2020-2021 VPR Research & Creative Grants Awardees

Su Yeong Kim, Associate Professor, Human Ecology
COVID-19 Stress Profiles, Stress Responses, and Health in Mexican American Emerging Adults

The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified the socio-cultural stressors and health disparities facing Mexican Americans. It is critical to capture how stressors related to COVID-19 may potentially alter their health trajectories, as periods of developmental transition and environmental uncertainty provide opportunities to examine how changes in health trajectories take shape. Three waves of data on adolescents, collected from early to late adolescence before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, will be linked to two additional waves of online data collected after the onset of COVID-19. We first examine the impact of COVID-19 stress profiles on health outcomes. We then test how COVID-19 related stress profiles influence stress responses, both behaviorally and physiologically, to influence health outcomes. Further, we propose to test whether the associations from COVID-19 stress profiles to stress responses to health outcomes are exacerbated or mitigated through various moderators.

Alan Kuperman, Associate Professor, LBJ School of Public Affairs
Preventing Violent Conflict: Lessons for Bureaucrats

Since the end of the Cold War, the academic field of Conflict Management – aimed at preventing and mitigating violent civil conflict – has flourished, revealing important insights. Regrettably, much of this wisdom has yet to be incorporated by foreign-policy bureaucracies. As a result, diplomatic and foreign-assistance efforts often miss opportunities for peacefully managing foreign conflicts, or even worse may exacerbate those conflicts. This project aims to bridge the gap by researching how bureaucrats utilize existing guidance and then developing improved training materials for them. The research will be conducted by the P.I. and six graduate students at the LBJ School, and it has three components: (1) gleaning lessons from the academic literature on managing violent conflict; (2) analyzing existing bureaucratic tools for conflict assessment; and (3) interviewing foreign-policy bureaucrats about their utilization of these tools and their training in conflict management. The output will be two main products: a handbook and curriculum for bureaucrats.

Cristine Legare, Professor, Psychology
Examining Variation in Beliefs about COVID-19 within Texas

The COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented global event that is affecting billions of people.
Misinformation about COVID-19-related topics is widely available online despite fact-checking resources that aim to prevent disseminating inaccurate information. Texas has the third-highest number of reported COVID-19 cases (over 600,000), and recent demographic growth within Texas has contributed to increasing political and cultural diversity. The proposal aims to understand: 1) the sources of information people consume and trust about COVID-19, 2) the kinds of information people use when explaining the cause, spread, prevention, and treatment of COVID-19, and 3) how information impacts health-related knowledge, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. Survey data will be collected from adults throughout Texas. We will examine regional differences in information seeking and reasoning about COVID-19. Our data will help inform future national and international research on knowledge and practices relevant to preventing the spread of COVID-19.

Beili Liu, Professor, Art and Art History
The Tie That Binds: Sculptural Exploration of Migrant Experiences

The VPR Research & Creative Grant will support research and creative activities for a large-scale, site-specific installation and performance, The Tie That Binds, which calls attention to the ongoing migrant children crisis, resulted from the “Zero Tolerance” Family Separation policy. Since its implementation by ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) in April 2018, thousands of migrant children have been separated from their parents and detained at the Southern border of the United States. Two and a half years later, despite various legal battles and advocacy efforts, children have continued to be separated and locked away in crowded detention centers; their fate is unknown especially in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Tie That Binds focuses on the migrant experience, motherhood, trauma and healing.

Julie Maslowsky, Associate Professor, Kinesiology and Health Education
Development of the Brief Assessment of Adolescent Contraceptive Preferences (BRAC-P)

In the United States, a teenager becomes a mother every three minutes. The vast majority of teenage births are unintended, however most sexually active adolescents in the US use no or moderately effective contraception (e.g. condoms). A primary means of preventing unintended births to teenage mothers is to provide developmentally tailored, culturally appropriate, and comprehensive education regarding contraception. However, contraceptive counseling as typically implemented is not developmentally tailored to adolescents, limiting its ability to connect adolescents with the most appropriate contraceptive method for them. This project will create a brief screening tool that can be administered prior to the clinical encounter to help direct the clinician’s conversation with the patient toward the dimensions of contraception that are most important to her, which will allow the provider and patient to choose the best method for that patient. It will provide preliminary data for a planned NIH R01 submission.

Smilja Milovanovic-Bertram, Associate Professor, School of Architecture
Lina Bo Bardi: Lessons from Displacement

The 2020-2021 RCG will provide essential resources to develop my project, Lina Bo Bardi: Lessons from Displacement, as a public exhibition and catalog. The project presents the work of Italian-born Brazilian architect Lina Bo Bardi (1914-1992) as a design case study in cultural identity and conceptual displacement. Her wartime experiences in Italy framed her outlook regarding modernism and vernacular architecture, but the paradigm shift of living and working in Brazil allowed her, as a woman and outsider, to become a truly Brazilian architect and agent of social change. Her Brazil period, focused on a unique evolution of adaptive re-use and sustainability as intrinsic components of modern architectural design. The exhibit will promote awareness of the role of women architects and cultural identity in architectural design.

