Student's deep dive highlights research colloquium

Dr. Kevin McClean (with yellow tie) is joined by the colloquium presenters (from left): Dr. Enrique Lopezlira, Dr. Chuck Jarrell, Dr. Dulce Maria Ruelas, Danielle Henderson, Weston DeCambra, Dr. Daisy Savarirajan, Dr. Julie Nelson, Dr. Meredith Critchfield and Dr. Brandon Juarez.

By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau

Weston DeCambra is fascinated by research. He wants to work in a laboratory someday.

“I absolutely love it, and there’s nothing else I want to do,” the Grand Canyon University junior said.

Wednesday afternoon, he did something that most college students would never want to do … after doing more than a year of research that most would consider too frustrating or difficult. He delivered one of the six presentations at the third annual Dr. Kevin McClean Research Colloquium – and was the only student to take that bold step into public speaking.

“I’m not the best at it, but I’m working on my skills,” said DeCambra, who is majoring in biochemistry and molecular biology.

He need not feel sheepish. McClean, the retired GCU professor who comes back to campus every year for the colloquium named in his honor, was thrilled to see a student in front of 70 people in the Colangelo College of Business (CCOB) Building.

“Having Weston present was wonderful,” McClean said.

Equally wonderful, in the view of Dr. Moronke Oke, a CCOB associate professor, was that the colloquium she helps organize along with Tracey Lauterborn was filled with presentations aimed at improving the student academic experience on campus. That was the thrust of most of the submissions as well.

They included:

● “Increasing Master of Public Health Faculty Communication, Collaboration and Consistency through FlipGrid” (Danielle Henderson and Dr. Dulce Maria Ruelas)

Already used in online classrooms, FlipGrid is a Web 2.0 tool for videos that also can connect faculty across the country. Henderson and Ruelas studied how that virtual collaboration could be improved.

● “Assessing Student Knowledge, Self-Efficacy, Skill and Interest in Marketing Research” (Dr. Chuck Jarrell)

Most of what we know about consumer behavior comes from marketing research, but Jarrell wondered why it’s so hard to teach those research methods. His talk grew out of a semester-long team quantitative project by students about a current marketing topic.

● “Perceptions of the Benefits and Challenges of Using the Virtual Field Experience Method to Conduct Practicum Observations among Pre-Service Teacher Candidates” (Dr. Brandon Juarez and Dr. Meredith Critchfield)

The purpose of this study was to give pre-service teacher candidates a virtual look at what a real classroom is like and then measure their perceptions of the benefits and challenges. Every student except one rated it as “extremely helpful” or “helpful.”

● “Does the Use of Texts Improve Students’ Academic Outcomes?” (Dr. Julie Nelson)

Nelson teaches statistics, which is notoriously difficult for students, and has gotten great results from The communication platform enables her to send them a “praise note” text message right when they’re walking out of the classroom if they’ve gotten a good grade on the test they just took.  

“The goal is always to create a positive environment in the classroom,” she said.

When Nelson surveyed students, she found that 100% of them read the text messages, 96% found them helpful, 72% said they improved their grade and 73% said they improved their attendance.

● “Informal Caregiving and the Labor Market Outcomes of Grandparents” (Dr. Enrique Lopezlira)

Lopezlira shared a set of interesting statistics about what happens to grandparents’ income when they have to help care for their grandchildren – an increasing trend in the U.S. In 1994, only 2% of grandparents provided at least 100 hours a week of that care, but it has jumped to as high as 16% in recent years.

The effect was two-fold: Adding that child care responsibility decreased the probability that the grandparents would be able to retire, but their wages dropped by an average of one-third for grandfathers and one-fourth for grandmothers.

The title of DeCambra’s talk was “Antimicrobial Properties of Marine Plants,” a yin-and-yang continuation of the research Dr. Daisy Savarirajan has done on desert plants. The goal is to find a new antibiotic -- a particularly important mission in light of the coronavirus outbreak.

When DeCambra took Savarirajan’s microbiology class as a sophomore and heard about what she was doing, he decided to put his own under-the-sea spin on it.

“This should look good on my resume, plus, I don’t know, I want to do my own research,” he thought at the time. “This should be pretty fun.”

Although he sent Savarirajan lab reports every week, she let him take it from there, right through to his presentation Wednesday. She was in the audience, but he had the floor.

“Most of it was on my own, though she did give me some really good guidance – when I’d come to a crossroads, she would very much help me,” he said.

Similarly, the colloquium is designed to create excitement about research opportunities. That has been McClean’s intent since he first founded a campus colloquium more than a decade ago.

“It’s something that should be inspirational to others, to see what kind of research is going on and to plant the seed to get others thinking about it,” he said.

“This is a colloquium; it’s not the finished research. What it is, as most of these presentations were, is people either with ideas about research or in the process of doing the research, and they’re letting everyone know about it.”

And letting people apply it if they like. McClean, who still is an online instructor, plans to see if he can make Nelson’s idea work for him.

The other goal of the colloquium, which is presented by GCU’s Eta Chi chapter of the Delta Mu Delta business honors society, is to continue to get more faculty and students involved, both as conductors of the seven-minute presentations and as attendees.

“All in all, I’m quite pleased by the quality of the research we are doing,” Oke said. “I felt like I could listen to each of the presenters talk for double the time that they had.”

It would be especially great, in her view, if DeCambra becomes a trailblazer for students. He intends to earn a doctoral degree someday -- and be among the best at what he does.

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


Related content:

GCU Today: Colloquium showcases applicable research

GCU Today: Colloquium kicks off with acclaim for McClean


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