Student Research

Connecting faculty mentors and student researchers

Research enables students to participate in discipline-specific activities that lead to the production of new knowledge or works. Under the direction of a faculty mentor, students have an opportunity to enhance independent thinking and gain hands-on research experience.

Selected Research Projects

Dr. Ginsburg with Jessica McHugh

Dr. Ginsburg with Jessica McHugh

Jessica McHugh: From the Field to the Lab

With a lifelong interest in and aptitude for science, Jessica McHugh ’20 is exploring career options in biotechnology or forensic chemistry. This summer, she spent approximately seven hours a day testing to determine if the protein complex Yaf9, a subunit of NuA4, stimulates binding to acetylated histones.

As part the Clare Boothe Luce Research Scholars Initiative that builds vital success pathways for female undergraduates in math and the sciences, Jessica gained valuable laboratory experience working with Daniel Ginsburg, Ph.D., associate professor of biology at Immaculata.

Project Title: Parents’ Implicit Theories of Intelligence Predict Preschool Children’s Responses to Academic Challenge
Faculty Researcher: Dawn Kriebel, Ph.D.
Student Researcher: Arden Vizzard

Student researcher, Arden Vizzard, was accepted to Widener University’s Master’s in Social Work program with funding!


The purpose of this project was to analyze data from a large sample of Head Start preschool students and their parents. The researchers were specifically looking for links between parent beliefs and children’s behaviors. The researchers analyzed data gathered by Dr. Eleanor Brown at West Chester University and also conducted an extensive review of the literature to determine how the study adds to the studies that have already been completed. This project is significant because it provides evidence that parents’ beliefs do have an impact on their children’s persistence with challenging academic tasks, a sub-field of psychology known as “achievement motivation”. It is widely known that parents sometimes inadvertently transmit their academic fears to their children, creating a vicious cycle in which children do not persist at challenging tasks because they do not believe that their efforts will lead to improvement. This project reinforces the importance of reminding parents (and teachers) to encourage a growth mindset in their children (and students) rather than a fixed mindset. The researchers presented their findings at the annual meeting of the Eastern Psychological Association in Philadelphia in March, 2018.

Project Title: Sustainability and Social Management within the Fashion Industry Project
Faculty Researchers: Lina Castro, M.S. and Sister Denise M. Mollica, IHM, M.S., C.F.C.S.
Student Researchers: Erin Boyle, Siani Brownlee, Mairead Collins, Michaela Demeter, Emily Dunmire, Olivia Gray, Rachel Hess, Laura Manes, Sevi Mantzaris, Mikayla Persing, Julianna Schimpf, Alyssa Sherner, Skylar Voltz, Jane Yang, and Hannah Zientek

Student researchers traveled to New York and Peru in order to visit sustainable fashion companies.


The aim of this project was to create an awareness of the role that faculty and students play in building a better and more sustainable future within the fashion industry. Students gained a clearer picture of what entitles companies to be called sustainable and how the companies critically confront and support changes to common practices in the industry in pursuit of a cleaner future. This project empowered students with an understanding and realization of the relevance of their actions, their future employers’ actions and the impact that they can have on the planet. The students learned by hearing from experts, visiting sustainable companies, and experiencing sustainable fabrics first-hand. We are giving them an opportunity to understand and confront, face to face, what is happening within the industry.

Student Reflections

“Who would have thought that a trip to New York would have such an impact on my life! We visited FabScrap, Nudie Jeans, and Gunas, sustainable companies whose hallmark is to “reduce, reuse, and recycle.” In fact, some of our students used this inspiration to transform old curtains into fashionable skirts for one of their apparel construction projects. This trip also inspired my final project in the international study trip to Peru over spring break. I concentrated on the impact consumers such as the US, have on development in 3rd world countries when producing clothing to satisfy customer demand. This is something that I would not have pursued had I not attended this trip. The issue of sustainability has certainly whet my appetite for my future career in buying and life in general.” —Julianna Schimpf

“As a senior, the NY trip was very inspiring and enlightening.  Sustainability and social responsibility in fashion is definitely on the rise and learning different ways companies are starting to incorporate this concept is great.  One company that really impressed me was Nudie Jeans, a company focused on both environmental and social sustainability.  Learning how they make their jeans from 100% cotton, allow customers to bring in their damaged jeans in for free repairs, have transparent production, and strive to produce their jeans in the best way possible with great quality helped me to actually see and experience things that we had studying. This project helped me to realize that sustainability and social responsibility are very important and need to be taken more seriously.  One small step can make a big difference, even if it may not seem like it.” —Mikayla Persing

Project Title: Practice Climate for Graduate Analysts
Faculty Researcher: Jed Yalof, Psy.D., ABPP, ABSNP, ABAP, FABP
Student Researcher: Carrie French, MA

Student researcher, Carrie French, continues to study and report data on this ongoing project.


