By Tiffany Fox, (858) 246-0353, email@example.com
San Diego, Calif., Aug. 21, 2009 — A new crop of students from the University of California, San Diego, are participating in Calit2's Undergraduate Summer Scholar Program, engaging in hands-on research that will culminate in real-world implications for a variety of fields.
Under the guidance of UCSD faculty advisers, the undergraduates assist full-time for 10 weeks in an ongoing research project or propose a new project of their own. The scholars, who number 24 this summer, receive a $3,000 scholarship to participate in the program. Research proposals must address the mission of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2), which is directed toward research in telecommunications and information technology, as well as advances in a wide range of applications important to the economy and quality of life.
The 2009 awardees represent majors in diverse fields from across campus: biochemistry, neuroscience, art history, electrical and computer engineering, visual arts, molecular biology, political science, computer science, biotechnology, music, biology, communication and bioengineering.
Since this year's program began in June, UC San Diego senior Peter Benesch, a major in political science, has been gathering statistical information from police forces in the 43 largest metropolitan areas of the U.S. (population: 400,000 or greater). His goal is to analyze the factors that account for variation in the police use of force — particularly in minority communities, and particularly the use of deadly force "since that's where the statistics are," he explains.
"Although it's true that police homicides are rare events, when the homicides are prevalent through 43 cities, I can generate some meaningful results about what motivates police behavior and human behavior in general," he added.
Benesch originally planned to cull existing databases so he could simply run regression software on various economic and demographic data, including information about the social characteristics of each police force. But he quickly discovered the existing information didn't easily lend itself to cross-city comparisons.
"The data is there, but it's not in a readily accessible format," he noted. "Every city is its own challenge. Certain states have laws about reporting these statistics to the attorney general, but some states do not. Some police forces aren't willing or able to provide the data because their records are in paper format, and the Freedom of Information Act does not require creating new file formats. Some police departments are much more helpful than others."
So far, Benesch has gathered statistical data from 15 cities, dating from the year 2000 to 2008. Between 5 and 10 additional cities are in the process of gathering the data, and the remaining 15-20 are still trying to determine how to provide the information.
Although there are other avenues for gathering the necessary data, such as media reports and reports compiled by the Centers for Disease Control (which gathers data about people who die in hospitals, and why they died) — those methods are not always reliable, Benesch says. Media reports can be inaccurate, and those killed by police force do not always end up in hospitals, since some go straight to the morgue.
Once he has collected all the necessary data, Benesch, under the advisement of Associate Professor of Political Science Zoltan Hajnal, will run the numbers through regression models in a data analysis and statistical software known as Stata.
"With this statistical regression tool, we'll be able to find correlations between variables and isolate the effects of one factor, or see the combined effects of two variables," he explains. "We're hoping to eventually publish findings on the International Consortium for Political Science Research server so other people can play with data.
"That alone is unique: This idea of repeatability is not very characteristic of the social sciences."
Another scholar working to make data more accessible is Poonam Manwani, a senior majoring in both biochemistry and Middle Eastern history. Manwani has spent the summer designing and standardizing a database for Dr. Tony Young of UCSD's Department of Psychiatry. Young is currently conducting a long-term study of 54 adolescent research subjects based on functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI).
Previously, Young and his research assistants could only access each research subject's paper data files one at a time, and were not easily able to make cross-data comparisons about patients, such as how past illnesses, behavioral data and FMRI images might be related.
With the help of "MySQL" (the database program Manwani and her colleagues deemed most effective), Young's team will now be able to make online queries by name, patient ID number or date of appointment to gather all pertinent data at once. Eventually, the prototype might extend into other labs at UCSD or beyond.
"This project is a push to make research more efficient," says Manwani. "It will help medical professionals have easier access to information about patients instead of having to look for an individual paper file in their office."
Bernardo, working under the advisement of Visual Arts Lecturer Brett Stalbaum, is developing a website that will host an open-source "walking tools" application. The application will allow artists to upload images and sound associated with certain GPS coordinates tied to walking tours of their choosing. Users will then be able to download the walks to their smart phones, which will ping the user any time they cross into what those in the locative media arts term a "narrative hot zone."
Says Bernardo: "There's definitely great potential in this project. Every time I go somewhere, I take photos of those places with my iPhone. This technology will give users the ability to see things from someone else's perspective, and the fact that the software will be ready for use will make a huge difference. Artists that can't program wouldn't have this type of opportunity without this software."
The students' hands-on research experience is supplemented by a series of seminars provided by Calit2 during the summer. These cover a variety of topics relevant to academic, industry and research careers. Approximately 226 undergraduates have participated since the program's inception in 2001. This research opportunity has proven to have a strong positive impact on students and their post graduation paths, with many finding it invaluable.
All participants in the Calit2 Undergraduate Summer Scholar Program will display the results of their research efforts at a poster session Tuesday, Sept. 22 at 1:30 p.m. in the Atkinson Hall Pre-Function Area on the first floor. The event is free and open to the public.
Tiffany Fox, (858) 246-0353, firstname.lastname@example.org