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Student Research at Aquinas College

  • Student presenting research poster to another student

    Student Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activity Symposium

Student Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activity Symposium

A campus-wide colloquium of significant contributions to academia.

The goal of the symposium is to showcase the outstanding quality and diversity of research at AQ by providing students with the opportunity to put into practice and demonstrate the depth of their research skills with those outside of their disciplines. The symposium is also designed to demonstrate the importance of research and scholarship within our community via formal presentations, recitals, writings, poster sessions and art exhibits.

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Biology and Health Science

Teegan Galdeen
Faculty Advisor: Rebecca Humphrey
Safety nets work both ways: the influence of available paid leave on employee risk taking during the COVID-19 pandemic

During the coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19) pandemic, use of symptom-screening tools has been widespread. However, the reliability of responses to these tools may be compromised by individual and social factors. We aimed to determine whether personal concern over lost wages impacts responses to COVID-19 symptom-screening questionnaires making them less useful in limiting person-to-person transmission. We utilized an anonymous online questionnaire, administered in the United States between 16 Sept. 2020 and 2 Nov. 2020. Participants considered ambiguous hypothetical scenarios involving possible COVID-19 symptoms or exposure and responded to a COVID-19 symptom screen (n = 222). In response to symptom-related scenarios (elevated temperature or slight cough), respondents lacking access to paid sick leave were 2.2-2.7 times more likely to attend work than those with access to paid leave (P < 0.05). This disparity was not present for contact-related scenarios. Pay type and income level also significantly influenced screening responses. Risk of acute wage loss and overall financial stability both appear to influence responses to COVID-19 symptom screens. A lack of population-level consensus on how to respond to certain encounters is also evident. Broadened availability of paid leave would likely improve symptom-screen reliability.

Lucas O Topie
Faculty Advisor: L. Rob Peters
Symbiont Acquisition: Developments in the Biology of Cnidarian-Dinoflagellate Symbiosis

Coral reefs are critical from both ecological and economic perspectives, providing habitat to thousands of marine species and serving millions of people who live near them. Reef-building corals (Phylum Cnidaria) normally exist in an endosymbiotic relationship with the dinoflagellate algae of the family Symbiodineaceae. Disruption of this relationship results in the phenomenon known as “coral bleaching.” Recent research in the field has deepened our understanding of this relationship. We illustrate some recent advancements in the field’s understanding of the cnidarian’s acquisition and retention of symbiotic algae.

Community Leadership

MacKenzie Tollas
Faculty Advisor: Michael Lorr
Independent Food Systems: How farmers markets are the intersection of urban and rural life and their ability to create a just food system

How do we make an equitable food system for all? Don’t look too far, the answer might be within your neighborhood. Throughout history, and especially during 2020, farmers markets provide a space where people gather to purchase fresh, healthy food and connect with those who grow it. Farmers’ markets are communities that serve crucial roles in our local economies; founded on trust, honesty and transparency, built upon relationships between rural farmers and urban communities to stabilize access of healthy food to all, support the local economy and promote the sustainability of the land. At this time, we are faced with a pandemic that has left many people, regardless of income, concerned about food security as well as ecological and economic issues. Now more than ever, farmer’s markets can begin to answer how we make a better food system for all.

Veronica Boley
Faculty Advisor: Michael Lorr
Community Engagement Efforts increasing civic engagement

The purpose of this project is to gauge whether or not community engagement efforts such as neighborhood associations increase participation in community events and civic engagement projects.

Georgraphy and Environmental Studies

Adam Pall
Faculty Advisor: Jim Rasmussen, Rich McCluskey
Light Pollution in Grand Rapids

Light pollution is a major problem in big cities. Aside from impacting views of the night sky too much light pollution can have far greater negative impacts. Researchers have found that high levels of light pollution can lead to higher rates of anxiety, depression, obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, gastrointestinal disorders, strokes, multiple sclerosis, and cancer. All from disrupted sleep cycles as a result of light pollution. The goal of my research was to collect data within the city of Grand Rapids to see if any socioeconomic group was disproportionately affected by light pollution. Data was collected within a select number of census tracts chosen based on their unique socioeconomic variables. This data will be analyzed and cross-checked with professionally collected satellite data in order to ensure the trends observed in my data are accurate. The data collected will help to show whether or not a specific socioeconomic group is disproportionately affected by light pollution and whether or not the city of Grand Rapids has high levels of light pollution.

