Presidential Scholars
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Real-world Social Data Presentations 

Research Opportunity

Abigail Voelkner (Psychology) and Justina Gun (Sociology), were part of a unique training experience this year.  Under the advisement of Dr. Keith Morgen, who directs the Undergraduate Substance Abuse Research Team (UStART) at Centenary College, they were included on the research team for a grant-funded project focused on older adults in prison (Dr. Morgen serves as the Head Statistician/Methodologist on this grant).  This rare opportunity has provided the Presidential Scholars with the practice of conducting social science research using real-world social science data.  

Project Development

Abigail Voelkner (Psychology) and Justina Gun (Sociology) developed parallel projects (with a psychology or sociology focus) on older adults in prison and how the family relationship influences psychological well-being or in-prison behavioral issues.  Abigail and Justina functioned as researchers (and not assistants) via their working and consulting with Dr. Morgen and Dr. Amy D’Olivo (Justina’s advisor), to develop a project that addresses a critical issue still in need of analysis.  The students reviewed the literature, developed a concept, analyzed the data, and placed the findings within the context of the other research/theory.  

Educational Benefits

The benefit of such an experience is that – at a very early stage in their training – they start to understand how statistics and methodology work in the social sciences.  When Abigail and Justina take their statistics and research courses, they’ll have the advantage of having learned these skills from the top-down, via work on this (and other) project(s), as well as from the bottom-up where they learn the specific nuance theory and concepts that they were actually applying.

Major Conference Presentations

Both projects have been accepted for presentation at major conferences. Abigail is presenting her work at the Eastern Psychological Association Conference in Boston in March and Justina is presenting her work at the Eastern Sociological Society Conference in Baltimore in February. Though regional in name, these are national conferences in regard to prestige and scope of participant attendance. Abigail and Justina will also be presenting their work to the principal investigators (including Dr. Morgen) of the prison study grant.  

“Abigail and Justina conducted some of the first ever work on family issues and the older adult in prison,” said Dr. Morgen.  “The entire area of the older adult in prison is a still developing field of study and the Presidential Scholars, as first-year students, were able to produce research that will be used and cited by my colleagues and I, as well as other social scientists, in future publications. They truly made a critical and meaningful contribution to the research literature.”

See Abigail’s biography»

See Justina’s biography»

See Dr. Keith Morgen’s biography»

See Dr. Amy D’Olivo’s biography»