Category: Michigan Tech News

Measuring Changes in Motor Learning Outside the Laboratory

The Aging, Cognition, and Action Lab in CLS is currently investigating the validity of a new web-based application for measuring changes in motor learning that occur in healthy aging and Parkinson’s disease. Traditional laboratory approaches to measuring motor learning impose barriers to accessibility for many participants, while few options for portable devices such as smartphones and tablets have been developed. An effective web-based approach would allow testing to occur remotely, improving the reach to multiple populations of interest.

As a part of their investigative research, Dr. Kevin Trewartha and his team are seeking healthy older adults to participate in the study, as well as those diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Interested participants are otherwise free from medical conditions that affect movement besides Parkinson’s disease, are between the ages of 60 and 90, and are familiar with computers and how to use them. Participants should also be free from other medical conditions that impair cognitive function.

Photo of PhD student Alexandra Watral

The research is spearheaded by ACSHF PhD student Alexandra Watral who received a Songer Research Award for this project. This award is funded through a generous donation from MTU alumni Matthew Songer, (Biological Sciences ’79) and Laura Songer (Biological Sciences ’80) to the College of Sciences and Arts.

For more information or to see if you qualify for the study, contact the Aging, Cognition and Action Lab at 906-487 2378.

Assessing the validity of an online assessment of motor learning, Alexandra Watral, 2022

Q&A with Teaching Award Winner Briana Bettin

Briana Bettin is the recipient of Michigan Technological University’s 2022 Distinguished Teaching Award in the Teaching Professor/Professor of Practice/Assistant Professor category.

My goal is not just that students know how to code — you can find coding tutorials anywhere that give you raw “stuff.” I want to help them validate whether they understand what code does and whether they can communicate about code with others and justify their decisions while programming. I also ensure that students recognize, even if we aren’t building big systems for people just yet while we learn these foundations, that code is powerful and comes with responsibility, that there are social impacts to what they program and that computer scientists are often the least likely to recognize how impactful to society their job can be. These skills and this awareness are what job recruiters look for in the modern market. They are also valuable even for those who won’t go on to become programmers.

Briana Bettin

For complete Q&A with CLS / CS assistant professor Briana Bettin, see Michigan Tech News.

Queer and Here: Conversations Beyond Pride Month

This Pride Month, a few Michigan Tech faculty and staff from across campus gathered for a conversation on being queer in the Keweenaw.

In this roundtable Q&A, Amlan Mukherjee, Erin Matas, Kelly Steelman, Paige Short, and Tom Adolphs share their thoughts and experiences on the importance of representation, connections, and conversations during this heritage month and beyond. Read more.

Student Spotlight: Warat “Pomm” Khaewratana

CLS congratulates its most recent PhD recipient, Warat “Pomm” Khaewratana. 

Dr. Khaewratana successfully completed his dissertation, “Word games for education: Investigating the effectiveness of adding elaboration tasks to crosswords for learning technical vocabulary,” in May 2022.

Receiving a Royal Thai Scholarship to study in the United States, Pomm set out to help resolve the problem regarding a lack of skilled laborers in Thailand’s workforce. His motivation was to create effective and innovative workers with knowledge in the latest technology and skills obtained through specialized training and curriculum. He began his graduate studies at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), New York, and earned the degree Master of Science in Manufacturing and Mechanical Systems Integration before arriving at Michigan Tech. 

Pomm was accepted to the Applied Cognitive Science and Human Factors (ACSHF) PhD program in Fall 2018. He focused his doctoral research on the challenge in STEM education to not only memorize technical terms but learn and remember how to apply them in practice. He examined the gaming technique of crossword puzzles combined with strategies to enhance memory for training technical information. See dissertation abstract below for more information regarding this research.