The purpose of the project was to study the practice climate and activities of psychoanalysts. It is significant because no similar contemporary survey has investigated the range of practice activities among psychoanalysts who graduated from accredited psychoanalytic institutes.

Student Reflection

“Reflecting on the study so far, I can say that I have learned a significant amount regarding the process of taking a concept, forming it into a coherent research topic, and then turning it into measurable and objective research questions suitable for a distributed survey. The process of creating questions, then whittling them down to a suitable number while ensuring we will get the data we are looking for yet not burdening participants with an excessive survey was an excellent learning experience. Receiving feedback from clinicians as to what other factors we may want to add to the survey was also a useful technique employed during the design process. As this was my first experience with Immaculata’s RERB, I can also say that I now feel much more comfortable and have an understanding of the university’s process which will be helpful to me as I prepare for submitting my own RERB for dissertation. Furthermore, having to submit our survey for review by a professional organization in order to gain approval to utilize their membership for participants was another unique experience. This made me consider the ethical responsibility of the organizations we choose to work with and their gatekeeping responsibility to protect their membership and to ensure the ethical practices of researchers. I anticipate many more learning experiences as the project advances from the data collection phase into analysis but have already learned quite a bit as this is a different type of research than I have conducted in the past and am grateful for the opportunity and experience to expand my horizons as a researcher.”—Carrie French

Project Title: The effect of viewing body positive social media on self-objectification, self-compassion, and body image
Faculty Researcher: Ashley Higgins, Psy.D.
Student Researchers: Gabriella Terry

The purpose of the project was to determine whether viewing body positive social media impacts self-objectification, self-compassion, and/or body image in adult women.


This project was among the first to recruit a large sample of women and assess the variables of interest on a weekly basis over the course of 12 weeks while exposing the women to multiple body positive images a day on their Facebook feed. The research on the impact of body positive imagery is in its infancy, though there are already controversies in the literature about its possible positive impact and what dosages would be required to outweigh the negative effects of a lifetime of thin media imagery consumption. Other studies have also not endeavored to recruit a diverse sample, including women of color. Data collection has been completed, and the start of data analysis began in May of 2019. We are working towards preparing the project for a conference poster session or publication.

Student Reflection

“Body image concerns are having serious deleterious effects on the mental health of many. Social media has been identified as a potential factor in propagating many body concerns because of the increase of images promoting perfect bodies and lifestyles. Instead of being passive consumers of these images, would it be possible to combat these negative effects by promoting body positive messages that focus on self-love and acceptance at every size? The Body Positive IU Study is a Facebook page that has been curated with 3 months of twice-a-day body positive messages aimed to increase one’s own body acceptance. Community members over the age of 18 were invited to join the group. Participants mood and body image were assessed at baseline and measured weekly with brief surveys. After analyzing the data, the research shows that there are significant findings in improvements in both self-objectification and body appreciation indicating that body positive social media can be used as an active tool in counteracting some of the negative effects that social media has on body image!”—Gabriella Terry

Project Title: An Examination of Counselor Educators’ Perceptions of Their Preparation to Teach in Face-to-Face and Online Environments
Faculty Researcher: Dr. Rachel Vannatta
Student Researchers: Elizabeth Van Horn


The purpose of this project was to gain a greater understanding of how counselor educators are prepared to teach in online and face-to-face environments, including which training experiences contribute to a sense of competence as a teacher. Further, the purpose was to identify how counselor educators are being prepared to teach in a culturally informed manner across the curriculum.  To that end, we have sent a survey out to a national sample of counselor educators. We will continue to collect data through the summer 2019, and will begin data analysis in the fall 2019.

