Graduate Citings: Tales from the Field – Taylor Firman

TaylorFirmanPictureWelcome to your last full month of summer vacation pios! We hope you’ve had a wonderful break and look forward to seeing your lovely faces this fall. To conclude your summer break, and get those synapses firing for Fall Quarter, we’d like to share with you the intriguing work of PhD student Taylor Firman. Taylor is exploring examining randomness in gene networks in order to shed light on previously unexplored areas of research in quantitative biology. We hope you enjoy this month’s Graduate Citings and be sure to check out Taylor’s video at the end!

Researcher: Taylor Firman, PhD student enrolled in the Molecular & Cellular Biophysics Program, active in the Physics Department

Initial Inspiration: Growing up, I was fairly obsessed with math puzzles (my mom used to catch me writing multiplication tables in the fog of our car windows), but these skills just seemed like neat parlor tricks until I took a high school physics course. To see how the fundamental nature of the world around us could be described using the basest of languages, mathematics, was fascinating and I’ve been hooked ever since.

Current Research: My current research is generally focused on the computational modeling of biology. For instance, in a previous project, we were able to recreate how a fruit fly takes its elongated shape within the embryo using computer simulations. More recently, we have been looking at the role of randomness and fluctuation within gene networks to see how they affect the overall behavior of the system. Biology is a very rich subject matter and the mathematical approach of a physicist can help to shed light on previously unexplored areas of the field.

As of this point, our research involving randomness in gene networks has been published in the Journal of Chemical Physics and we are hoping to publish more recent developments about a principle called Maximum Caliber in the next year. A manuscript about our work on simulating fruit fly morphology is working its way through the submission process and will hopefully be published within the next year as well. Ultimately, we hope that these papers and the concepts behind them will help to inform experimentalists on new directions of questioning and shed light on previously unexplored areas of research in quantitative biology.

Collaborators: My research advisor is Dr. Kingshuk Ghosh within the Department of Physics and Astronomy, and in the past couple of years, we have worked very closely with Dr. Dinah Loerke (Physics) and Dr. Todd Blankenship (Biology) here at DU.

Biggest Challenge: Thus far, my biggest challenge was coming to the realization that cutting-edge science is never going to be a straight line from idea A to idea B like it’s portrayed in scientific literature. A biophysicist named Uri Alon described it perfectly as traveling through “the cloud between the known and the unknown.” Experiments are going to fail or produce data contrary to what you would expect and it will be necessary to take multiple detours to get to a new and innovative idea. This doesn’t make you a bad scientist. To get through this cloud, it requires patience, time, and lots of support from the people around you, things I’ve been lucky enough to find here at DU.

Research Advice: As I touched on earlier, my advice to future graduate students would be to realize that research truly is like “traveling through a cloud.” Equipment is going to break, ideas are going to fall apart, frustration will set in, but realize that this is all part of the process of generating innovative ideas. Enjoy the investigative nature of research, have faith in your capabilities, and stay the course.

Graduate Citings: Tales from the Field – Darren Whitfield

Darren-Whitfield-DU-Graduate-CitingsHope you had a wonderful 4th of July pios! We are excited to share with you the work of GSSW PhD candidate Darren Whitfield. Darren is exploring how internalized racism and homophobia affect risky sexual behaviors among GBQSGL Black men. Darren works with appointed faculty member Dr. Eugene Walls, who studies suicidal ideation and attempts by sexual minority youth receiving social services.

Researcher: Darren Whitfield, a PhD candidate at the Graduate School of Social Work

Current Research: I am working on a community-based research project that examines the impacts of internalized racism and homophobia on the risky sexual practices of Black gay, bisexual, queer, and same-gender-loving men (GBQSGL) in several metropolitan areas. The research study aims were to understand how internalized negative attitudes about one’s marginalized identities contribute to unsafe sexual practices for Black GBQSGL men and to examine how these attitudes differ when factoring in the identity of the person’s sexual partner. The goal is to develop knowledge that may lead to the develop of HIV prevention intervention designed to address the psychosocial factors associated with HIV infections among Black GBQSGL men. I am currently finalizing a report for community partners and the results of the study will also be presented as part of my dissertation defense in May.

