On Campus: Student News

Southwestern Students Tackle Smoking

Despite well-documented research that smoking is dangerous, 15 percent of the population continues to smoke. Four students have teamed up with faculty members from the Departments of Economics and Sociology to conduct research on the reasoning behind this, particularly in Williamson County.

With the help of grant money Southwestern received from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to develop collaborative programs among faculty members, the students and faculty members are working with the Williamson County and Cities Health District (WCCHD) to explore the effectiveness of tobacco cessation strategies available to employers in Williamson County.

“The prevalence of smoking has not decreased to levels one would expect with the increased awareness of its dangers,” says senior economics major Eric Franco. “This is one of the greatest public policy dilemmas facing the government right now.”

Federal law to be enacted in 2010 will require parity in coverage for mental health, including substance abuse disorders. This is likely to increase utilization of tobacco cessation programs as cost declines, therefore increasing the need for an understanding of which programs are most effective.

To date, the students and faculty members working on the project have examined past research conducted by other organizations and developed a survey for target groups. Working in partnership with WCCHD, they have distributed their survey to 2,000 people and plan to survey 1,600 more. The survey asks questions about tobacco use, knowledge of tobacco-related health problems, and the awareness, use and efficacy of tobacco cessation programs.

The project has given students the chance to work on research with national implications and gain some experience that may transfer into a career setting. “It really pertains to what I will be doing in the future,” says Franco, who plans to pursue a career in consulting, which will involve research.

Senior economics major Wes Rivers says it has been very rewarding to work with Economics professor, Mary Young, on this project.

“Professor Young has so much experience in this field,” he says. “It has allowed me to see what goes into real-life research.” Rivers plans to attend graduate school and is interested in pursuing a career in public policy.

The interdisciplinary study also has given students from different majors the opportunity to work together. “It has been interesting to work with students outside of the Sociology Department,” says senior sociology major Tristine Baccam. “It has opened my eyes to different perspectives.”

The students are now inputting and analyzing the data they have collected for any patterns. They hope to present their findings at several state and national meetings in 2009.

Student Programmers Take Top Honors

For the second year in a row, a team of students from Southwestern has claimed the title of Top Undergraduate Institution in the region in the world’s most prestigious computer programming competition.

The IBM-sponsored Association for Computing Machinery International Collegiate Programming Contest requires students to use their programming skills to solve as many problems as possible within a five-hour period. Two three-person teams from Southwestern participated in a regional competition held at Baylor University in October. More than 70 schools from Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma participated in the competition, including 25 teams from schools that do not have graduate programs.

The SU Root team made up of junior Tommy Rogers and seniors Stephen Foster and Bob Potter placed sixth overall and took top honors among the undergraduate-only institutions.

In addition to winning the Top Undergraduate Institution award, the SU Root team placed first in a Friday night “scripting contest” that was targeted at programming in scripting languages such as Perl, Python, PHP and Ruby. The Southwestern team programmed in Ruby, which is used to rapidly build Web-based database applications.

Southwestern Student Named American Chemical Society Scholar

Junior biochemistry major Carissa Fritz has been named an American Chemical Society Scholar, the first student from Southwestern to earn this honor.

The American Chemical Society’s Scholars Program gives merit-based scholarships of up to $5,000 per academic year to students who want to enter the fields of chemistry, biochemistry or chemical engineering, or who are seeking two-year degrees in chemical technology. Scholarship recipients also are matched with mentors who can help guide them in their careers.

“Only about 120 students a year are named ACS Scholars, so this is quite an honor for Carissa,” says Gulnar Rawji, associate professor of chemistry. “I am really proud of her. She was competing with students from very highly regarded institutions such as MIT, Stanford and Yale.”

Fritz has conducted research with Rawji the past two summers through the Chemistry Department’s Welch Summer Research Program, which is funded by the Robert A. Welch Foundation of Houston. Their research involves synthesizing platinum (II) and copper (II) metal complexes and observing how they interact with DNA. Such complexes have the potential to be developed as therapeutic and diagnostic agents for diseases such as cancer. Fritz and fellow Southwestern student Tammy Nguyen presented a poster on the work on copper (II) complexes at the American Chemical Society National Meeting held in New Orleans in early April.

Fritz says she was “surprised and excited” to learn of her scholarship from the ACS. “It is a wonderful opportunity, and I am very grateful to have received it,” she says. “I hope to take advantage of their mentor program to learn more about the various career opportunities that the study of chemistry affords.”

After graduating from Southwestern, Fritz plans to pursue graduate studies in biochemistry.

Southwestern Students Take Honors in Statewide Ethics Match

A team of students from Southwestern won its division and placed second overall in the 2008 Business Ethics Match hosted by the Texas Independent College Fund (TICF).

The competition was held Oct. 30–31, 2008, in Fort Worth, and featured 18 teams from small, independent (private) colleges and universities in Texas.

The competition provides students the opportunity to show their reasoning skills through debating current issues in business ethics. For example, in the final round of the competition, the two teams had to debate whether it was ethical for a fictional university to offer financial incentives to students to get them to retake the SAT in an effort to boost the school’s standings in the annual U.S. News & World Report rankings.

This year’s Southwestern team consisted of senior business majors Michael Hust, Christy Catlin, Debran Meyer and Kevin O’Neil. The team won its division, but lost in the final round.

“The team represented themselves and the institution proudly, and this is a great example of how Southwestern is achieving its mission of creating bright, moral and courageous leaders. The outcome reflects their maturity, confidence and moral reasoning skills,” says team advisor Andy Ross, a visiting instructor in the Department of Economics and Business.