Our most recent cohort of McNair Scholars was inducted in December 2021. Their research internship took place during eight weeks over the summer and they presented their research at the 19th Annual McNair Scholars Research Symposium held at St. Edward's University.

2021-2022 Cohort

Michael Baquet

Michael Baquet
Hometown: New Orleans, LA
Major: Global Studies & Political Science
Graduation: Spring 2023

“Evacuating New Orleans: Why Hurricane Evacuations in New Orleans are Difficult”

Research directed by Dr. David Thomason, School of Behavioral and Social Sciences

New Orleans’ proximity to the Gulf of Mexico, makes it a frequent spot for hurricane landfalls. Additionally, being surrounded by the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain increases the risk of flooding. Local leaders have stated that flood protection techniques keep New Orleans from flooding and are at risk of failure in the event of major hurricanes. Therefore, the ability to evacuate New Orleans is essential to ensuring safety. While there has been significant research that focused on Hurricane Katrina and well as other hurricanes on the continued recovery efforts that New Orleans still faces, there is a lack of research as to why New Orleans struggles during hurricane evacuations. Demographic information as well as constant interviews and surveys conducted by local media outlets show that many residents lack the desire to evacuate during hurricanes. It has also been shown by demographic data that when evacuation is mandated by local or state authorities, many residents lack transportation and ability to afford shelter, and consider government operated shelters inadequate for their needs. As proved by multiple geographic and census surveys, low income and Black New Orleans are disproportionately affected due to residing in areas that are primarily below sea level. Moving forward, more government spending to accommodate for the range of specific needs of evacuees could be needed to improve the hurricane evacuation process in New Orleans.

Sofia Flores

Sofia Flores
Hometown: El Paso, TX
Major: Psychology
Graduation: Fall 2024

“The Effects of Childhood Emotional Neglect in the Young Adult Student Population”

Research directed by Dr. Adam G. McCormick, School of Behavioral and Social Sciences

The psychological distress from an emotionally unavailable caregiver can have the tendency to follow a person well into adulthood. Scholarship indicates that individuals who experienced childhood emotional neglect and did not feel supported throughout their upbringing are at greater risk for substance abuse and violence as adults. This type of childhood adversity can establish a life-long environment of loneliness and isolation, potentially causing post-traumatic stress, and can make it difficult to navigate emotions in social settings and in intimate relationships. The study aims to examine the effect of childhood emotional neglect on adult students’ college experience. More specifically, it aims to understand the rate and severity of which these college students have been affected by the behaviors of emotionally unavailable and underdeveloped caregiver(s) during their upbringing. The survey begins by asking questions pertaining to demographics before proceeding to Likert-type questions relating to the participants’ childhood experiences in order to examine the effects of internal (e.g., age, gender, ethnicity) and external variables (e.g., caregiver behaviors) on their college experiences and behaviors as adults. This study could potentially provide further information on how to approach effective ways of utilizing therapy techniques that can guide adults who experienced emotional neglect in childhood to understanding the deeply rooted causes of their behaviors.

Pedro Galvan

Pedro Galvan
Hometown: Harlingen, TX
Major: History
Graduation: Spring 2024

Secession in Texas: Division Amongst the People

Research directed by Dr. Daniel P. Glenn, School of Behavioral and Social Sciences

In early 1861, following the election of Republican Abraham Lincoln, a special Texas convention voted overwhelmingly, 166-8, to secede from the Union. Yet, the decision to secede was more contested than it appears. This research analyzes the ideas of leading secessionists and anti-secessionists who tried to influence the state in making that decision. Methods used to conduct this research were analysis of primary sources such as letters, speeches, newspapers, and documents from events and individuals during secession. Secondary sources were also analyzed that included books, articles, and academic journals about events and specific groups of people in Texas. Results indicate that secessionists in Texas, like most other states, used speeches, letters, clubs, and newspapers to motivate citizens to withdraw.  However, it was found that Texas secessionists also used fear to bring the vote in favor for secession. With a population consisting primarily of Whites, Blacks, Germans, and Tejanos, secessionists ultimately succeeded as Blacks had no rights, and both Germans and Tejanos were in fear of persecution. Moreover, spreading narratives of possible uprisings from anti-secessionists, the abolishment of slavery, the destruction of states’ rights, and desegregation instilled fear in White Texans causing them to feel resentment towards the already prosecuted anti-secessionists. For this reason, it is believed that the scare tactics employed by secessionists is what ultimately influenced voters to opt for the secession of Texas.

