RSCA Grant Awardees 21/22: Proposal Abstracts

“Exploring the options: Visualizing housing policies with procedural modeling”; Dave Amos (CAED- City and Regional Planning) and Amir Hajrasouliha (CAED- City and Regional Planning) 

This project harnesses the power of ArcGIS Urban and ArcGIS CityEngine to help researchers and local practitioners visualize the impacts of housing policy and zoning changes. Several cities across the country are considering revisions of their zoning codes to allow for “missing middle” housing—duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes, townhomes, and cottage courts—in neighborhoods where only single-family homes and accessory dwelling units are allowed. Residents are often worried about the impacts missing middle will have on their neighborhoods, impacts that include parking scarcity, building heights, increased traffic, and noise. This project allows researchers, practitioners, and residents to visualize these policy changes and the potential impacts on their communities using these software packages. We will conduct a pilot project in San Luis Obispo, a city considering allowing “missing middle” housing, by creating plausible scenarios for zoning changes. We also analyze the impact of plans with automatically generated capacity indicators data. Based on the lessons learned in the process, we provide recommendations for others how to analyze the impact of changes on residential zones.

“How do livestock guardian dogs reduce coyote predation on sheep?”; Tim Bean (CSM- Biological Sciences) and Beth Reynolds (CAFES- Animal Science) 

Sheep lost to predation costs millions of dollars every year in the U.S. alone. The traditional lethal approach to coyote management is expensive, unpopular, and not clearly effective. The use of livestock guardian dogs has gained recognition as a more effective approach to protecting sheep and other livestock. However, there is some concern that dogs simply push coyotes onto adjacent properties, resulting in no net loss of predation. Here, we propose to examine sheep and coyote behavioral response to livestock guardian dogs. We will affix GPS collars to all three species in two production settings - Cal Poly and Laetitia Vineyards - to compare movements and behaviors before, during, and after placement of livestock guardian dogs. These two sites provide complementary mangaement practices, so we can examine whether coyote and sheep responses to livestock guardian dogs are consistent in the presence or absence of electrical fencing and other active management techniques. This project is student-focused and includes support for one graduate student, one undergraduate, as well as an interdisciplinary research seminar for additional students across CAFES and COSAM. We expect to produce at least one scientific publication and at least two presentations at national conferences led by the students. In addition, in collaboration with partners from California Department of Fish & Wildlife and U.C. Extension, we will use our preliminary results to apply for external funding from U.S.D.A. APHIS.

“Trigger warnings and exposure to emotionally provocative stimuli: Implications for education”; Kelly Bennion (CLA- Psychology and Child Development) 

In academia, trigger warnings are statements that warn students, particularly those with clinical mental health issues, about potentially disturbing material. A central question inherent to the use of trigger warnings is unknown: Does triggering material have a negative, lasting effect on individuals who have experienced trauma? Research has shown that trauma-related stimuli can reliably produce physiological and psychological effects in trauma survivors, but these studies typically use materials that are very evocative and/or idiographic. In the literature on PTSD, priming paradigms have not included material typically at issue in academic circles, nor have they investigated whether the wording of trigger warnings impacts later reactions. In two experiments, participants will be given one of four types of trigger warnings (straightforward, encouraging, upsetting, minimal) preceding 1) an excerpt from a novel describing sexual and physical assault and 2) film content of this trauma. Participants’ emotional responses and distress levels will be assessed over a two-week period. The study will allow us to determine how the framing of the trigger warning impacts reactions, the proportion of students who avoid potentially triggering material when they have the opportunity, whether trauma type affects the amount of distress experienced by the student afterward, and whether those with PTSD or a triggering trauma experience exacerbated symptoms. We hypothesize that while the majority of students will not avoid the triggering material, there will be lasting distress that depends on the similarity of the traumatic event to the content, its severity, and the framing of the trigger warning.

“The Initial Condition: Preparing for Systemic Change in Computer Engineering”; Lauren Cooper (CENG- Mechanical Engineering) and Lynne Slivovsky (CENG- Computer Engineering) 

The Computer Engineering Program (CPE) at Cal Poly will soon undergo a process of structural, curricular, and cultural transformation to engender greater belonging and inclusivity among students, staff, and faculty. This change is inspired by broad calls to diversify the computing workforce as well as the CPE student experience. The proposed project builds upon work currently underway to characterize the initial or “baseline” state of CPE with regard to faculty beliefs, attitudes, and teaching practices. In the next phase of the project (this proposal), we will accomplish two important goals: 1) Enhance critical consciousness and expand group capacity for revolutionary justice-based change; 2) Gather data to inform our Critical Collaborative Educational Change framework. Expanding our capacity for change entails participation in an initial thought-provoking webinar offered by the Luna Jimenez Institute for Social Justice (LJIST), followed by both CPE faculty and student dialogue sessions.

