Summer 2021 Projects and Mentors
  • Melissa Johnson
    The Southwestern University Racial History Project

    This project builds on my SCOPE project last summer that looked at the very early racial history of Southwestern, from 1830 to the 1860’s. We asked: how did mid-19th century racial formations and racial capitalism on the Texas frontier shape the three most important of Southwestern’s root colleges (Rutersville, Soule and McKenzie). We found that these institutions were very much entangled in processes of racialization in the nineteenth century, and that SU’s root colleges depended on dispossession of indigenous lands and elimination of “Indians” and the capital derived from the labor of enslaved people of African descent. For the 2021 project, students will either work on unanswered questions from last summer, or develop new projects on the post-1860 history of SU.

  • Romi Burks

    Much closer to home: Surveying for apple snails in San Antonio using eDNA

    This proposal seeks funding to support continued research into a novel detection tool (i.e. environmental DNA or eDNA) designed to detect invasive species, in our case apple snails (genus Pomacea). During the 2018 and 2019 programs, pairs of SCOPE students worked to optimize the species-specific detection of apple snails. We have successful detections from the field. However, due to the length of the environmental DNA “amplicon” that we can amplify (i.e. copy on the quantitative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) machine, we have not been able to confirm the precise identity with sequencing. Consequently, we recently designed new primers (i.e. small stretches of DNA that search out a target) to make a longer amplicon that we can then sequence to determine its validity. The recent discovery of apple snails in San Antonio (which is much closer to us than our usual field sites in southeast and southwest Houston) provides a perfect opportunity for field work and testing the new primers. We will utilize our eDNA backpack to standardize sample collection and then complete the analysis of those samples within the Keck Molecular Biology lab at Southwestern.

  • Sara Massey
    Determining the effect of environmental niche on light harvesting machinery in photosynthetic diatoms
    How does an organism adapt its light harvesting machinery to tailor to its environment? Diatoms are photosynthetic algae that thrive in varied aquatic environments. The same species may be found in coastal regions with cloudy waters due to wave activity and also in the oceanic water column where static waters result in less abundant minerals. This project aims to understand the light harvesting machinery in diatoms and how that machinery adapts to the organism’s environment. We will characterize diatom species from coastal and oceanic environments using microscopy, absorbance, and fluorescence spectroscopy. We will then make comparisons within and between environmental niches to understand how organisms from different environments tune the arrangement and connectivity of photosynthetic pigments.

  • Jacob Schrum
    Artificial Intelligence for Video Games
    Video games are a popular testbed for many Artificial Intelligence (AI) techniques because they are simulated, controlled environments, but have a level of complexity that makes optimal decision making and content generation challenging. Students will work to design intelligent agents or generate content for games or other complex simulations using AI: Deep Learning, Reinforcement Learning, Evolutionary Computation, etc. Applications of AI techniques to other areas outside of games could also be explored. Students will be given much leeway in deciding on an area of interest to focus on, so potential applicants are strongly encouraged to communicate with Dr. Schrum in advance to discuss possible project ideas.

  • Scott McLean                                                                                                    
    Effect of Starting Block Design on Segmental Contributions to Angular Momentum During a Competitive Swimming Start                                        
    Starting blocks for competitive swimming that use a wedge provide performance advantages in speed and force generation but often produce a more downward trajectory negatively impacting performance (Vint et al., 2009). To achieve a flatter trajectory, a swimmer must manipulate body position to alter the trajectory of the start (McLean, 2018). This project will examine the effect of manipulating leg and head movements on swim start performance. A minimum of ten experienced competitive swimmers will complete maximal effort starts under the following conditions; preferred starting technique, accentuated rear leg kick with head down, unaltered leg kick with accentuated head lift, and accentuated leg kick with head lift. Kinematic data will be generated from digitized videotaped trials. These data will then be used with a whole body inertial model to define segmental angular momentum about a medial-lateral (ML) axis for each of 14 body segments by summing the local and transfer angular momentum terms (Hay et al., 1977, McLean et al., 2018). Kinematics and kinetics of start performance will be compared across start conditions using separate one-way repeated measure ANOVA’s.


    Edward Merritt

    Muscle Health Requirements for Successful Exercise-Induced Weight Loss Prescription

    Recommendations for weight loss often focus on physical activity levels. Exercise is beneficial for overall health; however, exercise alone is usually ineffective for weight loss The purpose of this study is to identify easily measured muscle-related factors which predict who will best respond to exercise based weight loss programs. The results from this project will contribute to our understanding of the importance of healthy skeletal muscle for exercise-induced weight loss, and also underscore the importance of diet in weight loss, especially for those incapable of losing substantial fat mass through exercise-alone.