Collaborators: I am part of a research team that consist of Dr. Eugene Walls (Associate Professor and PhD Director), Lisa Langenderfer-Magruder, and Shanna Katz Katarri (DU PhD candidates)

Initial Inspiration: I was initialed inspired when I was conducting qualitative work on internalized stigma. In addition, being a Black gay man myself, I was motivated by the desire to give back to the community in a positive and meaningful way.

Biggest Challenge: The biggest challenge in my research process was recruitment in the local community. I had been working with community organizations to conduct recruitment and it was difficult because there wasn’t already a connection or level of trust in the community regarding myself as a researcher. In order to build trust, I demonstrated my commitment to giving back through dissemination and working with community partners to identify other ways I could be useful to the agency and community.

Research Advice- Teamwork: My best advice is to work in a team. Teamwork provides researchers with the opportunity to collaborate, share ideas, and streamline research production.

Graduate Citings: Tales from the Field – Lacey Stein

You’ve made it to summer! Week 10 has come and gone and you now you can relax! Yeah…maybe not relax, but you know…take a cognitive break from coursework at the very least (unless you’re taking summer classes which is a different can of worms:/ ). For your reading pleasure we have brought to you our fourth issue of Graduate Citings feature PhD student Lacey Stein! Lacey is working on some groundbreaking research that utilizes Critical Participatory Action Research (CPAR) to explore how the normalization of Whiteness is maintained in Denver public high schools. By co-constructing knowledge with her participants, Lacey is cultivating an environment conducive for generating a dialogue and action aimed at correcting racial injustices. Be sure to check out her advice to graduate students at the end of the post!

Researcher: PhD student in the Communication Studies Department at DU

Current Research: Presently, I am conducting my dissertation research using Critical Participatory Action Research (CPAR) methods. CPAR practices are community-based, oriented toward social justice, and based on a design that centers research participants’ perspectives through democratic relationships between academic researchers and community members.  These non-hierarchical relationships encourage community members to become co-researchers that direct the entirety of the research process from the articulation of research questions to the dissemination of outcomes. Because CPAR allows its participants to become co-researchers, this kind of research produces not only social justice outcomes, but also creates research processes that are empowering and agentic for the individuals involved. Using this methodological approach, I am working with a collective of six high school girls in the Denver area. Together, we are examining how the normalization of Whiteness is maintained in Denver public high schools. Currently, we are in the early phases of data collection and coordinating semi-structured interviews with high school students, faculty, and administration.

This research will result in the completion of my dissertation, but beyond that, I hope to publish at least a couple co-authored articles with my research collective. We also plan to present information about our process and findings at regional and national communication studies and social justice conferences. Ultimately, one of my primary goals is to produce scholarship with my co-researchers that they can add to their resumes, college applications, and scholarship applications. In addition, we hope to take our findings out into relevant pockets of the Denver area so that we can engage community members—residents and officials alike—in dialogue and action aimed at correcting racial injustices.

Collaborators: I work with Dr. Kate G. Willink, Drs. Erin K. Willer and Roy V. Wood (who has recently retired) from the Communications Department.

Initial Inspiration: For the whole of my academic and professional career, my goal has been to use my education and skills to foster social justice in the Denver area. I gravitated toward my specific methodological approach because I firmly believe that community members themselves know how to best improve upon the conditions that surround them. My chosen approach allows me to walk the walk, so to speak, of this belief. As such, my goal has been to offer the community members with whom I am working a variety of research tools and ideas that they can use in order to correct the social injustices that affect them in their everyday lives.

