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Innovation[X] 2022-2023 Projects

LAUNCH is proud to announce the following projects have been selected for the Innovation[X] Program grants for 2022-2023, through the generous donations of the Texas A&M Foundation and Texas A&M University.

  • Big Data Fusion for the Development of Intelligent Geospatial Digital Twin (IGDT)
  • Can’t Beat the Heat: Mitigation of Heat-Related Illness during the COVID19 Pandemic in Texas Prisons
  • Characterizing the Health Impacts of Hazardous Chemical Exposures in the Workplace Among Asian American Workers in Texas
  • Design for Safer and Better Care: Evidence-Based and Technology-Infused Strategies to Improve Safety and Quality of Life for Nursing Home Residents
  • Developing Inclusive AR/VR Environments for People with Disabilities: Leveraging Multi-Sensory Immersive Technology and Machine Learning
  • Developing Modular Open System Architecture for Growable Space Habitats with Closed-Loop Engineered Living Components
  • Farmers Fight (in Botswana)II! Engineering Solutions for Coexistence Between Livestock and Cheetahs, Lions, Wild Dogs, and Leopards
  • Innovation on Real-Time Characterizing and Modeling of Airborne Microplastic Particles
  • Lights Out Texas: Team Based Approach to Integrating University Research with Citizen Science Conservation Efforts
  • Transformational Education: Critical Inquiry, Engaged Citizenship, and the Philosophy for Children Initiative
Project Summaries 22-23 Student Application
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Innovation[X] Virtual Poster Gallery

Each year we ask our Innovation[X] Teams to summarize their hard work into research posters to showcase their progress and highlight their cross-campus collaborations. Visit our virtual poster gallery to learn more about each Innovation[X] project and their exciting progress.

Virtual Poster Gallery

Innovation[X] 2022-2023 Projects

Through generous support from the Texas A&M Foundation and Texas A&M University, Innovation[X] is proud to release the names of the 10 projects to be sponsored in the 2022-23 academic year. Learn more about each project below.

Big Data Fusion for the Development of Intelligent Geospatial Digital Twin (IGDT)

Project Contact: Dr. Paul Koola, Professor of Practice, Ocean Engineering, Engineering – Galveston
Email: paulmkoola@tamu.edu

Project Title: Big Data Fusion for the Development of Intelligent Geospatial Digital Twin (IGDT)

Team Leaders:

  • Dr. Paul Koola, Professor of Practice, Ocean Engineering, Engineering – Galveston, paulmkoola@tamu.edu
  • Dr. Lei Zou, Assistant Professor, Geography, Arts & Sciences (Geosciences), lzou@tamu.edu

Departments Represented:
Geography, Ocean Engineering.

Units Represented:
Engineering – Galveston, Arts & Sciences (Geosciences)

External Organizations Represented:
The United States Army Corps of Engineers

Mini Description:
With modern satellite imagery, sensor feeds, distributed computing, and networking capabilities, it is possible to curate data to visualize and understand the implications of our anthropogenic behavior. The main goal of this project is to build a Digital Twin of a geographic region based on the fusion of different kinds of data across space and time – an Intelligent Geospatial Digital Twin (IGDT). This project will provide opportunities for students to work between two campuses and across colleges providing real-world experiences in managing and working in virtual teams across the globe.

Student Team Member Spots:
12 (10 UG, 2 Grad)

Background:
With modern satellite imagery, sensor feeds, distributed computing, and networking capabilities, it is possible to curate data to visualize and understand the implications of our anthropogenic behavior. The main goal of this project is to build a Digital Twin of a geographic region based on the fusion of different kinds of data across space and time – an Intelligent Geospatial Digital Twin (IGDT) Data collection is often siloed and is funded for different purposes. As we teach in systems engineering, combining and fusing data can produce a value greater than the sum of its parts. Data collection and curation are expensive. However, publicly shared curated datasets have a value greater than what was initially intended. For example, ImageNet helped transition Neural Nets to Deep Learning, and machines beat humans at object recognition and other cognitive tasks. Error minimization is one essential dimension of learning and hence intelligence. Distributed error correction is even more powerful and makes technologies such as autonomous driving feasible. Humans are not as good at digesting vast amounts of data as interconnected machines; hence, it is our interest to augment ourselves with these cognitive machines by feeding these machines with well-curated data. Educating the next generation of students requires teaching these concepts and providing hands-on experience for better knowledge retention and generating future ideas. Satellite imagery is critical to understanding global changes. Distributed Internet of Things (IoT) sensors are good at capturing high-resolution data at specific points. The fusion of these two types of data will provide a value greater than the sum of its parts. Commensurate and non-commensurate data fusion offers different views of a problem we want to study. While the benefits of data fusion techniques are well known, our goal in this project is to tackle a specific domain given the budget and time constraints. Houston and its suburbs are growing rapidly. If we pave roads and construct buildings, water seepage and hence outflow into the oceans will get affected, as was experienced during Hurricane Harvey. Our goal is to form a team that could curate satellite imagery with point measurements of water levels across space and time for the same region. Hyperspectral imagery can differentiate different areas such as water, soil, concrete, etc. Combined with topographic data, we should be able to study how land use has changed over time. The ultimate goal is to build Digital Twin models for a geographic region given changes to topography. But the first step is to build a processing pipeline that can integrate the different kinds of data required to understand the implications of our altering the landscape and make this data available as a resource to future researchers.

Goals:
The ultimate goal for this project is to train the next generation of students in an interdisciplinary setting to curate data across multiple modalities thereby producing a realistic Digital Twin and teaching them the value of collaborative teamwork while simultaneously thinking very long term. This effort will
involve collaboration across two campuses, College Station and Galveston, which should simulate location constraints similar to what students will experience when they graduate. Other goals are:
1. Develop a geographic urban digital twin model for a chosen region.
2. Understand and stay abreast of the current trends in the convergence of geospatial big data using cloud infrastructure and its fusion with artificial intelligence and high-performance computing to map and analyze our planet. We have to pay attention to data heterogeneity (vector, raster, time-series, 3D data, spectral data) and the fact that it is difficult to move large data sets across platforms. Learn to collect multimodal data such as hyperspectral satellite imagery, topographic data, hydrologic data, etc., for a specific region across space and time. This goal intends to understand the issues related to incomplete, varying density, and missing data across different sensors and registering data over space and time. This goal will also involve producing a data pipeline that can automate future data additions. We will curate and document this data with meta information not individually available from these independent sources.
3. Research, teach, and implement a GeoAI system that could provide breakthroughs for science, policy, and national security based on insights into how we alter our planet and its environment over time. We have multiple courses taught at Texas A&M that can leverage this dataset and experience generated.
4. Create a process whereby users of this data can collaborate in a distributed manner across locations, making the data set helpful for other applications not thought about initially when this project started. Generate new features by combing and fusing collected data to form the basis for new applications. Consciously make aware and track and record potential biases in data that could arise and flag possible scenarios to make the data more robust for future potential uses.
5. Attempt if this curated data is generalizable and scalable across another region. Attempt if this knowledge acquisition process and pipeline are scalable for similar problems.
6. Identify partners external to this project to obtain more significant funding for reaching diverse communities to explore the data in ways that have not been considered before. The US Army Corp of Engineers (USACE) has agreed to give us their expertise to help with this project.

Outcomes:
The primary outcomes of this project envisaged are:
1. Data Sharing: Create a curated multimodal GeoAI data set that can be shared through our Texas A&M Library Data sharing program – The Texas Data Repository (TDR).
2. Publications: We expect to publish the data collection framework and processes in journals like the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE), supporting active learning and project-based learning. Other journals where the analysis will be published are high-impact journals such as Global Environmental Change and Annals of the American Association of Geographers. We will also submit a data-oriented article describing the data collection, processing, and application to the journal Big Earth Data.
3. Application: The data and processing platform developed will be open-source, mainly using open-source tools and programming languages such as Python, facilitating broader access to researchers, policy groups, and citizen scientists.
4. Vertical Integration in Education: We will use a mix of undergraduates and graduates across two campuses and multiple departments to collaborate on this project. Students will participate in data collection, tagging, and curating data. In the following step, students will learn to use data pipelines to build preliminary models to analyze the data for changes to land use and its resulting implications. This activity will mesh well with the currently taught courses in Ocean Engineering namely OCEN 460/660 Data Science and OCEN 689 Integrated Ocean Systems. We will also introduce this project in courses offered in the Department of Geography, including GEOG 391/659 GeoDatabases, GEOG392/676 GIS Programming, GEOG 476 GIS Practicum, GEOG 651 Remote Sensing, and GEOG 695 Frontiers in GeoScience. These can be expanded to other departments and faculty who are interested in data science and courses that teach anthropogenic issues.
5. Social Impacts: Next, we will strengthen our partnerships with the US Army Corp of Engineers (USACE), the Department of Interior, FEMA etc. to broaden the scope and use of this curated data. USACE is already onboard. This collaboration will enable students to listen to domain experts outside academia and expand their efforts to cater to a future they have to inherit. Currently, both PIs are the affiliated faculty of the Texas A&M Institute of Data Science and they met through the coffee connection program that made this collaboration possible. Co-PI Dr. Lei Zou is also a faculty fellow at TAMU Hazard Reduction and Recovery Center. We will share the research outcomes with the two institutes to broaden their potential impacts. We hope the external partnership will help bring in viewpoints from the very people affected by the changes we make to our environment.

Benefit to Students:
Students will gain experience with a shared research goal where individual contributions will add up to form an integrated fused data set that could be used to study a diverse set of questions. Those students interested in data analysis will get to work on algorithms and analysis and generate reports and
eventually papers for publication.

What would be the ideal composition of team members for this project? What majors, disciplines, skills, backgrounds, or perspectives would you like to have on the team?
The ideal composition would consist of one grad student each on each campus leading 5 undergraduates on each campus. The basic skills expected are IT competency to identify download and archive the required data. Data analytics and processing will be performed by those advanced to do so or by
graduate students.

Preferred software, program, or machine expertise:
We will use open-source tools and TAMU authorized shared drives to store data and HPRC for high-end computations. Low-level data collection and processing will be carried out on computers purchased for this specific project.

What process or guidelines will determine which students are being paid (undergraduate, graduate, etc.) and which aren’t, along with estimates of amounts and methods (hourly, end of semester, etc.).
Undergraduates ($10/Hr) and graduates ($15/Hr) get different pay rates for their knowledge. We intend to have 10 undergraduates for 98 hours each totaling $9800 and 2 graduate students for 200 hours each totaling $6000. Please see the budget. While students get paid by the hour,
they will be linked to the amount of data curated after standardizing time to curate a fixed amount of data. Students in the data science course can use these data sets for their projects if they so choose.

Will the project require travel?
Not for all students. A few will travel to conferences in Texas Spring 2023.

Can't Beat the Heat: Mitigation of Heat-Related Illness During the COVID-19 Pandemic in Texas Prisons

Project Contact: Dr. Benika Dixon, Visiting Assistant Professor, Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Public Health
Email: benikad@tamu.edu

Project Title: Can’t Beat the Heat: Mitigation of Heat-Related Illness During the COVID-19 Pandemic in Texas Prisons

Team Leaders:

  • Dr. Benika Dixon, Visiting Assistant Professor, Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Public Health, benikad@tamu.edu
  • Dr. Michelle Meyer, Associate Professor, Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning, Architecture; Director, Hazard Reduction and Recovery Center, mmeyer@arch.tamu.edu
  • Dr. Carlee Purdum, Research Assistant Professor, Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning, Architecture; Hazard Reduction and Recovery Center, jcarleepurdum@tamu.edu

Team Contributors:

  • Dr. Troy Harden, Director, Race and Ethnic Studies Institute (RESI); Professor of Practice, Sociology, Arts & Sciences (Liberal Arts), tharden@tamu.edu  

Departments Represented:
Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Hazard Reduction and Recovery Center, Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning, RESI, Sociology.

Units Represented:
Architecture, Arts & Sciences (Liberal Arts), Public Health

External Organizations Represented:
Texas Prisons Community Advocates (TCPA)

Mini Description:
COMING SOON

Student Team Member Spots: 
13 (8 UG, 3 Grad, 2 Professional or Doctoral)

Background:
Rising temperatures and increasing extreme heat events from climate change are disproportionately devastating to vulnerable populations, including incarcerated persons. Texas is one of thirteen states in the U.S. that does not have universal air-conditioning in state prisons. Although 87 percent of households in the U.S. use air-conditioning equipment, only 30 percent of Texas prison units are fully air-conditioned. The lack of air-conditioning is especially important with temperatures inside Texas units having been shown to regularly reach 110 degrees and in at least one unit topped 149 degrees. A minimum of 23 documented heat-related deaths of incarcerated people have been recorded by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) since 1998 with at least ten incarcerated people dying in the 2011 heat wave alone. In 2018, at least 79 incarcerated people and prison staff members reported experiencing heat exhaustion or heat stroke between January and October. In the midst of annual extreme temperatures, incarcerated people have also experienced an ongoing pandemic which has disproportionately impacted prisons and those that live and work within them. The COVID-19 pandemic has magnified the racial disparities and healthcare vulnerabilities that exist in the criminal justice system.
Similar to what has occurred across the nation, The COVID-19 pandemic converged with extreme heat in Texas prisons exacerbating the vulnerability of incarcerated persons to illness and death. As of March 11, 2022, there have been 579,915 COVID-19 cases and 2,854 deaths among incarcerated persons (COVID Prison Project, 2022). Throughout the pandemic, Texas has had disproportionately high rates of illness and death from COVID-19 among incarcerated people compared to other states. As of March 2022, TDCJ has identified 85 presumed COVID deaths (21,616 positive tests) among staff members and 233 confirmed COVID deaths (44, 714 positive tests) among incarcerated people (TDCJ, 2022). The overlapping hazards of extreme temperatures and COVID-19 have impacted the way communities prepare for, cope with, and respond to extreme events. Older individuals and those with underlying health conditions such as heart diseases, obesity, and respiratory diseases are at increased risk for both heat related illness and COVID-19. While some studies have illuminated the devastating impact of COVID-19 to incarcerated persons, and others have focused on the ways in which COVID-19 magnifies risks to people and infrastructure associated with extreme temperatures, none have examined this interplay among incarcerated persons.

