Academic test-taking can spark anxiety in even the calmest students. But is anxiety even more pronounced when the tests are taken online, with a visible timer ticking down the minutes and seconds?
University of Mary Washington psychology majors Eliana Black ’24, Kaitlin Lennox ’24, Ada Moses ’25 and Hannah Shipp ’25 are approaching that question with scholarly precision as participants in UMW’s second annual Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences Summer Institute (AHSSSI).
Working alongside Assistant Professor of Psychology Marcus Leppanen, the four have devised a small-sample study that uses UMW’s high-tech eye-tracking equipment and a biometric sensor to determine test-anxiety levels in college-age volunteers. They and four other student-faculty research teams will present their findings at the AHSSSI Symposium at 2 p.m. Wednesday, June 14, in Room 139 of Combs Hall.
Inspired by the success of UMW’s Summer Science Institute (SSI), now in its 24th year, UMW last summer introduced AHSSSI as a parallel institute for disciplines outside of the traditional STEM fields.
In both the AHSSSI and SSI, undergraduates work alongside faculty to conduct professional-level research, analyze data and present their findings. And in both institutes, student researchers receive room, board and a stipend. Working alongside faculty, they put classroom concepts into practice, develop employable skills in their disciplines and function as professional teams.
In the test-anxiety research group, researchers Black, Lennox, Moses and Shipp consulted with Leppanen to refine research protocols and create the test questions – similar to standardized college admissions tests – for volunteer participants to answer.
The team looked through databases to determine whether similar studies had been done, “and no one seemed to have done this,” said Black, who’s double-majoring in psychology and sociology. “So in a way, we’re trailblazers,” Shipp added with a smile.
The work draws heavily on the statistics and methods courses all four students have taken.
Because their project involves human participants, they went through the process of getting Institutional Review Board approval and are observing strict ethical standards as they work with the volunteers. The actual testing is happening this week, and the team will draw preliminary conclusions in time for Wednesday’s presentation.
This summer’s other four teams of AHSSSI researchers are tackling topics in international economics, linguistics, environmental sustainability and digital studies. The projects and teams are:
- Studying how geopolitics affects multinational corporations’ foreign direct investments, led by Professor of Political Science and International Affairs Surupa Gupta and Associate Professor of Economics Don Lee. Student researchers are Logan Rowland, Hennry Paredes, Jarad Ponce and Morgan Lewellen.
- Producing a community-based documentary series, led by Assistant Professor of Communication and Digital Studies J.D. Swerzenski. Student documentarians are Eniya Cropper, Kasey Ripper and Benjamin Dickinson.
- Developing an urban food waste recovery project at a community garden in Fredericksburg, led by Associate Professor of Sociology and Anthropology Eric Bonds, with student researchers Melissa Lopez Guerrero, Isabella Justiniano and Zoe Hanrahan.
- And expanding and refining a writing systems inventory database, led by Associate Professor of Linguistics Paul Fallon. Student grammatologists are Angela Chou, Lauren Knight and Victoria Gallaway.
Leppanen noted that he and faculty members Bonds and Fallon returned to AHSSSI this summer after leading research projects in the inaugural year. “It shows that we valued the experience enough to want to stay involved and do it again, and that it can be as valuable to us on the faculty side as it is for our students,” he said. “I personally think it is such a great experience for the students that I want to keep providing it for those in psychology as long as the program continues.”
The benefits for all involved are also clear to Professor of Spanish Betsy Lewis, who is assistant dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and AHSSSI director.
“I am amazed at how much each group has progressed into their projects in five short weeks, and the transferrable skills they have developed,” Lewis said. “As happened with many students from last year’s AHSSSI group, my hope for these students is that this experience will be a springboard into bigger and better things as they continue their studies at UMW, and even help propel them to wherever they want to go afterward, be that graduate school and more research, or a career.”
Read about last year’s AHSSSI. And look for coverage of UMW’s 2023 Summer Science Institute soon!