Undergraduate researchers find mentorship through independent projects

Undergraduate research is a key component of an empowered education at Grand Valley, as it provides students with opportunities to build skills and knowledge in their disciplines that will help them succeed in their future careers.

Some students work with a faculty member on their current research projects; other students develop an independent project of their own and are guided by a faculty member. 

Louis Cousino, Arieal Jackson and Brooke Hoyt shared the independent research they conducted with guidance and mentorship from Anna Hammersmith, associate professor of sociology. They said Hammersmith's expertise in sociology and passion for her students has provided them with the necessary tools to succeed in these projects.

“She's the best at directing students towards what they are interested in, and I am extremely grateful for her,” Hoyt said.

The Office of Undergraduate Research and Scholarship lists tips and suggestions for students who are interested in research.

Louis Cousino holds a microphone while seated on stage with another person under an arch of balloons
Louis Cousino speaks about his research during a November event that celebrated first-generation college students.
Image credit - Kendra Stanley-Mills

Louis Cousino: The Value of First-Generation College Students

Louis Cousino said the mentorship he received from faculty members has been the most valuable aspect of this project.

“There's independent research, there's working in a group in a lab with the professor, but in every case, the huge benefit is that mentorship,” he said.

Cousino is a native of Toledo, Ohio; he is a sociology major and an applied statistics minor. His inspiration for a research project came from his own demographic as a first-generation college student.

Cousino’s research looked to highlight the value that first-generation students bring to universities like Grand Valley. He conducted interviews with first-generation students to find their strengths. His faculty mentor was Rachel Campbell, associate professor of sociology.

 “A lot of the past literature has, at the very least, implied that first-generation college students are deficient,” said Cousino. “That doesn't mean there's something wrong with these students. It means to me that they have been put in a position where they may have to work a little harder to succeed."

Cousino was among the panelists at the November 8 First-Generation College Celebration. He said these experiences will help prepare him for his plan to pursue a doctoral degree in sociology.

Psychology Major, Sociology Minor, Arieal Jackson, sits in the Seidman House Nov. 29. Arieal is an undergraduate student scholar who worked on a research project about the effects of children who live in households where their parents are unhappily married. (Photo by Amanda Pitts)
Arieal Jackson is pictured in the Seidman House. The psychology major researched the impact of divorce on children.
Image credit - Amanda Pitts

Arieal Jackson: How does divorce impact a child's well-being?

“Lots of parents are staying together in happy marriages ‘for the kids,’ but how many are actually thinking about the kids?" Arieal Jackson asked. "Is it beneficial for the children to grow up in this environment versus just going through their parents' divorce? 

"That was what I was trying to solve.” 

Jackson graduated from University Preparatory High School in Grand Rapids in 2020. She is majoring in psychology with a minor in sociology. 

Jackson said she interviewed students whose parents divorced before they were 16, adding the research has given her a vast insight into the sociology of divorce, including how young females and males experience divorce differently.

She gave a presentation on this topic in late October at the Michigan Sociological Association Conference, held at the Eberhard Center.

The qualitative data Jackson collected was, of course, very personal to her research subjects. 

"I took what they said with grace, listened to everything they had to say, and was happy that they believed I was a safe person they could share their experience with,” she said.

Biomedical Sciences major Brooke Hoyt is an undergraduate research scholar who worked on a research project about healthcare systems around the world, comparing it to the United States system. November 17, 2023. (Photo by Amanda Pitts)
Biomedical sciences major Brooke Hoyt wants to be a physician and said that is what spurred her research project on health care access.
Image credit - Amanda Pitts

Brooke Hoyt: Evaluating changes to health care in the U.S.

Brooke Hoyt is majoring in biomedical sciences with a minor in sociology. The Gull Lake High School graduate hopes to be a physician and said that is what led to her research on the sociology of health care.

I know there are people who cannot get the care they need. After learning more about it, it became really frustrating to me, ” Hoyt said. “I was interested in the social aspects of health care and decided to explore access to care.” 

Hoyt spent much of her time researching the health care systems of other countries and comparing results to the United States. 

“We spend more of our gross domestic product in the U.S. on health expenses than any other comparable countries, but our outcomes and quality of care tend to be lower,” she said.

Hoyt said she hopes that her continued analysis may find reforms for U.S. health care and measure how those reforms might be received by the public. 

Hoyt also presented this research at the Michigan Sociological Association Conference.

Thomas Garrett is a student writer for University Communications. Garrett, a native of Stevensville, is a senior who is majoring in writing.


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