now that you’ve been awarded it? 

     “I plan to hire a part-time Graduate Research Assistant who will begin working with me on June 1st. We will be contacting recent graduates of our master’s in counseling program to invite them to participate in this study. Those students had opportunities to interact both virtually and in-person with the Lizzie over the past 2-3 years. We plan to replicate the qualitative study that was conduced with the AOC students but also look to see if there were other findings based on some of the pet therapy being virtual and also during the COVID-19 pandemic. Then we will be working to get IRB approval for a new study in Fall 2021. We plan to have Lizzie spend time with our at-promise youth in Campus Connections when they are on the UCCS campus each Thursday. Our goal is to collect data each evening with youth who interact with Lizzie. Then, we also hope to conduct semi-structured individual and group interviews at the end of the semester with the youth who agree to participate in the research study (with parent’s consent and youth’s assent).” 

     What do you hope to produce and learn from this research? 

     “We plan to produce two research studies that we will publish over the course of the next year – one with graduate students in the counseling field and a second with at-promise youth in the Campus Connections therapeutic youth mentoring program. We will also look at presenting our findings at local and national conferences focused on mental health. We hope to learn more about the impact of therapy dogs on adult and youth learners. In particular, we are interested to learn more about how participants perceive the presence of a therapy dog impacting not only their learning, but also their overall mental health and wellness.” 

     Shannon Johnson, assistant professor, Public Affairs, Social Work; Karin Larkin, director of curation and archeological Services, Anthropology; Byeong Kil Lee, assistant professor, Electrical and Computer Engineering; Deborah Pina-Thomas, assistant professor, Nursing and Matt Quinlan, assistant professor, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering could not be reached for comment.