August 13, 2014, BY Matt Hughes

Daisy Bourne, Sayeh Bozorghadad and Stephanie Gonthier
Rising seniors Daisy Bourne, Sayeh Bozorghadad and Stephanie Gonthier took home top awards at the 2014 Susquehanna Valley Undergraduate Research Symposium.

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For Bucknell University student Sayeh Bozorghadad '15, research has its rewards.

A Geisinger Health System research intern, Bozorghadad spent her summer analyzing the effects a recently implemented navigation program has had on patient discharge times at Geisinger's flagship hospital in Danville, Pa. It's a project she knows will impact hospital policy and ultimately improve patient care — and that, for Bozorghadad, feels pretty good.

"When you don't get patients out of the hospital efficiently it creates a backup," Bozorghadad said. "You can't admit new patients, procedures get cancelled or delayed — it results in extra costs and patient unhappiness."

"Geisinger is going to continue researching and implementing things that I worked on, so it's very fulfilling," she added.

Bozorghadad was one of three project award winners — all Bucknell students — at the fourth annual Susquehanna Valley Undergraduate Research Symposium, a one-day conference sponsored by Bloomsburg University, the Bucknell Institute for Public Policy (BIPP), Geisinger Health System and Susquehanna University. The conference, held Aug. 5 at Geisinger's Henry Hood Center for Health Research, provides undergraduate researchers a chance to share work they have taken on or continued over the summer, present their findings before an unfamiliar audience, and learn from the efforts of their peers.

"This is an opportunity for both students and faculty to learn about all of the interesting and diverse research activities across these universities and this health care system," said David Ledbetter, chief scientific officer for Geisinger.

"Because they are presenting to a general audience and not just individuals in their fields, the students must take a step back, assess their work and think about how it fits into the wider world," added Amy Wolaver, BIPP director and co-organizer of the conference. "As an audience member, they learn about exciting research in areas of study they may not have even known existed. It embodies the goals of the liberal arts."

This year, roughly 90 students, including 27 Bucknellians, presented posters detailing their work. Prior to the conference, Bucknell students were chosen by blind jury for all three project awards, offering them the opportunity to give a 10-minute presentation on their work before the conference at large. In addition to Bozorghadad, who won the clinical/transitional category, Stephanie Gonthier '15 won the natural sciences and engineering category, while Daisy Bourne '15 won the social sciences and humanities category.

Gonthier's project refined learning methods used by software for individuals with disorders affecting speech, such as ALS, cerebral palsy and autism. Bourne's was a statistical analysis of government responses to the Arab Spring uprisings. She used factors such as the prevalence of religious division, frequency of government repression (based on media reports of repressive actions), and oil richness to predict government responses to protests in given countries.

"This is a really validating experience: to get to share what my work with other people, and to have them ask questions and affirm what I've done," Bourne said. "It's a unique opportunity for a college student."

Other presentations ran the gamut of natural and social science research. Bucknell undergraduates studied the resiliency of Hurricane Sandy recovery organizations in Staten Island, and historic flood mitigation strategies of Susquehanna River towns; how assimilation impacts the health of Mexican immigrants in the U.S., and how over-prescribing medications exacts a social and environmental toll.

Rising senior Greg Danchik, who won one of three poster prizes at the conference, asked which playground flooring surfaces provide the best protection to kids who fall and hit their heads, and said he hopes his work will lead to revisions in the standards that guide playground construction.

"I like being able to share what I've learned with the local community," said Danchik, who has presented his findings at two national conferences and will attend a third in the fall. "People are surprised at what we find. In some cases peak acceleration exceeds football impacts. Playground injuries account for 200,000 emergency room visits a year."

Danchik's classmate, Christina Gonzalez, asked a much different question: Why do people eat quinoa, and what does consumption of the South American grain reveal about health consciousness, income and social class?

"I really like being able to share information about quinoa," she said. "There's such a stereotype surrounding it — that it's for the upper class — and people don't know all that much about it."

While that question might seem a bit trivial, Professor Scott Meinke, political science, told the assembled undergraduate researchers not to worry too much about the applications of their work; even the most basic or narrowly specialized research can find unexpected value.

"Research that may seem abstract or even obscure contributes to the larger good," Meinke said. "Even research that turns out to have null findings today winds up contributing to the larger project of building knowledge that matters in the long run."

The important point, Meinke said, is that the researcher satisfies his or her own curiosity. Research can be its own reward.