When Hannah and Rachel Stapleford recently tested the balance and coordination of student-athletes at Amelia County High School, some of whom have had concussions, they weren’t looking for future MVPs. They were launching a research effort that ultimately may enhance the safety of young athletes.

The Longwood University athletic training majors and Dr. Meg Thompson, director of Longwood’s athletic training program, collected data in a pilot study on concussions among high-school athletes. Thompson plans to continue the study, include other schools and use the results to provide guidance enabling athletes to safely return to action after a concussion.

The Stapleford sisters, who are twins, were among the inaugural participants in a Longwood summer research initiative for students.

The Summer Undergraduate Research and Inquiry (SURI) program pairs students and faculty in an eight-week intensive partnership. SURI is similar to Longwood’s Perspectives on Research in Science and Mathematics (PRISM) program but with a focus on the humanities rather than STEM disciplines. Half of the student’s time is spent on his or her own research, the other half on the faculty member’s research.

Five students, along with three faculty mentors, conducted research in this summer’s SURI pilot, which ended July 14. Funding for next year, when the first full version of the program will be offered, can accommodate up to 14 students and 14 faculty members.

"The humanities faculty are excited about SURI and are looking for more opportunities to work with students in ways that fit their disciplines," said Dr. Crystal Anderson, director of the Office of Student Research.

As with PRISM, which started in 2013, students in SURI projects receive a $3,500 stipend in addition to room and board for the duration of the eight-week program. The program is open to any undergraduate who is not eligible for PRISM. Both programs evolved from Longwood’s commitment to providing high-level undergraduate research opportunities to undergraduates.

"Having our own mini research group turned what's usually a solitary effort into a shared experience. And when we hit the inevitable research snags, we did so together."

Dr. Renee Gutiérrez

In addition to Rachel and Hannah Stapleford, rising seniors from Henrico, the other students who participated in the pilot were Caroline Crane ’18, of Orange, majoring in teaching English as a second language; Meghan Enzinna ’17, a communication studies major from Falls Church; and Akim Mansaray ’18, a choral music major from Midlothian.

Crane and Mansaray helped Dr. Renee Gutiérrez, assistant professor of Spanish, with coding responses on a survey she uses as an early warning diagnostic tool in the Spanish 201 course. Crane also did coding work on the professor’s study into whether writing homework assignments by hand, instead of doing them digitally, improves grades.

In her solo project, Crane prepared a survey she plans to give this fall at the local immigration detention center, where she again will teach English, on the motivation of English-language learners. Mansaray studied how colleges and universities evaluate music majors at the midpoint of their college career.

"Working with students and exchanging ideas was intellectually stimulating," said Gutiérrez. "Akim and Caroline asked questions that had me rethinking how to frame my research, and they brought in excellent ideas. Having our own mini research group turned what's usually a solitary effort into a shared experience. And when we hit the inevitable research snags, we did so together."

Enzinna assisted Dr. Laura Farrell, assistant professor of communication studies, with her ongoing research on learning styles, conducted through observations of human-equine interactions. In her own research, Enzinna studied how museums operate and how zoos handle crisis communications involving serious attacks by animals.

"SURI allowed me to combine all of my passions—research, working with students and horses—in a creative way," said Farrell, whose research involving horses is done through a nonprofit she started, Unbridled Communication Research. "The program gave us the flexibility and support to do this research."

Thompson, who works part time as an athletic trainer at Amelia County High School, has a longtime interest in concussions, which are common among high-school athletes and not limited to just football players, she said.

"I hope to do a multiyear project with several school divisions that ultimately may help prevent serious and potentially life-threatening brain injury," she said of her research.

The students who participated in this summer’s SURI pilot learned not only about their topics but also about the research process.

"I learned how much work goes into research even before you get the participants and can start collecting data," said Hannah Stapleford. "I was going into this blind; I had never done research before. Because of this experience, Rachel and I feel like we’re prepared for the research class we’re taking this fall."

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