Cal State Long Beach Graduate, Undergraduate Students Win Top Honors in Research Competition

Three students from California State University, Long Beach (CSULB)—Thomas Baker, Sarah Clingan and Denise Okamoto—captured top honors at the 26th annual CSU Student Research Competition, a statewide contest showcasing the significant research done by undergraduate and graduate students in the 23-campus CSU system.

In all, some 250 students from 21 CSU campuses competed at this year’s event, which was held at CSULB.  Each campus was allowed up to 10 entries in the 10 categories at the competition, where student participants made oral presentations before juries of professional experts from major corporations, foundations, public agencies, and colleges and universities in California.

All three CSULB students garnered first-place finishes in their respective divisions and categories, for which they each received $500 in cash as well as a certificate signifying their accomplishment.

Okamoto, a graduate student in economics, took home the first-place award in the Business, Economics and Public Administration category with her research project titled “The Motherhood Age Gap,” which shows that mothers earn about 2 to 3 percent less per hour than women who do not have children.

“My research finds that the work effort theory may explain this wage gap.  This theory states that doing household chores and taking care of the children leaves women with less energy for their jobs which results in lower wages,” Okamoto pointed out.  “This finding is important because more women are becoming the breadwinner of their families so the motherhood wage gap affects the entire household.

Her research also found that women are delaying children until later in life to avoid this wage gap resulting in riskier childbirths and higher medical costs.  She also noted that the pay gap between men and women is largely comprised of the motherhood wage gap.

“Receiving an award for my research was a wonderful way to recognize not only myself but also CSULB’s Economics Department, my family, friends, and classmates,” said Okamoto, who will graduate from CSULB with her master’s degree in economics later this month.  “My research project would not be possible had it not been for the assistance, guidance, and support of many people.”

Okamoto was especially grateful to her mentor for the project Kristen Monaco, CSULB chair and professor of economics.  “Her mentorship has meant a great deal to me.  She has given me the skills to conduct research projects using advanced econometric tools,” she noted.  “She sets the bar high, which has motivated me to accomplish what sometimes felt impossible.  Under her mentorship, I’ve been able to realize more of my potential, giving me confidence in my knowledge of economics.”

Clingan, a senior psychology major, earned first place in the undergraduate division of the Health, Nutrition and Clinical Sciences category for her project on “Sex Trading for Drugs in Long Beach, California.”  Dennis Fisher, director of the CSULB Center for Behavioral Research and Services, was her mentor for the project.

“I wanted to better understand why people sex trade for drugs and the relative impact of each factor,” explained Clingan, who said that winning the top prize made her feel rewarded for all of her diligent work and effort.  “It is vital that public health workers recognize who trades sex for drugs so that they are able establish guidelines for education and prevention.”

Clingan, who will graduate with her bachelor’s degree later this month, was hired by Fisher to work at the center in fall 2011.  In addition to helping her conduct research, the two have teamed up to present their findings at conferences and are preparing a manuscript on research they conducted on survival sex trading.

Finally, Baker, a graduate student in physics, received the top award in the graduate division of the Physical and Mathematical Sciences category.  His project focused on “The Bead on a Hoop and Ferromagnetism: An Analogy between Classical Mechanics and Magnetism.”  His advisor for the project was Andreas Bill, a professor in the CSULB Department of Physics and Astronomy.

“The students who I saw speak all had quality, well thought out contributions to their field, so it was a real honor to be recognized out of the many professional presentations,” said Baker, who graduates the month with a master’s of science degree in physics.  “The message was that good, impactful research can happen anywhere and not just at prestigious institutions.  It is important we recognize that fact both psychologically and fiscally and not let any of these programs atrophy.”

Through this project, Baker and Bill solved completely a 200-year-old problem known to most physicists as the bead on a hoop.  Normally, Baker explained, the full solution is not asked of undergraduate physicists while research is being done by other groups using approximations and numerical approaches to our exact solution.

“This system is a wire hoop with a bead threaded on it.  As the hoop spins, the bead rises to a non-zero height. Undergraduates are asked to find this height.  We found the complete solution of the problem describing the oscillations of the bead on the axis and submitted this for publication to the American Journal of Physics.  The article is ‘in-press’ meaning it will appear in the journal within the next few months depending on their publication space.”

The solution for the mechanical system is also mathematically similar to a magnetic system used for magnetic sensing, according to Baker.  A suitable model is then derivable from their exact mathematical formalism of the bead on a hoop.  Surprisingly, he said, these mathematical similarities are not uncommon in physics and serve to illustrate more abstract behaviors in systems you can set up for a class demonstration.

Each entry (oral presentation plus written summary) was judged on clarity of purpose, appropriateness of methodology, interpretation of results, value of the research or creative activity, ability of the presenter to articulate the research or creative activity, organization of the material presented, and the presenter’s ability to handle questions from the jury and general audience.

“Three first place awards for Cal State Long Beach students is especially meaningful since CSULB hosted the system-wide competition this year,” said Cecile Lindsay, CSULB’s vice provost and dean for graduate studies who oversaw this year’s event.  “The last time CSULB hosted the system-wide competition was in 2002.  It was a good opportunity to showcase our beautiful campus and the city of Long Beach.”

Spring 2012 Issue

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