  • John Ross
    Isoperimetry in Low-Dimensional Spaces with Density
    This project will allow a student/faculty collaboration to occur in which we research an open question in mathematics, deriving from a variation on the Isoperimetric Problem. Such variations problems are directly linked to my own work and are a current hot topic in mathematics. I believe that my SCOPE students will be able to make meaningful contributions towards one or more open problems, and the experience will result in new results, published work, and material that would be disseminated to both the SU community and the regional/national mathematics community.

  • Katharine Aha

    The Radical Right Backlash to Minority Political Success
    The purpose of this project is to investigate the relationship between electoral support for radical right political parties and support for and visibility of political parties representing ethnic minorities in post-communist Europe. Previous research has shown that when political parties representing ethnic minority interests achieve national political success, radical right parties receive increased support in the next elections. This project will investigate subnational variation in support for radical right parties. What causes variation in support for radical right parties across different parts of a country? Does support for a radical right party increase more in parts of the country where pro-minority parties have received strong electoral support? Or does national level success of pro-minority parties interact with local level factors, like economic performance, to explain variation in radical right support? This project is important because the radical right party family is the fastest growing party family in Europe, and several countries in East-Central Europe have been turning away from liberal democracy. In a region of nation-states in which the conception of the “nation” is defined in exclusive, ethnic terms, radical right parties have traditionally targeted ethnic minorities within the country. By focusing on local-level electoral shifts, we can gain greater insight into the causal mechanisms that contribute to increases in radical right support.

  • Erin Crockett

    Love in the time of COVID

     The current project originates from my capstone research course, during which students studied the impact of COVID-19 and the resulting shelter-in-place orders on relationship functioning. Together with colleagues at the University of Texas, we have recruited 204 participants (80 dyads and 44 individuals), that were sheltering in place together during the March/April stay at home orders (Wave 1). These participants completed a global questionnaire assessing a host of relationship variables (e.g., relationship satisfaction, common sources of conflict), personal health variables (e.g., levels of depression and stress), and questions about their current living conditions (e.g., How many rooms are in your house? Do you have spaces where you can go and be alone?). After completing the packet, participants engaged in a 14-day diary study during which they reported daily relationship functioning (e.g., Did you have a conflict with your partner today?, Did you enjoy leisure time with your partner today?). The goal of this summer project is to explore the consequences (both positive and negative) that these stay-at-home orders had for romantic partners.


    Fay Guarraci
    The Long-Term Effects of using Leuprolide to Delay Puberty on Reproductive Physiology and Behavior Modeled in Rats
    The present study was designed to examine the long-term effects of suppressing pubertal onset with leuprolide acetate, a gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH) agonist. Although leuprolide has been used to delay puberty in children with central precocious puberty since the 1980’s, it is currently being prescribed to children who are questioning their gender identity. We will use an animal model to investigate the potential side-effects of leuprolide in female rats. We will administer leuprolide for 25 days, starting prior to puberty (postnatal day 25) and continuing on into adulthood. This should intentionally delay pubertal onset. By modeling the treatment prescribed to children who are questioning their gender identity, we can assess potential delays in the development and expression of other physiological measures (e.g., estrous cyclicity, fertility) and sexual motivation. Specifically, pups will be weaned on PD 23. Starting on PD 25 we will begin daily injections, at which time we will also look for signs of puberty. Injections will conclude on PD 50, after which estrous cyclicity will be measured for one month. The expression of female sexual behavior and motivation will then be assessed.


    Carin Perilloux
    The ASMR Video Project
    Have you ever felt a warm, tingly, pleasant feeling when someone traces letters on your back or plays with your hair? Or when someone reads a book to you or asks you questions on the phone, or just taps their fingers on an object in a satisfying way? That’s called ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) and it’s the first psychological phenomenon to be discovered on YouTube rather than in a lab! ASMRtists generate thousands of videos on YouTube to give people tingles, lull them to sleep, or promote relaxation. This summer, we are going to create short ASMR videos in which we isolate specific triggers. We will use these in an experiment to assess whether certain individual differences (e.g., demographics, personality traits) are linked to preferences for various triggers. We may also continue the lab’s work on categorizing ASMR videos on YouTube for various attributes (e.g., triggers, voice, ASMR style). You’ll learn applied skills such as producing high definition videos, web-based survey design, SPSS statistical analysis, generating a literature view, coding videos, and presenting your work as an oral presentation and poster. Our goal is to present at a conference during the following academic year, and eventually publish this work as part of a multi-study paper. For this project, the most important thing is your level of interest in the topic and dedication to pursuing it scientifically – some background in Psychology is nice but not required.