Seniors Lidia Montoya and Yessenia Garza Research Illinois’ Civil Commitment of Sexually Dangerous Persons

A SURE (Summer Undergraduate Research Experience) Program Feature

“Illinois’ Civil Commitment of Sexually Dangerous Persons: An Analysis of Appellate Court Documents”

Seniors Lidia Montoya and Yessenia Garza, both of whom are double majoring in Psychology and Criminal & Social Justice, are spending their summer researching how Illinois courts and court-appointed psychiatrists determine someone to be a “sexually dangerous person.” The research is part of USF’s SURE program.

“This topic interested me because I believe that not a lot of people are aware of policies and laws that affect the community in which they live. As part of the education process as both a psychology and criminal & social justice major here at USF, I get to explore the criminal justice system as well as the psychological implications and ethics involved with some of the policies, which is why when I heard of civil commitment, it intrigued both of my educational backgrounds and it immediately raised one important question: How is a person in civil commitment deemed recovered? That main question is something that is important in our research endeavors because it will provide an explanation for the implementation of civil commitment for sex offenders,” said Montoya.

The Research Process

As part of the SURE project, Garza and Montoya, together with their faculty member Stacy Dewald, Ph.D., are analyzing data from Lexis Uni, a legal document database of sexually dangerous persons cases that have been appealed, which can be filtered to review the cases in Illinois. That has resulted in 365 cases, which the group is coding for characteristics such as gender and age of victim and offender, jurisdiction, if a mental disorder is present, etc.

“Essentially, we are trying to see if there are any significant similarities or differences and if there are any similarities that lead to a specific decision on the appeal,” Montoya explained.

Undergraduate research feature: Lidia Montoya and Yessenia Garza

Relevant Research for Illinois

Sexually dangerous persons can appeal the decisions of the circuit court regarding their civil commitment hearings. This study seeks to research these appellate court cases and examine the relationship between outcomes of the cases and certain variables (e.g., evidence presented, number of disorders, number of victims).

“Finding more information will be beneficial in understanding this topic, especially because it is such a sensitive topic, ethically and for social policy,” said Montoya.

It will be interesting to hear the final findings, which will be presented at the SURE Scholars Day (TBD) and ACCA Undergraduate Research Symposium in April 2020.

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Junior Calvin Hartsfield Building Computer-based Musical Synthesizer

A Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) Program Feature

“Study of Max Programming, Synthesis and Instrument Compilation”

What is junior Digital Audio Recording Arts (DARA) major Calvin Hartsfield up to this summer? He is programming a computer-based musical synthesizer from scratch. The project is part of the SURE program at USF.

Hartsfield explained why he chose this project, stating, “I’ve always had a knack for designing my own sounds from prebuilt synthesizers, but I’ve always been curious about how I could utilize tools I built myself. Plus, I think it’s just great knowledge to have to pass on to others.”

Calvin Hartsfield - Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE)

Creating Virtual Instruments and Audio Effects

Using virtual synths is becoming one of the most popular ways to make music today. Many producers will buy a synth, find a preset they like, and begin creating, but there are few producers who create their own sounds from scratch, let alone create a synthesizer that drives those sounds.

Hartsfield will be using Max, an object-oriented computer language, to create playable virtual instruments and functional audio effects. To do this, he will use additive synthesis and the harmonic series. Additive synthesis is the use of multiple sinusoidal waveforms, or sine waves, to create intricate sounds. A sine wave is the simplest, purest form of sound. When multiple sine waves of varying frequencies are stacked on top of each other, they create a more complex waveform. When the harmonic series, an equation that leads to the next partial of a current frequency in the air, is followed, specific waveforms can be created for use within a synthesizer. Using the harmonic series, Hartsfield can build a new additive synthesizer from the ground up using Max.

Pushing the DARA Program to the Next Level

Hartsfield believes his research will open new doors within the DARA program.

“Creating a synth from nothing and learning the programming language and formulas along the way could be a substantial next step into pushing the DARA program to an even higher level of technical excellence,” Hartsfield explained.

Upon completion of his program, Hartsfield should have functional, easy-to-use, playable instruments stored in a DARA database for all DARA students to use. He will also leave the code for the Max patches that make up these usable tools for current and future students to download, learn from and modify for their own purposes.

It will be exciting to hear what Hartsfield creates!

Science Students Luke Laschober and Hanah Mastandrea Working to Find Microorganisms for New Antibiotics

A Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) Program Feature

“Discover and Analysis of Antibiotic-producing Microorganisms from Agricultural and Forest Soils”

Sophomore biochemistry major Luke Laschober and junior biology major Hanah Mastandrea have been busy sampling soils this summer, working to find microorganisms that can be used for new antibiotics. The research is part of USF’s SURE program.

Discovering new antibiotics for bacteria is important as bacteria create resistances to existing antibiotics quickly when a bacterium changes a certain part of its DNA. Bacteria has become resistant to the antibiotics for numerous reasons, including the overuse of common antibiotics in the medical field. Eventually, some bacteria can become immune to most types of antibiotics, making them hard to treat. Because of this, finding new antibiotics is important.

The Research Process

Under the guidance of Professor Ben Whitlock, Ph.D., the duo has been collecting soil from several locations, including prairie land recently donated to USF. The soil samples are then put through a serial dilution. The dilutions are then placed onto TSA plates for growth to occur and bacteria to be extracted.