Student Reflection

“Over the past few months, I have worked to collect a large dataset of contacts to recruit participants for the study. This task took quite a bit more time and patience than I had originally anticipated, but I learned a great deal about recruitment and data collection.  Identifying participants can be difficult and time-consuming, and in the future I will be sure to plan accordingly for recruitment and allot myself enough time. I also reviewed the literature review portion of the manuscript and identified research that may be useful in justifying and explaining the need for this study. This taught me how to more effectively identify previous research relevant to my research, and also provided me with the practice I needed in reviewing quantitative research. Overall, I found this project beneficial to my education in counseling and am interested in pursuing more research projects in the future.”—Elizabeth Van Horn

Project TitleReliability of Manual Muscle Testing and Dynamometry in Athletic Training and Exercise Science Students
Faculty ResearcherKelly A. Stalker, Ed.D., LAT, ATC
Student Researchers: Umara Iftikhar, Madison Curley, Shannon Ehart, Cornelia Schuetz

As a result of this research project the Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciencesdepartment gained valuable information about the retention of student knowledge and reliability of student skills related to manual muscle testing.


The purpose of this research project was to determine the reliability of manual muscle testing (MMT) and dynamometry techniques in athletic training and exercise science students. The subjects were placed into one of four test groups based on the order of recruitment into the study.  A number of statistical analyses were conducted to determine the reliability of the testing equipment and the inter-rater reliability of the subjects. Overall, it was determined that there was a strong correlation between the two pieces of equipment utilized in the study and a poor inter-rater reliability amongst the student testers. It can be determined from these findings that students in the exercise science and athletic training major do not have ample time to practice their manual muscle testing skills. Participation in this research project provided valuable hands-on experience for exercise science and athletic training students. The four lead researchers increased their knowledge and understanding of manual muscle testing techniques and received extensive instruction and practice using the new equipment. The student researchers had to not only learn about the equipment used in the research, but they also needed to instruct the student “testers” and be able to interpret the data provided by the equipment. The exercise science and athletic training “testers” also had the opportunity to practice their MMT skills for the four muscle groups tested. They were exposed to the new equipment purchased by the grant and were able to utilize it in conjunction with their previously learned skills.

Project TitleFood Matters!— Investigating the Impact of a Systemic Nutrition Education Combined with Healthy Food Supply on Cardiovascular Health of Residents of Chester, PA
Faculty ResearcherQian Jia, Ph.D., RD, LDN
Student Researchers: Kathryn Padva, Teri Dickinson, Shaylyn McDowell, Kathryn Dwyer, Julie JeBran, Erin Fischer, Lama Mrayati

“I feel that my involvement in the Food Matters! project has provided me opportunities to be a facilitator, leader, organizer, educator, researcher, student, and has reinforced that I am on the right life path.” – Erin Fischer


Food Matters! is an innovative approach that is aimed at addressing food insecurity and heart health problems faced by many families in Chester, PA. The program is sponsored by Chester Eastside, Inc (CEI). CEI gives approximately 120,000 bagged meals to Chester residents each year. Food Matters!is designed to improve health outcomes of those who are at risk for cardiovascular disease and includes an intervention of nutrition education combined with a demo lunch and 3-day giveaway of healthy food, and a research component, which was implemented by the research team from IU.  Participating in the program either as a student facilitator or as a student researcher gave students immeasurable hands-on experience in several areas: a) program planning, b) implementation and evaluation of nutrition education programs (including training student facilitators, leading discussion with participants, organizing schedules, data collection and analysis, evaluation and presentation), and c) counseling and communication. As anticipated, the research team was able to create a sustainable interactive learning program that gives back to the community, serves as a practical learning experience for all students involved, and creates inter-disciplinary connections between Immaculata University and the community.  Primary data analysis of the first cohort of participants has shown an increase of nutrition knowledge and variety of fruit and vegetable choices, and a decrease in weight, BMI, systolic and diastolic blood pressure upon the completion of 6 weekly meetings.

Project TitleGetFIT@IU: A service-learning and community outreach program servicing adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities
Faculty Researcher: Laurie DiRosa, Ed.D.
Student Researchers: Rosemarie Reitman, Haley Rishell, Dominique Colanero, and Amanda Rivas

Presenting at the Philadelphia Higher Education Network for Neighborhood Development (PHENND) Health Conference gave IU and the Department of Health, Exercise and Nutrition Sciences exposure to the greater Philadelphia higher education community as a leader in health/wellness for individuals with disabilities as well as service learning and community outreach.