To inform our change framework, we will gather quantitative data related to CPE faculty’s feelings of belonging, inclusivity, needs fulfillment, and professional development. We will collect qualitative data related to the ways in which faculty respond to and engage in the process of transformation, as well as the systemic conditions and processes that build CPE faculty’s capacity for change. This project will support three undergraduate student researchers, result in peer-reviewed publications, and help us secure external funding to sustain our work. Our total budget request is $17,302.

“The Politics of Queer Religion: Assessing the Effect of Religion on LGBTQ+ Identity and Political Development”; R.G. Cravens (CLA- Political Science) 

More than three-quarters of Americans identify or associate with a religious tradition and a similar pattern of religiosity exists among lesbians, gays, and bisexuals (Murphy 2015). In fact, contemporary research suggests more than half, and as many as three-quarters, of sexual minorities identify with some faith tradition, although less data exists on the experiences of transgender and queer people (Cravens 2018). Religion is an important cultural and political institution in the U.S. Religious organizations and communities act as agents of socialization, offering a collective identity that shapes one’s world view while concomitantly acting as mobilizing structures for political activity (Verba, et al. 1995). For LGBTQ+ people, religion can also be a source of identity-based conflict, especially after “coming out” (i.e. openly identifying as LGBTQ+). Namely, the coming out process often results in lived experiences that require LGBTQ+ people to “update” their political and social behavior, contributing to distinctiveness from heterosexuals (Alwin and Krosnick 1991; Egan 2012). Yet the unique social location of LGBTQ+ people among religious communities is understudied, primarily because federal and private research funding is limited. My proposal will center primary data collection by a faculty-undergraduate research team, where the students will learn survey design and data analysis to explore how the coming out process affects religious and political behavior among LGBTQ+ people. My proposal will contribute to macro-level efforts to resolve longstanding tensions between religious and LGBTQ+ communities (including at Cal Poly); while informing strategies to resolve similar micro-level psychological tensions among LGBTQ+ people and their families.

“Interaction of gender (sex) and race while carrying the burden of relational (in)equity: Relational maintenance strategies and coping mechanisms for mothers in higher academia during the pandemic”; Anuraj Dhillon (CLA- Communication Studies) and Megan Lambertz-Berndt (CLA- Communication Studies) 

Merging boundaries of home and office due to pandemic has resulted in considerable disadvantages for women, ranging from relational inequities to opting out of work. Especially, women in academia are falling behind as their research productivity has reduced compared to men (Flaherty, 2020). The proposed project examines how mothers in higher academia are making sense of the overlapping professional and personal life in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic while caring for children. Specifically, our study design includes interviewing women in higher academia working virtually at this time while also caring for their kid(s) to determine how they are being supported by their relational partners and employers. More specifically, we want to identify relational maintenance strategies, coping mechanisms and employer accommodations that have helped mothers working in academia achieve work-life balance. This study will gather narratives and commentaries from around the U.S., sharing situated and personal accounts of the pandemic’s many impacts on academic life. The study will offer a critical perspective on academic life with children during the pandemic, with a focus on themes of power, inequality, and injustice.

“Inferring functional neuronal connectivity from experimental data”; Elena Dimitrova (CSM- Mathematics) 

This project will develop new mathematical methodology for inferring functional connectivity among brain neurons. We will use stimulus-response data to understand how brain function translates into behavior and neurological disorders. This interdisciplinary work lies in the intersection of computational neuroscience and mathematical data science and will involve an undergraduate student who will be introduced to interdisciplinary research and computational thinking. The results of this project will support PI Dimitrova, a new faculty member at the Mathematics Department, in her growth as a teacher-scholar and enable her to foster collaborations with neuroscientists at the Biological Sciences Department. Furthermore, the project will lay the foundations for securing external funding from sources such as NSF’s Mathematical Biology and Collaborative Research in Computational Neuroscience (CRCNS) programs.

“Nudging Women into Business and Economics”; Jacqueline Doremus (OCOB- Economics) and Katya Vasilaky (OCOB- Economics) 

Business, and economics in particular, have low female representation despite high salaries, and Cal Poly is no exception. Diversity in business and policymaking is important as it leads to greater innovation, better financial outcomes, and increased teamwork in climates of inclusion (Hoogendoorn et al. 2013, Parrotta et al. 2014, Hansra 2019). Yet a long literature in economics on gender and competition shows that women are less likely to ever enter competitive environments even when they are of the same ability as men (Niederle and Vesterlund 2007). Further, representation is important. Students are more likely to matriculate in economics when they actual observe an environment that showcases diversity of research and researchers (Bayer et al. 2021)

Since admitted Cal Poly students choose their college and major, efforts to change the diversity of our student body must focus on prospective students. Prospective students may believe that business schools are competitive instead of collaborative. Marketing materials may lack female representation, particularly for women of color, due to low representation. This proposal studies whether more inclusive marketing messaging sent to prospective students can increase representation among women and women of color at the Orfalea College of Business (OCOB).