From there, the isolated microorganisms are tested against pathogens with a high prevalence of antibiotic resistance to determine if the isolates will continue to inhibit the bacteria with consistent resistance. Isolates that produce antibiotic microbial bacteria are then further characterized and tested against other strains of the pathogen. The isolates are tested for motility and if the isolate is aerobic or anaerobic to determine if it needs oxygen to survive or not. This will give a basic understanding of the isolates and their function of survival. 

Describing what interested her about this project, Mastandrea said, “This program interested me because the microbiology and the BIEB [Beginning Investigative Experience in Biology] classes I took with Whitlock made me want to do research with something related to microbiology. We also did the same process we are doing now in the BIEB class and we are taking it into more detail and processes, which interested me a lot!”

SURE | Luke Laschober and Hanah Mastandrea - undergraduate research

Hopeful Outcomes

The overall goal of this study is to lower the rates of antibiotic resistance that is increasing in many individuals and to discover new potential antibiotics. Overall, there is a possibility that a novel antimicrobial could be discovered in agricultural soils. Time will tell!

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Recreation & Sport Management Majors Nicole Biegun, Jensen Crenshaw and Lindsay Mohrmann Evaluating Accessibility of Street Workouts for Adults with Mobility Devices

A Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) Program Feature

“Wheelchair Accessibility to Street Workouts”

Recreation and Sport Management seniors Nicole Biegun, Jensen Crenshaw and Lindsay Mohrmann are working with Jessica Monu, Ph.D. to evaluate the accessibility of street workouts for adults who utilize a wheelchair and/or power-driven mobility devices, based on the 2010 Americans with Disability Act (ADA) Standards for Accessible Design. The research is part of USF’s SURE program.

The group hypothesizes that 60% or more of street workout spaces are not accessible (50% or less) to individuals who use a wheelchair or other power-driven mobility, based on the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design. The SURE study will evaluate 30 street workout spaces located in both urbanized areas and urban clusters. Acceptable locations will contain a minimum of three pieces of outdoor fitness equipment (e.g. pull-up bar) that would allow an individual to perform bodyweight exercises to improve her or his aerobic, strength, and/or stability/balance.

Monu became interested in this topic after a surgery left her struggling to get around. 

“I became interested in this topic after I had foot surgery and I was on a scooter and unable to walk for seven weeks. I know how much I struggled getting around on a scooter, which was much smaller than a wheelchair. Sitting around leads to a higher rate of obesity and health issues, so I wanted to see how accessible workout equipment was to individuals in wheelchairs,” Monu said.

Undergraduate research - “Wheelchair Accessibility to Street Workouts”

Gathering and Analyzing Data

“The main reason why I wanted to research this topic is so I can gain more experience with gathering data and learning how to process it,” Mohrmann noted.

Mohrmann will get plenty of practice gathering and processing data during the research project. During on-site visits to street workout spaces, data at each space is collected by two investigators and recorded to ensure accuracy of the measurements. Data is analyzed using a 1-3 scoring system to maintain consistency and reliability of data: (1) accessible, (2) not accessible, (3) not applicable. Since each street workout space will be slightly different based on the offerings, an overall score will not be calculated, rather an overall percentage of accessibility.

T-tests and correlational analyses will be run to test whether there is a difference in offerings and accessibility in urbanized areas and urban clusters, as well as the differences between accessible aerobic, strength and stability/balance equipment.

Undergraduate research (SURE program) --Nicole Biegun, Jensen Crenshaw and Lindsay Mohrmann -- Wheelchair Accessibility

Shedding Light on Park Accessibility

The group is hoping for some positive effects as result of their research. Mohrmann noted that another reason she wanted to research this topic was to shed light onto parks that may not be accessible, so communities can increase support for their population of people with disabilities. The group’s undergraduate research is sure to bring about a lot of good!

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Senior Psychology Major Christopher Parra Examining If U.S. Senators’ Religious Beliefs Affect Policy Debates

A Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) Program Feature

“Religion in Politics: How Religious Beliefs Affect Policy Debates”

Christopher Parra is a senior psychology major working with psychology professor Eyal Sagi, Ph.D., to examine how U.S. senators’ religious beliefs affect policy debates, if at all. The research is part of the SURE program at USF.

Describing why he was interested in this particular topic, Parra said, “I wanted to find out exactly how much religion influenced politicians in their policy-making and in their moral rhetoric.”

SURE (Summer Undergraduate Research Experience) Christopher Parra

Carrying Out the Research

Parra, under the guidance of Sagi, is carrying out the research using a set of texts (frequently referred to as a corpus) that includes all speeches in the U.S. Senate from 1989 to 2013. Basic demographic information on senators, such as their party affiliation, is included in this corpus, but the religious affiliation of each senator is not included, so Parra needs to compile this information from previous scholars who have researched the senators’ religious affiliations in the past.

Once all this information is compiled, Parra will conduct an analysis of the two selected topics (abortion and welfare) based on keyword searches in the existing corpus of Senate speeches. Parra has background in mathematics, through previous coursework at USF, which will help him understand the inner workings of this method.

It will be interesting to see what Parra’s research uncovers!