Cal Poly Students Earn Four Awards at Statewide Research Competition

SAN LUIS OBISPO — Four Cal Poly students received awards — including three who earned first-place honors— at the 32nd annual California State University Student Research Competition held May 4-5 at Sacramento State University.
The competition promoted excellence in scholarly research and creative activity by recognizing outstanding student accomplishments throughout the CSU — the nation’s largest four-year public university system, with nearly 485,000 students. Forty-one individuals received either a first- or second-place award in 21 categories. They shared $15,500 in prizes; $500 for first-place awards and $250 for seconds.

All student participants received a commemorative certificate and T-shirt. The 21 winners and 20 runners-up also received an additional certificate and a golden stole for their graduation regalia with the message “CSU – Student Research Award.”

“This was my first time watching the CSU students present, and it was a wonderful experience,” said Christopher L. Kitts, interim Dean of Research at Cal Poly. “I thought all 10 of our Cal Poly students did extremely well. All the same, I would not have wanted to be one of the judges; the competition was fierce this year. While three firsts and a second is fantastic, I want to stress that everyone made outstanding presentations on excellent research.”
Three Cal Poly students received first-place honors for research on the psychological impacts of a rare genetic disorder, the impact of cold on an invasive lizard species and the implications of internet source coding:
Tobias Bleisch, 23, a software engineering graduate student from San Jose, competed against eight others with a project titled “An Empirical Study of CSS Behavior in Web Frameworks.” He won the mixed graduate/undergraduate section of the Engineering and Computer Science category.
CSS, or Cascading Style Sheets, describes how HTML elements are to be displayed on screen, paper, or in other media. CSS can control the layout of multiple web pages all at once.
“My research project looks into whether or not web frameworks appear to help introduce bad practices into the style code of a website,” he said. “Web frameworks are just software tools that help developers build websites, and it’s possible that they're encouraging developers to introduce what are called ‘code smells,’ or bad practices, into their CSS-style code.”
The project analyzed 5,000 websites and revealed a correlation between the website’s CSS and “the web framework that was used to develop the website,” Bleisch said. “This could suggest that web frameworks encourage bad practice in style development.”
Graduate biology student Daniel Haro edged out 11 others in the Biological and Agricultural Sciences category for his study titled “How Cool Can Lizards Be? An Investigation with Two Populations of the Italian Wall Lizard (Podarcis siculus).”
The lizard species, native to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, France, Montenegro, Slovenia, Switzerland as well as Italy, has been introduced into the United States, primarily in the northeastern states.
“I am studying the effects of cold acclimation on cold tolerance and other physiological variables using an invasive lizard species which has been successfully introduced to various winter-experiencing climates in the U.S.,” said the 26-year-old from Sylmar, Calif. “Although the ability of ectotherms to change physiological traits is well known, the rate of change in traits and the extent to which traits can change is not well known.”
Psychology major Leah Thomas, 23, from Wuerzburg, Germany, won the Behavioral and Social Sciences undergraduate category her research titled “Meta-analysis on Internalizing Outcomes in Neurofibromatosis Type 1.”
NF-1, one of the most common genetic disorders that is not limited to a person’s race or sex, is a condition characterized primarily by changes in skin color and the growth of non-cancerous tumors along the nerves of the skin, brain and other parts of the body.
“The goal of my research project was to figure out whether individuals with a genetic disease, Neurofibromatosis Type 1, experience more internalizing issues than those without the disease,” said Thomas, who graduated from a high school in Portola Valley, Calif. “Internalizing issues is a term used in psychology to describe all kinds of negative emotions and behaviors that turn us inward, for example depression, anxiety, guilt. It is very important work, because NF-1 can be a very impacting disease for both the individuals and for their families.”
Thomas hopes the research findings will be used to treat the condition “as well as with the affected individuals and their families,” she said. “We ultimately hope that our findings will be incorporated into intervention plans so internalizing issues can be screened for and prevented or addressed as they develop.”
Christopher Hatch, a 21-year-old biomedical engineering junior from Thousand Oaks, was the runner-up in the Health, Nutrition and Clinical Sciences category for a project titled “Mechanisms of Reduced Vascular Tone Following Collateral Arteriogenesis.”
“My research is focused on ischemic disease, such as plaque buildup during atherosclerosis,” he said. “The body is able to create natural bypasses by having smaller blood vessels near the atherosclerotic region enlarge to carry more blood. I am attempting to understand the pathways that allow the blood vessels to enlarge.
“In a more technical sense, I am studying the process of arteriogenesis. During arteriogenesis, arterioles enlarge and connect to provide more blood flow to an ischemic (oxygen depleted) region. Following arteriogenesis there is a loss of vascular tone — the blood vessels at rest are significantly enlarged — that is restored with exercise and with time. I am attempting to identify what causes this loss of vascular tone.”
Nearly one in five people cannot receive “surgical interventions necessary to treat advanced stages of atherosclerosis,” he said. “By studying the underlying mechanisms, it creates the chance of finding a pathway that could lead to a noninvasive procedure for this population.”
The annual competition brought nearly 250 students from 22 campuses throughout the CSU system to Sacramento State to present the results of their original research, scholarship and creative work to panels of judges.
Final competitors submitted written papers and made oral presentations. They were judged on clarity of purpose, appropriateness of methodology, interpretation of results, clear articulation of the research and their ability to field questions from the jury and audience.
Four of Cal Poly’s six colleges were represented this year. The 10 presenters were selected from 26 submissions and presentations that were evaluated by an Academic Senate committee on March 3.
The other presenters include chemistry graduate student Jeremy Armas of Boca Raton, Fla., Ian Fetters, a graduate English student from Murrieta, Calif., graduate biology major Nicole Hack of La Canada Flintridge, Calif., Mallory Hamel, a biology senior from Morgan Hill, Calif., kinesiology senior Julian Martinez of West Hills, Calif., and Morgan Wonderly, an animal science senior from Bakersfield.

Tobias Bleisch, software engineering graduate student (top left); Daniel Haro, biology graduate student (top right); Leah Thomas, psychology major (bottom right); Christopher Hatch, biomedical engineering major (bottom left)

Contact: Chris Kitts
(805) 756- 2949,

May 15, 2018

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