Colloquium proves educational for faculty, students

Dr. Paul Danuser of the College of Education begins his presentation Thursday.

By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau

It was hard to tell who got more out of the fourth annual Kevin McClean Research Colloquium. Faculty members raved about the students’ presentations. Students appreciated seeing their professors’ handiwork with complicated projects.

And then there were the students who got the best of both worlds – participation and observance. Students like junior Delia Van Heukelem.

She’s the secretary for GCU’s Eta Chi chapter in Delta Mu Delta, the international business honor society. Eta Chi sponsors and organizes the event, and many of the students in the chapter spoke at the welcomes and wrap-ups for the various sessions.

That meant speaking in public (or at least on Zoom). For Delia, it was her first time.

Delia Van Heukelem

“It was a really cool opportunity to get some speaking experience and to learn about all these different professors and students,” the business management major said. “I was really surprised by how many different projects were by GCU professors, even ones that I knew before from taking their classes. It was really cool to see.”

It also was a cool opportunity for Klarissa Gutierrez. When her MGT-455 instructor, Tracey Lauterborn, suggested watching the colloquium, she jumped at the opportunity.

“I honestly couldn’t believe that students who are here at GCU are already learning about all those things and starting to do research projects like that on their own,” said Gutierrez, a junior majoring in business marketing. “It was really eye-opening for me.”

Ajeane "AJ" Cotton

Oh, those research projects. That’s quite a crew they have in the labs – two groups of students, one working with Dr. Ramesh Velupillaimani and another under the tutelage of Dr. Daisy Savarirajan.

All four student presentations, out of the 17 overall, came from that sector, which studies the efficacy of using desert plants as antimicrobial products.

“We all just have a passion for science and studying God’s plants and how they can be used to treat illnesses,” said Ajeane “AJ” Cotton, one of the five student presenters.

Samuel Blackledge and Hanwen Hu

“There’s a lot of resistance going on. Even what we see with COVID – there are different strains, and it happened so quickly. That’s the same thing I was talking about in my presentation. We hear about leprosy and tuberculosis and the Old Testament, and it’s still around to this day. There’s not a full cure for it because these bacteria evolve all the time. It’s really cool to see an alternative and the way that people have treated it for so long.”

Cotton is debating whether to become a doctor or get her Ph.D. and open a lab. Nice problem to have.

“If I do become a doctor, I’d probably be 80% in the lab and 20% with patients,” she said. “I love research, but I also want to know what’s going on in the clinical aspects.”

April Sellers

Her expertise about desert plants wasn’t a surprise to another student presenter, Samuel Blackledge.

“She’s so smart. Extremely smart,” said Blackledge, majoring in biochemistry and molecular biology. “She has a way with words. She reads so many research articles, she’s basically a walking encyclopedia.”

Blackledge’s presentation was with Hanwen Hu, who has done this sort of public speaking before in symposiums but was doing a PowerPoint for the first time. Still … no problem.

“I wasn’t really nervous because it’s a subject I like,” said the junior pre-med student, also a senator in the Associated Students of GCU.

There were other highlights in the two-day colloquium. Day 2 featured a series of fascinating faculty presentations on everything from aviation disasters to weight gain to online learning, and there was one more student in the mix: April Sellers wrapped up the final session with a talk about the value of the opuntia (prickly pear) as a healing agent.

All in all, it was more than five hours of learning and sharing.

“I thought it was amazing,” Gutierrez said. “A lot of the speakers were super impressive. They were very organized and knew what they were talking about.”

Both faculty and students. One fed off the other. And that’s smart.

Here’s a rundown of Thursday’s presentations:

Session 3

Dr. Randy Gibb, Dr. David Perkins, Colangelo College of Business, “Degraded Visual Conditions: Failing to Plan the Flight”

What they did: Studied 476 aviation accidents, involving 947 fatalities, in a span of nearly two decades and carefully analyzed the crashes that killed John F. Kennedy Jr., a Scottsdale attorney and his family in 2017 and basketball star Kobe Bryant last year.