Biggest Challenge: My biggest challenge in my current project really comes down to the fact that there are not enough hours in the day! My project allows me to wear many hats: with my collective of co-researchers, I enact the role of facilitator, researcher, teacher, student, mentor, and friend. I consider it an honor and a privilege to be working with my co-researchers, and I am benefiting from our work together in tremendous ways that go far beyond my obvious objectives of completing my dissertation and degree requirements. A huge component of my relationship with my co-researchers is that our work together should be mutually beneficial—and that means that I support my young co-researchers in whatever ways they deem appropriate. Providing this support and living out full-fledged relationships with my co-researchers is absolutely one of my favorite pieces of my work, but relationships obviously take a lot of time in addition to carrying out the more traditional pieces of research.

Research Advice: I have a couple pieces of advice for new DU graduate students.

  1. First, I think it is so valuable to constantly be questioning your own assumptions and to have the courage to refrain from getting too comfortable in what you believe to be true. Once you become wholly attached to any one belief, it’s really hard to keep yourself open to other’s beliefs—and, in my experience, remaining open to others’ perspectives has greatly enriched my ability to engage in ethical, responsible research.
  2. Second, it may sound trite, but don’t be afraid to ask the “dumb” questions! Graduate students are often in a precarious position; because we are all trying to establish ourselves as experts in our field, we want to be taken seriously, we want to appear worthy of professional/academic job positions, etc.—but at the same time, we are here to learn, to be curious, to make mistakes, and to simply not know what to do at certain times. So, don’t be afraid to ask when you don’t know how to proceed with your work, remember all of the different, amazing resources you have available to you here, and take advantage of those resources! I think that being a student and having opportunities to learn is a phenomenal privilege, so embrace those moments during which you don’t know what to do next!

Graduate Citings: Tales from the Field – Delma Ramos

Delma-Ramos-DUApril flowers bring…a new May installment of Graduate Citings! We are excited to highlight PhD student Delma Ramos. Delma focuses on social justice in higher education and explores systems of access and opportunity for underserved populations that stem, in part, from her experience as a first generation student. Her inspiring scholarship has led to a variety of opportunities including a summer associate position at the American Council on Education Center for Policy, Research, and Strategy!

Researcher: Delma Ramos, PhD student in the Higher Education program at DU.

Current Research: I have been involved in collaborative projects guided by both qualitative and quantitative methodologies. Currently, I am participating in a study that explores the transition to college of low-income and first generation families and the systems institutions have in place to determine their involvement in their children’s college experience. Another project examines the academic trajectories of low-income, first generation women of color in racialized and sexualized academic settings.

Most recently I was invited to collaborate in two studies one which seeks to understand the role that low-income and families of color play in cultivating their children’s educational aspirations and ideologies, and one that involves the construction of a series of measures of Funds of Knowledge. I am also currently working with the Colorado Department of Higher Education on projects related to developmental education and performance metrics.  This summer, I look forward to joining the American Council on Education Center for Policy, Research, and Strategy in DC as a graduate summer associate exploring federal policies impacting higher education. Findings from at least two of the projects have been widely disseminated at forums including ASHE, NASPA, and AERA. Several publications that have emerged from this work are currently in the pipeline.

Collaborators: Most of the research inquiries I have participate(d) in are collaborations with various researchers.  In these settings, I play different roles as part of the research process from proposal development to finding dissemination and the creation of recommendations. These partnerships have taken place within the University of Denver, primarily with my academic advisor Dr. Judy Marquez Kiyama and with colleagues from outside organizations including the University of Missouri, the University of California-Los Angeles, Teachers College, the Denver Scholarship Foundation, RAND Corporation, and the Education Commission of the States.

Initial Inspiration: My research interests include access, retention, and graduation from higher education institutions, with an emphasis on underserved populations. Additionally, I focus on the assessment of programs with similar foci and on issues pertaining to educational quality and inclusive pedagogies in higher education, with a special interest in measure development. Philosophically, my research agenda is driven by my passionate commitment to social justice and my vision for a more inclusive and accessible higher education system. My research interests are further strengthened by my background as a first generation student and my exposure to scholars who study inequities in higher education as influenced by economic, social, and political contexts.