Abstract: One challenge in STEM education is the learning of technical terms. In order to reason about higher-order scientific concepts, knowledge of technical vocabulary is often a prerequisite. Improving the knowledge may enhance learning of higher-order concepts because it reduces cognitive load students experience while learning. To that end, we need innovative learning-aid tools that help students not only in learning and remembering technical terms but also in applying the learned knowledge in broader concepts. This dissertation investigates the hypothesis that learning gain from crossword solving can be used to teach technical terms. Furthermore, I am also examining the hypothesis that an additional elaboration technique will enhance the effect of the crossword puzzle. In a series of seven experiments, I investigated the effect of crossword with add-on elaboration on students’ ability to retain memory of learned technical terms and to provide more in-depth explanations of those terms. Across experiments, I investigated (a) three different types of elaboration technique, (b) collaboration vs. individual participation, (c) in-person vs. online training, and (d) short vs. long delay. Across experimental variations, results indicated that using a crossword alone produced a statistically significant learning effect relative to a control condition. Although adding structured elaboration did provide benefits when added to crossword-based study, the results were mixed where additional time was given to crossword, and different elaboration techniques did not provide specific enhancement on memory retention. Implications for theoretical perspectives on learning technical vocabulary and best practices to implement crossword in educational settings are discussed.

Pomm will join Rajamangala University of Technology Lanna in Chiang Mai, Thailand as a teaching professor as part of the Royal Thai Government fully-funded international scholarship agreement. 

Pomm says the best memory of his time at Michigan Tech were all the group activities provided by Graduate Student Government (GSG), CLS department socials, and other university events. “I was able to try new things that I may not have gotten the chance to do on my own. Or if I did, it would not have been the same as experiencing it with others,” he explains. 

He also gave special thanks to his Co-advisors Elizabeth (Beth) Veinott and Shane Mueller, committee members (Shari Stockero, Amanda Gonczi, and Qian Zhang), colleagues, CLS staff, and chair Kelly Steelman. In closing, Pomm stated “I am who I am now because of them. Graduate student life can be very challenging. These people have helped me to succeed and prepare for my future.”

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Special shout out to colleagues Isaac and Stephanie Flint, Thomas Offer-Westort, Kaitlyn Roose, Anne Linja, Lamia Alam, and Shruti Amre.

Mental Health Awareness Month

Mental health refers to our emotional and social well-being and impacts how we think, feel, and behave. It enables us to connect with others, make decisions, handle stress, and many other aspects of daily life. As with our physical health, mental health plays a big role in our overall well-being. But unlike general physical illness or injury, it can be more difficult to recognize when someone is struggling with a mental health issue. 

Since September 2020, approximately 56 Michigan Tech faculty and staff have been trained and certified to recognize signs and symptoms, and provide support and strategies to those in need. This is all thanks to the National Council for Behavioral Health (NCBH) and Mental Health First Aid training provided by the Center for Student Mental Health and Well-being. The training, led by Sarah Dowd, Director of Student-Athlete Wellness and Clinical Counselor, and Sarah Woodruff, Clinical Counselor-Outreach, follows a hybrid model with several hours of pre and post-work and two half-day sessions of in-person instruction. The content focuses on the ALGEE plan: Approach/Access, Listen nonjudgmentally, Give reassurance and information, Encourage appropriate professional help, and Encourage self-help and other support strategies. 

Several faculty and staff from Cognitive and Learning Sciences (CLS) now join those certified as part of the most recent cohort trained this May.

Associate Professor Kevin Trewartha (CLS/KIP) describes his reasons for completing the training. “I have multiple roles on campus that motivated me to complete the Mental Health First Aid training. Aside from engaging with students every day as a faculty member, graduate program director, and research advisor, I am also serving as the co-chair of the University Senate Committee on Promoting and Facilitating Equity and Understanding. In addition, I am also the faculty representative for the College of Sciences and Arts on the University Diversity Council. This year, the Senate passed a resolution on raising awareness and reducing mental health stigma. The Senate and the Diversity Council are dedicated to ensuring that individuals living with mental illness are supported and welcomed at Michigan Tech. I completed the MHFA to ensure that I am prepared to contribute to those efforts.” 

Staff also play an important role in mental health support. “As CLS department coordinator and graduate program assistant, I interact with students, faculty, and staff for a variety of purposes on a daily basis,” Lisa Hitch explains of her participation in the recent MHFA training and certification. “I want to be knowledgeable about identifying and helping someone in need. I’m grateful that Michigan Tech values and provides such training for faculty and staff.”