Adeline Steele
Faculty Advisor: Jim Rasmussen
Macroinvertebrates in Stream Ecosystems

The goal of this project is to compare the presence of macroinvertebrates, the type of bed substrate, and fine sediment pollution in the three streams in the study. The two research questions guiding this research are as follows: Does the quantity of macroinvertebrates differ in urban stream habitats and restored stream habitats, and has Plaster Creek been ecologically restored enough to the point of macroinvertebrates being present? The two participants in this study include myself and Deb Steele, who contributed as a data recorder. This study compared the quantity and types of macroinvertebrates from three types of streams: urban (Coldbrook Creek), restored (Plaster Creek), and a control stream (Honey Creek). A representative area of each stream was selected for data collection. The substrate of each stream was collected using a coffee mug and then separated into two categories, one being substrate >2000 microns and the other being substrate <2000 microns. The Wolman Pebble count was used to analyze the substrate of each stream, and a bottomless bucket was used as an area to identify and count macroinvertebrates.

Elizabeth Walztoni
Faculty Advisor: Rich McCluskey
The End of Fordism: A Comparative Analysis of Detroit and Grand Rapids

The famed decline of manufacturing in the Detroit area from 1970-2010 is well-documented, but no published study examines this change in Grand Rapids industry. Using County Business Patterns data from the Census Bureau, this project examines and compares changes in the manufacturing sector over this 40-year period. Analysis includes discussion of the transition from Fordist to Post-Fordist economies in this area and on larger scale.

Avery Martin
Faculty Advisor: Rich McCluskey
Analysis of Hazardous Waste Treatment, Storage, and Disposal Facilities (TSDFs) in Grand Rapids, MI

Hazardous waste treatment, storage, and disposal facilities (TSDFs) have a tendency to be located close to populations of color or low income populations. People of color are defined as African American and Hispanic populations in this study. Multiple studies have been conducted in various cities around the United States that have found this statement to be true. Living close to these facilities can have a negative impact on people’s health. This study aims to test the association of race and ethnicity, income, and the placement of waste disposal TSDFs in the city of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Geographic information systems (GIS) are used to test the hypothesis that TSDFs are located near populations of color and low income populations in the city of Grand Rapids.

Xavier Austin
Faculty Advisor: Rich McCluskey
Study of Riffle and Pool Sequence within an Urban Stream (Buck Creek)

This study examines how riffle and pool sequences within an urban stream can help us in determining the health of the stream. In order to collect data for this study, I walked roughly eight miles of the urban stream (Buck Creek), as I walked the creek I studied the riffle and pool sequences and took note on where riparian buffer zones were present, where development falls within 50 meters or the creek, as well as where roads crossed over the creek. The reason why I looked at these factors is because these are issues that limit a stream from being able to naturally meander. It’s important for us to see a natural meander in a stream because it creates habitat for aquatic species as well as it provides us with evidence of a healthy stream. With Buck Creek naturally being a cold water stream, I wanted to see what factors limit this urban stream as well as what allows this stream to hold sensitive aquatic species such as brown trout. By studying the riffle and pool sequence of this creek I was able to do just so.

Breanna Domrase
Faculty Advisor: Jim Rasmussen
How Salinity Changes With Depth

The goal of this study is to understand how salinity changes with depth, as well as flow downstream. Salinity is the amount of dissolved salts in a body of water and too high of levels impose threats on aquatic life. These dissolved salts tend to follow a vertical profile, with the level of dissolved salts increasing as you move toward the bottom of the body of water. Studies have shown that dissolved salts sink to the bottom due to the density difference, which as a result gives us the vertical profile. Studies have also shown that there are many different ways to measure these dissolved salts, but the most common method is via conductivity. This study focuses on how the salinity levels of Reeds Lake, Fisk Lake, and Coldbrook Creek would differ by depth, as well as how the salinity changes as the stream flows downstream from its starting point. Water samples will be collected using a single trigger mechanism where one line is used to both raise and lower the sampler into the water, but also to seal the collection chamber. These samples will then be tested using a conductivity meter.