Biggest Challenge: As a woman of color, my biggest challenge has been to identify support systems that strengthen my ability to persist and succeed in my program at DU. My support network is composed of colleagues within and outside of DU as well as family and friends outside of Higher Ed.

Research Advice- Make Connections: I have found networking to be a very effective tool to access a wide array of research and other professional development opportunities.  Reach out to those people you would like to work with, you’ve got nothing to lose!

 

Cannabis Curriculum- DU’s Marijuana Summit

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Marijuana legalization is no longer just the topic idealistic undergraduates write about in their English 101 courses. What wasn’t relevant (or legal) four years ago is now a hot topic in today’s academic institutions. Marijuana startups, entrepreneurship, journalism, technological innovations, mental and physical health, and law representation are all important subjects being discussed and addressed in classrooms across the University of Denver. Some ways DU has brought marijuana into the academic conversation is through course offerings. Sturm College of Law now offers Representing the Marijuana Client, the first course of its kind to offer training to neophyte lawyers “to work directly with the cannabis industry.” In the fall of 2015 the Media, Film, and Journalism Studies department offered Cannabis Journalism, allowing upper level undergraduate and graduate students the opportunity to examine medical and recreational marijuana legalization in Colorado.

Jumping on the timely aspects of marijuana legalization, DU’s Center for Professional Development (CPD) and Sturm College have teamed up to offer DU’s first ever Marijuana Summit. I had the opportunity to chat with CPD’s Assistant Director, Shannon Gray, to learn more about this event and what you can expect to learn about during tomorrow’s sessions.

Highlight the Expertise on Campus

All the panelists that will be represented on the panel discussions are experts on cannabis and will be able to provide insights into the current state of marijuana’s effects as well as provide predictions on what to expect in the future. We’re also lucky to have one of the nation’s leading marijuana regulation experts right in our own backyard. Sam Kamin, the Vicente Sederberg Professor of Marijuana Law and Policy at the Sturm College of Law, will be the summit’s keynote speaker and panelist for the law/business track workshop to discuss marijuana regulation at the federal, state, and local levels.

Address Current Issues as They Happen

Have you ever felt that higher education often moves at glacial speeds when it comes to real-time germane issues of our society? The CPD and Sturm College of Law acknowledged this complication by providing the summit; a place where the DU community can come together to discuss marijuana’s influence in Colorado at a time that makes sense. Marijuana is such a new and rich topic that effects a wide variety of research fields that there is a need to provide a place for timely discussion.

Promote Interdisciplinary Collaboration

One of the purposes for the formulation of DU’s CPD was to set an example for interdisciplinary partnerships across campus, and this summit is a great demonstration of partnerships put to good use. The Marijuana Summit was created in partnership with Sturm College of Law and in affiliation with the Graduate School of Professional Psychology, the Graduate School of Social Work, University College, and Morgridge College of Education. This year professionals from the law, business, psychology, and biology fields will be represented, allowing for attendees to view marijuana from a multifaceted/interdisciplinary lens.

This year’s summit is broken down into two tracks, both of which offer two workshops sessions comprised of three panelists. The panels will run for 1 hour and 15 minutes including time for Q & A. Both tracks will focus on marijuana’s influence on research and legislation. Here is a little bit more about each track:

  • Law/business- Sturm College of Law
    • Marijuana regulation at the federal, state and local levels (3 panelists)
    • 50 Shades of Green- This session will highlight how marijuana legalization has effected local business (3 panelists)
  • Psychology/biology- Lindsay Auditorium in Sturm Hall (across Driscoll Green)
    • Mental health and marijuana (3 panelists)
    • Biological effects of marijuana (3 panelists)

The summit is tomorrow, and while free tickets are no longer available, students can register for one of the tracks for $10 (which includes lunch from Pasquinis!). If you have any insights to share about this historic event we’d love to hear about them in the comments!

