Social scientists address important issues during annual conference
Posted: 04/22/2013
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The relationship between a romantic partner's academic support and actual academic outcomes by students was something psychology majors Jesse Acosta and Janelle Martinez were interested in researching. They said there was very little literature on this topic.

During the conference's research poster competition, Deborah Lawton (right), a clinical psychology graduate student, explained her research regarding family protection against deliberate self-harm in Hispanic youth to Dr. Jori Sechrist, an assistant sociology professor and competition judge.
"This is important because Latinos tend to have very low college completion rates, yet Hispanics tend to have a very high relation orientation, which extends to kinship networks and relationships outside the family," said Acosta, a senior at The University of Texas-Pan American.

Both UTPA students joined many others who described their findings during a student research poster competition held at the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences' Seventh Annual Research Conference April 11-13.

While their research showed students' confidence in their ability to complete certain tasks was positively correlated with the support from a romantic partner, the students' college GPAs (grade point average) were negatively correlated with that support, perhaps, Martinez said, because students with high GPAs are less likely to ask for or need support. The aspiring researchers said they want to study the topic further and include a more ethnically diverse sample. Both appreciated the opportunity as undergraduates to participate in this valuable learning experience.

"I like doing research. It is very interesting to find out things about human behavior," Acosta said. "Also, if you plan to get a master's you are going to definitely have to have a thesis and do research of this nature and present at conferences like this. It is very important to do this as an undergraduate."

The conference - titled "Educating Our Communities: The Science, Politics, and Pedagogy of Education in a Changing World" - offered keynote addresses by notable national speakers and roundtable discussions and presentations by faculty and undergraduate and graduate students on research and topics important to social scientists and the community. Topics ranged from culturally relevant teaching/learning techniques to voter education and mobilization and immigration reform, among others. It also offered continuing professional educational workshops for teachers and legal professionals and police officers.

Participating in the Seventh Annual Research Conference of UTPA's College of Social and Behavioral Sciences(CSBS)were left to right Dr. Robert S. Nelsen, UTPA president; Dr. Jessica Lavariega Monforti,CSBS assistant dean and conference chair; keynote speaker Kati Haycock, president, The Education Trust; Dr. Amy Weimer, associate professor of psychology and conference program chair; Dr. Havidán Rodríguez, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs; and Dr. Walter Diaz, CSBS dean.
In a panel presentation on Friday, April 12, Associate Professor of Psychology Darrin Rogers and his Border Experiences Project research team of students led a discussion on their findings regarding sexual aggression, sexual abuse, and victimization.

"We don't have any information suggesting that these incidences are higher in the Valley than anywhere else but the frequency is disturbingly high everywhere in the world where it has been measured. Depending on how you measure, anywhere between one in four or three women will report that they have been sexually assaulted or abused, and somewhere between about one in 10 and about one in five men will report that they have been sexually assaulted or abused. This is an epidemic level," Rogers said.

He said the research experience and the opportunities to present their research are invaluable for students in psychology, many of whom go on to graduate school.

"This conference allows them to get the information out to an academic audience and sometimes this is their first step before trying to be published in an academic journal," he said. "Social sciences study things that are really important to people, sometimes very controversial and emotional issues. This is a local conference but it has some very high quality information being presented."

Kati Haycock, president of The Education Trust, gave the conference's closing keynote address.

During the conference, Milan Dhir, a graduate student in psychology, shared her research findings about the mental health perspective on mass shootings with Christian Velazquez, a senior and vice president of UTPA's chapter of the Psi Chi honor society in psychology. The research conference was held April 11-13 at UTPA.
Haycock,whose organization is one of the leading advocates in the field of education, particularly for low income students and students of color, talked about the status of access and opportunity to higher education in the United States.

She said despite the changing demographics in the United States, similar to minority majority statistics in Texas and California, the practices of educating minority and low income children have not changed and is a serious problem both to the country's economic competitiveness and its democracy.

"We tell a lot of stories about who we are as a country - it is a land of opportunity, it's a place where if you are born poor, if you work hard you can become anything you want to be - and that's just no longer true. It's actually easier in most other developed countries to have a better life than the ones your parents had than it is in the U.S. right now. That's a pretty scary thing for those people who love their country and want it to live up to its ideals," she said.

Haycock said government policies need to change to provide more financial support to improve K-12 education and opportunities to go to college but that higher education institutions also need to step up.

"Colleges need to do their part in taking the responsibility in looking at where they spend their institutional financial aid money, and, once students are in college, help them more to succeed," she said.

For more information on the programs offered in the UTPA College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, go to their website.