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Emily Pressler Selected for Fulbright

Emily Pressler

Senior Spanish and French major Emily Pressler has been awarded a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) in Spain for the 2019-2020 academic year.  Pressler’s placement will be in Galicia, Spain, and she will assist primarily in English classes for students who speak Spanish, Galician, and English. She is the first Georgia Southern student to be awarded a Fulbright ETA since 2014.

Pressler is a student in the University Honors Program, and she recently completed her honors thesis, “Hispanic Stereotypes in Contemporary Film.” Her coursework in Spanish and French gave her insight into language-learning and a variety of approaches for engaging language learners in the classroom.

“I am really excited to start teaching. I have had experiences tutoring and volunteering as a teaching assistant, but this will be a real chance to see how to organize and to teach a class, working closely with the teacher,” she said.

Pressler also is no stranger to embracing new surroundings.  She is originally from Southold, NY on Long Island and came south to attend Georgia Southern. She also participated on the Honors Program’s alternative break trip to Costa Rica and spent summers studying abroad in Spain and France. She said she is very much looking forward to exploring the Galicia region in Spain’s northwest corner.

“I was hoping to have my Fulbright ETA placement in Galicia because I completed research on the area for one of my classes, and it seems like a beautiful place with a unique culture, including their own regional language,” she said. “Listening to it, I can pick out a few words here in there, but it really is unique from Spanish. I hope that I can teach the students just as much as they can teach me.”

After her time as a Fulbright ETA, Pressler plans to enroll in a master’s program for teaching Spanish, with the goal of teaching Spanish, and possibly French, at the high school level.

Mary Kate Moore…Than Meets the Eye

Mary Kate Moore (r) and her mentor, Dr. Joshua Williams

Soon-to-graduate Honors student Mary Kate Moore (experimental psychology ’19) will be able to add one more entry to her curriculum vita this June: a publication as lead author of the article, “George Berkeley Through History: Multimodal Perception from the 1700s to Present.” The article is coming out in the North American Journal of Psychology.

What began as a two-page topical paper for her History and Systems of Psychology class in 2017 turned into a 17-page publication on multimodal perception, or the idea that all our senses – visual, auditory, sensory and more – work together to create one’s perception of reality. The original assignment was to select a figure in history – in Moore’s case, George Berkeley – and connect their ideas to modern research.

In respect to multimodal perception, Berkeley championed the idea that there is a correlation between sight, touch, and previous experiences, and humans interpret the world through the integration of these inputs.  Moore focused her paper on the points in history where Berkeley’s idea was used – knowingly or not – and showcased how his idea has persisted through time and has even been supported using today’s available technology.

The journey from two-page paper to full-blown publication was, naturally, a laborious one. “Difficult would probably be the best word I could use to describe it,” Moore said.

After writing the paper for her class, Moore was fascinated by “the fact that [one] could see [Berkeley’s ideas] in all these different perspectives” and wanted to explore it further. Her professor for the class, Dr. Joshua Williams, had included a clause in his syllabus that indicated he would support students looking to publish papers written in class. Moore reports that it was a “mutual idea to go to publication” and that “discussion about her interest [in writing the article] made [Dr. Williams] excited.”

Once Moore began writing the article, she ran into quite a few obstacles, including writer’s block and how to best organize the article.

“I first attempted to look at theoretical perspectives in chronological order instead of organizing the article by person,” she shared. “That didn’t work, so I tried looking at it topically, as in a section on audio, then visual, then touch, etc. What ended up working was looking at the historical figures that relate to Berkeley’s ideas. Whole textbooks have been written on multimodal perception alone, so this article is just a highly representative distillation of all that it could have been, emphasizing connections back to Berkeley’s ideas.”

Dr. Williams and fellow psychology professor Dr. Nancy McCarley mentored Moore throughout the writing process. Williams helped Moore by focusing the content of the article and providing feedback, while McCarley aided Moore in ensuring the writing flowed and, according to Moore, helped her to write in a way that was “accessible to any person who decided they wanted to read it.”

“She really didn’t need us that much,” Dr. Williams shared. “Mary Kate is extremely driven, and she’s very dedicated to projects she gets involved in.” Williams described Moore as diligent and “one of the most reliable undergraduate research students [he’s] ever worked with, paired with a good attitude.”

In addition to Moore’s work ethic, Williams also attributed some of her success to her involvement with the Student Scholars Symposium. “She’s an accomplished speaker,” he shared. “Higher-up presentations at [field-specific conferences] are now old hat.” Moore has presented her work on this subject at a previous Student Scholars Symposium and the Southeastern Psychological Association conference last year in fulfillment of her Honors project graduation requirement.

While being the lead author on a publication while an undergraduate student certainly sets Moore apart from her peers, the process of researching and writing the article had a big impact on Moore. “The most challenging part was reading philosophical texts such as the Critique of Pure Reason by Kant. I have lots of respect for philosophers after that.”

Williams expanded on the article’s impact: “For Mary Kate, [the article] allowed her to explore her interest in neuroscience as it relates to development, and knowing the history and ideas behind development is going to play a big part for her as she goes to graduate school. For the discipline, the article is significant as many people are still exploring old ideas, and it’s amazing to think that many past figures in history hit the nail on the head before having any of the fancy technologies of today.”

