Mason Graduate Students Present Research at Virginia Forum

Posted: February 17, 2011 at 1:02 am, Last Updated: February 16, 2011 at 9:27 pm

Mason students at the forum. From left, Jared Barton, Nicole Barreto McCoy, Lorena Jung, Sandra Page, Melissa S. Ferro and Sarah Hawes. Photo courtesy of Hermione Pickett

Each year, the Virginia Council of Graduate Schools hosts the Graduate Student Research Forum at the Library of Virginia in Richmond.

This year, six Mason graduate students presented their research on Feb. 3 at the forum, where the public, legislators and the business community had an opportunity to hear about current graduate student research in Virginia.

“This is the fifth year that Mason has participated in the graduate research forum. It’s an opportunity to show state legislators the quality and value of the research being conducted by our graduate students,” says Michelle Marks, associate provost for graduate education.

“And our students do a wonderful job of presenting complex research topics to a broad audience.”

A total of 57 students participated in the forum. The following doctoral students represented Mason.

  • Jared Barton, economics, “Costly Campaign Signaling in the Field.” His research showed that canvassing done by a candidate for political office has a large impact on voting patterns and turnout, increasing votes for the candidate by 13 percentage points, whereas message content is ineffective, be it written or spoken.
  • Sarah Hawes, neuroscience, “Brain Rhythms Observed During Learning Can Be Applied In Vitro to Strengthen Connections Between Striatal Neurons.” The striatum is a part of the brain involved in motor control and reward learning, with major roles in Parkinson’s disease and drug addiction. During learning, brain cells in the striatum are activated once every 125 milliseconds. The research shows that by stimulating the striatum at this rhythm, connections between brain cells are strengthened.
  • Melissa S. Ferro, education, “Chinese Language Teachers’ Progress Towards Learner-Centered Instruction:  A Study of Alignment Between Epistemological Beliefs and Instructional Strategies.” Her research provided information for improving teacher education programs and professional development models that address the diverse needs of international teachers.
  • Lorena Jung, nursing, “Trust in Nurses: A Quantitative Study on Prenatal Hispanic Women.” This study investigates prenatal Hispanic women’s trust levels in nurses and its relationships with communication, competency, caring and socio-demographic variables.
  • Nicole Barreto McCoy, sociology, “The Brazilian Mulata: Interrogating Race, Identity and the Body.” In the Brazilian culture, the mulata, a mixed-race female, occupies a symbolic and material space that is located at the intersection of the historical legacy of slavery and the possibility of racial harmony. McCoy interviewed Brazilian women to explore this, as well as notions of status and identity relating to the lived experience.
  • Sandra Page, biosciences, “A Novel Serum-Based Biomarker Panel for NASH and NASH-Related Fibrosis.”  Up to a third of Americans are estimated to have a disease known as nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), which includes a spectrum of pathologies beginning with a benign stage (steatosis) and progressing to nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) and NASH-related fibrosis, which in turn can lead to cirrhosis or liver cancer. Her research involves developing a tool for diagnosing NASH and NASH-related fibrosis from blood samples, thereby providing a safe alternative to liver biopsy and a tool that physicians could use to identify patients with NAFLD.

For more information on the forum, see

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