HIGH POINT, N.C., April 24, 2020 – Members of the High Point University community frequently conduct, publish and share research and creative works in a variety of ways. Below is a recap of recent research initiatives.
HPU Biology Professor Leading Student Research on COVID-19
Dr. Davin Townley-Tilson, instructor of biology, is working with students to take the novel coronavirus genome and perform real-time phylogenetic analysis, which compares the new genomes to other coronavirus genomes. This allows students to see how their learnings can be applied in the real-world, while supporting efforts to understand the COVID-19 virus.
“We are teaching students crucial genomic and bioinformatic techniques through experiential learning, using real-world data that is incredibly germane to current events,” said Townley-Tilson. “The students’ analysis of the novel SARS-CoV-2 genome may serve to be incredibly important for clinicians and scientists who are using this data to produce therapeutics and vaccines against the virus.”
The research started in March as part of a class assignment in Townley-Tilson’s Principles of Genetics Lab. Although students are currently learning remotely, they were able to monitor and analyze the evolution of the novel coronavirus in real-time through the National Center for Biotechnology Information, a genetic-sequence repository that is part of the National Institute of Health.
“The students have been able to observe that, unlike influenza virus or rhinovirus, which are responsible for the flu and common cold, that this novel coronavirus actually mutates relatively slowly,” Townley-Tilson said. “Using multiple sequence alignment of several CoV-2 isolates, or viral strains, demonstrates the evolution, or mutation rate, of the virus is slow enough to allow for an effective vaccine, something that is exceedingly difficult with most other viruses.”
Townley-Tilson plans to use both the teaching methodology and research findings in an upcoming National Science Foundation (NSF) Improving Undergraduate STEM Education (IUSE) grant proposal.
HPU Faculty Research Recognized by Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior
Dr. Matthew Ritter and Dr. Sarah Vaala, assistant professors of strategic communication in the Nido R. Qubein School of Communication, were recognized by the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior for a co-authored article, titled, “Child-Oriented Marketing on Cereal Packaging: Associations with Sugar Content and Manufacturer Pledge.”
The research assesses sugar content and child-oriented promotional features on packaging among cereals manufactured by companies with varying Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI) participation.
“Consumers often confuse what they consider to be a single serving and what is listed as the product’s suggested serving size, generally eating more than what is recommended for a healthy diet,” Ritter said. “Through this research, we found child-oriented features were rare on low-sugar cereals and highest on cereals with higher sugar content per ounce produced by CFBAI-participating companies.”
Findings suggest variable cereal-suggested serving sizes may contribute to consumers’ misunderstanding of sugar content, and CFBAI manufacturers continue to market cereals with high sugar to children.
“There is a long history of the food industry being at odds with public health advocates when it comes to child-directed foods,” said Vaala. “Raising awareness of this issue is important.”
HPU Religion Professor Published in Multiple Research Journals
Dr. Joe Blosser, associate professor of religion and philosophy and Robert G. Culp Jr. director of service learning, recently had three separate research articles published in national journals.
“Maintaining an active research agenda is critical to being a relevant and innovative teacher who can prepare students for the world as it is going to be,” said Blosser. “I work at the intersections of economics and religion, helping students understand the ways our faith shapes our world and the economic choices we make.”
The Journal of Business Ethics Education published Blosser’s piece titled, “Faith and Ethics at Work: A Study of the Role of Religion in the Teaching and Practice of Workplace Ethics.” The research is based on a study Blosser’s students conducted around young professionals in High Point, through a partnership with the High Point Chamber of Commerce.
“This is a practical article that demonstrates how faith works to impact ethical decision-making in the lives of young professionals in High Point,” said Blosser. “As my students conducted this research, they met these young professionals, and a few of my students even ended up with internships based on the connections they made through these classes.”
Secondly, Blosser was featured in Intégrité: A Journal of Faith and Learning, for his work, titled, “Johnny Cash: An American Prophet.” The article explores how Cash’s faith shaped his music and his life, and includes original interviews with his family members.
“I grew up in a small town, went to school in Texas and Nashville, and have always loved country music,” said Blosser. “Cash is a legend and lived out his faith in unique and powerful ways. I love teaching at local churches about Cash because his faith is a relatable way to connect people to the power of Christianity.”
The third article, published by the Erasmus Journal for Philosophy and Economics, is titled, “Relational History: Adam Smith’s Types of Human History,” which expands on how capitalism has shaped our world.
“Adam Smith set the foundations for capitalism as we know it, and this work explores how he understood human development over time,” said Blosser.