 

Graduate Citings: Tales from the Field – Halena Kapuni-Reynolds

Hello DU grad students! Happy week 3! We’re excited to bring you the second installment of Graduate Citings: Tales from the Field, a blog series featuring the research of current and former DU graduate students. This month we’re featuring Halena Kapuni-Reynolds, a DU alumnus and current PhD student at the University of Hawai’i. While at DU he explored the curation of aliʻi collections (objects that were once owned or made by Hawai’i’s chiefly class). Be sure to check out his research advice at the bottom of the post!

Halena-Graduate-CitingsResearcher: Halena Kapuni-Reynolds, DU alumnus from the Anthropology Department’s Museum and Heritage Studies program. Most recently, he was admitted to the University of Hawai’i at Manoa’s American Studies PhD program.

Current Research: In the fall of 2015, I successfully defended my thesis entitled “Curating Ali’i collections: Responsibility, Sensibility, and Contextualization within Hawai’i-based Museums.” This thesis was the culmination of two years of Master’s-level research that focused on how Ali’i collections –that is, objects that were once owned or made by Hawai’i’s chiefly class– are cared for and exhibited at two museums in Hawai’i: The Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum on the Island of O’ahu and the Lyman House Memorial Museum on the Island of Hawai’i. During my fieldwork, I interviewed native Hawaiian and local collections managers at both institutions, and conducted an extensive analysis of the exhibits that showcase ali’i things.

What this research revealed was a confluence of both professional museums’ practices and Native Hawaiian cultural sensibilities and metaphors regarding ways of culturally, spiritually, and physically caring for these museum collections. I coined the term cultural contextualization to refer to this process of adapting and transforming museum practices. Cultural contextualization draws from appropriate museology theory, which is an emerging museum theory developed by my thesis advisor Dr. Christina Kreps. Ultimately, I argue that cultural contextualization can lead to the recognition and privileging of indigenous knowledge systems in the care of indigenous collections within museums.

Currently, I am interning at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, where I am conducting much needed research on their Oceanic Collection. The ultimate goal of my internship is to produce a catalog that provides a critical overview of the Oceanic Collection, which will be available for free through the museum’s internal publication, the Denver Museum of Nature & Science Annals.

Collaborators: For my thesis, my primary advisor was Dr. Christina Kreps. However, I also discussed my ideas and theories with Dr. Richard Clemmer-Smith and Dr. Bonnie Clark. During Dr. Clark’s Cultural Narratives class I had the opportunity to write an epilogue to my thesis, which comprised of an oli, a Native Hawaiian chant. This epilogue allowed me the opportunity to capture my research in a poetical manner.

Initial Inspiration: My interest in this project stemmed from my experiences as an undergraduate at the University of Hawai’i at Hilo. While there, I became interested in museums and the thousands of native Hawaiian things that are curated within them. I also wanted to address how many native Hawaiians still consider museums to be foreign places, even within their own islands. Thus, I wondered how museums have/have not worked towards collaborating with and reaching out to their native Hawaiian constituents, and how native Hawaiian presences in museums have transformed the profession.

Biggest Challenge: My biggest challenge for this research was the actual write-up. Sure it’s one thing to collect the information that you need from informants, books, and journal articles, but it’s another thing to actually formulate paragraphs and analytically robust analyses. Since this was the first time that I wrote something of this scale, there was a lot of writing and rewriting involved. Countless paragraphs were written and later scrapped. and I spent hours trying to conceptualize my research in an academic manner. In the end though, it was worth it. Writing a thesis improved my writing and analytical skills, and taught me to be bold, brave, and creative. The result is a thesis that blends academic writing with Native Hawaiian rhetorical strategies, a reflection of my own identity as a Native Hawaiian of mixed heritage.

