Students shine at Furman Engaged 2022
The 14th annual Furman Engaged took us from the stage to the field and from the lab to the community – and countless other places – as 700 students presented and reflected on their engaged learning experiences.
The day before the campus-wide celebration, the Class of 2022’s Senior Furman Fellows shared reflections on their four-year pathway experiences. The Institute for the Advancement of Community Health hosted a panel about women in healthcare, moderated by Dr. Lauren Messinger ’06, a board-certified OB/GYN at Foxhall OB/GYN, in Washington, D.C. and the co-director of Maternal Health, The 1789 Fund.
Students also presented their creative works in the Senior Exhibition Presentations, read from The Echo, and shared music and theater projects. Here are just a few of the immersive opportunities that Furman students shared with students, faculty, staff, employers, alumni and the broader community:
Politics: A laughing matter
In her first year-writing seminar, Danielle Vinson, a professor of politics and international affairs, asked students to analyze the intersection of humor and politics. Naturally, they gravitated toward mediums they enjoy.
Mary Pearson ’24 focused upon the ways political affiliation influences the types of humor used by two well-known comedians, Seth Meyers and Greg Gutfeld. Her findings showed that political affiliation not only shapes joke selection but also the individual’s comedic style and tone.
“Previous research shows that liberals are more abstract and scattered, and Meyers proves this through his random comedy segments and use of analogy,” whereas Gutfeld “designs his humor for Republican audiences who tend to favor tradition and humor with boundaries.”
Like Pearson, Boland Grayson ’24 researched the differences between conservative and liberal humor. Rather than focusing on stand-up comedians, Grayson’s studied how humor is presented and used in articles on two popular political websites, The Babylon Bee and The Onion.
“Since these networks are in the business of appealing to certain political groups and making money, they use humor that appeals to as many people as possible and isn’t quite as complex as you might get with a standup comedian on stage,” said Grayson.
The White House has also embraced humor in recent years, according to Anna Hicks ’24. Through her analysis of Obama’s speeches, late night TV show appearances and State of the Union addresses, Hicks concluded that recent presidents use humor for a variety of purposes – to deflect, persuade, distract and seek common ground with voters.
“Presidential humor will continue to grow in years to come,” she predicted, “sparking discussion, influencing vote and changing the landscape of presidential interactions with the public.”
Whose neighborhood is it?
Look both ways while doing summer research at Furman.
Asha Marie Larson-Baldwin ’22 learned that lesson dodging traffic in the Village of West Greenville, doing interviews to study the effects of gentrification on small-business owners. One of the tongue-in-cheek goals she outlined was “to not get hit by cars on Lois Avenue.”
“They don’t stop for anybody,” she told the Furman Engaged audience Tuesday morning during a session of interdisciplinary presentations moderated by Yang Gao, an assistant professor of sociology.
Larson-Baldwin, who is pursuing an independent curriculum Bachelor of Arts in advocacy and justice studies, did have a more serious goal in mind for her research. She hoped to find, through her interviews, who curates the idea of a neighborhood – who decides who belongs and who doesn’t.
Another summer research project, undertaken by Ellie Winters ’22, an anthropology major and linguistics minor, investigated the origins and peculiar characteristics of a word coined on the internet: “smol.” The term, often used to describe cute, petite creatures, crosses the border between the written and spoken word, her research found, the “o” in “smol” representing a “graphic and phonetic roundness” that adds to its meaning.
Willie Cornish ’22, a composition major, and Emma Mehigan ’22, a music theory and church music major, presented their research on trends in music performances at Furman (finding that Johann Sebastian Bach was the most popular composer in both eras they studied).
Christine Fasana ’22, a chemistry major, studied the Upstate Medical Legal Partnership, a program from Furman, Prisma Health Upstate and South Carolina Legal Services connecting residents to legal resources that may help to solve health problems. One major way the MLP helps, Fasana found, is by reducing what she termed “guardian stress.” Health outcomes improve, she learned through interviewing 19 MLP clients, when guardians get the economic and social support they need to meet household challenges.
When the phone rang at 2 a.m., Miriam Stevens ’22 picked up.
She was an intern working the 6 p.m.-6 a.m. shift for the Julie Valentine Center, one of 14 rape crisis centers in South Carolina. Stevens had completed 29.5 hours of training, but when it finally came to counseling those in crisis, the interactions were intense. Fortunately, she had Jamika Nedwards, the crisis program director, to guide her.
“The one note (Nedwards) gave me was not to underestimate my abilities,” said Stevens. “She said, ‘You have no idea how much you calmed that client down just by being yourself and not trying to be clinical, or the way most people would take on this role.’”
Nedwards’ words left an impression on Stevens.
“After that, I hope that that is what I brought into all the calls,” she said. “Who knows, maybe I am the one person on the outside telling them that they were brave.”
Stevens will be one of Furman’s first four women’s, gender and sexuality studies majors to graduate this May. The others are Alexis Clark, Riley Hughes and Queen Trapp.
Through the Office of Spiritual Life, Trapp examined values-based behaviors, healthy sexuality, changing sexual perceptions, the intersection of politics, sex and religion, and gained a better understanding of Furman’s history, using the university archives. Hughes wrote podcast material for Stichting Heppie Seks, a Dutch advocacy group that highlights the reality that those living with disability still have sexual desires. Clark served as a “catch-all” support for Jasmine Road, a two-year residential program for women survivors of human trafficking, prostitution and addiction.