GetFIT is a fitness program to promote active living in persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their caregivers. In conjunction with the founding organization of GetFIT, the Family Resource Network of NJ, and thanks to the support of Immaculata through a mini-grant (2016-2017), the Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences department was able to implement this unique program on campus during the Spring 2018 semester. Students assumed leadership roles in the administration of the program and several students participated in leading planning board meetings, establishing community and campus connections, recruiting student volunteers to participate in the program, marketing the program, creating specialized exercise programs for individuals with disabilities, and developing and implementing individual research projects. As a result of this mini-grant, students presented their work at the Philadelphia Higher Education Network for Neighborhood Development (PHENND) Health Conference, April 27, 2018, at Temple University’s Health Campus.  The purpose of the conference session was multi-faceted. Primarily, the session aimed to introduce GetFIT@IU, its mission and vision, and the numerous opportunities that have been created for student learning, community outreach, and research by implementing the program. The session also included student presenters, describing their research and how the program has benefitted them professionally. Lastly, the presenters assisted the participants in brainstorming how they can implement a version of GetFIT@IU at their institution.

Exercise Science Research Showcase

Project Title: Effects of Power-Posing on Feelings of Test Anxiety and Overall Confidence
Student Researcher: Natalie Seaner, Kaela Asadourian, Jackie Victor
Faculty Mentor: Laurie DiRosa, Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Science

Summary: This innovative project investigated a non-conventional method of dealing with the stressors of school by researching if a simple change in body posture could have dramatic rewards in terms of reducing test anxiety and increasing confidence. Unfortunately, anxiety levels are on the rise with nearly 40% of students reporting moderate to high test anxiety. Power-posing has been proven to be an effective strategy for lowering anxiety levels related to professional skills such as job interviews, important business meetings and public speaking. Due to its success, power-posing could provide a strategy for addressing the issue of test anxiety. This team of student researchers adapted their original protocol when the COVID-19 pandemic closed the University, switching gears from studying high school aged students in person to college aged students virtually. Participants were recruited via text message, email and social media. The majority of the students were from Immaculata, with varying majors and the majority being female. Participants randomly assigned to the power-posing group received an email with a picture and instructions on how to hold the Wonder Woman pose. They were directed to hold the pose for 2 minutes and then complete a 3-minute multiplication test, followed by a survey. Control group participants completed the multiplication test and the survey with no pre-posing. Results indicated that the power posing group reported feeling less anxious than the control group while taking the quiz and was more confident in their performance after the quiz than the control group. 85% reported that power posing helped them in some way. The results show power posing has an overall positive effect on feelings of confidence and anxiety. This is beneficial information that students and educators can use as a valuable tool to combat test anxiety.

Project Title: The Effect of Musical Stimuli to the Changes in Physiological and Psychological Outcomes of Individuals with Intellectual/Developmental Disabilities who Participated in GetFIT@IU
Student Researcher: Kim Pham
Faculty Mentor: Laurie DiRosa, Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Science and Dan Benonis, Department of Music Therapy

Summary: Compared to the general population, individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) typically experience more difficulties with concentration and motivation when it comes to physical exercise. In addition, incidents of falls are reported as the leading cause of injury (50–60%) in this population. Therefore, it is imperative to increase motivation to exercise as this could greatly reduce the number of incidents by improving balance, flexibility and overall physical health. In collaboration with faculty and graduate students in music therapy, this study aimed to investigate if adding live music to exercise sessions would be an effective strategy to increase both exercise performance and motivation to exercise. Participants in the study were individuals with IDD that attended GetFIT@IU three times a week for 8 weeks from October-November in 2019. During one of the weekly sessions, music therapy students and faculty played live, guitar based original music and known melodies while participants did repetitions of exercises (ex: push-ups) or held positions of exercises (ex: plank or balance postures). Results of the study indicated that during the sessions where live music was present, the average rating of motivation was 4 out of 5. In addition, 68% of the participants increased the number of exercise repetitions they performed and 75% increased the total number of exercises they performed on the days they experienced musical stimuli. These results are promising and build a foundation for future collaborative research on the effectiveness of musical stimuli in increasing fitness and health in individuals with IDD.