Spencer Ford
Faculty Advisor: Jim Rasmussen
The Relationship between Wetland Restoration & Plant Biodiversity

The following research project is about finding out if proper wetland restoration can lead to an increase of plant biodiversity. The site I am assessing has been through some environmental challenges, I am trying to analyze how proper wetland restoration management and methods could potentially cause an abundance of biodiversity within the monitoring site. From cross-examining and analyzing important environmental data such as GIS files, MiRAM reports and FQI values, it will provide a larger picture and understanding if wetland restoration has been successful and quantify the current conditions the wetlands in question. Also, in terms for scale, I will be actively testing for plant biodiversity within at least two to three “observation” zones, from doing this it will help me determine what species are found within the zone and cross-reference if these species were found previously before restoration occurred. Also, in this project I will be discussing and providing additional insight on the different environmental qualities of the wetland and how they are relevant to this research project.

Autumn Fedorowicz
Faculty Advisor: Jim Rasmussen
A Local Look at Salt Overloading and Stream Effects

During the winter months, roads are coated with salt to keep conditions safe for travel. Once the salt does its job, the melted snow will travel to a storm drain to the nearest body of water and with it the salt crystals. The salt will flush out of the water system, but these pulses can cause stress to the local ecosystem. There is also evidence that ground water contaminated with salt may gradually leak into the system causing an overall rise of salinity. This research looks into the strength of salt pulses within the Aquinas College Campus and determines whether the levels are within the recommended amount. It also explores the possibility of rising salinity base levels compared to past years.


Sterling Ulrich
Faculty Advisor: Bethany Kilcrease
Selling History: The Relationship Between Crafting Narratives and Portraying History in Fiction

Myriad issues cluster within the topic of history’s portrayal in fiction; from revisionist history and its inherent implications of moral responsibility to the distinctions among academic, popular, and public history to the methodologies that determine if the authenticity of history is sacrificed for the crafting of a narrative, the field is awash with artistic and technical complexities. Yet untangling these issues may be pared down to a single question: how does a writer sell history to the public? This research project explores how fiction adapts historical events and settings for the purpose of crafting a narrative. It compares popular historiographical methodologies and explains the priorities of different mediums, including novels, movies, television shows, plays, and video games.


Thomas Siebelink
Faculty Advisor: Joseph Spencer
Predictions for Tchoukaitlon Boards that Cross at Bins 3 and 4

Tchoukaitlon is a solitaire game where a player sows stones Mancala style (the movement of the stones from one bin another bin) in an attempt to clear the board. We studied a variation where multiple boards cross at a single bin and the pattern it created. We found formulas and algorithms that help predict what arrangement of stones creates a winnable board.

Joshua Wierenga
Faculty Advisor: Michael Mcdaniel
Elliptical Model of Icosahedral Viruses

We construct the icosahedral sphere in elliptic geometry in order to explore the structure of some viral capsids. We prove that all sides of triangular faces are altitudes of other triangles. We interpret math properties to match biochemical facts, which points to the possibility of using math to predict biochemistry.

Psychology and Counseler Education

Emily Bolek, Sydney Morris and Clara Alvarez
Faculty Advisor: Daniel R. Cruikshanks
Social Responsibility in the Time of COVID-19: Empathy Levels in Connection to Following COVID-19 Protocols

The COVID-19 global pandemic has shown the necessity of protective pandemic responses (such as mask wearing and physical distancing) in order to reduce the spread of the virus. The purpose of this study was to investigate how much empathy affects individuals' willingness to cooperate with these responses. Participants completed a survey that included the Toronto Empathy Questionnaire and asked questions ranking how they have responded to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. We predict that those with higher empathy will be more willing to comply with COVID-19 precautions. If higher empathy is found to predict compliance with safety precautions, then training in empathy could help increase compliance and improve health outcomes. We hope that our findings will provide information that could be used to assist in public health planning for future epidemics or pandemics.

Grace Tierney, Samantha Robinson and Sean Kosnik
Faculty Advisor: Daniel R. Cruikshanks
How Does Emotion Regulation influence peer attachment and COVID-19 anxiety?

We are exploring the impact of emotion regulation on peer attachment and anxiety about COVID-19. We recruited college students to complete a survey measuring Difficulties in Emotion Regulation, Peer Attachment, and anxiety about the COVID-19 pandemic. We predict that higher difficulties in emotion regulation will predict lower levels of peer attachment and higher levels of COVID-19 anxiety.

Victoria August, Melanie Freeland and Danielle Boshoven
Faculty Advisor: Daniel R. Cruikshanks
The Impact of Social Isolation and Trauma on Sexual Intimacy

With the current COVID-19 Pandemic, there is an unprecedented opportunity to study variables in relation to social isolation. In this study, relationships among trauma, social isolation, and sexual intimacy will be evaluated. Four groups of approximately 200 adults will be administered a questionnaire containing four surveys which evaluate experiences with trauma, social isolation, and sexuality, along with demographic questions. This survey will be presented in four different orders to minimize any order effects. Correlations between pairs of factors as well as among all three factors are expected. Conclusions and implications, as well as possibilities for future study will then be discussed.