Goals:
This project aims to understand (1) how the converging hazards of extreme heat and COVID-19 have impacted the health and well-being of incarcerated persons, (2) how hazard mitigation strategies are impacted by the pandemic and the implementation of COVID-19 public health protocols. This study will build on an existing partnership with the Texas Prisons Community Advocates (TPCA) – a nonprofit organization that, “educates and supports family members, incarcerated individuals and others by connecting them to organizational resources, encouraging awareness, and advocacy for the advancement of humane conditions within the Texas Prisons.”. Through this incredibly valuable relationship with TPCA previously established by Dr. Purdum and Dr. Dixon, this team will have access to unique and valuable data, including the perspectives from incarcerated persons who are routinely overlooked in research processes and outcomes. TPCA has recently partnered with Dr. Carlee Purdum and Dr. Benika Dixon to individually study the impact of extreme temperatures and COVID-19 in Texas prisons. The organization has established a data-sharing agreement with Dr.’s Purdum and Dixon to share surveys and letters previously collected as well as those from future collections. The surveys and letters collected by TPCA relate to the experiences of incarcerated persons with extreme heat in Texas prisons and how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted their experiences. TPCA has also agreed to share additional data including hourly data on temperatures and heat index data for Texas prisons from 2018-2022. Dr.’s Purdum and Dixon have already received this data for the years 2019 and 2020 from TPCA and have begun cleaning this data in anticipation of receiving funds to support analysis efforts. Our interdisciplinary team is uniquely equipped to conduct qualitative and quantitative analysis of the data in terms of the implications of our findings for public health, emergency management, geography, sociology and criminal justice. We will work together to analyze the data using our respective expertise and skill sets. Our first objective is to analyze the surveys previously collected by TPCA (2018-2021) which include both quantitative and qualitative data. These surveys reflect questions relating to experience with heat in Texas prisons, access to mitigating resources (water, showers, cooled respite areas, etc.), experience with prison infrastructure (water systems, fans, blowers, air-conditioning), and experience of heat within the context of work assignments. In addition to survey data, we will analyze temperature data which includes hourly temperature and humidity recordings for all Texas prisons as recorded by TDCJ. In the years of 2018 and 2019, TDCJ was only required to record temperatures outside of the prisons. Beginning in 2022, this data will be recorded inside and outside of units.

Outcomes:
This project will generate new knowledge about how two converging hazards (extreme heat and COVID-19) have impacted incarcerated persons in Texas prisons and how heat mitigation efforts have been impacted by the pandemic. Our stakeholders include policy makers, incarcerated persons, family members of incarcerated persons, and community members. Outcomes of this project will include: -Coauthor and publish public reports with TPCA on our findings to be used by policy makers, incarcerated persons, family members of incarcerated persons, and loved ones. -Sharing our findings through peer reviewed publications and conference presentations relevant in the fields of public health, emergency management, urban planning, geography, criminal justice and sociology. -Students will produce materials using the story-mapping feature of Arc.GIS to help communicate our findings online as guided by input from TPCA – Taking our findings directly to the people by participating in TPCA community outreach events attended by policy makers, formerly incarcerated persons, family members with incarcerated loved ones, and other interested community members where we will present our research in the form of research posters and presentations led by students. -Seek out additional external funding to support our ongoing research efforts.

Benefit to Students:
Students will gain extensive and unique research and community engagement experience, particularly in relation to working with a vulnerable population. Students will learn essential interdisciplinary concepts, techniques, and skills within the fields of hazards research representing public health, sociology, urban planning, and geography. Specific experiences students will benefit from in this project: Conducting research with a vulnerable population. All students will take human subjects research training through the university to be trained on research protections for vulnerable populations, including incarcerated persons. Learning to use analysis software. Students will learn to use analysis software packages including Atlas.ti, and STATA or SAS to analyze letters and survey data from incarcerated persons about their experiences with COVID19 and extreme heat. Students will also learn to use the story-mapping feature of Arc.GIS to create public materials for stakeholders including the general public and for TPCA about different project outcomes. Experience with professional writing and publication. Undergraduate students will participate in the writing of our team’s public reports and creating public materials (storymaps) while graduate students will participate in co-authoring peer-reviewed publications and conference papers. Participating in Community Engagement. Students will have the opportunity to participate and practice community engagement by conducting regular meetings with members and leadership of TPCA and by volunteering at public “Beat the Heat ” events hosted by TPCA educating members of the public about the impacts of extreme temperatures and COVID19 to incarcerated people. These meetings will include getting feedback from stakeholders as well as presenting our findings and materials such as the student created storymaps. Professional development and mentorship. Students will have the opportunity to grow their professional networks. Students will be invited to participate in regular luncheons hosted by the Department of Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning’s Hazard Reduction and Recovery Center to help students to grow their professional network and further develop their understanding of research and practice in interdisciplinary hazards studies. The team will meet every week to check in on project related tasks with Dr.
Purdum and Dr. Dixon.

What would be the ideal composition of team members for this project? What majors, disciplines, skills, backgrounds, or perspectives would you like to have on the team?
We will look to an existing network of interest relating to hazards and carceral infrastructure through the fields of Sociology, Urban Planning, Geography, and Public Health including undergraduate and graduate students. Additional undergraduate participants will be found using the Aggie Research Program. Dr. Purdum has worked with the Aggie Research Program for two previous semesters. Two students from those projects went on to join the HRRC in paid-positions as research assistants on multiple projects for both Dr. Purdum and others. We will prioritize undergraduate and graduate students with skills in qualitative and quantitative analysis. We will identify at least one graduate student with GIS expertise. Dr. Purdum and Dr. Dixon are both Faculty Fellows with the Hazard Reduction and Recovery Center at Texas A&M and therefore have connections to a network of students across these disciplines that reflect the desired skill sets and expertise.

Dr. Purdum and Dr. Dixon having been working with Dr. Troy Harden, the Director of Texas A&M’s Race and Ethnic Studies Institute, to develop a network of faculty and students to study topics related to incarceration and the impacts of the criminal justice system. This network has met monthly over the Spring 2022 semester and continues to grow. These efforts include making the Texas Prisons Community Advocates an official RESI community partner. This relationship also connects this team with interested students representing our ideal skill sets, knowledge, and passion. We have already identified several students (graduate and undergraduate) across the disciplines of Sociology, Public Health, Urban Planning, and Geography. Although some of the students we have identified have some quantitative and qualitative data analysis skills and GIS skills, we plan to provide training opportunities for students to grow in their skills to engage with our data sets to improve their skills with our direction and support.

Preferred software, program, or machine expertise:
We will use Atlas.ti software for qualitative analysis, Stata for quantitative statistical analysis, and Arc.GIS for both mapping data and for the development of storymaps.

What process or guidelines will determine which students are being paid (undergraduate, graduate, etc.) and which aren’t, along with estimates of amounts and methods (hourly, end of semester, etc.).
No students are being paid for this project. Undergraduate students recruited through the Aggie Research Program will receive a certificate of participation..

Will the project require travel?
No

Characterizing the Health Impacts of Hazardous Chemical Exposures in the Workplace Among Asian American Workers in Texas

Project Contact: Dr. Ping Ma, Assistant Professor, Health Promotion and Community Health Sciences, Public Health
Email: pma@tamu.edu

Project Title: Characterizing the Health Impacts of Hazardous Chemical Exposures in the Workplace Among Asian American Workers in Texas

Team Leaders:

  • Dr. Ping Ma, Assistant Professor, Health Promotion and Community Health Sciences, Public Health, pma@tamu.edu
  • Dr. Natalie Johnson, Associate Professor, Environmental and Occupational Health, Public Health, nmjohnson@tamu.edu
  • Dr. Zong Liu, Assistant Professor, Biological and Agricultural Engineering, Engineering, zongliu@tamu.edu

Team Contributor:

Departments Represented:
Biological and Agricultural Engineering, Environmental and Occupational Health, Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Health Promotion and Community Health Sciences

Units Represented:
Engineering, Public Health

External Organizations Represented:
Students involved in our research team will be able to travel to the University of Oklahoma to meet with scholars doing similar research focused on assistive technology for students with IDD. There will be an annual symposium each spring to present research and gain feedback on
research ideas.

Mini Description:
COMING SOON

Student Team Member Spots:
18 (10 UG, 6 Grad, 2 Professional or Doctoral)

Background:
Work activity is known to be important to health as a source of “exposures and risk factors,” and a source of beneficial social and economic resources, and attainment of social position and status”. While the impact of work on health outcomes and substantial occupational segregation for populations that experience health disparities are known, few studies have explored to what extent and by what mechanisms work explains health disparities, especially in the context of racial/ethnic populations.

The nail salon industry has been one of the fastest-growing sectors in the U.S., and approximately 42% of this industry is owned by Asians. These nail salon workers regularly handle cosmetic products containing many toxic and potentially hazardous chemical compounds, including acetone, toluene, formaldehyde, and acrylates. The restaurant industry employs about 12.5 million Americans, making it the largest private employer in the U.S and many of the employees are Asian immigrants. Workplace hazards in restaurants include lacerations, burns, musculoskeletal disorders, respiratory symptoms, and secondhand smoke. Restaurants are a primary source of income for many Asian immigrants living in the United States. Although Asian immigrant workers face a variety of hazards in these industries, little is known about their specific working environments and the health impacts of their exposure to the working environmental hazards among these underserved workers. Furthermore, it’s not clear if workplace also plays a positive role in mitigating acculturation stress and providing social support for Asian immigrant workers. Thus, there is an urgent need to conduct such an epidemiological study to explore the role of work on health outcomes among Asian immigrant workers using innovative approaches.

Goals:
The overarching goal of this interdisciplinary project is to use innovative research approaches to evaluate the health impacts of work environment among
Asian populations, especially Vietnamese and Chinese immigrant workers. In addition to traditional data collection approaches (e.g., surveys, air sampling, and personal VOC exposure sampling), we will also examine the association between environmental hazard exposure and disease symptoms using mHealth.

This project will provide undergraduate and graduate students a research opportunity to work on a collaborative, interdisciplinary project. In addition, they will gain hands-on experience, and develop novel preventive strategies to solve a pressing public health concern among underserved and understudied vulnerable populations. To achieve our overarching goal, we will conduct the following specific aims:

Aim 1. We will conduct an assessment of occupational chemical exposure among Asian American workers. 1) Air quality measurements will be performed during regular business hours for 3 weekdays and 1 weekend day in each location. Students will be present in the selected workplaces where Asian immigrants work to collect air samples, which will then be processed to assess the levels of exposure and concentrations. The results will be compared to the air quality standards or guidelines provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The threshold values will be obtained from previous studies and EPA guidelines. 2) Personal VOC exposure sampling will be performed during regular business hours using 3M OVM 3520 passive diffusive samplers following the manufacturer’s protocol. We will recruit two workers at each collaborative work location, diffusive samplers following the manufacturer’s protocol. We will recruit two workers at each work location, who will wear samplers on the day of the measurement. Workers will wear sampling badges on their collars, near the respiratory zone, throughout their shifts. The collected air samples will be processed to assess the concentrations and level of exposure. The results will be compared to the air quality standards or guidelines provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The threshold values will be obtained from previous studies and EPA guidelines.

Aim 2. We will examine work-related environmental burden of disease and stress using a mixed methodology. We will develop and conduct two brief online surveys
and a qualitative semi-structured interview guide. Students in the team will assist by conducting a literature review and adopting validated questions from the literature to develop two surveys. The first survey, which is designed for business owners or managers, will include questions about the business size, location, occupational safety practices, and services of the salon, restaurant, or farms. The second survey, designed for the workers and employees will contain questions such as demographic information, information about current working conditions, working hours, safety practices, current health status, and work-related physical health and psychological health problems (e.g., nose irritation, throat irritation, lung irritation, eye irritation, headaches, nausea, coughing, increased pulse rate, confusion, shortness of breath, chest tightness, etc.). The surveys will be available in English, Vietnamese, and Chinese, and will be administered by bilingual research team members.

