Undergrads win at annual CSU research competition

May 20, 2020

Two CSUMB undergraduate students took top awards at the 34th Annual California State University (CSU) Student Research Competition on April 24. CSU East Bay hosted this year’s event, which was virtual for the first time because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Sarah Ricks, a business administration major and Undergraduate Research Opportunities Center (UROC) student, earned first place in the Business, Economics and Public Administration category with her presentation, “Social Media Use of Mothers from India: Empowering Mother's Spending on Children's Education.”

Selina Espinoza, a psychology major and UROC McNair Scholar, placed second in the Health, Nutrition and Clinical Sciences category with “Cannabis Use and Perceptions Among Veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders.”

The winners were two of six undergraduate delegates selected by the CSUMB Research Scholarship Creative Activity (RSCA) committee to participate in the competition. It is held each spring to promote excellence in undergraduate and graduate scholarly research and creative activity by recognizing outstanding students across the 23 CSU campuses.

“The committee was impressed with the quality of the proposals and the enthusiasm demonstrated by the student-mentor relationship. This experience is a critical part of the student learning experience and will hopefully inspire these students to continue on their journey of research, discovery and creative activity,” said Kent Adams, RSCA committee and kinesiology department chairperson.

Sarah Ricks

Sarah Ricks

Sarah Ricks

Rick’s research, a collaboration between the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad in India and CSUMB, examines the impact of active versus passive social media usage on the psychological empowerment of Indian mothers. It analyzed how empowerment influences income allocation towards children’s education.

“Increasing spending on children's education can really impact academic outcomes, so this research could help India's next-generation improve their educational achievement,” Ricks said.

“When I first started in UROC, I knew so little about research I never could have imagined that I'd get to this point. I'm so grateful for UROC and especially my mentor, Dr. Jenny Lin, who has helped me significantly along the way.”

An assistant professor in the College of Business, Lin said the award for Rick’s research “challenges a perception that business is only about making profits.”

“There is also another side of business and marketing that is often overlooked, and that is how business CAN do good. The type of research we conduct brings in those lenses where marketing research could be advocates for consumers, could better understand the needs and behaviors of consumers, so that businesses can better tailor to them in ways that advance the well-being of consumers,” Lin said.

She encouraged students and her colleagues to take on undergraduate research.

“Undergraduate research should not be overlooked. This is where student researchers start their journey of lifelong learning. I hope that this opens eyes for undergraduate students, especially those studying business, that graduate school is a path,” Lin said.

“For colleagues that are still skeptical about involving undergraduate students in their research: Indeed, it is not easy. … But when interested students come by, open the door and give them the opportunity. They might surprise you.”

The co-owner of a local business, Ricks plans to apply to a marketing research graduate program that integrates statistics, data science and psychology. She is also a parent who has followed her mother’s example by pursuing higher education.

"My mom went back to school when I was a kid, and I got to watch her walk at graduation. And it feels like things have come full circle, now that I'll be graduating in a few weeks and my kids will get to see me (eventually) walk at my own graduation ceremony,” she said.

Selina Espinoza

Selina Espinoza

Selina Espinoza

Espinoza’s research, part of a summer research experience led by Kent Hutchison and Raeghan Mueller at the Colorado University, Center for Health and Neuroscience, Genes, and Environment lab, provides insight into veterans' experience with cannabis and the therapeutic implications it has on their post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms.

“This award validates Selina's work and demonstrates that cannabis research can be respected and appreciated in the fields of health and social science,” said Jennifer Lovell, Espinoza’s faculty mentor and an assistant professor of psychology.

“It has given her extra motivation to continue this path for research and graduate study, and it is a timely topic for advocacy around the therapeutic use of cannabis."

After graduation in the fall, Selina plans to pursue a doctorate in health or clinical psychology with the goal of becoming a psychology professor with her own cannabis research lab.

Espinoza said the award is special to her because it proves cannabis research is supported, and students like herself, who identify as low-income and first-generation, can thrive in higher education.

“I’m grateful for the experience as it was an amazing opportunity to learn, grow, and inspire. I would definitely recommend this competition to others because it's a great learning experience,” Espinoza said.

“This competition is an amazing platform to share your research with a large academic audience. Research is a beautiful and transformative craft that should be shared with the public in a manner in which they can comprehend it.”