2020-2021 Cohort

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 18th Annual McNair Scholars Research Symposium held at St. Edward's University.

Ariah Alba

Ariah Alba
Hometown: San Antonio, TX
Major: Photography and Media Arts & Religious and Theological Studies
Graduation: Spring 2022

"Technological Transformation of the Church: A Case Study of Churches in Austin during COVID-19"

Research directed by Dr. Kelley Coblentz Bautch, School of Arts and Humanities

This research project explores how churches in the Austin metropolitan area responded to challenges of COVID-19 by drawing on technology to meet the needs of their congregation. As the majority of places of worship were unable to congregate as communities for worship, fellowship and service, churches--just as occurred in other areas of society during the pandemic--turned to technology for communication and synchronous gatherings. Some churches already had some facility with and use of technology pre-pandemic but other churches had a technological learning curve. Thus, one hypothesis explored in this study is whether in-person church gatherings transitioning online came with challenges to the church body, church leadership, and church volunteers as the need for labor, technology, and outreach towards the congregation grew. The project is rooted in case studies of three non-denominational churches in Austin, which are distinctive in terms of size; these churches range from medium (approximately 300 persons) to large (approximately 2,000+ persons) in terms of attendees. Through interviews with pastors at these churches and surveys with church leadership, the study explores what these respective churches learned about their technological needs and capabilities through the course of the pandemic in response to changing worship experiences during the pandemic.

Flor Jaimes

Flor Flores Jaimes
Hometown: Austin, TX
Major: Environmental Science and Policy
Graduation: Fall 2021

"Perspectives on water quality, contamination, and trust in government in rural versus urban communities of Texas and New Mexico"

Research directed by Dr. Amy Concilio, School of Behavioral and Social Sciences

Residents of Vinton and Anthony located on the border of the US and Mexico often lack basic water delivery and sanitation infrastructure and services. These communities are largely made up of minority, low-income families, where Spanish is their primary language. There has not been much research done about this demographic group on how much they know about their water, trust their water, and trust scientists and governmental officials. Having a better understanding of how certain groups, like Latinos, will respond to advice from scientists or the government about their water delivery systems can help inform environmental education and public health campaigns. This research aims to test for the level of trust people have in their water system along with gaining insight into whether Latino communities along the US-Mexico border know about their water quality and if they trust science or government officials. This study aimed to compare the level of trust in drinking water quality, scientists, and government officials in residents of Vinton and Anthony who are connected to well water versus residents who are connected to municipal water. The interview and survey were conducted in the focus regions by going door to door and asking people if we could ask them questions about their water system. We interviewed 20 people: 10 who had municipal water and 10 who had private wells. The aggregate results showed that people that are connected to well water have less trust in their water than those who are connected to municipalities. Recommendations will be highlighted at the end of this paper about what should be done in regards water quality issues in the region, given the results found from the interviews.

Michelle Flores

Michelle Flores
Hometown: El Paso, TX
Major: Political Science
Graduation: Spring 2022

"Underrepresentation of the Hispanic/Latinx Community in Congress: The Impact of Education Attainment"

Research directed by Dr. Chad Long, School of Behavioral and Social Sciences 

Numerous studies have found that the Hispanic/Latinx community in the United States is widely underrepresented. With a focus on the federal level of government, recently Congress has gradually increased in racial and ethnic diversity; however, it remains disproportionately white compared to the U.S. population. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the Hispanic/Latinx community makes up 19% of the country's population, the largest percentage out of all other racial minorities. With the second fastest annual growth rate of 3.8%, second to Asian Americans according to the Pew Research Center, the political participation of the Hispanic/Latinx community has been coined a sleeping giant. Yet only 9% of the House of Representatives in Congress is Hispanic/Latinx, less than half of the percentage in the U.S. population. To explore whether educational attainment has an impact on the amount of representation Hispanic/Latinx people have in Congress, a quantitative approach with analysis of statistical data was utilized. This study has implications to raise awareness about the connection between educational attainment and the obstacle it creates for Hispanic/Latinx representation. Building on a plethora of research, this study analyzed previous research and current statistics to seek further understanding of educational attainment as a cause for underrepresentation of Hispanic/Latinx people at the federal level. The findings of this research establish a connection between educational attainment and political participation; however, educational attainment does not seem to directly impact representation in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Savannah Gonzalez