Aim 3. We will test the feasibility and acceptability of an innovative mHealth-based data collection approach (e.g., smartphone based ecological momentary assessments (EMA) and a Garmin wearable device). Develop a real-time ecological momentary assessment (EMA) mobile application (app), which will be integrated into the wearable device (e.g., Garmin) and test the feasibility and acceptability of the app among targeted workers. The app will include the following features: i) conducting a once-a-day daily diary assessment and two random assessments (outside of typical work hours) to collect their disease symptoms’ data.; ii) The self-reported EMA data will be integrated with the objective measure of health index (e.g., sleep quality, heart rate, stress index) through the wearable device. Based on the data collected, we will then conduct a preliminary analysis to examine the association between chemical exposure and disease symptoms and the change in stress levels among AA workers.

Outcomes:
1. At least 2 peer-reviewed journal publications will be yielded. One potential manuscript will target the feasibility and acceptability of EMA and wearable device among workers in nail salons, restaurants, and animal farms. The second potential paper will present the survey results and environmental sampling results.
2. Our students will present our initial results in national and local conferences (e.g., American Public Health Association, Toxicology, Society of Epidemiological Research, and agricultural safety related conferences).
3. More importantly, the findings from this project will serve as preliminary results, which will be used as the foundation for the further NIH-grant applications: “The Role of Work in Health Disparities in the U.S. (https://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/pa-files/PAR-21-275.html )” and “Addressing the Etiology of Health Disparities and Health Advantages Among Immigrant Populations (https://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/pa-files/PAR-21-080.html )”. We aim to submit our application in February the cycle of 2023.

Benefit to Students:
Both undergraduate students and graduate students will have the opportunity to gain hands-on research experiences, including recruiting participants, community engagement and outreach, interacting with stakeholders, conducting literature reviews, interviewing skills, collecting data in the field, environmental sampling, data management, and analysis, The graduate students will be exposed to gain a higher level of research experiences, such as writing scientific reports, managing projects and multiple tasks, team leadership experience, contributing to new manuscript development, or conference abstracts and brief reports for the community, etc.

What would be the ideal composition of team members for this project? What majors, disciplines, skills, backgrounds, or perspectives would you like to have on the team?
It is essential that all members of the team recognize the importance and significance of the project. Additionally, having perspectives on cultural competency, transparent and effective communication, and an inclusive attitude towards teamwork is critical. Considering the study population may have limited English proficiency, bilingual students who understand Asian languages such as Mandarin and Vietnamese are preferred, but not required. For undergraduate students, there is no strict requirement on their disciplines, skills, or background. Students who have good oral communication skills, previous interview or research experience, and have a vehicle to travel, will be helpful. For graduate students, a major in community health, environmental health, or agricultural sciences, skills in environmental sample data collection and project management, and past research experience using qualitative and quantitative analysis skills would be helpful for the team.

Preferred software, program, or machine expertise:
Expertise in quantitative data analysis using STATA, SAS, or R would be helpful. Expertise in qualitative data analysis using NVivo is helpful. The co-team leaders, Dr. Johnson’s and Dr. Liu’s labs have equipped with the air sample test and analysis tools.

What process or guidelines will determine which students are being paid (undergraduate, graduate, etc.) and which aren’t, along with estimates of amounts and methods (hourly, end of semester, etc.).
When recruiting student members, we will screen resumes and conduct interviews to understand their background, skills, time availabilities, strengths and weakness, and their expectations. Payments will be consulted according to the guidelines provided by the School of Public Health’s Human Resources department, for example, the understand student payment rate $10-$12 based on the skills and qualifications, and graduate student payment rate is $15-$17. Students can take research credit or directed research hours (1-3 credit hours)for this project to contribute to the project.

Will the project require travel?
Only select number of students would be able to travel to cities like Houston, Austin, and Dallas, e.g., the students who have received relevant data collection training, who are familiar with the targeted cities, have vehicles and driver license, and are willing to travel. The travel-related cost will be reimbursed. Travel would take place in Fall 2022 and Spring 2023.

Design for Safer and Better Care: Evidence-Based and Technology-Infused Strategies to Improve Safety and Quality of Life for Nursing Home Residents

Project Contact: Dr. Xuemei Zhu, Professor, Architecture, Architecture
Email: xuemeizhu@tamu.edu

Project Title: Design for Safer and Better Care: Evidence-Based and Technology-Infused Strategies to Improve Safety and Quality of Life for Nursing Home Residents

Team Leaders:

  • Dr. Chanam Lee, Professor, Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning, Architecture, chanam@tamu.edu
  • Dr. Zhipeng Lu, Assistant Professor, Architecture, Architecture, luzhipeng@tamu.edu
  • Dr. Marcia Ory, Regents Professor, Environmental and Occupational Health, Public Health, mory@tamu.edu
  • Dr. Xuemei Zhu, Professor, Architecture, Architecture, xuemeizhu@tamu.edu

Departments Represented:
Architecture, Environmental and Occupational Health, Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning

Units Represented:
Architecture & Visualization, Public Health

External Organizations Represented:
Texas Health Care Association and LeadingAge Texas

Mini Description:
This project will use evidence-based and technology-infused approaches to address the challenges in long-term care facilities (LTCFs) related to infection control, resident safety, social connectedness, and quality of life during and beyond infection outbreaks. Our specific objectives are to (1) conduct a state‐wide needs assessment to understand the current status and desired solutions related to safety, infection control, and social connectedness; (2) introduce visually simulated design solutions aiming to enhance safety and social connectedness in LTCFs and assess their potential usability and user acceptance through user surveys assisted by eye-tracking and virtual reality technology; and (3) draft and obtain feedback on user‐friendly educational modules, design guides, and policy briefs to help improve quality of life for LTCF residents.

Student Team Member Spots:
16 (8 UG, 4 Grad, 3 Professional or Doctoral, 1 PostDoc)

Background:
NHs are important healthcare and residential environments for the growing number of older adults. In the U.S., there are approximately 15,600 NHs with 1.7 million licensed beds, occupied by 1.4 million residents. With the aging population, the need for high-quality LTC will continue to increase, and the cost of LTC will remain a significant portion of national health expenditure. One of the important safety concerns in NHs is the risk of infection outbreak, which tends to be high due to their congregate living arrangements and vulnerable resident populations, who are more reliant on their proximal environments. Falls and related injuries are also common safety threats. On the other hand, social isolation and depression are common challenges for residents’ social and mental health. The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the vulnerability of NHs as they became hotspots of COVID-19 infections and deaths. As of March 2021, about 8% of those living in US LTC facilities have died of COVID-19, and the rate for NHs is at nearly 1 in 10. These statistics are sobering reminders about the importance of providing safer environments in NHs. The infection mitigation strategies have also brought unintended consequences to residents’ physical and mental health resulting from social isolation.
EVIDENCE-BASED APPROACHES are critical in the design, planning, and management of health care facilities. A growing body of evidence has demonstrated the impact of hospital physical environments on outcomes such as infection control, fall prevention, medical errors, and patient satisfaction. Such knowledge is critical for informing relevant regulations such as building codes and design guidelines. However, compared with hospitals, NHs are relatively understudied in terms of the impacts of their physical environment on resident safety and quality of care.
EYE-TRACKING AND VIRTUAL REALITY TECHNOLOGIES offer promising, technology-infused approaches to better study the impacts of physical environmental interventions on human health and wellbeing. While more intervention studies are needed to better understand the causal relationship between physical environmental changes and occupants’ behavior and health outcomes, the excessive cost of constructing new environments often prohibits researchers and stakeholders from pursuing such needed studies. Virtual reality technology enables us to build a virtual environment, with significantly lower cost, which offers realistic and programmable spatial experiences to users. On the other hand, eye-tracking technology provides means to capture eye movement (e.g., gaze data), which reflects the features or elements of the environment that draw people’s attention and interests. These two technologies have become increasingly user-friendly with successful research applications with older adults.

Goals:
This project will use evidence-based and technology-infuses approaches to address the challenges in LTC related to: (a) INFECTION CONTROL AND RESIDENT SAFETY; and (b) SOCIAL CONNECTEDNESS AND QUALITY OF LIFE for residents during and beyond infection outbreaks. The innovative application of virtual reality and eye-tracking technologies will help overcome typical challenges in studying environmental-health relationships, where excessive cost prohibits development of various intervention scenarios through physical mock-up models. They also make such studies easier for the older population as the simulations could be realistic and easy to understand, thus allowing the testing of diverse intervention scenarios for their possible impacts on senior residents’ behavior and health outcomes.
OUR SPECIFIC OBJECTIVES ARE TO: 1). Conduct state‐wide needs assessment to understand the current status and desired solutions related to safety, infection control, and social connectedness from the perspectives of NH facilities, family councils, and residents. 2). Introduce visually simulated physical environmental solutions that aim to enhance safety and social connectedness in NHs, and assess their potential usability and user acceptance through user surveys assisted by eye-tracking and virtual reality technology; and 3). Draft and obtain feedback on user‐friendly educational modules, design guides, and policy briefs to help improve quality of care and quality of life for NH residents.
IMPLEMENTATION PLAN AND TIMELINE: We propose three distinct phases, where activities from each phase blend together in a seamless way to achieve our overall goals. In Phase 1 (first 4 months), we will begin by conducting a state‐wide needs assessment to get baseline information about NHs throughout the state. In Phase 2 (5 months), based on results from Phase 1, we will work with a few selected NHs in our targeted geographic region (College Station and surrounding areas) to further explore what is needed to improve NH care and residents’ quality of life, and then develop visually simulated environmental solutions through virtual reality. We will also examine the usability and user acceptance of the proposed interventions through user surveys as well as eye-tracking and virtual reality studies with residents and staff in these NHs. Then, in Phase 3 (3 months), we will compile results from previous phases and draft user‐friendly educational modules, design guides, and policy briefs to help improve quality of care and quality of life for NH residents and obtain feedback from state-wide survey participants from Phase 1 . PHASE 1 : This needs assessment phase will involve partnering with the two main long-term care associations: Texas Health Care Association representing licensed for‐profit skilled nursing facilities and LeadingAge Texas representing not‐for‐profit nursing home communities. Through this collaboration, we will conduct a statewide assessment of: (a) how NH administrators fared the COVID‐19 pandemic; (b) major problems affecting the quality of care and quality of life; (c) leading smart technology, social connectedness, and physical environmental solutions for ameliorating acknowledged problems; and (d) training needs to be better prepared for future pandemics/challenges. After this initial assessment, we will conduct a 90‐minute webinar to provide feedback to the NHs that participated in our study, as well as other interested organizations and individuals. We will also summarize our feedback in a brief report and share it throughout the NH industry in Texas and beyond.
PHASE 2: After completing the initial statewide needs assessment, we will identify 4 nursing homes in Bryan and College Station or surrounding areas (i.e., Austin, Dallas‐Fort‐Worth, and Houston) that are interested in taking part in our project for more in-depth engagement in Phase 2. In consultation with our partnering LTC associations, we will select 2 not‐for‐profit and 2 for‐profit NHs, representing small vs. large NHs (<100 vs. 100+ beds) and those with lower vs. higher Star ratings (<2.5 vs 2.5+ on the 5‐point scale). We will intentionally select NHs reflecting a range of Star ratings to understand what is needed/desired in NHs that may need assistance in improving their quality of care as well as NHs that are doing well and could act as model facilities for others. Our field assessment team (two persons with one from the aging/health side and the other from the environment/design side) will make an in‐person visit to these facilities to observe their current physical environment and staff/resident interactions. This will enable us to conduct a more in‐depth assessment of their current facility environments and operations and obtain more detailed feedback from NH administrators/directors, nursing/activity directors, and residents and family councils. After the site visit, our team will focus on developing possible environmental and social solutions to help improve infection control, resident safety, and social connectedness. The solutions will be visualized through realistic renderings and virtual reality and be presented to NH staff and residents to evaluate their usability and user acceptance through user surveys assisted with eye-tracking and virtual reality technologies.
PHASE 3: Based on the results from previous phases, we will draft and obtain feedback on educational modules, design guides, and policy briefs. The major deliverable will be a report with lessons learned as well as the initial development of training guides for the different types of solutions for NH administrators and resident/family groups. We will also start working on a grant proposal based on findings from this project.

Outcomes:
From Phase 1, we will produce a 90‐minute webinar to provide feedback to the NHs that participated in our study, as well as other interested organizations and individuals. The recording of this webinar will be made available to the public via websites. Students will help with preparation of materials.
From Phase 2, we will generate a series of illustrated physical environmental interventions through renderings and virtual reality that can demonstrate innovative design strategies to address infection control, resident safety, and social connectedness in NHs. Specific design strategies will be developed based on findings from Phase 1 (state-wide survey/needs assessment) and the early part of Phase 2 (site visits and in-depth assessment). As an example, possible examples for improving capacity of infection control could include: (a) reconfiguration of spaces and circulations and use of wayfinding signage to reduce unnecessary cross-traffic; (b) introduction of touchless technology at high-touch and high-risk locations to reduce infection transmissions; (c) provision of hand sanitizing stations at high-traffic and high-visibility locations, and markings to guide social distancing practices; and (d) indoor and/or outdoor pop-ups (e.g. temporary and flexible structures or equipment such as planters or seating) that can facilitate social distancing while allowing physical activity and physically distanced social interactions. Students will assist in designing and evaluating different solutions.
In Phase 3, we will draft and obtain feedback on user-friendly educational modules, design guides, and policy briefs. We aim to produce several publications aimed at academic, professional, and community audience. We also anticipate that the data collected, and the products generated from this study will serve as the basis for an external grant proposal to be submitted upon completion of this project.