For better mental health
Biology major Taylor Carson ’22 offered two stark figures: 706,000 adults in South Carolina have a mental health condition, and 183,000 have a serious mental illness.
In her research, she became familiar with members receiving services from Gateway, a local nonprofit that connects those with mental illness with various types of support, including concurrent psychiatric care and a medication regimen. Carson is now designing a survey for members in order to create a program to help them access other resources, such as health insurance.
As a case study, Carson focused on bipolar disorder, which manifests as a continuum of mania (highs) and depressions (lows) with periods of normalcy, to examine calcium channel blockers. She cited research that found calcium-signaling dysregulation to be responsible for a lot of the mood fluctuations associated with bipolar disorder. The condition is largely treated with pharmacological products, which can have serious side effects.
“It’s also hard to manage this concurrent care where we have multiple medications that include antipsychotics, antidepressants and anticonvulsants,” said Carson. “So I wanted to look further into why this was so complicated.”
In the past, she said, a lot of research focused on genetics, which has been important in identifying heritable factors but has not been as good at helping with managing the disorder itself.
“So because of that, a lot of these new treatments are focused on developing new drug targets, such as calcium channel blockers, which is really important,” said Carson, “because if they’re able to block the up-regulation of calcium, they may be able to better regulate moods with perhaps one medication rather than using a lot of concurrent therapy.”
It takes a village … of farmers
Producing food can bring social and environmental harm. But there are ways to change farming methods to reduce those effects, and community can play a key role. Gracie Bartel ’22, a Spanish and sustainability science double major, visited 10 small sustainable farms in the upstate and interviewed them about their interactions with other farmers and community stakeholders, along with details about their sustainable farming methods.
“I also sent out a survey to the community stakeholders and created various maps in ArcGis,” said Bartel. “I analyzed all of these different data sources to determine if social connectivity between small farmers can increase resilience as well as disseminate knowledge of sustainable farming methods in the region.”
Her findings? “High social connectivity coupled with close geographic proximity to other farms is very beneficial for the success and resilience of small sustainable farms.”
Where the data lead
From the English Premier League to South Carolina real estate and marriage premiums, Furman students demonstrated how data can be sliced and diced and put into practical (i.e. career potential) use, thanks to a new data analytics minor that launched this year.
Eleanor Liu ’22, Salem Wear ’22 and Max Young ’22 presented a summer research project they worked on with Claire Gillaspy ’22 and Justin Hager ’22, who are studying abroad this semester. They took to the virtual pitch running data provided by ESPN through statistical analysis and mathematical modeling to rank players based on offense, defense and ball control.
Docia Loehr ’22 used several variable selection techniques to create a model for predicting home value in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina.
Lindsey Diehl ’22 and Cabot Fowler ’22 asked if the marriage premium that saw married men making more than unmarried men in the twentieth century still existed, and they expanded it to include women. Using a fixed effect regression model, they found that married men make 8.6% more than never-married men, and married women make 3.8% more than never-married women.
Maggie Lewis ’22 talked about her experience with the data analytics minor, including attending DataFest at Emory University in March.
About 60 students have already declared a data analysis minor, said Kevin Hutson, professor of mathematics.
There’s good news and bad news in ‘The Complex 2020s’
Nobody understands the role social media plays today better than the generation that was literally raised with it. One of the first major social networking sites, SixDegrees.com, launched in 1997 – 25 years ago. Since then, the students in Professor of English Lynn Shackelford’s Professional Communication course have seen how Facebook, Instagram and other sites have changed society.
Their verdicts: As suggested by the title of their Furman Engaged session, “The Complex 2020s,” there’s good news and bad news.
First, the bad news. Alexandra Rick ’22, a communication studies major, presented her findings on the direct impact social media has on mental health in adolescents. Studies have found that 82% of adolescents report mental health problems, such as mood, anxiety and eating disorders, correlated with social media. Fear of missing out (FOMO), comparing one’s self unflatteringly with others, and cyberbullying aggravate the problem.
“I’m not here to preach at you today,” Rick clarified. “I just spent two hours on TikTok.”
Isabell Carrico ’22, a business administration major, researched the revelations of Frances Haugen, the Facebook whistleblower, who alleged that the company’s practices harm children, sow division and undermine democracy in pursuit of profit.
Carrico’s research not only affected her opinion of Facebook and its new parent company, Meta, it may have also affected her job prospects.
“I got a notification that Meta was hiring,” she said, “and it immediately went into my trash bin.”
There is potential good news for small-business owners, however, found Libby Mulligan ’22, a communication studies major. She researched several ways in which Instagram influencers can change consumer behavior and suggested strategies entrepreneurs can use to harness that influence.
And Kristin Nauman ’22, a psychology and communication studies major, found that livestreaming concerts did bring some badly needed revenue into the music industry during the COVID-19 pandemic. Her research showed that while musicians were harmed, the damage didn’t stop there.
“It’s not just the performers, it’s not just the behind-the-scenes ticket sales,” she said. “It’s the food vendors, it’s the operations, it’s the people attending these concerts.”
With pandemic restrictions easing, live music is making a comeback, aided by social media, Nauman said.
But even given any potential benefits, educating children and parents about the dangers of social media is key, Rick concluded, as are regular social media cleanses. In fact, she’s due for a cleanse herself, she said.
“My hands are hurting right now because I scroll so much,” she laughed.