Savannah Gonzalez
Hometown: Pflugerville, TX
Major: Mathematics and Bioinformatics
Graduation: Spring 2022

"Data Visualization Using ecocomDP for R"

Research directed by Dr. Eric Sokol, Battelle, National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) and Dr. Colin Smith, Center for Limnology, University of Wisconsin-Madison

The National Science Foundation’s National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) and the Environmental Data Initiative (EDI) worked together to develop ecocomDP, a data model and R package used to harmonize datasets across the ecological community. This project focuses on implementing functions in R that help visualize ecological data gathered from different repositories and being able to compare them side-by-side. Data synthesis has been a major hurdle in the ecological community for decades. Some challenges often met when attempting to synthesize data are inconsistent collection protocols, differing unit measurements, and a lack of information on environmental factors and treatment conditions. Visualizing these datasets with the ecocomDP package before using it in analyses can help users avoid incorrect assumptions.

Annalyse Granowski

Annalyse Granowski
Hometown: College Station, TX
Major: English Literature
Graduation: Spring 2022

"The Well of Tears: Margery Kempe and the Spiritual Power of Non-Verbal Communication"

Research directed by Dr. Alan Altimont, School of Arts and Humanities

The Middle Ages in Europe found some women developing and navigating different forms of agency within the Church, in particular female mystics who received visions from Christ and were models of devout faith and behavior. The case of Margery Kempe, a Fifteenth Century Englishwoman, is especially interesting because she was forced to navigate a difficult religious and political environment that included many accusations of heresy. Although she was illiterate, she dictated her visions and experiences in her Book. Her intense and exemplary modes of devotion and faith ultimately brought her harsh forms of social rejection, mostly because of her fits of sobbing and writhing that often disrupted mass. Margery explained her behavior as emotional reactions to Christ’s passion. However, there is a social component connected to Margery’s spirituality. The more severely that she is accused of heresy, the more members of the clergy and her society are impacted by her behavior, and the stronger her relationship with Christ becomes. This research aims to analyze how her feminine stereotypical behaviors created her social identity and how these behaviors were a form of non-verbal communication that, while disruptive, could not ultimately be judged as heretical by inquisitors.

Kimberly Guzman

Kimberly Guzman
Hometown: Plano, TX
Major: Global Studies
Graduation: Spring 2022

"The Disproportionate Impact of COVID-19 on Racial and Ethnic Minorities"

Research directed by Dr. Emily Bernate, School of Arts and Humanities

The COVID-19 Pandemic has revealed social and racial inequalities in public health across the globe. The purpose of this study is to investigate how said inequalities have impacted the health equity of racial and ethnic minority groups, particularly focusing on the health disparities and barriers certain groups might face in comparison to others. This includes covering minority health, vaccine equity, vaccine hesitancy, and factors that have disproportionately impacted racial and ethnic minority groups during the COVID-19 pandemic. These factors help demonstrate how social and health inequities affect access to health care services and to COVID-19 vaccines. This study was conducted using secondary sources to gather data on minority health, the overrepresenation of vulnerable populations among COVID-19 cases, and vaccination rates for these populations.

Victoria Hernandez

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

"Consumption During the Pandemic"

Research directed by Dr. Sarah Mittal, Bill Munday School of Business

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.