Benefit to Students:
There will be various opportunities for students to engage in diverse research activities, which include development of survey instruments, conceptualization and development of environmental solutions to address safety or social connectedness, development of virtual reality, data collection through surveys and site visits to NHs, data analysis, and writing for publication. They will also obtain extensive knowledge of human subject research by helping with preparing IRB application documents, recruiting and interacting with participants, and collecting and analyzing human behavioral data. Graduate students will have opportunities to find topics emerging from this study and further develop it into capstone design and/or research projects.

What would be the ideal composition of team members for this project? What majors, disciplines, skills, backgrounds, or perspectives would you like to have on the team?
We expect to have a multidisciplinary team representing expertise in environmental design, aging and long-term care, public health, as well eye tracking and virtual reality. Our research topic is multidisciplinary in nature, requiring collaborative efforts across multiple disciplines to address the complex problem of providing quality care in NHs.

Preferred software, program, or machine expertise:
For the survey component of this study, we will use the Qualtrics survey platform as well as paper surveys. The application of eye-tracking and virtual reality technologies will involve use of multiple software for 3D and VR modeling and development of computer programs (e.g., Unreal Engine, Maya, 3DS Max, and Unity) and data collection platforms (e.g., iMotion). We will also use statistics software such as SPSS, R, and/or STATA.

What process or guidelines will determine which students are being paid (undergraduate, graduate, etc.) and which aren’t, along with estimates of amounts and methods (hourly, end of semester, etc.).
Student team members will be selected based on their research interest, skill sets, and possible contribution to the team effort. A few students with more advanced skills in research instrument development, environmental design, and eye tracking and virtual reality technologies will be hired on an hourly basis to directly assist with the corresponding research activities. Other students will participate in project activities in the form of class projects if they are already taking classes with faculty investigators on the team, or independent studies.

Will the project require travel?
Not for all students

Developing Inclusive AR/VR Environments for People with Disabilities: Leveraging Multi-Sensory Immersive Technology and Machine Learning

Project Contact: Dr. Jinsil Hwaryoung Seo, Associate Professor, Visualization; Director, Institute for Applied Creativity, Architecture
Email: hwaryoung@tamu.edu

Project Title: Developing Inclusive AR/VR Environments for People with Disabilities: Leveraging Multi-Sensory Immersive Technology and Machine Learning

Team Leaders:

  • Dr. Jinsil Hwaryoung Seo, Associate Professor, Visualization; Director, Institute for Applied Creativity, Architecture, hwaryoung@tamu.edu
  • Dr. Eric Roberts, Associate Research Scientist, Educational Psychology, Education, eric.roberts@tamu.edu.
  • Dr. Paul Taele, Instructional Assistant Professor, Computer Science and Engineering, Engineering, ptaele@tamu.edu.

Team Contributors:

  • Dr. Dongjin Kwon, Postdoctoral Research Associate, Aggie ACHIEVE, Educational Psychology, Education, dkwon@tamu.edu
  • Mr. Caleb Kicklighter, Lecturer, Visualization, Architecture, kicklica@tamu.edu

Departments Represented:
Aggie ACHIEVE, Computer Science and Engineering, Educational Psychology, Institute for Applied Creativity, Visualization.

Units Represented:
Architecture, Education, Engineering

External Organizations Represented:
n/a

Mini Description:
The multidisciplinary student teams led by faculty members from Visualization, Computer Science, Special Education, and Aggie ACHIEVE will research on how interactive and interactive technologies could be utilized to support people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) by providing multi-sensory and individualized technology. The project relies on two pedagogical methods: project-based learning (PBL) and collaborative design (Co-design). The final outcomes of the program will include AR/VR applications that allow users to experience virtual content, to learn new concepts, and to train for life skills.

Student Team Member Spots:
13 (10 UG, 2 Professional or Doctoral, 1 PostDoc)

Background:
Immersive technologies (AR/VR) offer various capabilities that could transform and improve the way individuals work, learn, and interact. Some of these capabilities include the ability to allow learners to visualize and interact with three-dimensional virtual representations, experience virtual environments in real-time, visualize abstract concepts, and articulate their understanding of phenomena by constructing or manipulating the virtual environments. With such capabilities, immersive technology offers many benefits that will bring a positive impact to its application to educate and support people who have disabilities. However, there are many limitations that may discourage or preclude a significant number of users with disabilities from accessing and fully utilizing these technologies. To address these challenges, those designing and implementing the technology will need to understand the perspectives and lived experiences of diverse individuals. In this project, the interdisciplinary collaboration team of faculty and students from Visualization, Computer Science and Educational Psychology will research on how AR/VR/AI technologies could be utilized to support people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) by providing multi-sensory and individualized support. Interdisciplinary teams will include students in the areas of art/design, AR/VR development, AI algorithm development, and special education.
This project also includes undergraduate students in the Aggie ACHIEVE program at Texas A&M University. The Aggie ACHIEVE program is a comprehensive transition program for young adults with IDD who have exited high school. Aggie ACHIEVE provides an inclusive and immersive college education that equips students for employment in the community. ACHIEVE students will take a critical role in the iterative design and development process by providing their own lived experience and feedback on the porotypes. This project will give students an experience with new VR/AR technologies and make them more engaged in technology. Art/Design students from Visualization will focus on the creative aspects, including art assets of objects/environments, and user experience/user interface design. AR/VR students from Visualization and Computer Science will concentrate on technical research and development. Students from Special Education will administer research aspects of inclusive and equitable technology, specifically working with ACHIEVE students. They will work on the IRB for each project and run studies with a larger user group. All four groups will collaborate and learn from each other to develop projects based on their expertise. This cannot be done without this type of interdisciplinary collaboration. In summary, the issue that this project tries to address is how AR/VR/AI technologies could provide more inclusive and equitable environments to people with disabilities specifically, intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Goals:
The overarching goal of the proposed project is to foster innovative immersive AR/VR/AI research in assistive technology for people with disabilities and broaden participation from students and faculty by project-based and participatory design methods. The proposed project relies on two pedagogical methods: project-based learning (PBL) and collaborative design (Co-design):
1) PBL provides our team with a common goal for active collaborations with artists/designers, developers, future teachers and individuals with disabilities. In our program, students from the four areas will work to develop interactive and immersive applications where they can apply their knowledge, skills, and experiences together. Through interdisciplinary projects, students will experience a greater degree of planning and coordination. In addition, students will pay more attention to inclusion, equity, and accessibility in immersive and interactive technology.

2) Co-design seeks to involve students and faculty members from different disciplines in the design process to address real-life problems. Co-design is a highly-facilitated, team-based process in which students, faculty members, and expertise work together in defined roles to design educational innovations. The co-design process will allow us to realize the design in multiple prototypes and evaluate each prototype’s significance for addressing a concrete need in specific user groups. Different levels of collaborations will happen in physical and/or virtual settings. The multidisciplinary student teams led by faculty members from Visualization, Computer Science, Special Education, and Aggie ACHIEVE will attain the goal of the project by pursuing the following specific aims:

1) Collect user study data from individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities to understand special needs;
2) Experiment with various visual, auditory, haptic, and olfactory interfaces to create the most effective multisensory interactions for relevant educational and training concepts;
3) Build interactive AR/VR environments that allow users to experience virtual content, to learn new concepts, and to train for life skills;
4) Develop individually adaptable AI algorithms to accommodate different levels of disabilities in the AR/VR systems; and
5) Conduct studies to assess the impacts the AR/VR environments have on individuals with disabilities.

Dr. Eric Roberts and Dr. Dongjin Kwon from Educational Psychology will work on Specific Aim 1 by introducing this project information to ACHIEVE students and encouraging them to join this project actively. They will collect quantitative and qualitative data to develop prototypes and provide a strong understanding of the special needs in the interactive AR/VR environments for individuals with disabilities. Various data collection techniques can be used for this project including direct observation, interviews, rubrics, and formal/informal assessments. They will choose appropriate data collection techniques considering the purpose of data collection, students’ characteristics, and progress. Dr. Jinsil Hwaryoung Seo and Lecturer Caleb Kicklighter from the Department of Visualization will lead for Specific Aims 2 & 3. Dr. Seo will support students with AR/VR design and development focusing on multi-sensory interaction and spatial cognition. Learning materials from Dr. Seo’s Interactive Virtual Environments and Virtual Reality courses will be provided to students. Professor Kicklighter will lead artistic aspects of the projects including 3D art asset design, environment design, virtual character design, animation, and special effects. These art components will be incorporated in the AR/VR applications for user interaction. Dr. Paul Taele from Computer Science and Engineering will lead the AI algorithm development so that the AR/VR applications provide customized experiences to users with different levels of difficulties.

Students participating in our program are expected to:
1) conceive and execute an interactive and immersive AR/VR application that identifies and engages with issues in individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities;
2) demonstrate strong teamwork and problem-solving skills utilizing AR/VR/AI technologies; and 3) engage with communities, collaborating with users from the target group and testing one’s own work with a larger group of users. The projects from this program will be available to any Aggie ACHIEVE student or potential stakeholders at Texas A&M University for collaboration, sharing, access to necessary technical support and inclusive content. This will support expanding our activities to education or training.

Outcomes:
The anticipated outcomes from this project will include 1) Peer reviewed publications and conference presentations 2) Written reports from both the research team and the student class project teams, 3) AR/VR applications for future use by both researchers and community, 4) Guidelines for inclusive
and equitable design, 4) Pilot data for larger external grant proposals.

Benefit to Students:
Students with different backgrounds will gain unique interdisciplinary and collaborative research experience that won’t normally get in the standard classroom. Participating students will go through the entire process of development of virtual reality or augmented reality for people with disabilities. They will also leverage multi-sensory technology and machine learning algorithms. The general development will follow the interaction design process: discovering requirements, designing alternatives, prototyping, and evaluating.
The first phase is discovering requirements. In this phase, students identify a problem or challenge and define what they will develop to solve this issue. This includes understanding the target users and how an interactive product could support them.
The second phase is designing alternatives. Students are expected to produce a conceptual model for the VR/AR projects to solve the identified problem for people with disabilities.
The third phase is prototyping, in which students develop a low-fidelity or high-fidelity prototype of the application.
The final phase is evaluating. In this process, target users are invited to evaluate the project and provide insight into how it could be improved.
Throughout the process, students will learn how to create an artifact to conduct research with a target group. The outcome of the research will be documented and submitted to a few interactional conferences including IEEE VR, SIGGRAPH, Creativity & Cognition, and so on. Graduate students who participate in the project will develop collaborative leadership skills from working with the interdisciplinary teams which include undergraduate team members with different backgrounds. They will oversee the development and research process of each project.

What would be the ideal composition of team members for this project? What majors, disciplines, skills, backgrounds, or perspectives would you like to have on the team?
Ideally, we would have two teams with five members per team. There would be one graduate and five undergraduates in each team. Two graduate students from Visualization and Special Education will lead collaboration teams. Each team will consist of four undergraduate students from all three participating departments (1 or 2 from VIZ, 1 or 2 from CS, 1 student from Special Ed.) and one student from the Aggie ACHIEVE program. Undergraduates from Visualization will have more digital art/design backgrounds. They will work on creating 3D art assets including objects, environments, and user interfaces. Students from Computer Science will focus on AR/VR development and or AI algorithm development. Special Education students will lead user studies and work closely with Aggie ACHIEVE students.

Preferred software, program, or machine expertise:
This project will require multiple software that include 3D software, AR/VR development, AI development and User study software. The current faculty leaders and contributors provide their expertise in the necessary areas.

What process or guidelines will determine which students are being paid (undergraduate, graduate, etc.) and which aren’t, along with estimates of amounts and methods (hourly, end of semester, etc.).
The faculty team will review applications from undergraduate and graduate students. Based on the prior experience of the student applicants, we will rank them and determine who are going to be paid. It seems we will be able to pay all participants (15 students). If there are more students want to participate in the project for their research credit, the faculty team will consider them to include in the project.

Will the project require travel?
A few student team members will travel to the University of Oklahoma in the Spring 2023 semester to meet with scholars doing similar research focused on assistive technology for students with IDD. There will be an annual symposium each spring to present research and gain feedback on research ideas.

Developing Modular Open System Architecture for Growable Space Habitats with Closed-Loop Engineered Living Components

Project Contact: Dr. Hope Hui Rising, Assistant Professor, Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning, Architecture
Email: hope.rising@tamu.edu

Project Title: Developing Modular Open System Architecture for Growable Space Habitats with Closed-Loop Engineered Living Components

Team Leaders:

  • Dr. Ahmed Abdelaal, Instructional Assistant Professor, Engineering Technology and Industrial Distribution, Engineering, ahmed.abdelaal@tamu.edu
  • Dr. Zong Liu, Assistant Professor and Extension Specialist, Biological and Agricultural Engineering, Agriculture and Life Sciences, zongliu@tamu.edu
  • Dr. John Lusher, Associate Professor of Practice, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Engineering, john.lusher@tamu.edu
  • Dr. Rabi Mohtar, TEES Research Professor, Biological and Agricultural Engineering, Agriculture and Life Sciences, mohtar@tamu.edu
  • Dr. Hope Hui Rising, Assistant Professor, Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning, Architecture, hope.rising@tamu.edu

Team Contributors:

Departments Represented:
Aerospace Engineering, Architecture, Biological and Agricultural Engineering, Chemistry, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Engineering Technology and Industrial Distribution, Horticultural Sciences, Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning, Law, Mechanical Engineering.