From August 2019 to June 2020, we conducted a low-touch randomized controlled study, in conjunction with the office of Admissions Recruitment & Financial Aid at Cal Poly (IRB 2020-159-CP). We randomized the dissemination of more inclusive marketing at both the application and matriculation stage. Inclusive marketing emphasized collaboration, groupwork, and female representation. Standard marketing tends to emphasize rewards from education.

We compare behavior across those exposed to inclusive messaging and those exposed to standard messaging. Our outcomes include the decision to apply, choice of college and major, the decision to enroll, and engagement with marketing materials (e.g. clicking links and videos). We will assess the effect for all students, as well as women, BIPOC, low-income students, first generation students, and their intersections.

Finally, given the decision to enroll took place during the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic, we will also consider how the pandemic affected student behavior. The Covid-19 shock allows us to assess major competing factor that many students face in the application and matriculation process– the cultural and financial safety of remaining close to home - which the pandemic changed in an uneven way.

“Bridging the gap between food microstructure and sensory perception using machine learning – an implication for sodium reduction in dairy foods”; Yiming Feng (CAFES- Food Science and Nutrition), Amy Lammert (CAFES- Food Science and Nutrition), and Samir Amin (CAFES- Food Science and Nutrition) 

US Center for Diseases Control shows that 90% of Americans over-consume sodium. High sodium intake is associated with increased high blood pressure, hence increases the risk of hypertension and cardiovascular diseases. To date, hypertension affects nearly 75 million individuals in the US, and it has become the leading cause of death globally. The 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend the daily sodium intake less than 2,300 milligrams, but American consumes more than 3,400 milligrams of sodium. Among the sodium being consumed, about 70% comes from processed and restaurant foods, especially dairy and meat products. For example, a typical cheeseburger contains 710 – 1,690 mg of sodium, which accounts for half of the recommended daily intake. Although food manufactures have started developing food products with reduced sodium, the reduction is often compromised by the declined sensory perception. In fact, only 5-30% of the formulated sodium is released during the mastication process, due to the hindrance by the food matrices. To decrease sodium content without affecting sensory perception, enhancement of sodium release via manipulating food structures becomes a viable pathway. In this study, we propose to create various cheese products with a wide range of microstructures, by re-formulating and applying innovative processing strategies. A systematic characterization will be conducted by advanced microscopic and spectroscopic to reveal the structural differences. The saltiness and sodium release kinetics of different cheese products will be evaluated by sensory panels. A machine learning algorithm will be developed to establish the connection between microstructure and saltiness perception.

“Documenting bilingual practices on the Central Coast: From home to the public space”; Silvia Marijuan (CLA- World Languages and Cultures) 

The Central Coast is home to a range of communities with high density Latinx populations (Paso Robles, Oceano, Santa Maria, Guadalupe). Understanding the bilingual and bicultural practices of the Latinx population who live and work in this region is not only critical for Cal Poly students and others who interact with members of those communities, but such research has the potential to inform multiple fields such as linguistics, education, agriculture, public health, and business. This research project documents and analyzes how Spanish is used at home, at work, and in the public space (for example, in stores, health centers, schools). In the project, I give special consideration to how Spanish interacts with English and indigenous languages and how non-Spanish-speaking immigrant groups (e.g., Syrians) adapt to the use of Spanish in the community.

“Real-time Digitization of Agricultural Machinery Performance using Controlled Area Network (CAN) data”; Mohammad Sadek (CAFES- BioResource and Agricultural Engineering) and Nasir Eisty (CENG- Computer Science and Software Engineering) 

Tractors are the most common power source for agricultural machinery. The standard method to measure the machinery field performance is by installing sensors on tractors and implements. However, several disadvantages of using sensors for field performance evaluation include cost, time, weather, accuracy, replication, data acquisition system etc. Modern tractors are configured with networked electronic controllers (ECU) and communicate via Controller Area Network (CAN) message. Tools are commercially available that can capture CAN data and convert it to machine performance data. CAN data provide a convenient means of data collection in which the complexities of auxiliary sensors and data acquisition systems can be avoided. Several studies have been conducted using CAN for machine performance evaluation, and they have significantly improved the operational performance of agricultural machines. Those studies were not capable of digitizing CAN data in real-time. In addition, due to high diversity in agricultural field conditions and machinery type, long-term research is required in this area. We propose an interdisciplinary and novel approach to digitize machine performance data in real-time using CAN data. We will conduct a field test to evaluate the machine performance using CAN data and develop a software application to display the machine performance parameter in real-time in a portable device. Real-time data will be useful for farmers to maximize their field efficiencies. 