In the future, Moore would like to focus on research into multimodal perception with an applied perspective as opposed to theoretical. “Multimodal perception is my baby,” she explained. “I think it’s fascinating.” She already has ideas in mind for possible experiments but confided that she may have to wait until she’s earned her Ph.D. before delving even further into the subject.

Honors Research: Trawling the Stories of Georgia’s Fishers

Julia Thomas in the archives.

While eating your shrimp basket with fries, do you ever stop and wonder how that seafood arrived on your plate? Perhaps it was caught locally. Or maybe it was imported from another part of the world.  Or even raised in a fish farm. Julia Thomas (anthropology ’19) has spent the past three semesters researching and interviewing fishers, particularly shrimpers and crabbers, in southeast Georgia who supply seafood across American and Asian markets. Her research focuses on the fishers’ relationship to larger commercialized fishing corporations.

“Stricter government regulations, increasing fuel and operation costs, and competition from imported seafood are negatively affecting coastal Georgia’s commercial fishing industry. Fishers’ local ecological knowledge is extensive and gives them unique perspectives into the problems the industry is facing,” she said. “Their perspectives differ from those of biologists or policymakers, making them useful for implementing good management practices that not only consider the scientific knowledge of a fishery, but the human aspect as well. My thesis discusses the findings from mixed-methods research conducted with Georgia fishermen about the problems they face and their unique insights into potential solutions.”

Thomas recently had the opportunity to present her honors thesis at the 79th Annual Meeting of the Society for Applied Anthropology in Portland, Oregon. She worked under the mentorship of Dr. Jennifer Sweeney Tookes whose oral history research team she joined last March.

“I was one of twelve undergraduate and graduate anthropology students selected to be a part of Dr. Tookes’ research team. We conducted oral history interviews with the fishing community,” she said. “As the number of commercial fishers in Georgia declines, there is a lot of cultural knowledge and history that could be lost. While on the trip Dr. Tookes mentioned the opportunity to continue doing research with this community as part of an honors thesis, and I took her up on that.”

The oral histories conducted on that research trip were recorded and will be uploaded to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Voices from the Fisheries database which is available to the public.

As her mentor, Dr. Tookes aided in developing the topic, reading drafts, making edits, and providing support in Thomas’s endeavors. Dr. Tookes praised her student and recognized her strive and commitment. “Julia Thomas has completed intensive, independent anthropological research that rivals the work of many graduate students.  She has completed an ambitious project, and it has been a pleasure to serve as her undergraduate honors thesis advisor,” she said.

The conference gave Thomas the opportunity to share her finding with scholars in her field. While Thomas has presented posters at conferences before, Portland was her first experience with an oral presentation.

“I had only done poster presentations, so this was a whole new experience. It was fun to attend a conference more related to my major and thesis. Dr. Tookes introduced me to a few of her colleagues who attended the session I presented in. It was nice to meet people whose research relates to my thesis and know so much more about fisheries than me. There were also a few people in the audience whose works I cited in my thesis. I was able to put a face to the name and meet people whose research I have read and used in my work,” Thomas said.

During Thomas’ four years at Georgia Southern University, she has been an active member of the anthropology community on campus. She is a member of the Anthropological Society and Vice President of Lambda Alpha, a national anthropology honors society.

“In Lambda Alpha, the officers and I lead and organize meetings and host events like our Anthropology Spring Film Series. Most recently we showed Secrets of the Dead: Herculaneum Uncovered, and 82 people attended. We are also currently planning an end-of-year departmental event in collaboration with the Anthropological Society,” she said.

Thomas also volunteers in the archeology lab, in the Carroll Building, for several hours a week. She works with graduate students and staff, helping in organizational projects. “Last semester, I helped organize and rehabilitate a collection we got from the Armstrong Campus. It was from the 1980s and 1990s, and we went through approximately 80 or so boxes of archaeological material, creating inventory forms for each box and re-bagging artifacts when we need to. We also worked on some of the zooarchaeological comparative collection, mainly by cleaning and rinsing off specimens when they were ready. This semester, we have re-boxed and stored another collection from Armstrong and are currently in the process of cleaning, sorting, and bagging artifacts donated to us from a collector,” she said.

“After conducting research, I am most passionate about the fishers. Before doing this research, I knew next to nothing about commercial fishing and the industry in Georgia. Now, I have so much admiration and respect for the fishers and other people in the industry. It is such dangerous, risky, difficult work, but they love it anyway. Hearing how much they enjoy fishing and listening to their stories is so inspirational and they are such an incredible group of people,” Thomas said.

Honors in Action: Research at Camp

Honors Students at camp. L-R: Mariah Arnett, Delaney Grim, Seth Davis, Niesha Bell, Sarah Martinez, and Christina Sartain.

In what has become a spring break tradition, Camp Blue Skies comes to Camp Twin Lakes in Rutledge, Georgia—a camp especially designed to support campers who face medical, adaptive, and other life challenges. Dr. Jerri Kropp and Dr. Brent Wolfe led a group of 16 students to volunteer as cabin counselors and activity leaders for participants in Camp Blue Skies, a camp for adults with developmental disabilities. Our students go through some intensive pre-camp training, including training on-site a couple weeks before camp.