Research Advice:

  1. Present at local/regional conferences. If you are new to this professional aspect of academic work, consider presenting at the DU Graduate Research and Performance Summit. It is a yearly conference where you, DU graduate students, can present your ideas either as a paper, presentation, or any other experimental format. Talking about your research to others is important for gaining feedback, especially on viewpoints that you may have not considered while writing. Did I mention that it looks good on your CV?
  2. When you get to the point of ordering hard copies of your thesis, it is cheaper to go through the DU bookstore and Grad Studies rather than ProQuest. Generally, ProQuest copies are poor quality. If you go through the bookstore, you can ensure your thesis copies have colored photos!

Graduate Citings: Tales from the Field – Stephanie Begun

Happy spring pios! Hope you’re all having a wonderful and restful spring break. This Monday marks the second half of the dreaded “mega quarter” here at DU. To give you a little encouragement to keep plugging away, we thought we’d create a blog series specifically focused on the fruits of your fellow pios’ research labors. The new series, Graduate Citings: Tales from the Field, features graduate students who are conducting some important and inspiring scholarship here at DU. The series serves to highlight the various research happenings on campus, as well as provide you with some timely research advice from your colleagues that can help you in your future endeavors. Our first post features Stephanie Begun, a PhD candidate at GSSW, who is investigating the impact of social media on homeless youths’ attitudes towards sexual health.

Stephanie-BegunResearcher: Stephanie Begun, PhD candidate at the Graduate School of Social Work.

Current Research: My dissertation research focuses on reproductive and sexual health attitudes and decision-making among homeless youth, and how youths’ social networks, perceptions of social norms, and sources of social support may serve as risk/protective factors in youths’ engagement in sexual behaviors. More broadly, I also investigate opportunities by which prevention science, policy, and community-based participatory research may work in tandem to positively impact family planning access and reproductive outcomes for all populations. Additionally, I am currently working on an interdisciplinary grant that seeks to identify new ways of using design thinking and social media to engage vulnerable youth in teen pregnancy prevention and education efforts.

My hope is that my dissertation efforts will result in more effective and culturally responsive approaches to pregnancy prevention specifically among homeless youth. I truly enjoy writing and have been very lucky to publish numerous peer-reviewed articles with my many wonderful collaborators at DU and beyond. I have published manuscripts on topics including reproductive health and family planning, youth homelessness, social networks, community-based participatory research methods, social innovations, among other topics. A full list of my publications are available in my DU portfolio.

Collaborators: Throughout my time at DU, I have had the great fortune of working with so many amazing formal and informal mentors. Kim Bender is my mentor/dissertation chair, and I have also worked extensively with Anamika Barman-Adhikari, Ramona Beltrán, Jae McQueen, and many others at GSSW, in addition to Anne DePrince in Psychology. Learning from our many diversely talented faculty members has been one of the major highlights of my doctoral education.

Initial Inspiration: For as long as I can remember, I have always loved working with youth and helping them to reach their incredible potential! Pregnancy and parenting at a young age can be very stressful, and as I worked more with homeless youth, I began to think about how such stressors are even further amplified among this population. Many homeless youth indicate either an ambivalence toward or an active desire to become pregnant or involved in a pregnancy, as they often see pregnancy and parenting as the only perceived “cure” to other life challenges and experiences of abuse, neglect, and trauma. I think that understanding the complex reasons behind such pregnancy attitudes may help us to better reach and educate youth populations that continue to exhibit the highest pregnancy rates.

Biggest Challenge: At my core, I am such a nerd! I find almost everything interesting and I have such a hard time saying “no” to projects. For me, the biggest challenge is being realistic and strategic about which projects to take on and which ones to (unfortunately) decline due to time constraints.

Research Advice: Stay persistent! The peer-reviewed publishing process can often take a long time and can be frustrating, but your work is important! Also, study something you truly care about. Becoming a scholar is exceptionally difficult, so you have to love what you do; perhaps more importantly, the people your work is seeking to help really need your passion and commitment to conducting novel and ethical research, too.

Do you know anyone who is conducting some inspirational scholarship? Let us know and we might feature them in an upcoming series post!