The VIP program supports large-scale interdisciplinary research teams

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KENNESAW, Georgia (February 18, 2022) – Kennesaw State University has joined the ranks of national and international institutions to transform how research and education can be strategically integrated into the undergraduate curriculum. The Office of Undergraduate Research recently launched a Vertically Integrated Projects (VIP) program, designed to facilitate long-term projects involving large interdisciplinary teams of faculty and students.

The VIP model builds on the interests and research efforts of existing faculty members that can be scaled up to meet even greater challenges in their fields. Students gain valuable research skills and earn academic course credit through their participation. The VIP program was founded by Ed Coyle, director of the VIP Consortium, of which KSU is a member and which includes a total of 43 institutions based in 16 states and 12 countries. KSU is the first to offer the program through a centralized undergraduate research office.

“We are thrilled to bring this well-known program to KSU,” said Amy Buddie, director of undergraduate research. “The VIP program broadens the participation of students from all disciplines, backgrounds and skill levels. In this way, we increase the accessibility of undergraduate research opportunities at all levels, especially for underrepresented minorities.

Six VIP teams have been created for this inaugural year, three of which are highlighted in the following vignettes to show the transformative effect taking place at KSU.

Build an interdisciplinary research team

When Cyril Okhio, assistant professor of electrical engineering, first heard about the VIP program, he believed the initiative would help kick-start the development of an interdisciplinary research laboratory in engineering, computing and technology. The new lab would focus on studying the brain activity of subjects engaged in immersive viewing environments generated by specially designed tools and computer programs. Okhio brought together a group of eight undergraduate students and eight faculty members, spanning the disciplines of engineering, nursing, psychology, physics, biology, and information systems.

“It was the opportunity we needed to bring our ideas to life with some of the seed funding provided by the VIP program for the first year,” Okhio said. “We are excited about the prospect of establishing the first experimental engineering-related electroencephalogram (EEG) laboratory at Southern Polytechnic College of Engineering and Engineering Technology.”

Sumit Chakravarty, an associate professor of electrical engineering, was one of the first researchers approached by Okhio. Chakravarty’s primary motivation for joining the team was the potential to design brain-computer interaction research questions from a variety of perspectives, including reinforcing learning engineering concepts and improving attention.

“A research group allows you to stay engaged in your area of ​​expertise, but a VIP team allows you to reflect and create synergies, sometimes stepping out of your comfort zone. It’s very liberating,” said Chakravarty, whose interests focus on signal processing and artificial intelligence applications.Photo

Planned research activities include the use of 3D content development tools to create lesson plans for the study of attention and the use of EEG tools and associated software environments to analyze visual scenarios of human perceptions and create the rewards needed to reinforce learning-based training.

Team member and associate professor of psychology Tim Martin envisions his role as an advisor since his specialty is in cognitive science with a background in brain imaging. “The potential for this type of collaboration is astronomical in terms of changing the way we teach material and how we convey the emotional content of abstract intellectual information,” he said.

Scale for long-term results

Giovanni Loreto, Assistant Professor of Architecture, is always looking for ways to challenge his undergraduate students. What started as a class mission to find a more sustainable, low-cost approach to producing concrete structures just a few years ago has blossomed into a full-fledged VIP team.

The nine undergraduate students and four faculty advisors come from the fields of architecture, civil engineering, and mechanical engineering. They focus on the use of non-rigid formwork systems, permanent or temporary molds into which concrete is poured, which optimize structural elements to reduce the amount of concrete needed to support loads in buildings.

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“Innovation in structural engineering and architectural design seems to move at a slow pace compared to other branches of engineering,” Loreto said. “The reason is twofold. On the one hand, we are dealing with massive objects in terms of weight and size. On the other hand, we design objects that must be functional for hundreds of years. The VIP approach allows me to broaden the scope of research while providing students with the opportunity to contact the appropriate experts at every stage of their research development. »

For architecture major Moritz Meditz, the opportunity to oversee the design, construction and testing of these formwork systems is one of the best ways to prepare for a career in architecture.

“I was super excited because this research project is directly related to my thesis and will allow me to take a more hands-on approach rather than a purely academic approach typical of architectural thesis projects,” said Meditz, who plans to pursue a master’s degree after graduation. next May.

Sean Sadler, a civil engineering major, was introduced to this research as a first-year researcher, another initiative of the Office of Undergraduate Research, which introduces first-year students to the research process.

“I’m still in my second year, so I’m not completely decided on my career goals; however, I know I would like to continue working on research at least during my undergraduate studies,” said Sadler, who is now in a leadership role on the VIP team.

Create a unique mentoring environment

Katherine Ingram, associate professor of exercise science, has the largest VIP team, consisting of 10 undergraduates, two graduate students, two postdoctoral researchers and three other faculty collaborators. The team is studying the effects of obesity and physical activity on maternal health, a three-year project funded last year by the National Institutes Eunice Kennedy Shriver Institute of Child Health and Human Development. of Health.

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“One of the important characteristics of our team is that it is highly interdisciplinary,” Ingram said. “And through this interdisciplinary collaboration, we see the opportunity for this program to grow in many dimensions.”

Ingram added that the VIP model was appealing to her as she looked for ways to broaden the educational experiences of the undergraduates she already mentored. Since the VIP structure emphasizes a mentorship system at all levels, she said applying to the program was ideal for turning what she was already doing into something more tangible and lasting.Photo

For graduate student Sophia Ramirez, being on the team has increased her prowess and confidence as a mentor and mentee. She is pursuing a master’s degree in applied exercise and health sciences and aspires to become a surgeon.

“This system allows autonomy while connecting with senior students. It allows a lot more freedom to learn and grow as a team,” she said. “It’s an amazing experience to learn, because there’s always something to learn.”

Postdoctoral researcher Sadaf Dabeer adds that the VIP program is a unique opportunity for people at the stage of his career. “Postdocs who want to pursue a career in academia often don’t gain much experience in teaching methods and course development because they are too research-focused,” she explained. “VIP is special to us because we learn to frame while we are framed. It’s a process of mutual upliftment, and personally for me, it’s very rewarding professionally and emotionally.

– Joelle Walls


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A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral degrees to its nearly 43,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global connections, and entrepreneurial spirit attract students from across the country and around the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated (R2) doctoral research institution, placing it among an elite group of only 6% of US colleges and universities with R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu.

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