Ohio State summer research program introduces college undergraduates to the science of language

Students are investigating different aspects of language and science communications

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Published on August 07, 2015

A group of undergraduate students from select colleges and universities around the country are learning the principles and practices of scientific research through an intensive summer research program developed by The Ohio State University.

Nestled in Ohio State’s glass-enclosed research pod on the second floor of the Center of Science and Industry (COSI) in downtown Columbus, students are engaging in linguistic analysis, studying the cognitive processes of language, and learning how to have effective social interactions with museum guests.

“Language is the object of all our studies,” said Laura Wagner, associate professor of psychology and the principal investigator for the inaugural program.

Ohio State received a competitive three-year, $400,000 grant from the National Science Foundation's “Research Experience for Undergraduates” program to run the summer session.

“The grant is unique in that it teaches undergraduate students both about how to conduct research as well as how to talk about research results with the public. Students develop both their scientific and their communication skills.” Wagner said. “Beyond the summer program, our ultimate goal is to increase the number of students participating in scientific research and training, and build a foundation for continued engagement.”

The Ohio State program involves 13 students with a demonstrated commitment to learn, but limited knowledge of research practices. They were selected from among 102 applicants. The diverse field of participants includes students from public and private four-year institutions, including Ohio State’s main and regional campuses, and community colleges.

The internship encompasses three distinct elements over the 10-week period: classroom sessions, research training, and informal science education. Interaction on the museum floor is a critical component of the program.

Following three weeks of classroom instruction, students are paired with Ohio State faculty whose research projects closely match their academic interests. Working one-on-one, the students learn about their project and assist in all levels of the research itself, from recruiting and running participants to analyzing and presenting their data. Students are also trained how to interact with the public and communicate their work.

Tiarah Wilcox, a junior at Ohio State, is teamed with Rachael Holt, professor of speech and hearing science. She is testing how young children perceive accented speech, both foreign and local accents, and the factors that aid and challenge comprehension.

Wilcox said that her first clinical experience involved a rambunctious five-year-old, challenging her quieter personality.

“I’ve learned to put myself out there.” she said.

Mikayla Perry is entering her second year in the Preferred Pathway Program at Columbus State Community College. The program allows students in good academic standing to transfer to select four-year colleges and universities, including Ohio State, to pursue a bachelor’s degree.

Perry, who is conducting hearing screenings with adults visiting COSI, was drawn to the program because of her limited access to labs and research opportunities. Paired with Lawrence Feth, professor of speech and hearing, the experience has changed her perspective of the research community.

“I was hesitant to talk to faculty before this experience but I’ve learned that professors want to talk with you and share their work. It has created an atmosphere of support where you feel comfortable in asking questions,” Perry said.

Both Wilcox and Perry are now confident that graduate school is the next step in their academic careers.

Kathryn Campbell-Kibler, associate professor of linguistics at Ohio State and the co-principal investigator of the research program, dissects language myths and prejudices as part of her research.

She said being located at COSI, among thousands of visitors, provides an ideal research environment for students working in the Language Sciences Research Lab.

“Being headquartered at COSI has provided us with so many opportunities to practice our skills,” she said. “It is a big strength to the program.”

It’s the perfect setting for Camille Bourret, a senior at Kenyon College, who is studying Ohio dialects with Campbell-Kibler.

The outreach component is important to Bourret, whose previous experience involved animal research. The transition represents not only a change in subjects but also the manner in which data is collected and processed.

“This opportunity has allowed me to interact with people in a professional context and learn how people perceive languages, differences in understanding and how to manage expectations,” Bourret said.

Students’ research discoveries will be featured in a capstone program before the conclusion of their research experience on Aug. 13.

Contact: Liz Cook, cook.17@osu.edu, (614) 292-7276.


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