“Using Community Science to Evaluate the Behaviors of a Secretive and Misunderstood Animal”; Emily Taylor (CSM- Biological Sciences) 

Community science is a novel and popular means of involving the public in science. I propose a new community science project designed to assist a team of Cal Poly students in assembling a massive data set on predation pressure and behaviors of rattlesnakes at their dens and rookeries (community birthing areas). We also have an ulterior motive of busting myths about these misunderstood organisms, facilitating public respect and appreciation for these snakes and testing whether observing maternal care in rattlesnakes makes people regard them more favorably. My group will create an online community science project where participants from around the world code the behaviors of rattlesnakes from a series of time lapse and movement-triggered images from rattlesnake dens collected in 2020. In addition, we will deploy livestreaming cameras at a local den on the Central Coast during summer 2021 so that community scientists can watch and code behaviors in real time. Student researchers from three Cal Poly departments will collect and analyze community science data, will interact with the public by acting as the “experts” for Q&A and running social media accounts, and will analyze data from surveys. This interdisciplinary project will facilitate the collection of important data about the behaviors of a highly secretive animal that would otherwise be impossible to collect, and will also allow people to observe rattlesnakes engaging in realistic, non-threatening behaviors that may change their minds about snakes.

“Sensing Nanocomposites for Detecting Spatially Distributed Impact Damage”; Long Wang (CENG- Civil and Environmental Engineering) 

The safe and reliable operation of structural systems (e.g., civil infrastructure, automobiles, aerospace structures, marine vessels) can be significantly compromised by various types of structural damage. Evidently, the failures of critical structures can jeopardize public safety and socio-economic well-being. Therefore, it is imperative to monitor and assess structural conditions in real-time. The goal of this multidisciplinary proposal is to develop a next-generation structural damage monitoring system that can sense and spatially locate mechanical damage via coupling nano-engineered materials with an electrical imaging technique. This proposal lies at the intersection of nanotechnology, experimental mechanics, and sensor signal processing. Particularly, built on PI’s previous experience in nanomaterial manufacturing and sensing technologies, this project will focus on three major research thrusts: 1) designing, fabricating, and optimizing a sensing nanocomposite material that can be integrated with conventional structural materials and textiles; 2) developing algorithms and data acquisition hardware for the electrical imaging technique that will be integrated with the sensing nanocomposites for detecting spatial damage; and 3) computationally and experimentally validating the performance of the proposed monitoring system. The broader impacts of this project will include: 1) a robust monitoring system that can be integrated with structures and body armors; 2) students’ hands-on experience on comprehensive aspects of innovative research; 3) enriched curriculum and course materials; and 4) multidisciplinary collaborative opportunities with researchers across different Departments at Cal Poly and other Universities to further strengthen Cal Poly’s academic visibility and leadership.

“Saving a species from extinction on Anacapa Island”; Jenn Yost (CSM- Biological Sciences) and Dena Grossenbacher (CSM- Biological Sciences) 

The California Channel Islands, often described as the Galapagos of North America, harbor some of the most unique plant diversity in California. Over 240 plant species are endemic, or only found on the islands. Unfortunately, introduced herbivores drastically degraded the island’s ecosystems and many habitats remain greatly altered and the species they support have been pushed to the brink of extinction. One such species is the northern island mallow, which is only found on Anacapa and San Miguel Islands. Introduced herbivores extirpated the plant, i.e killed all of it, on Anacapa Island. Fortunately, before the last few plants were killed, seed was collected from the last remaining plants. These plants were grown on the mainland for years and now we are trying to reintroduce the species back to the island. Currently, 1,000 planted Malva are managed by the National Park Service (NPS) in a 1-acre restoration site on Anacapa. While adult plants appear to be thriving there is NO reproduction of new plants. This alarming lack of recruitments puts island mallow at risk for future declines without continued human intervention. Factors limiting population persistence of rare plants can occur during several life history stages, yet we lack basic ecological and life history information for many rare Channel Island plants. With RCSA support, we will investigate why island mallow is not reproducing on Anacapa Island. This will involve several experiments in the field to determine which life history stage is being impacted and the mechanism for the impact. Understanding when and how recruitment barriers have the greatest impact is critical to developing management interventions that will place the island mallow and the ecological functions it supports on a trajectory to recovery.

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