Student Story

Announcing the 2023 Senior Scholar Awards

The main campus building at Simmons University

Congratulations to the recipients of the 2023 Senior Scholar Award! Sponsored by the Provost's Office and the Office of Undergraduate Research and Fellowships, the annual Senior Scholar Award is presented to six graduating seniors in recognition of outstanding scholarship and contribution to a field of study.

Photo of Anna Burt

Anna Burt '23

Major: Psychology, Women's and Gender Studies

Project: The Impacts of Inspiration Porn (Mentor: Megan McCarty)

In my senior thesis, I explored the impacts of inspiration porn. Inspiration porn is a representation of disabled people characterized by images of visibly disabled people performing physical activities similar to those of able-bodied people with minimal accommodations accompanied by short motivational captions that are meant to encourage viewers (Hadley, 2016). Although it is important to have disability represented in popular culture, inspiration porn may have unanticipated negative consequences. Since inspiration porn depicts disabled people achieving athletic goals with minimal assistance, it may undermine understanding of and support for necessary disability accommodations.

296 participants were recruited to take an online survey and randomly assigned to see either an example of inspiration porn or a control photo. Participants completed a series of measures, including measures of system justification, dehumanization, and support for disability-related social change. Although inspiration porn has been studied qualitatively, there has been no known quantitative research on inspiration porn. Based on theoretical work surrounding similar topics (such as Jost & Hunyday, 2005), I expected that inspiration porn would increase beliefs which justify current social systems, and decrease support for disability-related social change. No significant effects of exposure to inspiration porn on system justification or social change were obtained, but there was a significant effect on dehumanization. Participants in the inspiration porn condition viewed disabled people as less human than participants in the control condition. This study highlights the potential negative impacts of inspiration porn on attitudes towards disability as well as the need for further research on this topic.

Photo of Catherine CoxCatherine Cox '23

Major: International Relations

Project: A Comparative Study on the Impact of Political Regimes in Mitigating the Gendered Impacts of Conflict (Mentor: Benjamin Cole)

Using a most-different systems quantitative study, “A Comparative Study on the Impact of Political Regimes in Mitigating the Gendered Impacts of Conflict” seeks to explore the influence of political regimes on the gendered consequences of conflict. In this work, we explore six major global conflicts; Ukraine (2022), Burkina Faso (2014), Yemen (2014), Nicaragua (2018), Iraq (2003), and the Democratic Republic of Congo (1996). The case studies were chosen to represent the three major types of political regime; democracy, anocracy, and autocracy. In an attempt to measure the gendered impact of each case-study, we then coded for three common gendered consequences of war (sexual violence, displacement, and personal economic stability) for each conflict – aiming to determine if we could quantify a measurable difference in these variables between each of the three political regimes. The main findings that emerged through this work were that women and girls living in anocracies experienced higher rates of sexual violence as well as economic disenfranchisement. Additionally, while women and girls living in democracies reported far less sexual violence and economic disenfranchisement, they noted comparably more displacement than their counterparts in anocracies. This study helps to contribute to our understanding of the impacts of conflict on women and girls, and how the political regime of the nation may influence their experiences. Not only do the findings of this report help shed light on the often-overlooked issue of the gendered consequences of war, but lessons from this report can be used to help implement effective policies and programs to best support women and girls living through conflict and war.

Photo of Kiani JacobsKiani Jacobs '23

Major: Exercise Science

Project: Development of Glabrous and Hairy Skin Innervating TrkB+ and Ret+ Neurons (Mentor: Charalampia Koutsioumpa, MD)

Low threshold mechanoreceptors (LTMRs) are sensory neurons responsible for transmitting signals between the spinal cord and the skin. The aim of this research is to investigate the anatomical characteristics of LTMR subtypes and how their functions change based on their cutaneous targets in glabrous and hairy skin. The mechanisms contributing to the development of LTMR subtypes are largely unknown, especially regarding intrinsic and external mechanisms. Neuronal endings in hairy skin wrap around hair follicles and form circumferential endings, lanceolate endings, and free nerve endings. Glabrous endings can form Meissner corpuscles or Pacinian corpuscles. This research will help with understanding the development of glabrous and hairy skin innervating TrkB+ and Ret+ neurons. The hypothesis is that one embryonic TrkB+ neuron can develop into a glabrous or hairy LTMR, and the morphological properties of innervating LTMRs are influenced by its target region. To study this, TrkB+ and Ret+ neurons in the skin were visualized using alkaline phosphatase. Neuronal morphologies were analyzed at time points during embryonic, early postnatal, and adult stages. It was found that postnatal day 5 is a critical time point for the development of hairy and glabrous TrkB+ and Ret+ LTMRs. Some TrkB+ neurons formed both lanceolate and Meissner endings at the junction of glabrous and hairy skin, termed "border neurons". Through our research, we aim to understand the sensory neuron development and its functions under normal conditions. This will contribute to the development of treatments for disorders associated with dysfunctions of the peripheral nervous system.