Victoria August
Faculty Advisor: Daniel R. Cruikshanks
Examining Self-Care Behaviors in Undergraduate Students as a Function of Personality Traits

This study examines the relationship between the personality traits of college students, as measured by the OCEAN model, and their self-care behaviors. The researchers combined The Big Five Personality Test and a novel Self-Care Questionnaire created by the student researcher. This questionnaire tasks participants with rating their likelihood to participate in certain self-care behavior on the same 1 to 5 scale as the Big Five, and includes questions about perceived effectiveness of self-care, the effect of college life on self-care, and their desire to change their self-care behaviors. Data were collected using Amazon's Mechanical Turk. This study utilized a Pearson’s r correlation matrix comparing the researchers' measures of personality with the Big Five, as well as multiple linear analyses using the Big Five traits as predictors for types of self-care for the questions on effectiveness/desire to change their self-care. It is pertinent to note that all of our traits were significantly correlated with the Big Five traits, though our measure of neuroticism was negatively correlated with the Big Five’s measure of the trait Neuroticism. Most importantly, the Big Five trait of Neuroticism was negatively correlated with all types of self-care as measured by the scales of the Self-Care Questionnaire.

Andrea Morren, Jenna Berens and Payton Klein
Faculty Advisor: Daniel R. Cruikshanks
The Effects of Social Media on Mental Health: Self-Esteem and Mood

Social media is becoming increasingly popular and with its growth, social media users are subject to negative impacts upon their mental health. Studies exploring the effects of social media among various populations have seen a relationship between increased social media use and decreased levels of self-esteem. This has been found to be most prominent in individuals who experience heightened levels of anxiety and low self-esteem prior to social media exposure. The social media platforms that are favored today, such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, serve as a platform for users to post content that is conditioned and idealized. Because of this, comparison can create a negative response for the viewer, decreasing their confidence or self-image. Studies conducted to further explore this topic will promote awareness of the negative effects that could impact a social media user.

Kaelyn Devereaux, David Watson and Matea Brajkovic
Faculty Advisor: Daniel R. Cruikshanks
Does Management Style Affect Employee Job Satisfaction?

The relationship between manager and employee is important for determining workplace motivation, job satisfaction, positive performance, and social expectations (Barbosa-McCoy, 2016). Five common management styles include Results-Based, Democratic, Transformational, Servant, and Transactional. To discover which style is most effective, participants were given a survey inquiring about their current or most recent employment. The survey began by asking participants about job satisfaction, perceived management style, and field of employment. Then, a series of questions were asked regarding age, sex, employment status, and type of position held. It is predicted that managers using democratic and servant leadership styles will have more satisfied employees than those that manage using results-based, transformational, and transactional styles.


Elizabeth Sherwood
Faculty Advisor: Michael Lorr
Identifying and Combating Intolerance

This mission is an anti-intolerance educational effort aimed to give college students the greatest advantage to not only recognizing intolerance, but to become active participants in the eradication of intolerance. This mission requires research into specific and most relevant areas of intolerance to focus on as well as how to filter emotionally challenging topics such as race into teachable components. Drawing from published diversity research centered around defining complicated issues like white privilege, color blindness, and microaggressions, and direct interviews from diversity and inclusion officials in Grand Rapids colleges and universities, the most up to date, certified information regarding the identification and combating of intolerance will be available for college students. My efforts will equip incoming college students with a baseline understanding of identifying and combating intolerance in order to become citizens of a culturally competent college community.

Jasmine Stroh
Faculty Advisor: Michael Lorr
The Reality of Homelessness for Youth Exiting the Child Welfare System

In the State of Michigan, there is an epidemic of youth becoming homeless at a rate of forty percent in the first four years of exiting the child welfare system. This disadvantaged population is costing the state three-hundred thousand dollars annually because of health care costs, crime, and social programs designed to help them obtain housing and it is expected to keep growing. Considering the social programs and policies that are intact to help the previous foster youth, the rate of homelessness keeps growing. In my research, I am looking for the reasons this is happening by interviewing social workers involved in the child welfare system and youth that have aged-out. In my interviews, I will be investigating the topics of education, relationships, and the effectiveness of certain state social programs.