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Gradbird Scholars: Student research spotlighted through monthly competition

One challenge all researchers must overcome is how to explain their work to a general audience. The Graduate School launched the GradBird Scholar initiative in September 2019, in an effort to make scholarly research more accessible while honoring the scholarship of Illinois State students.

Each month, a committee of graduate students, faculty, and staff selects a new GradBird Scholar, who is chosen from a cohort of students who self-nominate for the award. Submissions are judged on the quality of the research and how clearly it is explained.

The winners receive a monetary award and are highlighted in a video shared on social media. Last year, about a dozen students submitted nominations each month. The following seven individuals were recognized as GradBird Scholars:

Mallorie Latora is a master’s student in the School of Communication.

September 2019: Mallorie Latora, master’s student, School of Communication

Mallorie Latora examined how newspapers across the country have handled the opioid crisis. In her research, she contrasted news articles from states with high rates of opioid-related deaths and news articles from states with low rates of opioid-related deaths. She found that states with low rates of opioid-related deaths published more stories on prevention. Additionally, she presented her findings at the Broadcast Education Association conference in Las Vegas in spring 2019.

Kara Cicciarelli is a doctoral student in the Department of Psychology.

October 2019: Kara Cicciarelli, doctoral student, Department of Psychology

Working alongside Assistant Professor Dr. Brea Banks, Kara Cicciarelli utilized deception to bring students in for a study on the history of Illinois State. However, Cicciarelli was actually researching the harmful effects of microaggressive language. She exposed the students to hurtful language before administering a cognitive test and found that minority students experienced depleted cognition after being exposed to hurtful language. Her takeaway from the study was that words need to be used carefully in a college setting to allow all students to perform at their fullest potential.

Ian Rines is a doctoral student in the School of Biological Sciences.

November 2019: Ian Rines, doctoral student, School of Biological Sciences

Ian Rines worked in the labs of Associate Professor Dr. Ben Sadd and Distinguished Professor Dr. Scott Sakaluk. Rines researches animal behavior, specifically “sexual conflict” in crickets. Rines defined sexual conflict as reproduction that is not inherently cooperative. He stated males often gain more by monopolizing a female’s eggs. Rines found that males provide a nuptial food “gift” to females that they eat while mating. However, the gifts are not nutritious and serve to manipulate female reproductive behavior. Rines concluded that females with mating experience mate for longer periods of time.

Samantha Croney is a master’s student in the Department of Psychology.

December 2019: Samantha Croney, master’s student, Department of Psychology

Samantha Croney focused her thesis on childhood shyness, inhibition, and aggression. The forms of aggression she analyzed were proactive aggression, such as bullying or stealing, and reactive aggression, which she described as instant responses like physical violence. Croney focused on 4-year-olds as they were transitioning from preschool to elementary school. She found that inhibition is related to all forms of aggression, ultimately caused by new and unfamiliar places. Her finding could help educators develop appropriate interventions in the future.

Austin Calhoun is a master’s student in the School of Biological Sciences.

February 2020: Austin Calhoun, master’s student, School of Biological Sciences

Austin Calhoun worked in Associate Professor Dr. Ben Sadd’s infectious disease ecology lab. For his thesis, Calhoun analyzed how combinations of environmental stressors may worsen the effects of infectious diseases. In observing bumblebees, he noted that the two main stressors they face are parasites and pesticides. Calhoun investigated whether pesticides worsened the effects of infectious diseases in bumblebees, and ultimately found evidence to support his multiple stressor hypothesis.

Joel McReynolds is a master’s student in the Stevenson Center for Community and Economic Development and Department of Politics and Government.

March 2020: Joel McReynolds, master’s student, Stevenson Center for Community and Economic Development and Department of Politics and Government

In collaboration with the Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning, Joel McReynolds investigated whether Illinois State students made a difference in the Bloomginton-Normal community. McReynolds surveyed seven community organizations who have worked with the University for at least five years. The results were overwhelmingly positive, with several organizations noting that Illinois State students bring unique assets that are vital to their organization.

Jacob Styan is a master’s student in the Department of Agriculture.

April 2020: Jacob Styan, master’s student, Department of Agriculture

For his thesis, Jacob Styan examined why cash rent leases have increased in Illinois over recent decades. These leases are arrangements in which the farmer pays the land owner a set amount of money for each acre they use to farm. Styan stated that since 1995, the use of cash rent leases in Illinois has steadily increased while the price per acre has increased and farmers’ returns have decreased. Styan collected a series of data points on eight different variables across all 102 counties in Illinois over a 21-year period. Styan developed four different statistical models that found that the increase in cash rent leases is due to a combination of six variables. With Illinois farmers’ returns steadily decreasing, Styan found it important to understand this trend.

Self-nominate for the Gradbird Scholar by the end of each month.

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