Photo of Kaycee JacksonKaycee Jackson '23

Major: Political Science, Africana Studies

Project: Understanding the Outlawing of "Critical Race Theory" in Mississippi (Mentors: Abel Djassi Amado, Tatiana Cruz)

My study critically examines how the notion of "critical race theory" (CRT) has been weaponized by politicians in order to limit the amount that public educators can teach about the history of race in this country. In the past decade, many states have passed legislation that has banned material and literature deemed as “critical race theory” in classrooms ranging from kindergarten to the collegiate level. In the state of Mississippi, a number of legislators of color protested against the legislation, yet it continued to be passed and later became law. By focusing on this state, I critically examine the political language used by politicians involved in the process of anti-CRT policymaking and contextualize how power, race, and racism played a role in the legislation's political discourse.

By conducting a critical discourse analysis of speeches, interviews, and congressional hearings of politicians, I uncover how CRT has been redefined and misconstrued in contemporary discourse. I highlight recurring themes of patriotism, red-baiting,and the protection of children/innocence employed by legislators to justify their anti-CRT policy choices. This analysis explores how values and beliefs are communicated to constituents, especially considering these same themes have been utilized by politicians across the country.

Photo of Dan NguyenDan Nguyen '23

Major: Physics

Project: Experimental detection of skull-based ultrasonic Lamb waves as an intracranial pressure monitoring method (Mentor: Phillip Jason White)

Pressure within the cranial vault, which consists of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), the central nervous system (CNS), and blood, is referred to as intracranial pressure (ICP). Severely high ICP can damage the CNS so its monitoring is crucial for patients deemed to be at high risk of elevated ICP, such as those with traumatic brain injuries or undergoing neurosurgery. The standard approach requires the insertion of a pressure probe into the brain through a burr hole on the skull. A noninvasive alternative to ICP monitoring using guided acoustic waves was investigated. Different modes of Lamb waves were generated in a submerged acrylic plate and their corresponding leaky components were detected. The behavior of Lamb waves upon asymmetrical pressure loading of the plate was examined to reveal metrics that were sensitive to pressure changes. Dispersion curves, including the anti-symmetrical and symmetrical modes of Lamb waves propagation in a thin, isotropic acrylic plate comparable to thickness of cortical skull bone, were computed using the Rayleigh-Lamb equation and the Bisection method. Physical parameters such as critical angle, frequency-dependence phase velocity, and time-of-arrival were analyzed.

Photo of Miranda LeclercMiranda Leclerc '23

Major: History

Project: "The worthy friend of housekeepers": An Archaeological Reading of Scientific Cooking, 1878 to 1922 (Mentor: Stephen Berry)

Between 1860 and 1910, Boston was home to over 150 schools educating women in professional trades. Among these were the Boston Cooking School, which was established in 1878 and published one of the most successful cookbooks in the United States, and Simmons College, which purchased the Boston Cooking School in 1902. This paper uses material culture to examine the relationship between the Boston Cooking School and Simmons College. To combat the loss of original objects and buildings pertaining to this aspect of women's history, I frame The Boston Cooking School Cookbook (1896) and Simmons College's Experiments and Recipes (1915) as archaeological sites. I apply the archaeological methods of seriation, or how the form and function of objects change over time, and artifact assemblage, the relationship between different objects belonging to the same time and place. These techniques reveal how material culture and socioeconomic developments reciprocally influence changes in the other between 1878 and 1922. Course materials, The Boston Cooking School Magazine, and photographs supplement statistical analyses of uniforms, laboratories, measuring techniques, and ingredients. I argue that by merging domestic labor with chemistry, health sciences, and economics, scientific cooking staked a gendered claim to political equality. While the Boston Cooking School emphasized pride in the identity of domestic labor, Simmons College adopted the Boston Cooking School's curriculum to prioritize financial savviness and efficiency in the kitchen. Furthermore, the study reveals how industrialization and increased women's education transitioned scientific cooking from an intellectual movement to today's standard of American home cooking.

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