Alexa Jaimes

Alexa Jaimes
Hometown: Spring, TX
Major: History
Graduation: Spring 2022

"¡Luchar Para Estudiar!: Student Movements in Argentina and Chile through Student Blogs and Ephemera, 2010-2013"

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

Between 2010 and 2013, secondary and university students in Chile and Argentina left their classrooms and took to the streets to protest their governments’ education policies. Scholars have tied these actions to a larger rejection of neoliberalism and social inequalities by much of these nations’ populations. Yet, the words, thoughts, and ideas of the protestors too often are overshadowed by the scholars’ own theories. This essay seeks to correct that by examining blogs, posters, pamphlets, and other ephemeral forms of communication student protesters used to mobilize their peers, organize their efforts, convey their grievances and demands, and connect with the general public. In addition, this essay analyzes the role these modes of communication had in cross-border cooperation between student groups. By studying these sources, this research attempts to view these student movements through the eyes of student protestors.

Melissa Lopez

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

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

Research directed by Dr. Andrea Holgado, School of Natural Sciences

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 intralysosomal concentration of free radicals, age pigment lipofuscin, and a deficiency of lysosomal protein degradation as aging progresses. The ortholog of gene collapsin 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 24 hours 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 2022

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

Research directed by Dr. Christie Wilson, School of Behavioral and Social Sciences

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.

Edere Ohwobete

Jemima Edere Ohwobete
Hometown: San Leandro, CA
Major: Environmental Chemistry
Graduation: Fall 2021

"Analysis of Contaminant Levels in Centralized Water Systems v. Domestic Wells in Rural and Urban Communities in Texasand New Mexico"

Research directed by Dr. Amy Concilio, School of Behavioral and Social Sciences

Communities along the US-Mexico border are subject to severe water insecurity and income disparities. Some of the most affected communities in this region are not connected to centralized water but instead resort to hauling water or using well water. The demographic of these individuals consist of minority, low income families in which Spanish is the primary language spoken. Previous research has revealed that communities in and surrounding Vinton, TX not only suffer from water insecurity but also have encountered contaminants such as arsenic and foreign total dissolved solids in their water sources. This research aims to test water sources in both Vinton, TX and its bordering city, Anthony, NM as a comparative way to broaden our knowledge of the presence of contaminants in centralized water systems and well water sources. The study tests for heavy metals such as arsenic and lead within the water systems along with general water indicators such as dissolved oxygen (D.O) and pH. This study was run jointly with a comprehensive examination of levels of trust in drinking water quality, scientists, and government officials in residents of Vinton and Anthony who are connected to well water versus those who are connected to municipal water. We went to every 3rd door in order to facilitate random sampling. Participants in this study willingly contributed water samples to us for testing, resulting in 20 samples being collected, 10 from municipal water and 10 from private wells. Preliminary results have shown that residents on wells had lower D.O levels in their water samples, coupled with self reported skin irritation or vegetation loss after use of their water.

Recommendations will be highlighted at the end of this paper about what should be done in regards to any water quality/contaminant issues that are identified.

Marisol Rivas

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

"Major League Soccer as an Expression of Local and Transnational Latinx Identities"

Research directed by Dr. Emily Bernate, School of Arts and Humanities

The purpose of this study is to explore ways that the Latinx community in the southwest region of the United States expresses belonging to local communities through soccer. This research study seeks to discover how overtime migration affects the cultural identity of the Latinx community living in the United States. Transnationalism, globalization, and social identity theory were used as theoretical foundations for this research study. The study’s methodology included a brief survey given to several Latinx Austin FC fans at local parks and watch parties. The survey was followed by a short interview that seeks to learn about the experiences of Latinx individuals living in the Austin, Texas. This study will allow individuals to understand how soccer serves to be a marker of cultural identity for the Latinx community in the United States.

2019-2020 Cohort

Carlos Chavira
Hometown: Brownsville, TX
Major: Biology
Graduation: Spring 2022

“Wild Basin Wildlife Research

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

Wild Basin is a natural preserve located in Austin, Texas with the responsibility of protecting the wildlife that reside in 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/fires and collecting. These regulations help keep the impact of humans on wildlife to a 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.