Thais Galvan

Thais Galvan
Hometown: Edinburg, TX
Major: Criminal Justice
Graduation: Spring 2023

Survey for Positive Youth Development

Research directed by Dr. Lisa L. Holleran, School of Behavioral and Social Sciences

Scholarship has shown that juvenile delinquency and incarceration is a significant problem in the United States because of the lack of programs targeting youths before and during incarceration. To improve the positive youth development framework, this study collected feedback from juveniles between the ages of 12 and 16 years in the Travis County Juvenile Detention Center. Specifically, participants were asked to complete a questionnaire regarding potential mentors and life skills they would be interested in learning more about. Results revealed that these youths seek to change and be a part of potential programs like mentoring to make positive changes. The results allow mentors to focus on the skills that were most wanted by the youths: education, skill training, personal betterment, community activities, and resume building. For the future of these youths and this research, further research can be done on the effect mentors and the programs have on the juveniles and how the positive youth development framework has benefited them.

Diego Garza

Diego Garza
Hometown: Monterrey, MX
Major: Kinesiology
Graduation: Spring 2023

Efficacy of Trigger Point Treatment

Research directed by Dr. Kristy K. Ballard, School of Natural Sciences

Myofascial trigger points are irritable areas that can cause pain, motor dysfunction, and autonomic reactions in muscle tissue susceptible to excessive stress and muscle tension. The development of trigger points manifests primarily via involuntary muscle contractions, headaches, and restrictions in range of motion. Reported to be the most accepted intervention to treat neck pain, manual therapy is effective in that it causes an increase in blood flow, lengthening of shortened muscle fibers, and decrease in pain levels in the affected areas. Although, because of the repetitive pressure application from the therapist, manual therapy can lead therapists to develop degenerative wrist injuries. An alternative treatment to trigger points is dry needling -a technique for muscle stimulation using a needle to inactivate trigger points and promote tissue healing. The current research aimed to better understand the effectiveness and therapeutic effects of using dry needling to treat trigger points in the trapezius muscle as compared to manual therapy. To do so, a meta-analysis was performed on peer reviewed articles with publication dates from 2010 to 2022. Results indicate that both techniques are equally as effective on a short-term basis and produce similar effects. The contrasts of dry needling involve responses on the neuromuscular junction and skin sympathetic response, while manual therapy increases reabsorption of lymphatic fluid.

Makena Gonzalez

Makena Gonzalez
Hometown: Georgetown, TX
Major: Behavioral Neuroscience
Graduation: Fall 2023

Learning to belong again: University belongingness in a post-pandemic society

Research directed by Dr. Jessica Boyette-Davis, School of Behavioral and Social Sciences

Belongingness refers to a feeling of connectedness and acceptance. In a university setting, feeling a sense of belonging can influence a student's attitude about their university and their experiences while enrolled there and is implicated in several factors related to student success. Many factors can influence university belongingness such as peer and faculty interactions. These factors were clearly disrupted during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when classes abruptly went to an online format, which was shown to negatively influence belongingness. This current study aimed to understand how the return to in-person classes from online/remote classes has impacted belonging. Using the College Belongingness Questionnaire and the Expectancy-Value-Cost Survey of Student Motivation, students were asked to reflect on their experiences during the period of remote learning (2020-2021 academic year) and the year during which all in-person classes resumed (2021-2022). Using paired sample t-tests, belongingness and motivation significantly increased in the 2021-2022 school year from the year prior; however, none of the captured demographic variables were able to explain this increase (e.g., age, gender, living situation, university size, etc.). These results suggest that in-person classes are beneficial to student success, but more work is needed to identify the factors that mediate this relationship.

Mariana Hernandez Flores

Mariana Hernandez Flores
Hometown: Santa Fe, New Mexico
Major: Psychology
Graduation: Spring 2023

College Students in Zoom University

Research directed by Psychology, School of Behavioral and Social Sciences

In recent years, first generation college students (FGCS) have begun to be more recognized as a distinct population with their own experiences and struggles; subsequently more research is emerging focusing on this group. Studies have shown that the FGCS population faces unique struggles and barriers, including “academic preparation, absence of support from family and friends, and difficult cultural transitions'' (House et al., 2019). With the novel development of the COVID-19 pandemic causing universities to shift to remote online education, and using questions from the Psychological Sense of School Membership Scale (Goodenow, 1993; Pittman & Richmond, 2007), the Multidimensional Scale of Perceived Social Support (Zimet, et al., 1988), and the well-being subscale of the Mental Health Inventory (MHI; Veit & Ware, 1983) this study is intended to explore how the first generation college student experience of well-being, in relation to social support and academic belonging, has been potentially affected. A series of t-tests are expected to reveal that FGCS who experienced increased social support during the period of emergency nontraditional remote instruction had higher reports of mental well-being, despite possibly having a lower sense of academic belonging. Potential implications of this study are access to better resources and support for FGCS and understanding some of the implications of COVID-19 on higher education institutions.

