EastBay Today

Posted April 26, 2017

Hands-on Opportunity

Cal State East Bay’s Center for Student Research Provides Career-Building Experience

Cal State East Bay's Center for Student Research is a campus-wide student development program that provides research funding opportunities and helps students develop and work on projects alongside faculty mentors.

Cal State East Bay kinesiology alumna Ariana Strickland has a thing for bones. As a student, she wondered if there were differences in the bone characteristics of athletes, depending on what sport they played. So she set off a mission to scan the bones of as many fellow students as she could, and answer those questions — a project that changed the trajectory of her career.

These days, Strickland works at Stanford’s School of Medicine, but said it was Cal State East Bay’s Center for Student Research and the Kinesiology Research Group — a program that challenges students to conceptualize, design and implement projects in small teams — that gave her the confidence to apply for the prestigious research position.

“When I applied for the job they told me I was the only applicant with research under my belt,” she said. “They were impressed that I had done research in biomechanics and sport psychology, so they asked me about those projects and where I’d presented them. I learned a lot about the scientific process at CSR [and KRG] — asking a question, doing literature review, drawing up a procedure and a plan to collect data, finding statistics and then explaining what it all means. Following those steps and procedures became second nature and really helped me excel where I am now.”

Both CSR and KRG facilitate rich, out-of-class experiences for students interested in designing and conducting their own research experiences, but CSR is a campus-wide student development program focused on student engagement, learning and success. It provides academic and professional development workshops as well as research funding opportunities, so students can spend more time engaging in authentic research alongside faculty mentors.

These mentors work closely with students like Strickland as they embark on self-led journeys that give them skills that will benefit them for years to come. The program is in a flurry of activity this month, as select students from within the CSR have been chosen to represent Cal State East Bay at the annual CSU Research Competition April 28-29 and present their findings.

“It’s quite a challenging task for students,” said Associate Professor Jenny O, who also serves as interim director of the center.

O is helping students outline their presentations and go through a series of dry runs before the annual competition, which brings student researchers from all 23 California State University campuses to test their ideas against one another. The competition is a professional development challenge for student-researchers, wherein they have 10 minutes to clearly and compellingly present their research in verbal form — a skill critical for success not only in academics, but also in future careers, O said. 

“For some of them, it’s the first time they’ve done a verbal research presentation,” O said. “It’s an incredibly novel experience for students.”

Oddessy Tapia, for example, a second-year kinesiology graduate student, is excited to be part of a five-member team who used the CSR to explore the role social media might have in physical fitness. The idea started with a class assignment, but Tapia and a few other students were inspired to keep going, and the study grew into an assessment of more than 700 participants, most of them Cal State East Bay students.

“We wanted to see if there was some type of relationship between fitness-related posting and following behaviors, and people’s fitness levels,” Tapia said. “As we narrowed our topic, we started wondering what effect Instagram, specifically, has on physical fitness. [We asked questions such as] ‘What motivates people to post and follow fitness-related content? Could Instagram be used as a physical fitness intervention platform?’”

Tapia and her teammates found that different types of motivations drove fitness-related Instagram activity, but people who posted or followed frequently on the social media platform weren’t necessarily more physically active. Though Tapia said it sounds like a simple takeaway, whittling down the large data set of the project to a poster and a 10-minute presentation for the competition has been a challenge.

According to O, it’s those kinds of indirect skills that end up being most beneficial in the long term to students who get involved with CSR.  

“Some of what we really work on with our students is things like critical thinking, self-regulation and professional integrity,” she said. “Our theory is that if you can develop those skills while you’re engaging in research, you’re going to be successful anywhere, whether you’re talking about a job right out of your undergrad or a research-intensive graduate program. Those skills will transfer. They’ll help you in virtually every area of your life.”

That has certainly been true for Strickland. She has taken the work she did at Cal State East Bay in studying the bones of athletes, and is now using it to study the bones and muscles of very sick children — running tests, analyzing scans, interpreting data, sending reports to doctors and even helping those doctors write papers.

“I just can’t believe the exact same thing I was doing at school is what I do at my job,” she said.   

Tapia, as well, says the CSR played a big role in her own future, and the decision to pursue a graduate degree at Cal State East Bay.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do or where I wanted to go. But when I heard about this program, where students take the lead, that really grabbed my attention. And it has definitely enriched my experience.”

Since its inception in 2013, the Center for Student Research has grown substantially every year, according to O. This year, more than a dozen students are presenting research at the CSU Research competition in disciplines ranging from biochemistry and engineering to social work and human development.

To find out more, follow the CSR on Twitter @csueb_csr.