Units Represented:
Agriculture & Life Sciences, Architecture, Arts & Sciences (Science), Engineering, Law. 

External Organizations Represented:
United Nations Office of Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA)

Mini Description:
This project uses a modular open system architecture (MOSA) framework to engage faculty and students from four colleges/schools in developing regenerative transit and planetary space habitats that recycle space debris and human wastes into resources. This framework provides natural and cultural ecosystem services through engineered living systems as life-support modules for long-duration space missions that cannot rely on resupplies. These life-support modules are building blocks of adaptive human, water, food, energy, waste, material, and atmospheric subsystems that self-regulate and self-regenerate.

Student Team Member Spots:
17 (12 UG, 2 Grad, 2 Professional or Doctoral,1 PostDoc)

Background:
The increasing frequencies and intensities of climate extreme events, such as heat waves, arctic blasts, and storms, have threatened water, food, energy, material, and thermal security in many communities and resulted in massive climate migration from regions becoming increasingly inhabitable. On the other hand, increasing use of fertilizers and industrial animal operations to combat climate-induced food insecurity has led to unprecedented nutrient loading and massive kills of aquatic species in rapidly expanding dead zones of water bodies and oceans. Meanwhile, cities continue to sprawl and leapfrog into rural areas to price out farms while increasing the energy consumption and the carbon footprint of a growing network of centralized water, food, energy, and waste systems. As sea level rise increases the frequency of coastal flooding, life-support needs of coastal inhabitants for water, food, and energy will be severely challenged by widespread contamination of water, land, and air due to underground sewer backing up into basements and streets and flood-induced explosions at nuclear plants, petrochemical refineries, chemical plants, and oil and gas pipelines. There is a need to develop modular life-support components that can provide mobile self-sufficiency in water, food, and energy. As terrestrial extreme weather events and solar storms become more frequent and intense, parts of the Earth will encounter more adverse space-like living conditions to necessitate interplanetary migration. Although the Outer Space Treaty, the basic framework on international space law, states that Space shall be the province of all mankind, Space has become a first-come-first-served wild west. Commercial space companies and major space agencies race unilaterally to the strategic locations in the Lower Earth Orbit (LEO), near the Earth-facing polar regions of the Moon, and around the Hellas Planitia lava tubes, which is the most habitable place on Mars. Previous multi-national initiatives for International Moon Base and International Mars Base have been replaced by unilateral efforts led by one country or/and commercial company to result in more uncoordinated space traffic and potential conflict due to the need to compete for scarce resources. Commercialization of LEO has also led to more uncoordinated space traffic and potential collisions with a growing number of space debris from out-of-control human-made objects, including defunct satellites, discarded equipment and rocket stages, and fragments from the breakup of satellites and rocket stages. As the monitoring, identification, and cleanup of space debris remain difficult and costly, major space agencies and companies are not motivated to minimize space debris from their missions. There is a need to develop a framework of modular open systems to facilitate inter-agency collaboration and public-private partnership while incorporating compliance mechanisms for the Outer Space Treaty.

Goals:
The proposed project envisions a self-sustaining engineered living component as a scalable module for generating water, food, and energy from solid, liquid, and gaseous wastes to enable mobile self-sufficiency. For terrestrial applications, the component can be upscaled and aggregated into larger modular open systems with more users as part of an interconnected network of community-owned utilities to allow individuals, households, and communities to participate in the financing and maintenance of distributed life-support infrastructure as amenities and destinations in the public realm. The proposed engineered living components, when aggregated to provide district-level infrastructure for eco-districts and cities, can potentially help offset the Urban Heat Island effects within densely developed areas in addition to absorbing methane and carbon dioxide to reduce carbon emission from the built environment into the Earth’s atmosphere. For space applications, the engineered living components can also function as building blocks of growable space habitats as modular open systems architecture (MOSA) to enable long-term space missions, which cannot rely on resupplies of resources to provide a sustainable life-support system to provide water, food, and energy without external input of resources and output of wastes. Prototype 1.0 for the life-support component will have 1) an upper plant growth chamber for plant leaves; 2) a lower plant growth chamber for irrigating plant roots with nutrient mists from fogponics, 3) a vermiculture chamber with worms and mushrooms for converting organic wastes into compost tea, 4) chambers for yeast and nutrition solutions derived from the compost tea, nutrient fog mixing, and porous materials for regulating the atmosphere within the enclosure; 5) microbial and methane fuel cells for converting organic wastes and methane into water and energy; and 6) thermoelectric and water cooling components for temperature control and the conversion of exhaust heat to power. Our design and modeling goal is to use a user-centric, data-driven approach to optimize design parameters both within each subsystem of components (such as water, food, energy, energy, and waste) and across subsystems as a self-organizing complex adaptive system by 1) identifying factors that contribute to optimal growth of living components; 2) pinpointing parameters that enhance water, nutrient, energy output from recycling solid, liquid, and gaseous wastes; and 3) providing a self-regulating atmospheric composition catered to living components. Our manufacturing and system integration goal is to optimize the first prototype for the aforementioned design through the use of computer vision and machine learning to develop artificial neural networks. Our engagement goal is to identify human factors that inhibit and promote public acceptance of the first prototype as the building block of a MOSA framework for facilitating interagency and public-private partnerships; and 3) pinpointing legal barriers and incentives for mainstreaming the MOSA framework through developing a space habitat design as a test case.

Outcomes:
The Design Team composed of Dr. Rising and College of Architecture students from the urban design studio will prepare a conceptual design and a system integration block diagram of the first prototype (prototype 1.0) based on the results of the design games conducted previously to engage experts, stakeholders, faculty, and students from outside and across the campus. The Design Team will provide a 3D model file and a system integration block diagram to the Manufacturing Team composed of Senior Design students from Engineering Technology and Industrial Distribution led by Dr. Abdelaal. The Manufacturing Team will be in charge of the digital fabrication process to create the architectural enclosure and integrate non-biological mechanical parts with the enclosure for prototype 1.0. Dr. Joanna Tsenn will lead the Mechanical Team composed of Senior Design students from Mechanical Engineering to optimize thermal management for prototype 1.0 for 1) facilitating heat transfer from vermiculture system and microbial fuel cell to mixing chamber to evaporate the nutrient solutions from the vermiculture bin; 2) converting the heat into power using thermoelectric generator; and 3) regulating temperature within the vermiculture system and the plant growth chamber using thermoelectric cooling and water cooling components. Dr. Rabi Mohtar and Dr. Zong Liu will co-lead the Bioengineering Team composed of senior design students from Biological and Agricultural Engineering to optimize biological components, including the plant growth chamber, vermiculture system, chambers for yeast and nutrition solutions, microbial fuel cells, and the methane fuel cells. Dr. Zhou will lead the Gas Separation Team composed of graduate students from Chemistry to precisely tune a series of metal organic frameworks (MOFs) in response to changes in temperature and light conditions for the atmospheric regulation of carbon dioxide, oxygen, nitrogen, methane, and ethane. Zhou’s research has already designed preliminary structures that show promising proof of principle results. These structures will be refined and enhanced to ensure efficient atmospheric regulation. The efficiency of this approach will be tested using prototype 1.0 with machine learning from sensor data. Dr. Zhen will lead the Life Sciences Team to develop strategies to 1) optimize nutrient solutions to optimize nutrient solutions (from the lower vermiculture chamber) with water (from microbial fuel cells) and with gases (from gas separation chambers) for use by fogponics to irrigate plants; 2) identify living components conducive to nutrient recycling, including low-nitrogen-demanding nitrogen-fixating plants (for the upper plant growth chamber) (Zhen) and mushrooms and worms (for the lower vermiculture chamber); and 3) finetune light frequency ranges for target gas absorption and desorption and plant growth. Too support the design-build-test-learn cycles, Dr. Lusher will lead the System Integration Team composed of Senior Design students from Electrical and Computer Engineering to integrate solenoids for gas separation chambers, sensors for relative humidity, target gases, and temperature, computer vision cameras, and power supply components through providing custom-designed printed circuit board (PCB) assembly for prototype 1.0. In addition, the System Integration team will use machine learning (ML) and multi-physics process to develop artificial neural networks to model the coupling of open system components and subsystems and integrate the outcomes of the aforementioned aims to optimize the parameters for prototype 1.0. Dr. Majji and Dr. Dunbar will work provide expert reviews to help integrate the subsystems using the MOSA framework. Dr. Eckstein and Dr. Rising will help integrate the Outer Space Treaty compliance mechanisms into the MOSA framework for engaging UNOOSA. The project team will produce two journal manuscripts, collect pilot data for one proposal, and one space habitat design.

Benefit to Students:
The students from the design, manufacturing, mechanical, bioengineering, and system integration teams will gain hands-on experience that contributes to their professional competency in their respective fields. Students from the gas separation and life sciences team will develop research skills and participate in literature review. All students will be involved in developing their language skills through making presentations and contributing to the manuscripts.

What would be the ideal composition of team members for this project? What majors, disciplines, skills, backgrounds, or perspectives would you like to have on the team?
The project will be conducted by faculty and students forming teams around the following focus areas: design, manufacturing, mechanical, gas separation, life sciences, system integration, and engagement. The skills, backgrounds, and perspectives of these teams have been described in the section on anticipated outcomes.

Preferred software, program, or machine expertise:
Knowledge of 3D modeling and digital fabrication programs, such as Rhino and Solidworks would be helpful for the Design and Manufacturing Team. Matlab will be necessary for using machine learning and artificial neural networks to optimize system integration. Both College of Architecture and College of Engineering provide digital fabrication facilities to the team. Dr. Liu’s facilities at the AgriLife have the capacities to handle methane collection and host biological components in the engineered living components safely while providing on-site testing of nutrient and yeast solutions. Dr. Zhou’s lab has specialized equipment for development the metal organic frameworks (MOFs) for gas separation chambers. Dr. Zhen’s greenhouse has controlled environments equipped with growth lights and sensor-controlled irrigation systems to optimize plant growth parameters. Dr. Lusher has access to PCB design software and special equipment for fabricating PCBs.

What process or guidelines will determine which students are being paid (undergraduate, graduate, etc.) and which aren’t, along with estimates of amounts and methods (hourly, end of semester, etc.).
The students will be paid at the end of one year as scholarship based on their actual contributions to the project. However, all expenses will be covered by the project. The students can also elect to take research credits.

Will the project require travel?
No

Farmers Fight (in Botswana) II! Engineering Solutions for Coexistence Between Livestock and Cheetahs, Lions, Wild Dogs, and Leopards

Project Contact: Dr. Leslie Ruyle, Research Scientist, International Affairs, Bush School of Public Service and Administration; Rangeland, Wildlife, and Fisheries Management, Agriculture & Life Sciences
Email: ruyle@tamu.edu

Project Title: Farmers Fight (in Botswana) II! Engineering Solutions for Coexistence Between Livestock and Cheetahs, Lions, Wild Dogs, and Leopards

Team Leaders:

  • Dr. Rodney Boehm, Associate Professor of Practice, Director, Engineering Entrepreneurship, Engineering, rodneyboehm@tamu.edu
  • Dr. Catharina LaPorte, Instructional Association Professor, Anthropology, Director, Undergraduate Studies, Arts & Sciences (Liberal Arts), claporte@tamu.edu
  • Dr. Leslie Ruyle, Research Scientist, International Affairs, Bush School of Public Service and Administration, Rangeland, Wildlife, and Fisheries Management, Agriculture & Life Sciences, ruyle@tamu.edu

Departments Represented:
Engineering Entrepreneurship, Anthropology, Undergraduate Studies, International Affairs, Rangeland, Wildlife, and Fisheries Management

Units Represented:
Agriculture & Life Sciences, Arts & Sciences (Liberal Arts), Bush School of Government and Public Services, Engineering. 

External Organizations Represented:
Local ranchers in Botswana, Cheetah Conservation of Botswana, Moovement

Mini Description:
COMING SOON

Student Team Member Spots:
12 (6 UG, 6 Grad)

Background:
Botswana hosts the world’s second largest population of cheetahs with an estimated population of 2,000 individuals. This accounts for approximately 30% of the world’s remaining wild cheetahs. In addition, other endangered predators such as lions, African wild dogs, brown hyenas, and leopards inhabit this arid landscape. Due to Botswana’s location in the center of southern Africa, these populations are crucial to facilitate connectivity between other regional populations. Because of their wide-ranging natures, animals like the cheetah and the wild dog need large areas to survive. As a result, protected areas cannot solely be relied upon to maintain populations of these species; that is one reason why a large percentage of these animals live outside protected areas and human- wildlife conflict occurs. Botswana is also a major beef producer exporting to South Africa and other countries. Local ranchers have huge herds dispersed across a difficult environment. They want to protect their cattle without having to kill endangered species. Conflict mitigation strategies are badly needed. In our first part of the project, TAMU students, Cheetah Conservation of Botswana, and Botswanan ranchers co-created novel methods for mitigating this conflict. In the second phase, we will evaluate the effectiveness of our deployed prototypes and make the needed adjustments. Ultimately, we hope to achieve improved food security and livelihoods for local populations and a more global perspective for our students.