Janiece Jefferson

Janiece Jefferson
Hometown: Houston, Texas
Major: Environmental Science & Policy
Graduation: Spring 2024

“Measuring Grassland Ecosystem Productivity: Assessing Effects of Invasive vs Native Grass and Forb Dominance in the Texas Hill Country”

Research directed by Dr. Amy L. Concilio

Native prairies in Central Texas once harbored a vast diversity of plants and animals, but many have experienced declines due to exotic species invasion and woody encroachment.  Prescribed fire and seeding treatments are being used on private and public land in the Texas Hill Country to restore grassland communities. Ecosystem services and functions, such as productivity, disturbance regulation, nutrient cycling, and soil erosion control can be improved through restoration efforts, but these functional responses have not yet been quantified at many sites. We measured aboveground productivity in grassland sites dominated by the invasive grass King Ranch bluestem (Bothriochloa ischaemum) and nearby restored grassland sites dominated by little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium). Paired restored and invaded sites were located on three soil types at Commons Ford Metropark, Cemetery field at Spicewood Ranch, and West Winding field at Spicewood Ranch. We collected aboveground biomass at 4 plots per site (n=24), in three 20 X 50 cm2 quadrats per plot in Spring (May-June) and Fall (Oct) of 2022. Our restored plots were dominated by native species (92% native on average) whereas the invasive plots were 78% introduced or invasive species. Although we found a lot of variability in productivity by plot, on average, restored sites were twice as productive as invasive-dominated sites, at 305  ± 161 g m2 compared to 150.55 ± 54 g m2 .  We are still analyzing our fall 2021 and fall 2022 season data, but we anticipate patterns to be similar, providing another reason to restore native prairies.

Mia Sanchez

Mia Sanchez
Hometown: Round Rock, TX
Major: Environmental Biology and Climate Change
Graduation: Spring 2024

“Isolating discrete life cycle stages of a cockroach-infecting Gregarine for gene expression”

Research directed by Dr. Daniel A. Gold, School of Natural Sciences

Gregarines are protistan parasites in the phylum Apicomplexa that parasitize the intestinal epithelia of nearly all invertebrate clades. Blabericola migrator is a species of Gregarine that solely infects Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches. Gregarines are most closely related to Cryptosporidians, which infect vertebrates and most notably cause cryptosporidiosis in humans. Gregarines’ similar lifestyle and life cycles to Cryptosporidians, allow the largely understudied parasites to serve as a model for these human infectious parasites. Like Cryptosporidians, Gregarines have distinct internal stages: the sporozoites, trophozoites (immature and mature), and those in syzygy. To date, RNAseq analysis has only been completed on Gregarines in a mixed population of internal stages mainly comprised of trophozoites. This generalized transcriptome fails to distinguish between the specific genes expressed at each internal stage; therefore, to develop a stage-specific Gregarine transcriptome, we isolated three distinct subpopulations of internal stage Gregarines: (1) immature trophozoites attached to host epithelial cells, (2) mature, unattached trophozoites, and (3) those in syzygy. We isolated RNA from 4 biological replicates of each subpopulation and submitted the samples for mRNA sequencing.  Each subpopulation’s transcriptome will be compared to one another and to the recently published mixed internal stage’s transcriptome to identify how gene expression is altered throughout the maturation of internal Gregarine parasites. Alongside Dr. Charles Hauser, mapping and analyses of stage-specific gene expressions are underway. Preliminary results show success of RNA extraction with quality scores estimating 99.9% -99.99% correct base sequence and error rates ranging from 0.02% -0.03% for all samples.

James Ian Stephenson

James Ian Stephenson
Hometown: Corpus Christi, TX
Major: Political Science
Graduation: Spring 2023

“Deconstructing the “Obesity Epidemic:” If It’s Fat It’s Bad...?”

Research directed by Dr. David Thomason, School of Behavioral and Social Sciences

Fat studies take a critical multidisciplinary approach to address systemic biases that produce an oppressive society for fat people, especially fat Black people who make up 50% of the fat population. (CDC, 2022). Still, no existing literature offers practical means of translating these theoretical perspectives of fat studies to public policy. As a result, this study attempts to answer the following questions: to what degree has scientific knowledge on fatness and health been influenced by racial and gender biases of American political/governmental agencies? How has this dominant narrative, about fatness and health, impacted the everyday participation of fat people in the American capitalist system? How can fat studies provide an alternative lens for political and governmental institutions to engage with fat citizens? An analysis of existing literature reveals early eugenicists claimed that fat bodies, which were commonly found to be African, were inherently gluttonous and deficient in mental and physical health. In contrast, thin European bodies signaled temperance and stellar mental and physical health, justifying enslavement and inhumane treatment of Africans. Today, modern science and political/governmental public health campaigns have implicitly adopted this Eurocentric narrative of weight and health, disregarding the exploration of other narratives that do not hold fatphobic assumptions. This creates fatphobic atmospheres that fail to treat fat people equally in the U.S. capitalist economy, rendering them unable to sustain their livelihoods. The research ends in a policy proposal for the city of Austin to ban weight-based discrimination in work environments.