Marianne Garcia

Marianne Garcia
Hometown: McAllen, TX
Major: Behavioral Neuroscience
Graduation: Spring 2022

“The Social Competence, Self-Perceptions, and Quality of Life of Autistic Adults”

Research directed by Dr. Emily Barton, School of Behavioral and Social Sciences

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by impairments in social communication, social perception, and maintaining social relationships. Traits of ASD are often observed and diagnosed in early childhood but are present throughout the individual’s entire lifetime. However, most of the literature focuses exclusively on children and adolescents, largely excluding adults. This narrow focus results in limited information on the functionality of support networks and social relationships for autistic adults. This study will investigate the social competence and self-perception of autistic adults to determine overall quality of life and any areas in need of more support. An online survey assessing social competence, self-perception, and quality of life will be created and disseminated on social media to reach a participant sample of 50 autistic adults, aged 18 and older. This research will help to identify the difficulties that autistic adults face in their lives, social relationships, and self-perceptions.

Viviana

Viviana Jaimes
Hometown: Austin, TX
Major: Sociology
Graduation: Spring 2022

“How the New Media Environment Promotes Sexism Affecting Ideology and Trends in the United States”

Research directed by Dr. Lori Cook Heffron, School of Behavioral and Social Sciences

This study investigated sexism in the new media environment and how that caused and affected ideology and trends in the United States. This qualitative research focused on the contemporary video games industry and how it has promoted and advertised sexism in the United States. This study selected five popular games played in 2020. The video games were played and commented on by commentary YouTube channel MessYourself Gaming. The video games included: Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla, Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, Final Fantasy VII: Remake II, Animal Crossing: New Horizons, and GTA 4. Using thematic analysis, videos were analyzed using the following deductive codes: verbal abuse towards women, physical abuse towards women, unrealistic body image of women, revealing clothing on women, damsels in distress and finally underrepresented female characters. The following themes also emerged during the thematic analysis: inappropriate exaggeration commentary about women from the gamer. It was predicted that video games have a contribution towards sexism in the United States affecting ideology and trends such as treatment of women, rape culture, well-being of women, etc. Findings showed an extreme lack of women representation in video games. When women were shown, they were represented as background characters unlike male characters who were the main spotlight. This study also suggests possible solutions when it comes to video gaming and also recommendations for future research. Solutions include eliminating bias, being inclusive and making women look like women in video games. For future research, pornography and women in male dominated workplaces should be further analyzed when looking at treatment and perception of women from men.

Destiny Nicoll

Destiny Nicoll
Hometown: Mebane, NC
Major: Psychology
Graduation: Spring 2022

“The Troubled Teen Industry: An Analysis on the Origins, Practice, and Abuse Within Therapeutic Boarding Schools, Wilderness Programs, and Other Juvenile Delinquent Programs”

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

The troubled teen industry encompasses mental health facilities aimed at rehabilitating teenagers in therapeutic boarding schools, wilderness therapy programs, boot camps, and more. Teenagers who are recruited into the troubled teen industry often recall instances of abuse, brainwashing, and mental health regression once released. Through an analysis of literature that examines the origins of the industry and personal experiences of survivors, this study seeks to understand how the troubled teen industry came to be so prevalent and the effectiveness of its practices. This literature will involve past studies, books, podcast episodes, memoirs, and documentaries that detail either the history of or personal experience within the industry.

2018-2019 Cohort

Rachelle Cardoza

Rachelle Cardoza
Hometown: Weslaco, Texas
Major: Kinesiology
Graduation: Fall 2021

"A Comparison of Recreational Therapy and Pharmacological Therapy in Reducing Behavioral Problems in Alzheimer’s Patients"

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

With an aging population, there is an increasing prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease. This study conducted a meta-analysis using eResources on the effectiveness of recreational therapy compared to pharmacological therapy in reducing behavioral problems, the most frequent symptom encountered in Alzheimer’s patients. In addition, this study examined how the disease affects the quality of life for the patient and their caregivers. With early diagnosis, treatments help manage the disease by reducing negative outcomes and impairment on daily activities.  Preliminary findings indicate that the impact of recreational therapy leads to greater quality of life for patients and caregivers compared to pharmacological therapy.