Goals:
The goals of this project are two-fold; the first is to expose Texas A&M students to real-world problem solving with local farmers in southern Africa and the second is to increase the sustained use of effective, appropriate technologies to address human-carnivore conflict in the Ghanzi district near the Kalahari Desert in Botswana. Our project focuses on students working collaboratively with Botswanan farmers to evaluate deployed deterrent prototypes for minimizing livestock losses and enabling coexistence of human and wildlife populations. Our local partner is Cheetah Conservation of Botswana (CCB), who currently works with farmers owning goats, cattle, and sheep. They need assistance in protecting their herds from lions, leopards, cheetah, and wild dogs, while still maintaining the conservation ethos of the country. Agricultural farmlands serve as critical habitat for top predators in much of Africa, and particularly Botswana. As a result, the continued survival of Botswana’s carnivores depends on the attitudes of farming communities. Currently, human-wildlife conflict is the greatest threat to Kalahari carnivores, especially to threatened cheetah, wild dogs, lions, and leopard populations.
Although many ranchers harbor negative attitudes towards carnivores in general, there is concurrent realization that wildlife is a national resource and therefore, farmers are interested in techniques that minimize conflict and enable coexistence. Students will work closely with their Botswanan counterparts- both from Cheetah Conservation of Botswana and local ranchers- to test our deployed devices and seek ways of improving their ability to protect cattle. Through these personal relationships, students will be exposed to food security and conservation issues in southern Africa while feeling invested in co-creating solutions. This project aims to follow up on our current successes on prototype development and deployment in March 2022 and evaluate their effectiveness on minimizing livestock loss due to carnivores.

Outcomes:

  • Evaluation of the two deployed innovations to minimize livestock losses due to depredation (Faculty and students will publish and provide a report to
    ranchers and CCB)
  • Further insights into the performance of mitigation strategies to address the problem of human-carnivore conflict, including an understanding of barriers to adoption • An increase in the use of effective management methods, resulting in more sustainable livestock production and a decrease in human carnivore conflict • Novel innovations for addressing human-wildlife conflict
  • Students with a broader global perspective who feel like they have a better idea of how to “make an impact”
  • Students with the ability to work in diverse teams across language and educational backgrounds
  • Creation of a data collection framework to evaluate novel innovations in subsequent years
  • Ultimately, a solution for ranchers to deter predators from killing their cattle that is successful enough to be scaled across the country

Benefit to Students:
Students will be evaluating two prototypes and developing a third with local Botswanan ranchers on interdisciplinary teams led by a graduate student and mentored by faculty. They will learn to work with people from diverse backgrounds, including differing ages, languages, disciplines, and approaches. Students will gain an appreciation for local knowledge as well as the difficulties people face in regards to food security in remote places. Graduate students will be responsible for coordinating their team, including local meetings, scheduling of international calls, and assisting in international travel arrangements. Graduate students will help develop framework for the evaluations and lead in the development of the third prototype. Current students have remarked to me how much they have enjoyed hearing the perspectives of their teammates in approaching and solving problems. I believe this creates fertile ground for innovative problem solving as well as appreciate and empathy for other team members.

What would be the ideal composition of team members for this project? What majors, disciplines, skills, backgrounds, or perspectives would you like to have on the team?
We will invite 12 students to be a part of the project and create three teams that include 2 graduate students and 2 undergraduate students, the final determinant being the most appropriate applicants. Our ideal mix would likely be: engineers (3), animal science students (with knowledge of cattle ranching in Texas) (3), wildlife scientists (1), anthropologists (1), and policy/ media students (1) on the team. Engineers will drive technology and problem solving, Wildlife scientists will understand predator behaviors while ranchers/ animal sciences will know about livestock needs. Anthropologists will ensure that we are adhering to cultural norms and respect. Finally, policy students will see that programs can be implemented into international development policies and will be responsible for the media and promotion of the project for greater adoption. Our faculty also represent these groups, with Dr. Ruyle working in conservation, human-wildlife conflict, and international policy; Rodney Boehm works with Aggies Invent; and Dr. Laporte’s work with student learning and cultural sensitivity.

Preferred software, program, or machine expertise:
One of the prototypes uses a RF tracking system, so students understanding these programs would be perfect for the project. Embedded system integration knowledge will be helpful for bringing solutions together. Students who know Python or R will be highly valued for the evaluation of the pilot study. Finally, UX/UI could be great for sharing information and greater adoption of conflict mitigation strategies.

What process or guidelines will determine which students are being paid (undergraduate, graduate, etc.) and which aren’t, along with estimates of amounts and methods (hourly, end of semester, etc.).
Students were not paid last year and I feel like we had an amazing team of dedicated students. I prefer to use the funds to take students to the field. This year, students were able to visit cattle ranches, the Cheetah Conservation of Botswana field camp, and a chance to see the predators in the wild. They were able to see the issue from multiple angles including an engineer versus an animal scientist, a local rancher versus a conservation group, and local Botswanans versus Americans. WE had the chance to interview several of the people in the project before even coming to the country. I would like to continue this system of providing a rich experience for students through activities and travel over payment. We are happy to provide research or course credit for the experience.

Will the project require travel?
Yes, for many students

Innovation on Real-Time Characterizing and Modeling of Airborne Microplastic Particles

Project Contact: Dr. Yue Zhang, Assistant Professor, Atmospheric Sciences, Arts & Sciences (Geosciences); Civil and Environmental Engineering, Engineering
Email: yuezhang@tamu.edu

Project Title: Innovation on Real-Time Characterizing and Modeling of Airborne Microplastic Particles

Team Leaders:

  • Dr. Qi Ying, Associate Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Engineering, qying@civil.tamu.edu
  • Dr. Yue Zhang, Assistant Professor, Atmospheric Sciences, Arts & Sciences (Geosciences); Civil and Environmental Engineering, Engineering, yuezhang@tamu.edu

Team Contributors:

  • Mr. Sahir Gagan, Ph.D. Student, Atmospheric Sciences, Arts & Sciences (Geosciences), sahir.gagan@tamu.edu
  • Ms. Joy Zhenli Lai, Master’s Student, Atmospheric Sciences, Arts & Sciences (Geosciences), zhenli_lai@tamu.edu
  • Mr. Bryce Nelson, Undergraduate Student, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Engineering, bnels1323@tamu.edu
  • Mr. Geoffery Roberts, Undergraduate Student, Atmospheric Sciences, Arts & Sciences (Geosciences), gmroberts00@tamu.edu
  • Ms. Heewon Yim, Ph.D. Student, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Engineering, laura_yim@tamu.edu

Departments Represented:
Atmospheric Sciences, Civil and Environmental Engineering

Units Represented:
Arts & Sciences (Geosciences), Engineering

External Organizations Represented:
n/a

Mini Description:
Microplastic has become an emergent pollutant with increasing environmental risks. Airborne microplastic particles are especially detrimental to health because they can be directly inhaled into lungs due to their small sizes. This project will provide the world’s first method to directly measure airborne microplastic particles in real time, and will significantly improve understandings in how microplastic is transported in the atmosphere.

Student Team Member Spots:
15 (8 UG, 3 Grad, 3 Professional or Doctoral, 1 PostDoc)

Background:
Since large-scale production of plastics started in the 1950s, more than 5 gigatons of plastic have accumulated in landfills in the environment. Overtime, the aging of the plastic makes it fragile and brittle, producing tiny microplastic particles that are now ubiquitous in both the aquatic and terrestrial systems. Microplastic particles generally have two size categories, namely 1-5,000 μm and <1 μm. The smaller size microplastics can stay aloft in the atmosphere for hours to weeks. The long-term inhalation of these microscopic particles can lead to severe respiratory issues and adverse health impacts. In addition, recent studies also found that airborne microplastics may reflect more sunlight back to space and shift the earth’s energy balance, further complicating the climate. Herein, understanding the composition and quantity of microplastic in the atmosphere is becoming increasingly important and urgent. Airborne microplastic particles generally are composed of polyester, polyethylene, acrylic, and resins. Traditional methods of analyzing airborne microplastic particles include collecting these particles for days to weeks with filters or through the fallout process, dissolving the samples with organic solvents, followed by sampling analysis through mass spectroscopic, microscopic, or spectroscopic instruments. Due to the longer sample collection time and the complicated pre-treatment procedures, characterizing the airborne microplastic has been extremely difficult. In this proposed research, we plan to establish an innovative method using the state-of-the-art Texas A&M Mobile Laboratory Facility as well as the advanced community multiscale air quality model system (CMAQ) to characterize and model the microplastic particles in real-time in the atmosphere. This project will not only provide valuable research experience but also cultivate collaboration and leadership skills for undergraduate and graduate students. In addition, through this project, we will be the first team in the nation to potentially provide real-time microplastic spatial data and inventory information. The results from this project are crucial to further understanding the source, emission, and evolution of airborne microplastic particles within the scientific community.

Goals:
There are five goals for this project.
(1) The first goal is to establish an innovative method and be the first team that is able to characterize the airborne microplastic particles in real-time. As discussed earlier, current methods for characterizing airborne microplastic particles are complicated and can take days to weeks to obtain one data point due to the low time-resolution. We plan to use a state-of-the-art high resolution time-of-flight aerosol mass spectrometer (HR-ToF-AMS) to analyze pure airborne microplastic standards. Currently at least 3 undergraduate and 2 graduate students in PI Zhang’s team have expressed interest in working on this project and detecting airborne microplastic standards in real-time. Once the standards are detected, the team will determine the detection limit, establish the calibration curve, and then move onto measuring ambient airborne microplastic particles.
(2) The second goal of this project is to measure airborne microplastics in using the Texas A&M Mobile Laboratory. The Texas A&M Mobile Laboratory belongs to the Center for Atmospheric Chemistry and the Environment (CACE) at TAMU. It is scheduled to be deployed during the summers of 2022 and 2023 in part of Texas and North Carolina. The mobile lab is an advanced mobile van that houses HR-ToF-AMS and many atmospheric measurement instruments. PI Zhang and 2 graduate students from his group will participate in the deployment. In addition, PI Zhang plans to recruit 6 undergraduate students to operate and collect airborne microplastic data using the Texas A&M Mobile Laboratory in Texas and North Carolina during 2022-2023. We will assign a graduate student manager and an undergraduate student leader to work together and assign collection tasks to each team member.
(3) The third goal of this project is to analyze the microplastic data collected from the field that include both geographical data as well as instrumental data. This goal will integrate both undergraduate and graduate students to work together to get the time-series data of microplastic particles at different locations both within and out of the State of Texas. The graduate student manager and the undergraduate student leader will work with the whole team to pair one graduate student with three undergraduate students to work on the data analysis. The team will learn how to use professional computing programs and data analysis tools such as Python, Igor Pro, and Matlab to integrate and visualize the data.
(4) The fourth goal of this project is to model the microplastic concentrations in the air using the CMAQ model. The CMAQ model will be first used to generate concentrations of total primary particulate matter from major emission sources. The emission rate of microplastics from these sources will be statistically determined using the primary PM predictions and the microplastic data collected in Texas and North Carolina. The CMAQ model will then be used to estimate regional distributions of microplastics in the contiguous United States and in Texas and North Carolina in higher spatial resolutions. PI Ying will recruit 2 undergraduate students to work on the statistical analysis of microplastics emissions. A graduate student from his group will be leading the CMAQ modeling and working with 2 additional
undergraduate students. The students will be recruited from the undergraduate numerical analysis and environmental modeling classes Dr. Ying is actively teaching. Dr. Ying is also the faculty advisor responsible for undergraduate professional development in Civil Engineering. This collaborative research will provide great undergraduate research opportunities for the newly created Environmental Engineering program in the Civil Engineering department.
(5) The fifth goal is to provide a novel platform to integrate the measurement data with the modeling results. The results, together with the methodology and the team members, will be shared on a dedicated website for the public to have access to. In addition, the inventory data for microplastic can also aid both future scientific research and policy making.

Outcomes:
Website: A dedicated website showing the measurement methodology for airborne microplastic, the spatial and temporal distributions, and the modeling results will be created and are accessible to both the general public and scientific community. The team members including all undergraduate researchers will also be shown on the website. In addition, for the first time, this website will also demonstrate the location-dependence of airborne microplastic concentration. Microplastic inventory: The first inventory for microplastic will be established for modeling purposes using high time-resolution ambient measurements as constraints. As far as the PIs know, this is the first scientific inventory for airborne microplastic particles and will significantly improve our understanding in the transportation and evolution of microplastic particles in the air. Publication: The project will lead to 2-4 publications in top scientific journals. Both undergraduate students and the graduate students will both serve as first authors and co-authors of the publications. They will also be trained on how to perform scientific data analysis and academic writing. Future grant: The data collected, the modeling results, and the undergraduate/graduate mentoring experience greatly enhance the prospects of future grants that both PIs plan to apply for. PI Zhang plans to apply for the NSF CAREER for 2023-2024. The results and the publications generated from this innovation grant will provide both solid data and support Dr. Zhang’s early career grants. PI Zhang and PI Ying also plan to apply for a joint NSF grant to examine the regional environmental and climate impacts of microplastic particles using the results from this innovation grant. The mentorship of both the undergraduate and graduate students can also be incorporated into the education component of the NSF grants that the PIs plan to apply for.

