SRU students selected to present at National Conference on Undergraduate Research


Woman looking through a rainy window

Measuring the depressive symptoms in college students is one of the topics that Slippery Rock University student-researchers will present at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research, April 11-13 at Kennesaw State University.

March 7, 2019

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Whether they are attempting to discover a more effective procedure to diagnose depression or coming up with better ways to predict how petroleum will react under varying conditions, Slippery Rock University students are diving deep into research. Now, they get to share it.

Eleven research projects authored by SRU students were selected for presentation at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research, April 11-13 at Kennesaw State University. The 11 SRU students will be among more than 4,000 students at the NCUR, making the event the largest undergraduate research conference in the country.

"This is exciting," said Morgan Sabatini, a senior psychology major from Center Township, who will present her poster, "The Prevalence of Depressive Symptoms in College Students." "It's good to know that all my hard work, and all the extra hours that I wasn't required to put into my research, are paying off and people are recognizing it. This is a great opportunity to be able to present research to other people who may be interested in it, such as faculty from other universities, to help spread the word and maybe it will click with them."

Sabatini is tackling depression, a major issue affecting college students, with research she conducted with Amanda Bruscemi, a senior psychology major from McKees Rocks. Sabatini and Bruscemi tested 50 college students last fall, matching results from a depression screening test with frontal-lobe brain activity measured by an electroencephalography, or EEG, which monitors brain waves. Although the screening test they used doesn't diagnose depression, the students were looking at how depressive symptoms are associated with brain activity for people who are not diagnosed.

Morgan Sabatini


"A lot of college students have depression and don't know about it, so (this research is) important to bring awareness," Sabatini said. "The only way you can get diagnosed is if you say you have it (by presenting verbally to a physician). I want to see if there's an actual biomarker in the brain to determine depression without having to go through symptoms."

According to the American College Health Association's 2018 National College Health Assessment Survey, 18 percent of college students are diagnosed with depression. And while that number has grown from 11 percent in 2011, undiagnosed depression is a concern to the mental health community and researchers like Sabatini.

College students are more susceptible to depression and depression symptoms, Sabatini said, because they are often under stress while moving away from home for the first time, having to make important life decisions on their own and other influences, ranging from strains in relationships to financial struggles.

"This really raised a red flag for me to learn how so many college students don't know that they have depression," Sabatini said. "They just felt they were sad and it was normal. They didn't seek treatment, so I got to wondering (about it)."

That wondering led to hours of research that went well beyond the requirements of her research capstone internship that she took in fall 2018 with her faculty mentor, Jennifer Willford, associate professor of psychology. Although Sabatini didn't find anything conclusive in their study, mostly because of a small sample size, she said they did see a trend in females, particularly freshmen, having increased depression symptoms and correlating brain waves associated with depression.

Sabatini plans to enroll in graduate school to become a physician's assistant and work in neurology. She said this research will help her in that pursuit and provide her with a better understanding of her future patients.

"Students are coming from all disciplines to present their research and there are graduate schools and recruiters represented as well so, to have the opportunity to meet with people from difference graduate and medical schools is great," said Wilford who will be accompanying the SRU students to the conference. "This is a great conference for students to get exposure presenting their scientific material, and to go beyond the surface level of presenting research and answering questions they might get, this opportunity allows them to take a deep dive into their topic area and develop their confidence as scholars."

Not only is the conference interdisciplinary but so are some of the individual research projects. Three petroleum and natural gas engineering majors are combining aspects of physics, engineering and computer science for their oral research presentations, some of which applies artificial intelligence and molecular simulations to solve problems in the petroleum engineering field. They are Austin Gnesda, a sophomore petroleum and natural gas engineering major from Jeannette; William Briggs, a sophomore petroleum and natural gas engineering major from Grove City; and Jesse Hansel, a junior dual major in petroleum and natural gas engineering and physics from Painesville, Ohio.

According to their faculty mentor, Mohammad Kazemi, assistant professor of physics and engineering, the students' main project is to better understand and predict the behavior of petroleum engineering fluids, under conditions like temperature and pressure, to make new models that are more efficient than existing practices.

Student presentations at the NCUR can be poster presentations, oral presentations, performances or art exhibits.

The following presentations will be conducted by SRU students:

• "Prevalence of Phobias in College Students," oral presentation by Ashley Durbin, a senior public health major from Winterville, Ohio; Kalee Wayne, a junior public health major from DuBois; and Megan Garland, a senior dual major in public health and music performance from McDonald, mentored by Kimberly Forrest, professor of public health and social work.
• "Drilling Performance Monitoring and Optimization Using Advanced Artificial Intelligence," oral presentation by Gnesda, mentored by Kazemi.
• "Phase Equilibria in CO2-Multicomponent Hydrocarbon Systems in Shale Organic Nanopores: A Coarse Grained Molecular Simulation Study," oral presentation by Gnesda, mentored by Kazemi.
• "Molecular Simulation of Phase Behavior of Complex Petroleum Mixtures," oral presentation by Gnesda, mentored by Kazemi.
• "Molecular Dynamics Study of Transport and Storage of Methane in Kerogen," oral presentation by Briggs, mentored by Kazemi.
• "On the Surface Diffusion Phenomena in the Organic Nanopores of Shale," oral presentation by Hansel, mentored by Kazemi.
• "The Prevalence of Depressive Symptoms in College Students," poster presentation by Sabatini and Bruscemi, mentored by Willford.
• "Depression Symptoms are Associated with EEG Alpha Power in College Students," poster presentation by Bruscemi and Sabatini, mentored by Willford.
• "The Associations between Marijuana Use, Life Satisfaction and Stress in College Students is Moderated by Gender," poster presentation by Shelby Bruggeman, a senior psychology major from Saxonburg; Lauren Hollis, a senior psychology major from Donora; and Alaska Beck, a senior psychology major from Titusville, mentored by Willford.
• "Academic Problems Associated with Drinking Predict Decreased Well-Being in College Students," poster presentation by Hollis, Bruggeman and Beck, mentored by Willford.
• "Self-Determination and Exercise Enjoyment Predict Body Satisfaction in College Students," poster presentation by Beck, Hollis and Bruggeman, mentored by Willford.

For more information about the NCUR, click here.

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