This year’s group featured a mix of new volunteers and seasoned returners, including Delaney Grimm (recreation ’20), who used this year’s camp to conduct research for her honors thesis.  Her thesis will be the third honors thesis connected to research about the camp. Her project utilized PhotoVoice to give campers the opportunity to voice their opinion on what they have learned at camp, which Delaney will analyze in order to assess, she said, “what domains of recreational therapy (physical, emotional, spiritual, social, cognitive, and leisure) are being achieved by Camp Blue Skies and how they can improve activities in the future.”

PhotoVoice is a method that gives the participants a voice in deciding what issues are important in the study and puts cameras in their hands so they can identify those issues visually as well as through focus groups.  “Being able to use Camp Blue Skies as the focus for my thesis project has helped expand my experience with the population, create meaningful interactions, and advocate for an amazing population that usually gets underestimated,” Grimm said. “There is truly no place like camp.”

Grace Pittman Reveals What is “Better Left Unsaid”

Grace Pittman with her mentor, Dr. Joshua Kennedy.

Grace Pittman (political science ’19) had the opportunity to present her honors research at the Southern Political Science Association (SPSA) in Austin, TX. Her thesis, “Better Left Unsaid: The Connection between Members of Congress, the President, and Political Ambiguity,” examines the lack of direct support from politicians for specific programs or views.

“My thesis concerns the ambiguity demonstrated by members of Congress based on the president’s popularity. Ambiguity, simply defined, is a deliberate refusal to be clear about what it is one supports. It is a political tool for members of Congress. Remaining silent about their position on political issues, especially ‘hot-button’ issues, allows congressional members to maintain the support of their voting bloc and potentially win over more voters,” she said.

Pittman discovered that there was little to no research on potential candidate’s ambiguity. Her research is adding to the scholarly discussion for political science. She was able to provide a new lens of analysis for candidate behavior research.

“Finding a topic that had never been researched mattered because I was starting from scratch. My argument had to be sound to justify my choice in topic. It is easy to flip on or scroll through the news to see and hear examples of politicians using vague statements or dodging questions when pressed by reporters on political issues. However, the challenge lied in proving it and explaining why they would do it. Therefore, my argument, represented by my theory and literature review, became central to my research,” she said.

She worked with her research mentor, Dr. Joshua Kennedy, during the writing process to develop and to refine her work. Dr. Kennedy praised Pittman’s work ethic and dedication to the process of research. “She has demonstrated extraordinary ability and drive in tackling a very ambitious research project, and her sterling presentation at the Annual Meeting of the Southern Political Science Association highlights this,” he said. “Her presentation was professional, polished, and won her praise from advanced scholars. She continues to exemplify everything that is great about Georgia Southern University.”

The mentor’s role is to provide guidance for the student who is taking on an intensive research project. “My thesis was my responsibility, and I am independent by nature, so I anticipated writing, developing, and carrying out my research. However, I quickly learned that there were aspects of this process that I could not figure out and do alone,” Pittman said. “So, in many ways, I have learned to ask questions and seek help from my advisor as this thesis progresses. My goal is to submit a sound thesis, and Dr. Kennedy has offered great advice and encouragement to ensure that I achieve that goal.”

SPSA was Pittman’s second conference. Last year, she presented at the Georgia Political Science Association (GPSA). Both experiences allowed her to gain experience in the professional world of academia. Pittman presented her findings to a room full of scholars with graduate degrees, whose specializations were related to researching politicians’ behavior.

“My audience, in comparison to GPSA, was slightly larger, and I feel almost certain that everyone in the room had a Master’s or Doctoral degree. It was intimidating. Everyone in the room knew the ins and outs of what I was discussing. However, midway through the presentation, my nerves seemed to dissipate a bit, and I was pleased with my execution at this conference,” Pittman said.

Conferences give students the opportunity to expand their professional connections through engaging conversations with scholars in their field.  Students are putting their ideas, thoughts, and analysis into the discussion. The reward is the advice, suggestions, and support that follows.

Pittman said, “One of the unspoken benefits of the Honors Program is the opportunity to develop public speaking skills by presenting research. I cannot stress enough how much I loathe speaking in front of others, and this process has forced me to confront my fear. Another benefit to be gained by presenting research is constructive criticism. Out of habit, I take and keep any notes audience members suggest when they are given the opportunity to express their opinions. An audience offers fresh eyes and ears, and as a result, they can offer valuable advice and new perspective to students writing their theses.”

Her experience with the University Honors Program has allowed her to challenge and to grow her academic skills in the classroom, with her research, and at conferences. “The program requires a commitment to give 100% to your thesis and studies. Yes, there are good and bad days, but the attitude you manifest is the one that determines your likelihood for success. Honors is similar to a long-term investment. The payoffs are greatest for those who are serious and passionate about their work. Suddenly, your work, whatever it may be, speaks for itself, and there is satisfaction in that,” Pittman said.