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Texas Undergraduate Research Day Showcases Outstanding Student Projects

Theology Major Moses Tillman-Young will represent TLU as part of Texas Undergraduate Research Day on February 23-24 with his project, “Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Superhero Assassin or Surrendered Christian Saint?”

Typically, students and faculty would travel to the Capitol in Austin for an in-person event to attend committee hearings and observe the daily meetings of the Senate and House of Representatives. This year, Tillman-Young and his faculty mentor, Theology Professor Dr. Norm Beck, will attend virtually. Their work is part of 60 research projects that will be displayed in virtual poster format representing 47 college, university, and health science center undergraduate programs across Texas.

Tillman-Young’s research focuses on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran pastor, theologian, dissident anti-Nazi, and founding member of the Confessing Church. According to the project abstract, “Until approximately 1999 he was primarily known as a brilliant theologian and social activist. Unfortunately, during the past two decades he has been used in popular culture as a justification for violent intervention and for the taking of lives for a ‘righteous’ cause (think January 6, 2021). Tillman-Young presents his research as an indication that this misuse of Bonhoeffer in popular culture is diametrically opposed to Christian values and Bonhoeffer's own theology.”

Coordinated by the Council of Public University Presidents and Chancellors and the Independent Colleges and Universities of Texas, Inc., Texas Undergraduate Research Day showcases the experiences of undergraduate students engaged in research for Texas legislators and the public through high-quality virtual poster presentations. TLU is also a member of the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR).

The online program will highlight how research conducted by undergraduate students positively impacts Texas and Texans. In addition to presenting the research title, poster, and a brief description, the virtual format provides students with the option of linking to a YouTube video and/or including an audio description of their research. Visitors to the site will have the ability to view research entries by discipline and student-identified keywords.

Integrated Science and Psychology double major Elise Gray’s research was selected as a runner-up for her project, “Monolingual and Bilingual College Students’ Performance on English and Artificial Stroop Tests.” Gray and her team also submitted their work to Southwestern Psychological Association’s annual convention and have been accepted to present it virtually in April 2021. After graduating in May, she will start at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio to pursue her Doctor of Occupational Therapy.

According to Gray and her faculty mentor, Assistant Psychology Professor Dr. Beth Woods, numerous studies have found that bilingual individuals are at a cognitive advantage in executive function, possibly due to their experience with switching between languages and inhibiting the language not in use. The present study provides insight on the controversial bilingual cognitive advantage by examining monolingual and bilingual college students’ performance on English and artificial Stroop Color Word Tests.

Gray said she and her team chose to explore this topic based off the Engaging Psychology course theme “Multilingualism Matters.”

“Going into the semester, I was not sure what to expect because of COVID-19,” Gray said. “However, Dr. Woods was not ready to let the pandemic stop research. We worked hard reviewing relevant literature and establishing our research design. The most exciting part for me is collecting data with participants. For everyone's safety, we were able to meet with participants over Zoom. This was a different experience, but I am glad that I was able to have it. I learned a lot about how research can be conducted virtually and how it opens up many new avenues and opportunities to connect with individuals that I might not have been able to connect with before.”

Woods says research related to bilingualism is obviously timely given the ever-increasing number of multilingual people in the U.S., and Texas specifically. It’s also critical to understanding how people think and learn, which can have far reaching implications in the educational system if applied.

“The traditional Stroop Color Word Test requires inhibitory control to say the color of the ink and ignore the written color word,” she said. “This may be extra challenging when the words are novel, as was the case for our artificial Stroop task. Given that these tasks require inhibitory control, and bilinguals often have greater inhibitory control, we predicted that bilinguals would outperform monolinguals on both tasks. As expected, participants were slower on incongruent than congruent trials and slower on the artificial than English Stroop task. However, no bilingual advantage was found. In fact, the artificial incongruent test seemed more taxing for bilinguals than monolinguals. Future studies should continue to investigate task differences and how individuals’ language background might influence their cognition. This study also highlights the importance of considering language background as one of the many ways in which we are diverse.”

Physics Department Chair Dr. Toni Sauncy also serves as chair of the CUR Physics and Astronomy Division and leads university-wide efforts regarding undergraduate research. For her, one of the most important aspects of is letting students know that what they are doing outside of their curricular requirements is essential to professional development.

“Events that acknowledge and celebrate the contributions of undergraduate researchers and their mentors by inviting outstanding students to share their work with state legislators recognizes the value of undergraduate research in all fields,” she said. “Events like Undergraduate Research Day also provides a nod to the challenging work of engaging undergraduates in research, which is typically well beyond what the student might encounter in the ordinary curriculum in any discipline. At TLU, many of our students, in a broad range of disciplines are working with faculty mentors on topics and ideas that many students might not encounter until they are in graduate-level classes. Progress is possible only through the motivation of the student, and the skill and patience of the faculty mentor.”

More About The Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR)

CUR is a professional organization that provides connections, support and training for faculty in all disciplines who have taken on the challenges of mentoring undergraduate students in research. With 18 divisions, CUR provides opportunities to interact with colleagues in nearly any academic discipline.