 

 

Stephanie Tafoya

Stephanie Tafoya
Hometown:
Major: Biochemistry
Graduation: Spring 2024

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Research directed by Dr. Trish Baynham, School of Natural Sciences

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AshleyRose Watters

AshleyRose Watters
Hometown: Houston, TX
Major: Marketing
Graduation: Spring 2023

“The Effects of Food Deliveries Pre-Pandemic to Present”

Research directed by Dr. Wesley Pollitte, The Munday School of Business

A global pandemic broke out in early 2020 called COVID-19. It was a highly contagious virus that spread at higher-than-normal rates. Due to the speed of virus transmission, an immediate stay-at-home mandate took place in March 2020. The population needed supplies to survive so there was an increase of curbside and delivery service. Examining this topic more, the Technology Acceptance Model (TAM) continues to be used to test the reason why consumers are motivated to use the food delivery apps. In this study, there are seven commonly used constructs that test the consumers behavior from pre-to post-pandemic: fear, trust, convenience, social media awareness, perceived use, ease of use, and buyers’ intentions. A series of statistical analyses such as multiple regression analyses, two-tailed analyses, and Cronbach Alpha analyses were used to determine which constructs were significant to the buyer intention of using the delivery apps. At the start of the study, it was predicted that fear and social media awareness would heavily influence the buyer’s intention when each construct was tested. As a result from the statistical analyses, the only constructs that were significant were convenience, trust, perceived usefulness, and ease of use which motivated consumers to use the food delivery app usage. A future direction for this study would be to change the constructs and reformat the survey to get a more diverse response with a further description of the consumers intentions to use the food delivery app.

2020-2021 Cohort

Victoria Hernandez

Victoria Hernandez
Hometown: Brownsville, TX
Major: Entrepreneurship
Graduation: Spring 2023

"Consumption During the Pandemic"

Research directed by Dr. Sarah Mittal

While there has been plenty of attention given to conspicuous consumption, there has not been much research done from a different perspective beyond the materialistic status symbols that come along with conspicuous consumption, in this case, the COVID-19 vaccine. This research looks at the relationship between conspicuous consumption, education attainment and early access to the COVID-19 vaccine. According to the online survey conducted, consumers who scored above average in conspicuous consumption and higher than average in education attainment pursued earlier access to the vaccine. However, it is noteworthy to consider that there is an interaction effect between conspicuous consumption and educational attainment. In this instance, it is possible that healthcare access, in particular the COVID-19 vaccine, can be used as a status symbol for those who are highly educated. This research has implications for a further understanding of conspicuous consumption beyond the traditional sense.

Melissa Lopez

Melissa Lopez
Hometown: Austin, TX
Major: Biology
Graduation: Fall 2022

"Investigating the role of UNC-33in aging and age-related markers in C. elegans"

Research directed by Dr. Andrea Holgado

Aging is characterized by the decline and deterioration of cells and organs due to accumulation of macromolecular and organelle damage. There is an increase in intra-lysosomal concentration of free radicals, age pigment lipofuscin, and a deficiency of lysosomal protein degradation as aging progresses. The ortholog of gene collapse in response mediator protein -2(CRMP-2) in C.elegans is UNC-33. UNC-33 acts as an important modulator of neurite outgrowth and axonal guidance, membrane protein trafficking, and neuronal excitability. There are three isoforms of the UNC-33: small, medium, and large. However, only UNC-33L(large) acts to promote trafficking of axonal proteins. In this study, we hypothesize that nematodes lacking all three isoforms will exhibit premature death, reduced locomotion, and defective pharyngeal pumping. Additionally, we hypothesize that the expression of the isoform UNC-33L will be sufficient to rescue the shorter lifespan, defective pharyngeal pumping, and reduced locomotion found in unc-33(mn407) mutants. To analyze the role of UNC-33 in aging, we used unc-33(mn407), unc-33(mn407) with the unc-33L transgene, and N2 strains. To test the hypotheses, the lifespan of 20 synchronized young adults per strain was assessed by looking at survival every 24hours until death. To test age-related markers, liquid locomotion and pharyngeal pumping of each strain was assessed in four-day increments, for a total of 12 days. Based on our predictions, we expect to see decreased lifespan, locomotion, and pharyngeal pumping in unc-33(mn407). Additionally, we predict a rescue of these three different phenotypes when the isoform UNC-33L is present.