These three scholarly publications demonstrate Blosser’s commitment to an active research agenda in Christian ethics and economic thought. As the director of service learning, he uses insights gained from his research to ensure HPU students are doing the kind of service that makes the biggest impact on our local community so they grow to become responsible citizens in a global environment. He is available to local churches and civic groups for lectures on any of these topics.
HPU Faculty Research Recognized with National Award
Dr. Allie Blosser, assistant professor in the Stout School of Education, along with her co-authors Dr. Joe Blosser, HPU’s Robert G. Culp Jr. director of service-learning, and Mrs. Pam Greene, volunteer coordinator with Communities in Schools High Point, were recently awarded the Service-Learning and Experiential Education SIG Outstanding Conference Submission Award from the American Educational Research Association (AARA) for research conducted in Blosser’s honors social scientific inquiry service-learning class.
Their paper, titled, “How can I uproot the system?”: Justice-oriented outcomes from community-based research in schools,” analyzed student learning. The class partnered with local Title I schools to collect data and research topics the local schools wanted to address, like school readiness, parent engagement, teacher morale and student transiency. Then, students presented their recommendations to the schools based on the data they collected and analyzed.
“We found that partnering with local Title 1 schools cultivated several justice-oriented learning outcomes for students, like a recognition of deficit perspectives, a deepened understanding of systemic poverty and the ability to distinguish empowering models of service from paternalistic ones,” said Blosser. “Essentially, the course prepared students for being better stewards in their communities because it taught them how research, as a form of service, can be used to promote positive social change in organizations like schools.”
Through a rigorous blind review process by colleagues and experts in the field, Blosser’s work was identified as exceptional at the level of general AERA conference submission and again by the Service Learning special interest group, which is dedicated to bringing together researchers, practitioners and community partners to build and promote understanding and practice of service-learning and experiential education for the betterment of the field and the reform of PK-20 education, both in the United States and abroad. The AERA Conference is one of the most highly revered conferences in the field of education.
“I am thankful to teach at a place like HPU that values experiential education and service learning because I believe that students learn more by doing,” said Blosser. “In this case, my students learned a lot and simultaneously empowered schools with the research they needed to make informed decisions that will benefit students and families.”
HPU Psychology Professor Published in National Journal
Dr. Sarah Ross, assistant professor in the Psychology Department, was recently published in the peer-reviewed, American Psychological Association’s The Journal of Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention for her article, titled, “The Suicide Prevention for College Student Gatekeepers Program: A Pilot Study.”
“American college students are exhibiting increasingly lower levels of mental health and higher levels of anxiety and depression,” said Ross. “Designed to provide college students with information about the warning signs of suicide, as well as how to intervene when indicated, I worked with a team of students to develop the Suicide Prevention for College Student Gatekeepers training program.”
HPU graduate, Megan Deiling, co-authored the article, which highlights the campus suicide prevention program that Ross and colleagues developed based on evidence-based practice in suicide prevention. Ross and her team of student researchers implemented suicide prevention training across HPU’s campus, and to-date, have trained over 500 students.
Because of the program’s success, Ross and colleagues have received SAMSHA funding to disseminate the program across other campuses in the United States.
HPU Astrophysics Professor, Physics Student Publish Research in Top-Tier Journal
Senior physics major Stephen Walser and Dr. Brad Barlow, associate professor of astrophysics and director of the Culp Planetarium, recently published an article titled, “Hot Subdwarf All Southern Sky Fast Transit Survey with the Evryscope,” in the Astrophysical Journal, along with collaborators from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The peer-reviewed article presents a survey of 1,400 stars and the discovery of more than two dozen new variable stars, including several rare compact binaries.
“We have been working hard on this survey for several years, and it’s nice to publish our results and share our efforts with others,” said Barlow. “Stephen played an integral role in helping us nail down the properties of one of these exciting binaries by taking follow-up observations with a remote telescope in Chile.”
The work was carried out with the Evryscope, the world’s first gigapixel-scale telescope built by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and deployed on Cerro Tololo in the Chile Andes mountain range. The work was also supported in part by a $349,621 research grant the group received from the National Science Foundation.
“This is my first peer-reviewed publication,” said Walser. “I am grateful for the opportunity to work alongside Barlow and other great astrophysicists and gain this invaluable experience conducting astrophysics research and disseminating science results”
Barlow is a member of the Evryscope Science Collaboration and has been working with their team over the past few years to identify and study new variable stars. He also helped advise and served on the Ph.D. committee of the lead author, Jeff Ratzloff.