Going the Extra ACRE – Albright College

Going the Extra ACRE

by Carey Manzolillo, MBA

Left image: MeeAe Oh-Ranck and Ashley Hillegass ’21. Middle image: Evan Carr ’22 and Lisa Wilder, Ph.D. Right image: Nick D’Angelo Ungson, Ph.D. and Isabel Skovera ’21. Photos by John Pankratz.

Although many college students don’t start independent research until graduate school, undergrads in all areas of Albright study are encouraged to work one-on-one with faculty members outside of regular semesters. Through the Albright Creative Research Experience (ACRE), students submit proposals to a faculty review board — and winning proposals are rewarded with college stipends to help the student/faculty pairs conduct and present research or pursue creative endeavors. See the breadth of ACRE work through the eyes of four Albright students:

“Dyeing” for Fashion Health

It’s not unusual for a first ACRE project to lead the way to more research. In pursuing her third ACRE with Instructor of Fashion Merchandising MeeAe Oh-Ranck, Ashley Hillegass ’21 (fashion design major, political science minor) explored negative health effects of chemical textile treatments.

“The textile industry is the second largest contributor to overall environmental pollution due to large quantities of man-made chemicals,” explains Hillegass, naming formaldehyde and azo dyes as top contributors to the problem. “We hope that this research shows the industry that natural sustainable dyes are in fact an option for major production, in place of synthetic dyes.”

Hillegass says her like-minded connection with Oh-Ranck pushes the pair forward. “Working one-on-one is a valuable experience that helps develop the direct communication between two people working toward a common goal, much in the same way as the industry of fashion works. The pandemic caused a lack of motivation … and this brought back what I had been missing: learning in a new, exciting way.”

Racial Wage Gaps are Black and White

Researching whether or not there is a difference between working wages for white and Black people in different parts of the country has been eye opening for Evan Carr ’22 (business administration/economics major). His research with Lisa Wilder, Ph.D., associate professor of business accounting and economics, shows that while workers in urban areas earn higher average wages than suburban and rural areas, white workers earn higher wages than Black workers in all areas. At 34%, the gap between white and Black wages is highest in urban areas.

“Working one-on-one with my professor was an experience that has taught me so much more than a semester of a class could ever teach me,” says Carr. “I definitely feel so much more confident in what I learned and what I researched now than at the beginning of the project. Somewhere in those six weeks I got a really firm grasp of what we were doing and became really invested and knowledgeable about the topic. After completing this project, I know that I can go to my professor with help for anything.”

Carr says he plans to go on to graduate school after Albright. “From this project I learned that I definitely want to pursue a career in economics. It has given me a glimpse of how the economics world can help other individuals and has really motivated me to study other economic issues.”

Lab Prep for Medical School

Having been accepted into the Penn State College of Medicine Early Assurance Program as a junior, Donna Saboori ’21 (biology/pre-medicine major, Spanish co-major) was grateful to spend extra time in the lab before heading to medical school in July — where she will work toward a career as an emergency medicine physician.

And because Bryce J. Brylawski, Ph.D., associate professor of biology, was already Saboori’s academic advisor and professor, the transition to research-mentor was easy and smooth — even though the lab work had a more challenging start.

“I had difficulty harvesting the larvae when I first began the ACRE and it took me an entire day just to collect one sample,” says Saboori. “By the next week I was able to collect 12 samples in the first hour, and I was proud of my progress.”

Studying the toxicological effects of a hair dye chemical on aquatic life, the team exposed bean beetle larvae to varying levels p-phenylenediamine (PPD), finding that high concentrations of PPD, with or without hydrogen peroxide (often mixed with PPD by the cosmetic industry) resulted in high mortality.

“Designing an experiment and performing data analysis are crucial skills for any scientist and I plan to carry what I have learned into medical school,” says Saboori. “In studying the methods and vocabulary of toxicology, I felt that I grew as a biologist and as a student.”

The Psychology of Politics

In psychology, “in-group” refers to a social group for which a person identifies as being a member. Conversely, “out-group” refers to a social group for which that individual does not identify.

So in order to analyze behavioral differences in praise, blame, punishment and prediction of both in-group and out-group members, Isabel Skovera ’21 (psychology major, women and gender studies minor), worked with Nick D’Angelo Ungson, Ph.D., visiting assistant professor of psychology, to study how Democrats and Republicans construed varying COVID-19 compliance behavior by other members of each party.

“There was a moment when Dr. Ungson and I agreed on how to go about our study that made me feel excited and confident that this was the correct way to research our topic,” says Skovera. “I gained valuable research experience, a deeper grasp of how group and moral psychology are intertwined, and a better understanding of peoples’ everyday behavior.”

Skovera hopes to apply her research to a career in social or industrial/organizational psychology. “I want to be using my skills to help facilitate teamwork and cooperation between groups of people,” she says.