Ellyzabeth Morales-Ledesma

Ellyzabeth Morales-Ledesma
Hometown: San Antonio, TX
Major: History & Economics
Graduation: Fall 2024

"Austin’s focus on Youth Homelessness from 2015-2019"

Research directed by Dr. Christie Wilson

From 2015-2019 homeless youth were placed as a priority for the Austin community and in turn a priority for local organizations, advocacy groups and city leaders. Through partnerships between grassroots organizations and local government, and public input youth homelessness was seen as a sympathetic cause while adult homelessness was seen as a crime. This led to legislation and local initiatives to reduce youth homelessness to the exclusion of other homeless populations. The actions taken have led to Austin setting a goal for themselves to be the first city in the country to end youth homelessness by 2020. This essay explores how this special population was able to have this concrete and attainable goal by looking at primary sources like the Austin Statesman, other local news outlets and local advocacy research materials. As new homeless ordinances are being introduced in Austin it is important to look at what has worked in reducing the homelessness and how Austin can use the strategies for one special needs group and apply it to the broader homeless population.

Marisol Rivas

Marisol Rivas
Hometown: Elgin, TX
Major: Global Studies & Spanish
Graduation: Spring 2023

"The Ghost of Mexico: The Increase of Femicides in Mexico"

Research directed by Dr. Jooyoun Lee, School of Behavioral and Social Sciences

The increase of femicide has become a growing epidemic in Mexico. Mexican women are disappearing and are being brutally murdered at higher rates than ever before.  Approximately 10 women die every day in Mexico. Women are being found dead in unrecognizable conditions along highways, water tanks, sewage canals, remote fields, etc. The significance of this study is to investigate the forces that are behind the disappearances and deaths of many Mexican women. The research study aims to analyze the factors that have contributed to the increase of feminicide over recent years. This study seeks to explore why Mexico is failing to address the crisis of gender-based violence. In addition, this study will investigate the relationship between the drug war and the exponential increase of feminicide. Furthermore, this study will look at how women are regarded in Mexican culture. Feminism was used as the theoretical framework for this study. The methodology includes analyzing primary and secondary sources, media outlets, newspapers, social media, and news blogs. Preliminary results indicate that the Mexican government, criminal organizations, and Machismo serve as factors that exacerbate the issue of gender violence. Research indicates that impunity from Mexican state and federal governments is driving the issue.

 

2019-2020 Cohort

Carlos Chavira

Carlos Chavira
Hometown: Brownsville, TX
Major: Biology
Graduation: Spring 2023

"Wildlife Basin Wildlife Research"

Research directed by Dr. Barbara Dugelby, School of Natural Sciences

WildBasin is a natural preserve located in Austin, Texas with the responsibility of protecting the wildlife that reside and its habitat. The wilderness preserve covers 227 acres of Texas Hill Country habitat and is open to the public for hiking. Part of protecting the wildlife there are certain regulations in place to maintain minimum impact such as no pets, bikes, smoke/firesand collecting. These regulations help keep the impact of humans on wildlife toa low level considering that urbanization is always increasing which minimizes land habitat for wildlife. The study that is being conducted currently is observing the effect of human hikers on the distribution of wildlife such as deer, coyotes, bobcats, squirrels, birds, and any other sort of mammal recorded. Data has been collected since 2019 through images captured by cameras placed throughout the trail. The cameras are set to go off by any movement within a 10 second interval while capturing 3 shots at a time. The result is thousands of images of either hikers or wildlife that trigger the camera as they passed by. Because of the recent pandemic, the preserve had to be closed off to the public, but the cameras were left in place. This produced data that was collected during a time where there was no human presence in the trails that allowed a comparison of the immediate effect of this closure. There have been several studies that have reported the exposure of human recreational activity effect the displacement of mammals but because of the pandemic, human activity has significantly decreased. Looking at images collected during the closure there is a change in animal behavior that can be observed just by going through the data. During the closure, wildlife was more present and observed to be more active during the day whereas before it was minimal and primarily seen during the night. For now, this data is only described quantitative since it has not been analyzed with statistical tests to better show any significant differences. Using the pandemic to observe wildlife with a decrease in human activity and other experimental investigation that looks at animal behavior can further give insight on how humans can shape animal behavior and their survivorship.