Rider funds undergraduate research projects

By Jay Roberson

FOR the past 20 years, Rider has selected five students for a $5,000 Undergraduate Research Scholar Award (URSA) annually, giving students the opportunity to work independently or under the supervision of a faculty member on a research project of their choice. This year, five different projects have been selected, with six students being recognized.

For the 2023-24 academic year, sophomore cybersecurity major Daniel Poinsett, sophomore health sciences major Britt Morris, junior sociology major Jessica Ridge, junior criminal justice major Diorys Jimenez, junior global studies major Paola Carlesso and freshman political science major Reuben Williams will benefit from the scholarship. Carlesso and Williams will be sharing the award and working collaboratively on their project. 

Ridge spoke about the process of planning out her project with her adviser, professor of sociology Richard Zdan. She will be researching community building and radicalization online, but, more specifically, she will be talking about a group named “incels,” which is short for involuntary celibates, a group that posts negative rhetoric aimed at women. 

“I ended up writing up five different drafts. It took me a while to come to a conclusion about the nature of online incel communities. I went back and forth trying to find patterns in the community that would expose some sort of commonality in their behavior,” said Ridge. 

Poinsett will be working with professor of computer science Duo Lu on developing a technology that recognizes handwriting with a finger sensor and allows people to write in the air. In order for this to successfully happen, however, the user’s handwriting needs to be already entered in the database. 

“What I was wondering was how can you say the database has no prior knowledge of the writing, your handwriting, how can it recognize it’s you? So we’re going to work together to create a way to do word recognition in the air,” Poinsett said. 

Jimenez is going to analyze the American perception of Latinx immigrants and talk about the reasons people immigrate to America, like political instability and violence, with assistance from professor of sociology and criminology Jim Wojtowicz.

“When you think of the United States, you see how we needed immigrants to create the foundation and what our society embodies, the traditions we build our foundation off of,” said Jimenez. “We had such a positive view then of immigrants because we essentially needed them because we didn’t know how to do it.” 

Carlesso and Williams are working on an analysis on housing in the cities of Trenton, New Jersey, and Medellín, Colombia, due to their high immigrant populations. They will both be working with advisers: professor of political science Micah Rasmussen and professor of global studies Frank Rusciano “It’s basically going to be a counter analysis between Trenton and Medellín … which are both posed to big populations of immigrants, and kind of analyze in terms of housing, what is the housing situation? What are the housing challenges?” said Carlesso.

Morris declined an interview with The Rider News, but will be working on a project with their adviser, professor of biology James Riggs.

Students who received this scholarship have shown a great appreciation for the award. Senior English major Shamiya Ford, a previous URSA recipient, reflected on her experience working on her independent study over the past year and how it helped her grow as a student. 

“Prior to doing this independent study that I’ve been doing, it was kind of just like, ‘Oh, well. I’m just a student, I’m just in school.’ But now I kind of see it as this being the beginning of my career,” said Ford.

Sophomore acting and English major and 2022-23 URSA recipient Emily Porter Siegel, who uses they/them pronouns, said they are grateful for the scholarship because they were able to combine both of their majors in one project. 

“I really wanted to make my project interdisciplinary. So we decided first semester I would be studying different songs, poems, books, plays, etc. based on metamorphosis and writing a big old paper about it. Then this semester, I devised a theater piece out of the works,” said Siegel. 

Though many students apply for the scholarship, there is a lack of applications in the College of Education and the College of Business. Professor of English and URSA committee member Kelly Ross spoke about this concern. 

“We get hundreds of students from the college of arts and sciences, that’s most of our submissions. We try to do outreach to the other colleges and really encourage people from business and education to submit, but we’re still working on that,” said Ross.

Ross hopes in the future more education and business students apply for the scholarship because it has proven to be a wonderful opportunity for other students.

“Having my faculty and friends supporting me as I try to answer questions that are always floating around in my head, it’s just such, it just motivates me to get up everyday and be a better person,” Siegel said. “It’s just so incredible to have this outlet and the support of my university to further enjoy the things that I love.”

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