Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts

Rewarding research

Kathryn Mason ’14 works with Shep on overcoming his fear of the Hula-Hoop.

Can positive reinforcement lead to better results in animal behavior modification? Faculty and students are studying miniature horses to find out.

It all began with a casual conversation in the faculty suite in the Mars Center for Science and Technology.

Shari Ackerman-Morris, faculty associate in biology

Biology Faculty Associate Shari Ackerman-Morris was telling Associate Professor of Psychology Kathleen Morgan about the miniature horses that she was training with her daughter’s 4-H group. A longtime horse rider and licensed riding instructor, Ackerman-Morris was interested in applying all-positive reinforcement methods to train these pint-size horses which, at less than three feet tall, can still be very strong.

“It’s not uncommon for these little guys to really pull the kids around,” she observes. “I was interested in exploring other ways for kids and ponies to work together.”

Kathleen Morgan, associate professor of psychology

A five-member team of faculty members and students began researching those ways this summer. What they discover could have important implications far beyond the horse-training world. For pet owners and trainers of other animals, their success with all-positive reinforcement techniques could mean less stressful and better working partnerships between pets and owners, and better-trained pets in less time. And their current work could lead to a new applied behavior analysis research team at Wheaton, which would be yet another opportunity for students to get real-world experience related to their classroom coursework. [Read more...]

Grace Relihan ’€™12 at her internship with the Raptor Trust, based in central New Jersey.

Flying high

Grace Relihan ’12 with a pigeon at the Raptor Trust, based in central New Jersey.Grace Alloy-Relihan ’12 has been fascinated by birds her whole life but didn’t know it until she stepped into “Evolution and Ecology,” the course taught by Professor of Biology John Kricher.

“There is in that course a large section on the evolution and anatomy of dinosaurs, leading all the way to the evolution of modern birds,” says Alloy-Relihan. “After a particular lecture detailing the feathered dinosaurs found in Liaoning, China, I went home to my own parakeets and stared at them for an hour because I saw what they really were for the first time.

“There were two small dinosaurs in a cage in my house. I was looking into the eyes of the creatures I’d been so fascinated by my whole life.” [Read more...]

Examining research ethics

Wheaton Professor Teresa CeledaAssistant Professor of Philosophy Teresa Celada has a bachelor’s degree in biological science, and a master’s degree and doctorate in philosophy. The cross-disciplinary combination provides her with an insightful perspective on the ethics of research involving human participants, which is the focus of her scholarship. Last January, she shared her expertise with the members of the National Institute of Public Health and the Ministry of Health in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. She worked with them to organize and conduct a two-and-a-half-day symposium on the responsible conduct of research. It was the first activity of a yearlong project aimed at developing a sustainable and culturally appropriate program in ethical research for Cambodia. We recently asked her about her work. [Read more...]

Examining ways to improve health care

Sedra Davis ’14 and Claudia D’Adamo ’13 are working with doctors, scientists and other students to research computational approaches to using vital-signs data to improve patient care.

In the United States, traumatic brain injury is a leading cause of injury-related deaths. Sedra Davis ’14 and Claudia D’Adamo ’13, along with Assistant Professor of Computer Science Tom Armstrong, are hoping to change that. Through the use of technology, they are working to improve the chances for recovery in critically injured patients.

The three are examining vital-signs data to find common patterns across patients. These patterns will be used to alert health care providers about the need for medical intervention and to predict patient outcomes.

“Computing is changing the way that other disciplines approach asking and answering questions,” says Armstrong. “Opportunities like this provide experiences that will be useful regardless of the path Sedra and Claudia choose: graduate education, professional education, or industry.”

[Read more...]