Just the Bear Facts

To help you get your bearing in Grad School.

Author: taylor_dunlap

GradFocus: Stephanie Wong

By Ben Murray

This week, the Graduate School met with Geology PhD student, Stephanie Wong, to talk about her recent research and accomplishments.  Last month, Stephanie became one of four people selected for the Farvolden Award.  This accolade is presented to students whose presentation or poster stood out at the annual NGWA Groundwater Summit.  Interestingly enough, winning the award is nothing new for Stephanie.  She’s won it twice before!  As a recipient of the award, she will receive recognition from sponsoring employers, a $1,000 scholarship, and most importantly: bragging rights.

Stephanie’s journey to Baylor is certainly unique.  A native Canadian, she attended Carlton University in Ottowa where she earned a degree in Environmental Science with a minor in Geology.  Eager to learn more about the subject, she began searching for graduate programs, hoping to find a Christian school where faculty were conducting relevant research.  However, narrowing down the options was no simple task.  So, she did what anyone would do in that situation.  She consulted a higher power, an all-knowing entity that can answer the deepest questions at a moment’s notice.  She got on Google.  Actually, her dad got on Google; and after seeing Baylor’s Geological research, she decided it was the place for her.

Stephanie’s work at Baylor has been primarily focused on the Edwards Aquifer (for those that don’t know, an aquifer is a body of permeable rock that can contain or transmit ground water) which begins in Bell County and follows the I-35 arc all the way to San Antonio.  The origin of her geological research stems from an unexpected topic: salamanders.  According to her, there was a petition several years ago for the government to classify a native species of salamander as endangered, meaning that commercial development in the northern area of the Edwards Aquifer would be impeded. The salamanders are aquatic, which provided an opportunity for water research in the area.  Although she and her colleagues weren’t  biologists, they were able to begin conducting research. This allowed her to learn a great deal about the ground water in the Salado area where a group of springs are vital to the salamanders’ survival.  For her presentation, Wong studied how natural radon can be used as a tool to understand groundwater flow.  They were able to discover the direction of groundwater flow as well as the chemicals and substances present in the aquifer.

Thanks to her work, inhabitants of Salado were able to prove to the government that the salamanders were being properly monitored and also learn more about the water supply upon which the salamanders and human inhabitants are so dependent.  Although, Stephanie will finish her program in the next year, she says there is ample opportunity for future research in the area as well as a variety of directions the project could take.  Upon graduation, Stephanie could see herself working in a state/government agency or a local management entity.  In her time off, Stephanie enjoys exploring Waco’s local shops and restaurants, hanging out with friends, and getting involved with her local church.

The Graduate School Travel Awards Program

 

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By Ben Murray

Are you interested in presenting your work at a conference, yet don’t quite have the funds to travel?  As a graduate student at Baylor, you have access to financial help. The Graduate School is happy to support students who are conducting exciting research in their respective fields.  Specifically, two types of financial support are offered: Travel to Professional Meetings and Travel to Support Doctoral Research.  According to Dissertation and Thesis Coordinator, Sandra Harman (who also supervises the travel awards program), Travel to Professional Meetings is the award most frequently used.  Students are eligible for $300 per year.  However, if there is money left after the two trips; multiple trips within the same academic year are possible.  The award for Doctoral Research is slightly different.  In this case, the Graduate School will match funds with the student’s department, up to $300.  Doctoral students are only eligible for one such award during their time at Baylor and the money is specifically intended for dissertation research.

If you’re worried about paperwork, don’t be.  The process is actually relatively simple.  First, a student must present proof that they are a part of the conference—a program showing the student as a speaker or a letter of acceptance from someone in charge of the conference will suffice. Next, simply fill out the application, provide a supporting note from a resident faculty member, and you’re good to go!  Naturally, students must be currently enrolled in at least one credit hour at Baylor to earn an award.  If the meeting is during summertime, the student must show that they were enrolled in the Spring semester or plan to be enrolled in the Fall.

The Graduate School asks that all students submit the application 30 days before the conference in order to obtain the money before the travel date.  However, they are understanding.  Sometimes students won’t know if they will be able to attend a conference that early.  If that’s the case, the Graduate School can work with you to make sure you’re covered.

These awards have helped a multitude of students over the years.  Last year, the Graduate School funded 426 Travel to Professional Meeting Awards and they will likely surpass that number this year.  Because of these awards, students are given the opportunity to present their research and to network in their fields.  The Graduate School Travel Awards Program has helped students travel to Europe, South America, and Canada, along with locations throughout the U.S.

GradFocus: Dr. Bill Jordan

By Ben Murray

This week, we sat down with Dr. Bill Jordan, the Department Chair for Baylor’s Mechanical Engineering program.  For the last few years, Dr. Jordan has been conducting some fascinating research in an area of study that is somewhat unexpected when one thinks of engineering.  He and his students are researching the potential uses and applications of materials derived from banana plants.  Though this may sound like a random avenue of work, the idea for the project actually came from one of Dr. Jordan’s greatest passions: mission work.