Project Title: An Analysis of the Effect of Viewing and Participating in Social Media on Immaculata Student Athletes’ Perception of Their Mental Health
Student Researcher: Emily Mesey and Michaela Petito
Faculty Mentor: Laurie DiRosa, Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Science

Summary: Social media was introduced with the creation of the smartphone and applications for these devices have created multiple platforms for people to create, share, view, and like different social content. Viewers can look at content ranging from the news to a single individual’s daily routine, which makes it easy to connect and react to how other people live, and then compare it to themselves. With the rise in social media popularity, there has also been a rise in mental health issues. There is a clear connection between social media and the effects it has on mental health, and these could either be positive or negative, depending on the content being viewed. It is important to analyze these psychological effects to determine the impact social media may have on an athlete’s mental health. The purpose of this study was to observe how viewing and participating in certain content on social media can impact student athletes’ overall mental health at Immaculata University. The participants were male and female Immaculata University student athletes that participate in social media. Athletes were recruited through the GroupMe text message application by their captain. Interested athletes completed an online survey through Google Forms that included questions on how often social media is used and how it impacts overall mood, mentality, and daily activities. Results indicated that none of the participants had a strictly negative view of social media, however, participants who viewed social media for more than 6 hours did not have a strictly positive perception of their mental health. The majority of participants had both a positive and negative interpretation of social media. Viewing sport content had a large impact on participants’ nutritional habits and their work ethic, which is a positive impact for athletes. The results of this study are promising in that athletes appear to be using social media for the positive benefits, not allowing a negative impact on their athletic performance or overall mental health.

Project Title: Relationship Between the Fear of Falling and Kinesophobia
Student Researcher: Kimmy Tafuro
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Kelly Stalker

Summary: The purpose of this research was to examine the relationship between fear of falling and fear of movement (kinesophobia) in an older adult population. Falls amongst the older adult population is considered to be one of the most pressing concerns that arise with older age. A fear of falling leads to an increased risk of experiencing a fall and could lead to kinesophobia, influencing the functionality and health of older adults (Ishak et al., 2018). In this research, sixty–five participants answered a survey that assessed both their fear of falling (Falls Self-Efficacy Scale, FSES-I) and levels of kinesophobia (Tampa Scale for Kinesiophobia, TSK). The results indicated that there is a strong positive relationship between the fear of falling and kinesophobia in adults aged fifty–five and over. The results of this study can benefit older adults, raising awareness of their risk factors and detailing how to possibly prevent dangerous falls. Through this project, the researcher realized that there is a lack of quality research in the older adult population. Looking forward to a successful career in physical therapy, the student researcher has developed a love for working with older adults and the geriatric population and hopes to take the information from her research into her future career to improve the quality of life of her patients.

Project Title: Impact of Activity Levels on Functional Movement Screen Scores
Student Researcher: Victoria Fortuna
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Kelly Stalker

Summary: The Functional Movement Screen (FMS) is a screening tool for movement that is used in various settings due to its ability to identify dysfunctional movement patterns (Mokha, et. al., 2016). Once a dysfunction is identified, an exercise program can be developed to improve the individual’s strength, balance, or flexibility in hopes to improve their function and quality of life. As a future physical therapist, the student researcher has a strong interest in detecting biomechanical abnormalities in individuals’ posture, gait, and movement patterns prior to an injury occurring. Through her in depth look into the literature related to the FMS and other screening tools, she has gained an appreciation for preventative care methods. With an interest in the FMS, due to its use in the healthy population, often athletes and those with physically demanding occupations, the researcher examined if differences existed in FMS scores based on physical activity levels. Based on the FMS scores from twenty-five clients from a local fitness center, no significant difference was found in the scores of those that were considering physically active and those that were not. Although the researcher did not find differences in the scores of the groups, it was noted that the scores were around the “cut-off” score that has been stated in previous research to possibility indicate an increased risk for injury. Through this study, the researcher has been inspired to continue to use screening tools, because they provide information about movement abnormalities, which is beneficial to the creation of intervention plans for all types of patients.

Posters Under the Dome

This annual research symposium showcases undergraduate student research. This symposium features the research work of over 100 undergraduate students. Highlighted here are winners of the 2019 and 2018 symposiums.

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