Benefits to Students:
The undergraduate and graduate students as well as the postdoctoral fellow will gain leadership skills while improving their communication, critical thinking, and scientific writing skills. For undergraduate students, they will learn basic research skills and how to scientifically design a research project and carry out the research. They will also learn how to work with team members to jointly finish a research goal. In addition, they will also improve their statistical and data analysis skills by performing data analysis and modeling. The undergraduate students will also gain credits through this project. The graduate students will learn how to mentor undergraduate students and cultivate their leadership through this project. In addition, the graduate students will also be able to write up manuscripts for scientific journals and improve their scientific writing skills. The graduate students will also be able to participate in multiple field research to learn state-of-the-art instruments and modeling skills, and pass such knowledge to the graduate students.

What would be the ideal composition of team members for this project? What majors, disciplines, skills, backgrounds, or perspectives would you like to have on the team?
The ideal composition of team members would be 60% undergraduate and 30% graduate students, with 10% senior staff such as PIs and one postdoc fellow. PI Zhang plans to recruit one postdoctoral fellows for his group and the postdoctoral fellow will be involved in this grant. Given that this project aims at analyzing microplastic aerosol particles combining laboratory experiments, field sampling, and modeling techniques, we aim to recruit students with a wide range of backgrounds and majors, including engineering, chemistry, atmospheric sciences, and environmental sciences. The wide background also facilitates students learning from each other. We would like to have 3-4 team members as graduate students majoring in atmospheric sciences and environmental engineering. The current Ph.D. students in the PIs’ research groups are suitable for being team members. In addition, the PIs will recruit 1-2 new Master graduate students to be team members. We would also like to have 8-10 team members be undergraduate students majoring in either atmospheric sciences, engineering, chemistry, or environmental sciences. Both PI Zhang and PI Ying taught undergraduate core classes in their respective departments and guest lectured at other departments within the university. They are confident to be able to recruit undergraduate students from these majors. In addition, PI Zhang started a high impact learning experience (HILE) for the core-undergraduate class he teaches (ATMO 363 Introduction to Air Pollution and Atmospheric Chemistry) and set up an undergraduate research poster. After the HILE class content, the number of undergraduate students who are interested in research increased by 300%. Currently, PI Zhang is teaching an undergraduate research course with other colleagues in the department and there are 16 students enrolled in the class. PI Zhang plans to recruit 5-8 students to work on this project while PI Ying plans to recruit 2-4 undergraduate students for this project.

Preferred software, program, or machine expertise:
There is no specific software and program prerequisites. The PIs believe the students can learn the specialized scientific software and experiences as long as they understand basically calculus, chemistry, and mathematics. Given that this project aims at analyzing microplastic aerosol particles combining laboratory experiments, field sampling, and modeling techniques, we aim to recruit students with a wide range of backgrounds and majors, including engineering, chemistry, atmospheric sciences, and environmental sciences. The wide backgrounds of the students are actually encouraged.

What process or guidelines will determine which students are being paid (undergraduate, graduate, etc.) and which aren’t, along with estimates of amounts and methods (hourly, end of semester, etc.).
This grant will mainly be used to pay for undergraduate students. A small portion will be used to pay for graduate students. We assign a total of 1,120 hours for undergraduate students and 200 hours for graduate students on this project. The students will be informed roughly how many hours they will be paid at the beginning of each semester. Then the students need to log their time on a digital logger in the lab every time they work on the project. Besides payments, students will also have the opportunity to use research credit and course credit for this project both during the normal semesters and during the summer time.

Will the project require travel?
A select number of students will travel to Houston, TX during Fall 2022 and to Raleigh, NC during Summer 2023.

Lights Out Texas: Team Based Approach to Integrating University Research with Citizen Science Conservation Efforts

Project Contact: Ms. Heather Prestridge, Curator, Biodiversity Research and Teaching Collections/Ecology and Conservation Biology, Agriculture and Life Sciences
Email: hlprestridge@tamu.edu

Project Title: Lights Out Texas: Team Based Approach to Integrating University Research with Citizen Science Conservation Efforts

Team Leaders:

  • Ms. Heather Prestridge, Curator, Biodiversity Research and Teaching Collections/Ecology and Conservation Biology, Agriculture and Life Sciences, hlprestridge@tamu.edu.
  • Dr. Gary Voelker, Professor and Curator of Birds, Ecology and Conservation Biology, Agriculture and Life Sciences, gary.voelker@ag.tamu.edu
  • Dr. Sarah Hamer, Associate Professor/Director, Schubot Center for Avian Health, Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, shamer@tamu.edu
  • Dr. Heather Thakar, Assistant Professor, Anthropology, Arts & Sciences (Liberal Arts), thakar@tamu.edu

Team Contributors:

  • Mr. Keith Andringa, PhD Candidate, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Agriculture and Life Sciences, keithandringa@tamu.edu
  • Dr. Perry Barboza, Professor, Rangeland, Wildlife and Fisheries Management, Agriculture and Life Sciences, perry.barboza@ag.tamu.edu
  • Mr. Simon Burton, Citizen Scientist, Texas Master Naturalist, simonelmoreburton@tamu.edu
  • Dr. Norm Dronen, Professor, Ecology and Conservation Biology, Agriculture and Life Sciences, ndronen@tamu.edu

Departments Represented:
Anthropology, Biodiversity Research and Teaching Collections, Ecology and Conservation Biology, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Schubot Center for Avian Health, Wildlife and Fisheries Management 

Units Represented:
Agriculture and Life Sciences, Arts & Sciences (Liberal Arts), Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences

External Organizations Represented:
Texas Master Naturalist, Brazos Valley Chapter Texan by Nature, Audubon Texas, Rio Brazos Audubon

Mini Description:
Join our team to closely interact at the crossroads of museum sciences, conservation policy, science communication and citizen science! Within the project, students and faculty involved will seek to develop a pipeline for bird specimens and data entering the Biodiversity Research and Teaching Collections via surveys for birds that are casualties of building strikes during peak migration. Making these specimens and their data available to the research community at large will involve specimen preparation, data digitization, curation of specimens, summarization, and relaying of data back to the major metropolitan areas in Texas where Lights Out chapters are operating. Students should be prepared to operate in two of these interwoven areas: Museum Sciences; Science Communication; Conservation Policy Development; and/or Citizen Science.

Student Team Member Spots:
16 (10 UG, 4 Grad, 2 Professional or Doctoral)

Background:
Texas is globally important for birds. 1 of ca. every 3 birds migrating through the U.S. in spring, and 1 of ca. every 4 birds migrating through the US in the fall pass through Texas; this translates to ca. two billion birds traveling through the state annually. As such, protecting birds in Texas promotes conservation of bird populations across the Americas. However, U.S. bird populations are declining rapidly, with 25% of the overall population lost since 1970. Contributing to this loss is annual mortality (ca. 1 billion birds) from collisions with buildings and structures, which primarily affects migratory species. Most of these deaths are the direct result of attraction to human-generated light pollution, and subsequent disorientation leads to fatal collisions. Birds are essential to our planet’s ecology and local economies. Birds provide ecosystem services, act as benchmarks for environmental health, and connect people to the natural world. In the Rio Grande Valley alone, Texas A&M found that nature tourism – which is dominated by bird watching – contributes $300 million to the economy and supports 4,407 jobs annually.

In fall of 2020, a small group of environmentally concerned citizens established a “Lights Out for the Birds” project in Dallas. Partners from the Perot Museum and Texas Conservation Alliance have garnered support from the Mayor of Dallas and former First Lady Laura Bush. Building owners, businesses, developers and homeowners were encouraged to help protect migrating birds by turning off non-essential nighttime lighting on buildings and other structures from 11:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. during peak migration in Spring and Fall. To document the effectiveness of the program, volunteers surveyed assigned routes each morning to check for fatalities. They recorded where they found strike victims (dead birds) and saved their carcasses for future integration into the Collection of Birds at Texas A&M University.

Goals:
The Lights Out program has quickly grown to a state-wide effort to include programs in Austin, Dallas, El Paso, Fort Worth, Harlingen, Houston, and San Antonio. Each city program includes a cross-cutting selection of representatives: City Manager, Sustainability Officer, Audubon chapter, local museum, local wildlife rehabilitator. Statewide representatives include NGOs Audubon Texas, Texan by Nature, Defenders of Wildlife, Texas Conservation Alliance, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, and Texas A&M University’s Biodiversity Research and Teaching Collections (BRTC).

The potential impact of the program is exciting and important for wildlife, and the team has a unique opportunity to influence policy, engage with citizen scientists, and opportunistically utilize casualties in research projects across the University and beyond. With a potential of generating 6,000 specimens per year for the BRTC, we have an enormous opportunity to integrate University research with citizen science while engaging and enhancing the experiences of our students. Our cross-disciplinary university partners will be able to use the specimens for a multitude of projects that involve hands on student training in research, museum techniques, and science communication. From our efforts to maximize research opportunities on these birds, conservation partners across the state will be able to relay real results back to their city partners and decision makers to influence policy and participation in Lights Out programs.

The BRTC specifically aims to:
• Maximize specimen utility and availability in the research arena through University collaborations, and through the broader avian research community.
• Foster a goal of informing local policy by evaluating the success of Lights Out programs, and communicating the results (city-specific and overall data) back to member cities, for incorporation into their conservation and citizen science efforts.
• Centralize bird strike data for uploaded to national databases (e.g., VertNet, BirdMapper), for open access use across the avian research and citizen science communities.
• Expose undergraduate students to these conservation issues, which will provide hands-on data collection, valuable conservation experience and connections for future employment.

Within the natural history collections community, the concept of an “extended specimen” elevates and expands the physical specimen with an augmented suite of digitized data including genotypic, phenotypic, and environmental data types. Parentchild relationships that exist between hosts and parasites, deposited in different collections, are an increasingly common link that is being made across databases. Our natural history collections community is currently coming together to form an Extended Specimens Network (ESN) to provide these interconnected datasets to a broad base of users. A recent report from the Biological Collections Network states the utility of the ESN as the following “The ESN will allow researchers to explore the rules that govern how organisms, grow, diversify and interact, and enable scientists to ask more nuanced research questions specific to how environmental change and human activities may affect those rules. The engaging vouchered specimen, coupled with the open access ESN, and immediate and relevant science resulting from the ESN, can play a unique role in promoting STEM education, engaging citizen scientists, and empowering a scientifically literate society. The specimen and the associated data provide a relatable and engaging entry point to participate in iterative data driven science, learn core data literacy skills, and build open, transdisciplinary collaboration.” (https://bcon.aibs.org/wpcontent/uploads/2019/04/Extending-Biodiversity-Collections-Full-Report.pdf). We would also note that by having interconnected databases and ESN’s, researchers from across the scientific community that rely on specimens for their research will in many cases be able to use Lights Out specimens, rather than collecting their own material. This will minimize the impact on wildlife, via the reduction of general collecting.

A major goal of our proposal is to establish and foster an ESN at TAMU. In general, most individual faculty operate in their own research “silo”, relative to other faculty across the University. The opportunities provided by the Lights Out specimens will allow us to integrate individually operating faculty silos into collaborative efforts; by extension, graduate and undergraduate students recruited to this project as well as existing students of individual faculty will be exposed to new innovative research areas. Our participating members include a cross-section of faculty that are currently utilizing specimens independently in their research programs.

Outcomes:
A primary outcome of this project will be the development of a sampling protocol and pipeline for specimens entering the BRTC through the statewide Lights Out program. Currently, we prepare specimens to our standards (our “silo”): a study skin and tissue sample. Parasites, blood and feathers are rarely sampled. We will seek innovations from across our group that promote efficient preparation while maximizing preserved material to enhance collaboration. Our workflow protocol will be disseminated to the museum community.

Migratory birds have received increasing research attention due to their ability to transport parasites (e.g., malaria, lice, ticks) and previous studies have shown that migrants may import species of South and Central American parasites and pathogens. There remain considerable knowledge gaps in our understanding of parasites to include their effects on hosts, host–parasite relationships, and the effects of ecological parameters on distributions and relationships in the New World. In addition to addressing these knowledge gaps with these birds, the future spread of these parasites can be modeled, with further investigations to understand the process of species invasion and potential future human or animal health consequences. These specimens can also be utilized in isotope analyses and microplastic assessments.

Results will be disseminated via student presentations and symposia and peer reviewed journals. Interactions with policy and citizen science partners via collection of morphological data, feather replacement and body condition opens our project citizen scientists. We will utilize community partner volunteers to collect data and communicate back to their local communities the importance of this conservation effort.

Benefits to Students:
Our cross-discipline team of students will benefit from their participation in numerous ways including:
• Fulfillment of internship credits (484/684)
• Increased understanding and expertise in specimen preparation
• Increased appreciation of other disciplines that utilize natural history specimens
• Opportunities for collaboration with peers and expert faculty; possible authorship on manuscripts
• Training in science communication
• Training and experience in public speaking
• Novel skills in museum techniques, training that is not available elsewhere at the University

What would be the ideal composition of team members for this project? What majors, disciplines, skills, backgrounds, or perspectives would you like to have on the team?
Students from other departments, colleges and schools (e.g., Biology, Communications, Bush School of Government and Public Service) will be strongly considered for inclusion as we recognize that each discipline brings unique skills. From an ECCB perspective, we expect to recruit students with hands-on experience preparing specimens for the BRTC (we have several such students each semester). In addition to this highly technical skill, their understanding of the importance of biodiversity science, conservation and discovery is a cornerstone for the evaluation of the effectiveness of Lights Out. From this pool, we anticipate recruiting several into ECCB research faculty labs to pursue questions related to parasites and isotope analysis.