Jordan explains that the opportunity to combine his faith and occupation was one of the largest deciding factors in pulling him away from his former position at Louisiana Tech University.  Once at Baylor, Jordan began leading engineering students on trips to foreign countries.  He has been to Haiti, Kenya and Rawanda multiple times.  During his trips there, Jordan realized that many communities had resources that were being under-utilized.  Inspired by former Baylor professor Walter Bradley’s work with coconuts, it occurred to him that banana plants could have the potential for a multitude of uses.  Although the study is still in its infancy (they’re currently working on the characterization of the properties in banana fibers), Jordan has had many students take the project in directions that were previously unforeseen.  Students have looked at utilizing banana fibers for adobe bricks and water filtration systems along with the plant’s primary potential use in reinforced plastics.  Jordan explains that in the auto industry, for instance, companies are looking go more green.  It is possible that banana fibers could be used in making car panels and other parts.  Although rural communities such as those in Rawanda do not have the means of creating these products, Jordan’s hope is that people can earn money by separating the fibers from the plants and selling them.  The ultimate goal is to create a market for people in the developing world and to help them profit from materials that they would usually throw away.

A native Coloradoan, Dr. Jordan is an avid Broncos fan and Baylor sports supporter.  He enjoys travel and is excited to be journeying to The Azores next month for the very first conference solely dedicated to natural fiber composites.  It is always exciting to hear about the unique ways in which Baylor educators and students are helping to change the world.  We’re very grateful for Dr. Jordan’s time and look forward to hearing more about future developments in the project.

GradFocus: Rachel Scalzo

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                                            By Ben Muray

At Baylor, you don’t have to search far to find students conducting innovative research in their respective fields.  This week, the Graduate School sat down with Rachel Scalzo, a Doctoral Candidate in Educational Psychology at the Baylor School of Education.  Scalzo recently received the James L. Kopp Memorial Scholarship for her dissertation, “The Analysis of Behavioral Indicators as a Measure of Satiation.” Her research focuses on the behavioral indicators children with special needs exhibit when they have become satiated or satisfied with their favorite toy (the iPad).  Scalzo explains that these children often engage in “challenging behavior” (aggression, screaming, crying) when they are unable to play with the iPad due to their inability to express desires verbally.  Scalzo’s study allows the children to play with the toy until they no longer want to use it.  She then analyzes the child’s behavioral indicators of satiation and tests to see if they exhibit challenging behavior once the teacher begins a lesson.

Scalzo is one of only three candidates chosen for the scholarship and she is the first Baylor student to ever be selected.  As a longtime member of the Texas Association for Behavioral Analysts, she had seen the scholarship awarded to people in previous years and decided that her dissertation would provide a good opportunity for submission.  Winning the scholarship means that a portion of Scalzo’s expenses will be covered as she travels to San Antonio to present her research at the Applied Behavior Analysis International Conference.

Although her academic path was initially uncertain, Scalzo knew one thing: she wanted to help people.  After earning a degree in Psychology from Siena College, she went on to Stony Brook College in Albany where she earned her Masters in Social Work.  During her time there, she began working for Autism Speaks—a non-profit organization that sponsors autism research and outreach activities.  It was here that she developed a passion for helping children with disabilities. Although she had found her calling, Scalzo felt that she hadn’t yet acquired all of the necessary skills to teach children the way that she wanted. So, eager for a change of scenery (preferably one with a warmer climate), she began applying to schools in the South.  After one visit to Baylor, Scalzo says she knew it was the place for her.

As for her time at Baylor, Scalzo says, “It’s been an amazing experience.  The faculty have been so supportive of anything I wanted to do in terms of research, funding, and conference attendance.  I’m also deeply indebted to my mentor, Dr. Davis, for everything she’s taught me.  Between the Department and working at the Baylor Clinic for Assessment Research and Education for assessment research and education, I couldn’t say enough about how much Baylor means to me.”  Rachel will graduate in August.  She hopes to become a professor and teach others how to work with disabled children.  When she’s not conducting research or attending conferences, Scalzo enjoys golfing and playing with her dog.

Don’t Panic! There’s a Thesis and Dissertation Workshop

By Ben Murray

Many Graduate students share a common bond with one another.  We have all experienced a bone chilling terror, a nauseating knot in our stomachs that few others ever know.  This feeling of desperation, fear and anxiety can be elicited by one word: thesis.  Writing a thesis or dissertation is one of the most valuable takeaways as a Graduate student.  In many ways, it is the culmination of your education–a way to show the world everything you’ve learned and apply your skills in a unique way.  However, there is some added pressure that simply did not exist for other papers you may have written in the past.  This time, your work will bare the institution’s name and you will likely have to defend the paper before you can graduate.  With this in mind, (not to mention the deadlines that tend to sneakily creep up on you) completing a thesis can often be a stressful affair.  Thankfully, Baylor offers some excellent help along the way that can ease the trepidation.

Last week, I attended the Graduate School’s Dissertation and Thesis Workshop.  The information session is conducted by Baylor’s veteran thesis and dissertation coordinator, Sandra Harman and her Graduate Assistant, Lacy Crocker.  The session was relaxed and highly informative (there was PIZZA!).  Mrs. Harman covered the overall process of thesis submission while Lacy went over the numerous formatting rules required by the Graduate School.  One of the advantages about attending graduate school at Baylor is the access to personal attention students have.  Sandra and Lacy are more than happy to answer questions from students and are very accessible should problems arise during thesis writing.  It’s refreshing to know that your paper won’t be just another number on a list.  Sandra and Lacy work with students individually to ensure submissions are completed on time and meet university standards.  Despite dealing with numerous questions and submissions every day, Sandra and Lacy are committed to meeting students with cheerful attitudes and helpful advice.  So, next time you hear the word “thesis,” relax a little and know that you are not alone in the process!

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