What they found: Surprisingly, discovered that most of the pilots had not filed a flight plan and most of the crashes occurred during the day and en route, not during takeoff or landing. Gibb emphasized the importance of pilots being properly trained for the conditions.


Dr. Zachary Zeigler, College of Science, Engineering and Technology, “Effect of Sustained COVID-19 Guidelines on Eating Behaviors and Weight Gain”

What he did: Analyzed 173 people to determine how their habits during the pandemic – more TV/screen time, eating, stress and decreased exercise – affected their weight. Nearly half of the respondents spent between 20 and 24 hours a day at home.

What he found: A greater number of people gained weight AND lost weight. The strongest predictors for weight gain were eating in response to sight and smell, eating when stressed and eating after dinner.


Dr. Marnie Davis, Colangelo College of Business, “Civic Engagement of Campus-based and Online Undergraduate Students: A Quantitative Causal Comparative Study”

What she did: For her dissertation last year, analyzed 448 students – 83% were online students – to measure their involvement in civics.

What she found: Surprisingly, a higher percentage of online students had a civics-minded attitude. She suggested embedding more civics into on-campus courses.


John Steele, Sarah Robertson, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, and Dr. Jean Mandernach, Center for Innovation in Research and Teaching, “Exploring Value Variations in Instructor Presence Techniques”

What they did: Surveyed 750 students from two courses to see which type of instructor feedback – text, video, audio or image – was most effective in connecting with students.

What they found: They were surprised to learn that typed feedback, such as a one-on-one text message, had the highest mean value (even more than a video, which they thought would be No. 1). Audio, such as a recording, had the lowest mean value.


Session 4

Greg Lucas, Dr. Shaunna Waltemeyer and Dr. Helen Hammond, Colangelo College of Business; Dr. Gary Cao, College of Humanities and Social Sciences; and Dr. Jean Mandernach, Center for Innovation in Research and Teaching; “The Value of Instructor Interactivity in the Online Classroom”

What they did: Conducted a survey and got responses from 418 faculty members and 2,386 students to examine what techniques worked best for instructors.

What they found: Instructor interactivity, instructor feedback on participation and asynchronous interaction were most valuable. Students crave one-on-one interaction.


Dr. Paul Danuser, College of Education, “Self-Efficacy and Servant Leadership through Tutoring and Mentoring: A Qualitative Case Study”

What he did: This was his dissertation he successfully defended on Aug. 3. He wanted to answer two questions: how the work done in GCU’s Learning Lounge affects the learning advocates (LEADs) doing the tutoring and how it impacts their programs of study. To do this, he often went to the Learning Lounge during the 2019-20 academic year, ultimately analyzing 14 LEADs (five from the College of Education, nine from other colleges).

What he found: The LEADs’ confidence increased, they enjoyed making connections with high school students and their peers, they felt validated and they took leadership roles elsewhere. Some of the LEADs from non-COE colleges said they might want to be a teacher someday.


Tracy Vasquez, Dusty Sanchez and Destini McGlothen, College of Education, “Creating Relevant and Specific Feedback for Teacher Candidates’ Virtual Observations”

What they did: When the pandemic forced schools to go online, they wanted to find a way to analyze the performance of preservice teachers and looked at four of them through Go React videos.

What they found: Having time-stamped feedback was a big help to the four students who were analyzed because it helped them to see their body language. More research is needed.


April Sellers, Center for Antimicrobial Products, “A Natural Cure in Cactus: Screening of Opuntia Species for Antimicrobial Activity”

What she did: The opuntia is better known as prickly pear, used by the Apache tribe for healing. Her goal was to evaluate its effectiveness, and to do that she took a sample from a trail in Sedona and also bought a potted plant at a nursery. She dried it, grinded it and dissolved it in methanol, then tested it on three strains of bacteria.

What she found: It had a 66% larger zone of inhibition than penicillin on staphylococcus epidermis.


Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].


Related content:

GCU Today: Students' plant knowledge sprouts at colloquium

GCU Today: Student's deep dive highlights research colloquium

GCU Today: Colloquium showcases applicable research

GCU Today: Colloquium kicks off with acclaim for McClean


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