Michael Parent, Assistant Professor, Educational Psychology
Anabolic Steroid Use and Intimate Relationship Violence Among Sexual Minority Men

Sexual minority men demonstrate elevations in the use of anabolic-androgenic steroids. These substances facilitate the development of muscularity, but may also facilitate anger in response to conflict, including in intimate partner violence (IPV). The goal of this study is to understand how abuse of anabolic-androgenic steroids may influence IPV within sexual minority men’s relationships.

Rajka Smiljanic, Professor, Linguistics
Effect of Protective Face Masks on Audio-Visual Word Recognition and Memory for Native and Non-Native Speakers

Though necessary, protective mask wearing in response to the COVID-19 pandemic presents communication challenges. Speech produced through these masks is quieter, muffled, and lacks important visual cues for listeners. In a series of experiments, we examine how such signal degradation and loss of visual information affect intelligibility and auditory memory. Native and non-native speakers and listeners of English will participate in production and perception tasks. This will allow us to test how language proficiency affects production and understanding of masked speech. Finally, we test whether speakers can alleviate some perceptual difficulty for masked speech by producing a listener-oriented hyper-articulated clear speaking style. The results will allow us to quantify speech communication challenges arising from the widespread use of protective face masks. The findings will have implications for communication in classrooms and hospitals where listeners worldwide have to understand teachers and healthcare providers, oftentimes non-native speakers, through their protective barriers.

Jessica Toste, Associate Professor, Special Education
Understanding Pathways to Resilience and Self-Determination for Secondary Students with Disabilities Amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic

Students with disabilities experience pronounced inequities in the education system that are being amplified by the COVID-19 crisis. There is an opportunity to better understand the individual strengths students with disabilities exhibit—rather than focus solely on heightened risks—to inform ongoing and future supports. The central aim of this mixed methods study is to give voice to secondary students with disabilities in describing pathways to resilience amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. This work is situated within an ecological model of resilience that recognizes the complex interactions between individual attributes, systems of support, and context; and further examines the role of self-determination, a critical outcome for students with disabilities. Self-determination is essential to resilience given evidence that trauma undermines essential psychological needs. Participants will include 50 secondary students with disabilities, recruited from across the United States. Data collection will occur at two time points: an initial session during remote instruction, and a follow-up session upon return to in-person instruction. Each session will involve a semi-structured interview and measures of relevant constructs.

Rachel Wellhausen, Associate Professor, Government
Weaponizing Waste: How Developing Countries Use Garbage Imports for Political Advantage

Today, developed countries regularly export their post-consumer waste to developing countries. It has become clear that large amounts of this imported trash cannot be cost-effectively recycled, and more and more developed country waste is polluting developing country environments. This trade is invisible in most official trade statistics, and global governance efforts are falling short. Instead, developing countries are taking the situation into their own hands, by taxing or banning waste imports. We hypothesize that protectionist threats allow developing countries to “weaponize waste” – that is, to use their power as the monopsonist (i.e., only buyer) in the industry to increase bargaining power over developed countries. To test our hypothesis, we are collecting the first database of waste-trade protectionist policy and testing whether developing countries’ role in this unappealing trade might nonetheless have an upside by increasing their power in international relations.

Hsin-Chih “Tim” Yeh, Associate Professor, Biomedical Engineering
Fluorescence Lifetime Imaging of Lung Organoids for Cancer Drug Screening

Lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer-related death in men and women in the United States. While epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) inhibitors have become effective adjuvant agents for lung cancer chemotherapy treatment, resistance to EGFR inhibitors can occur by activation of various molecules in different cancer cells, rendering the identification of an effective treatment for resistant tumors complicated. Optimal treatment strategies to target these resilient tumor cells for individual patient can be formulated based on the rapid drug testing among patient-derived organoids, thus leading to reduced treatment toxicity and prolong patients’ survival. To this end, this research proposal aims to develop a high-speed organoid functional imaging tool that can monitor the dynamic changes of organoid’s metabolic states under EGFR inhibitor treatment. Our goal is to use the developed tool to identify patients that will benefit from particular drug treatments within a clinically meaningful time frame.

Julie Zuniga, Assistant Professor, School of Nursing
Updating the Diabetes Knowledge Questionnaire for English- and Spanish- Speaking People with Diabetes

In the US, approximately 34.2 million people have diabetes with a steadily increasing prevalence. In 1993, nurse researchers at The University of Texas led by Professor (now Emeritus) Sharon Brown developed the Diabetes Knowledge Questionnaire (DKQ) to measure patients’ knowledge about diabetes and how to manage it. In 1998, after psychometric testing, it was shortened from 64 items to 24. That version of the DKQ has been cited over 324 times and translated into over 30 languages, used by clinicians, in dissertations, and researchers throughout the world. The DKQ is most often used to measure changes in patients’ knowledge about diabetes before and after receiving diabetes self-management education.

However, in the last 30 years, there have been many changes and advances in diabetes management and several of the questions on the DKW are no longer appropriate or an accurate assessment of patients’ knowledge of diabetes and how to care for it. No other diabetes knowledge questionnaires have been developed that are reliable, valid, easy to administer, and appropriate for people with low literacy levels. Therefore, the purpose of this study is to update the DKQ and test its psychometric properties with English and Spanish-speaking people with diabetes.

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