Similarly, students from CVM will provide a research perspective related to parasites and disease ecology. These teams will work in sync with the students from RWFM, who will view the project through the lens of applied management. As such, RWFM students will be critical in successfully communicating our findings in a manner that can influence policy across the expansive urban partner communities. Critical to policy communication will be providing RWFM students with a foundational knowledge of the basic research questions we will address.

Our team will also include external organizations: We have existing robust partnerships with Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in Texas as well as several Universities. These include: Audubon Texas (with multiple chapters across the state), National Wildlife Federation, Defenders of Wildlife, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Big Bend Conservation Alliance, Witte Museum, Houston Museum of Natural History, Perot Museum of Nature and Science, The Nature Conservancy, Houston Zoo, Gulf Coast Bird Conservancy, Hill Country Alliance, Texan by Nature, Rice University, San Angelo State University and the Lab of Ornithology at Cornell University.

Preferred software, program, or machine expertise:
Knowledge of basic MS applications, data visualization, and graphic design would be useful. We will provide hands-on training in proper museum specimen preparation.

What process or guidelines will determine which students are being paid (undergraduate, graduate, etc.) and which aren’t, along with estimates of amounts and methods (hourly, end of semester, etc.).
All of our students will receive a stipend for their participation in the project. Graduate students will receive $1,000 for the year. Undergraduates will receive $850 for the year. Other credits are described above. Opportunities to be included in peer reviewed publications and outreach events will be plentiful.

Will the project require travel?
No.

Transformational Education: Critical Inquiry, Engaged Citizenship, and the Philosophy for Children Initiative

Project Contact: Dr. Claire Katz, Professor, Philosophy, Arts & Sciences (Liberal Arts)
Email: ckatz@tamu.edu

Project Title: Transformational Education: Critical Inquiry, Engaged Citizenship, and the Philosophy for Children Initiative

Team Leaders:

  • Dr. Daniel Conway, Professor, Philosophy, Arts & Sciences (Liberal Arts), conway@tamu.edu
  • Dr. Claire Katz, Professor, Philosophy, Arts & Sciences (Liberal Arts), ckatz@tamu.edu
  • Dr. Rebecca Schlegel, Professor, Psychological and Brain Sciences, Arts & Sciences (Liberal Arts), beccaschlegel@tamu.edu
  • Dr. Patrick Slattery, Professor, Teaching, Learning, and Culture, Education and Human Development, pslattery@tamu.edu

Team Contributors:

Departments Represented:
English, Philosophy, Psychological and Brain Sciences, Teaching, Learning, and Culture

Units Represented:
Arts & Sciences (Liberal Arts), Blinn College, Education and Human Development, Texas A&M Public Partnership & Outreach

External Organizations Represented:
Philosophy For Children (P4C)

Mini Description:
Faced with economic challenges, student disengagement, teacher burnout, erosion of public confidence in educational institutions, and a general degradation of civil discourse, municipalities and school districts seek fresh ideas and renewed vision. This research team proposes to collaborate with educators to reinvigorate elementary and secondary education in the state of Texas (and beyond) by training students, teachers, and colleagues in the Philosophy for Children (P4C) curriculum by offering a unique pedagogy that can assist teachers and students who seek to understand and ameliorate our educational challenges. We will build a team that includes various stakeholders with a background and interest in philosophy, K-12 education, the arts and sciences, STEM, literacy, cultural studies, political science, and public policy.

Student Team Member Spots:
14 (9 UG, 2 Grad, 2 Professional or Doctoral, 1 PostDoc)

Background:
We are requesting funding to defray the expenses associated with the proposed expansion and diversification of the Philosophy for Children (P4C) program at Texas A&M University. The research team plans to meet the growing demand for P4C pedagogy and training by (1) upscaling the existing program elements (see below); and (2) developing Spanish-language P4C pedagogy modules for delivery to underserved minority communities in Texas.

Our specific goals for the granting period (2022-23) are to build the network to accommodate the proposed expansion and diversification; and to conduct the studies that will reveal the most efficient and expedient means of achieving the proposed expansion and diversification. In particular, the studies will reveal which program elements work best, whether separately or in combination, for the various constituencies we wish to serve. Faced with declining state revenues, widespread student disengagement, low teacher morale, erosion of public confidence in educational institutions, and a general degradation of civil discourse, municipalities and school districts are in dire need of new ideas, new leadership, and new direction. The research team proposes to chart the future of elementary and secondary education in the state of Texas (and beyond) by training students, teachers, and colleagues around the state in the Philosophy for Children (P4C) curriculum, which is a proven solution to the educational challenges referenced above. Extant studies of the P4C curriculum demonstrate that it not only improves overall performance on standardized tests and other quantitative measures of educational excellence, but also promotes the virtues conducive to civil discourse, mutual respect, intellectual humility, and engaged citizen-ship. These studies furthermore demonstrate that the measurable increases in cognitive and social development are sustained over time.

The P4C pedagogy is distinctive for its commitment to two signal innovations: 1) the deliberate, structured retreat of the teacher from a position of sole authority (and content delivery) to the supporting role of classroom facilitator; and 2) the opportunity for the students to constitute themselves as a mutually supportive “community of inquiry.” Encouraged to claim an ownership stake in their own education, children versed in the P4C pedagogy gradually transition from passive consumers of educational content to active co-creators of knowledge and insight. The P4C program at Texas A&M University (P4C Texas), which was launched in 2015, currently supports four major initiatives: 1) Faculty-led workshops for K-12 and university educators and administrators; 2) Course/curriculum development in the Colleges of Liberal Arts and Education; 3) A year-long calendar of P4C events, featuring discussions pertaining to film and literature appreciation for K-12 students and their families; and 4) K-12 philosophy outreach, which includes the award winning summer camp.

Goals:
The significance and impact of the proposed research are directly related to the comprehensive transformation of K-12 education in the state of Texas. Our efforts to expand and scale the P4C curriculum will not only improve academic achievement across the board, but also produce citizens who are engaged, thoughtful, and mutually respectful of one another.

Our long-term goals include the following: establishing Texas A&M as a globally recognized center for the training and certification of faculty members, graduate students, and undergraduate students in the P4C pedagogy; curricular programming, including in-service workshops for elementary and high school teachers and administrators; longitudinal studies of the positive and prosocial effects of the P4C pedagogy; and outreach to TAMU campuses and stakeholders across the state of Texas. Our pursuit and attainment of these goals will position TAMU to fulfill as never before its Land Grant mission by providing municipalities and school districts with a proven, cost-effective alternative to failed strategies aimed at educational reform. Innovation[X] funding of this proposal will position TAMU as a destination of first choice for college-bound beneficiaries of the P4C curriculum, for civic-minded teachers and administrators, and for scholars and educators who wish to make an enduring difference in the lives of all Texans.

Motivated by good intentions, the implementation of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) in 2002 has increased the number of hours students spend testing rather than learning. The results of NCLB, as documented in the 2013 national report card, were dismal: reading and math proficiency scores actually declined. Even if the scores had improved, however, the hours spent on testing would not have contributed to the equally important social dimension of K-12 education. By contrast, the Philosophy for Children curriculum (P4C) has proven to be effective not only in improving math, reading, and cognitive abilities, but also in promoting civil dialogue, nonviolent approaches to conflict resolution, and heightened respect for ethnic, cultural, and religious differences.

The Philosophy for Children curriculum was established in the 1970s by Dr. Matthew Lipman while at Columbia University. Convinced that pre-college students would benefit from an immersion in the practice of philosophy, Lipman wrote a philosophical children’s novel, aimed at middle school students. The Philosophy for Children curriculum currently spans kindergarten through high school. Now a global program, P4C has directly benefitted thousands of pre-college children, who, upon being introduced to the joy of thinking, have found meaning and significance in their education. The program additionally benefits the teachers, schools, and communities where this program is introduced.

In collaboration with the Public Partnership and Outreach Office, in 2015 we launched a Philosophy for Children program at Texas A&M University (P4C Texas). The program furthers the university’s land-grant mission, which acknowledges a special responsibility to those citizens who are unable to take immediate advantage of the educational facilities and resources of the University. At one time a failing school with students unable to read at grade level, Waikiki Elementary School (Hawaii) is an example of this program’s success. In 2003 reading proficiency was at 41% and math proficiency was at 28%. Following the School’s decision to implement a P4C-intensive curriculum, these proficiency scores steadily increased, reaching 94% and 93%, respectively, in 2014. Now designated a Blue Ribbon school, Waikiki Elementary credits P4C with this consistent and dramatic increase.

As our nation emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, we plan to redouble our efforts to provide P4C pedagogy and training to a growing and diverse constituency of K-12 administrators, teachers, and students. Our goal for the grant period (2022-23) is to design and conduct a series of empirical studies that will determine the most efficient approach to achieving our proposed expansion and diversification of the program.
Short term goal (for 2022-23): Our objective for the granting period is to design and implement a series of empirical studies that will allow us to measure the impact of the program elements listed above, both separately and in combination.
Middle term goals: Toward these ends we have established the following goals for the granting period: Partner with BCS schools (public and private) to implement P4C in designated extracurricular settings and venues (e.g., after school programs, philosophy club, etc.); Conduct surveys of BCS parents, students, and teachers to study their perceptions of school and education and their perceptions of philosophy (both pre- and post-implementation of P4C); Conduct a study that enables us to collect and compare data from the summer camp and the extracurricular settings; Determine if P4C can provide statistically significant impact even if implemented in a reduced timeframe or in extracurricular settings.
Long term goal: We aim to become a regional and then state hub for introducing K-12 philosophy in the Texas. One overarching long term goal is use the positive impact of the P4C program to have an educational impact on families and to help change the negative perception of the humanities, one family at a time.

Outcomes:
Anticipated outcomes include the following: collection and analysis of data sets from the studies and the surveys; development of a sustainable model for implementing P4C in extracurricular venues and settings; organization of a two-day symposium to share results from Texas A&M and other US and international P4C centers (UPenn, Mexico, Ireland, Hawaii, New Jersey, Washington, Australia, etc.). Funding for the symposium will be secured from other sources; and developing our website to be a unique resource for everyone working with pre-college philosophy. We have already published preliminary results from five years of collected data. Our aim is to publish a journal article that focuses on a qualitative analysis of the material we have collected and builds on the theoretical work on the development of intellectual virtues.

Benefits to Students:
The students will receive a comprehensive syllabus that outlines expectations, learning objectives, reading and written assignments and grading framework. A weekly one-hour meeting will be mandatory for all student members of the research team. Team members will develop and refine their research skills by assisting with onsite data collection; recording, coding and analyzing data; conducting teacher observations and recording, coding and analyzing the data; assisting with setting up and conducting individual interviews and recording, coding and analyzing the data. Students will be responsible for a variety of written assignments (e.g., preparing field notes based on participant observation of classes). At the end of each semester, team members are required to write a 5-7-page paper that reflects on what they learned. Students will be assisting in all aspects of the research, logistical, and implementation of the P4C program. Students will gain practice experience with designing and implementing an applied research project. They will also gain experience facilitating philosophical discussions with pre-college students, designing the syllabus and planning the activities for P4C meetings, collecting and interpreting data, collaboratively writing scholarly articles.

What would be the ideal composition of team members for this project? What majors, disciplines, skills, backgrounds, or perspectives would you like to have on the team?
Ideally, students would be recruited from a diverse variety of academic backgrounds: humanities (English, Philosophy, WGST), social sciences (psychology, sociology, and political science); education (TLAC, educational psychology, educational counseling). We also would interview other undergraduate students who express an interest in engaging young people in philosophical dialogue and/or assisting with the data collection. flexibility, listening, reasoning skills, statistics, qualitative methods, and coding. Students interested in alternatives to standard education and working with precollege students are encouraged to apply.

Preferred software, program, or machine expertise:
Qualtrics and a program that analyzes language.

What process or guidelines will determine which students are being paid (undergraduate, graduate, etc.) and which aren’t, along with estimates of amounts and methods (hourly, end of semester, etc.).
One process will be experience levels; additionally we know that some students will prefer course credit, e.g., an elective, internship, etc. For those being paid, especially graduate students, a stipend will be the most efficient method. There are opportunities for research/course credit. The amount of time may depend on how many students ultimately participate in the project and how the research work is divided.

Will the project require travel?
No

I[X] Team Spotlight:

Texas STEAM Network to Empower Middle School Students

This project aims to empower Texas youth with greater confidence in STEAM skills, resulting in an increasing number of underrepresented youth pursuing higher education and career opportunities by providing under-represented middle school students with an opportunity to imagine how art, math, science, and coding are a bridge to creating the fantastic environments they enjoy in video games and films.

Current I[X] Team Spotlight Past I[X] Team Spotlights
Screenshot of LaFayette team Zoom Meeting
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