MHFA as common as CPR

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health, administered by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), shows that in 2018 an estimated 46.6 million people, or 18.9 percent of adults ages 18 years or older, experience a mental illness or substance abuse disorder each year. Latest research now estimates that more than 1 in 4 U.S. adults report experiencing symptoms of depression as we continue to deal with the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. The vision of the NCBH is for Mental Health First Aid to become as common as CPR and for Mental Health First Aid training to be available to everyone in the United States. 

The MHFA training also teaches first aiders the importance of self care — putting on your own oxygen mask first so that you are able to assist others. SAMHSA has defined eight dimensions of wellness to help individuals focus on optimizing their health through emotional, spiritual, intellectual, physical, environmental, financial, occupational, and social components. (https://store.samhsa.gov/sites/default/files/d7/priv/sma16-4958.pdf). This is helpful information we can all use to support our overall wellness.

Michigan Tech’s Center for Student Mental Health and Well-being offers the Mental Health First Aid training each semester with the next available session sometime this fall. Certification is valid for three years upon successful exam completion. 

Sources: https://www.mhanational.org/mental-health-month; https://www.samhsa.gov/; https://www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org/news-and-updates/; https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/us-cases-of-depression-have-tripled-during-the-covid-19-pandemic

Resources:

https://www.mtu.edu/well-being/

https://www.mtu.edu/deanofstudents/students/resources/

https://www.mtu.edu/well-being/for-students/services/individual-therapy/wellbeing-guide.pdf

Mental Health First Aid

Student Highlight: Hunter Malinowski

Reading about Hunter Malinowski, a psychology and computer science major at Michigan Tech University, it’s hard to believe a student could accomplish so much during their undergraduate studies. But what is really amazing is the fact that Hunter began her dual degree programs just two short years ago.

Starting with her first semester, Hunter was awarded third place in the Bob Mark Business Model Competition and received a MTEC SmartZone Breakout Innovation Award and honorable mention in Central Michigan University’s New Venture Challenge for her start-up idea “Recirculate – The Future of Sustainable Fashion”. (See YouTube video below where Hunter describes her waste-reduction business model.)

Utilizing what she had learned in her first-year research methods class, Hunter applied to and received a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) grant from Pavlis Honors College (PHC). Each REU site receives funding from the National Science Foundation to support the research and contributions of many undergraduate students allowing students to work in a group of ten or so while conducting research at the host institution.

In her second year, Hunter continued her research work under the direction of CLS associate professor Dr. Shane Mueller after receiving a grant from Pavlis’ Undergraduate Research Internship Program (URIP). Her project, titled “Assessing the Effectiveness of the XAI Discovery Platform and Visual Explanations on User Understanding of AI Systems,” was part of the university’s 2022 Undergraduate Research Symposium. This spring, Hunter was also selected by PHC as a University Innovation Fellow and, in conjunction, attended the Stanford University Hassos Plattner Institute of Design (d_school) program in March. 

Hunter also devotes time to the campus community, currently as VP of Finance for Delta Zeta and as a member of the Order of Omega Honor Society. Past positions include Vice President of Public Relations for the Panhellenic Council, and member of the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) as their representative on the Well-being Advisory Board Team. Hunter’s academic achievements have earned her a place on the Dean’s list each semester as well.

We caught up with Hunter during Week 14 to find out more about her life at Michigan Tech.  

Q: Looking back, what were the deciding factors that led you to select Michigan Tech for psychology and computer science? Has your experience met or exceeded your expectations?

A: When I first toured Michigan Tech, I was solely interested in psychology. I visited the Cognitive and Learning Sciences department and was able to see all of the research labs, which was a large deciding factor for me in choosing Michigan Tech. I ended up taking a computer science class my junior year of high school, and loved it. I went on to do summer programs with Kode with Klossy, as well as the Women in Computer Science Summer Youth Program (SYP) at Michigan Tech, and that was the experience that solidified that I felt like I really belonged here. 

My experience at Michigan Tech has absolutely met my expectations; I was able to get involved in research during my first year and I love the environment that the psychology classes have. With the smaller size department, you end up knowing everyone very well and it makes classes a lot more comfortable. 

Q: What interests you about the combination of Psychology and Computer Science?

A: People are always surprised when I tell them that I’m majoring in Psychology and Computer Science because they don’t see how the two fit together. But there are so many interesting intersections between the two. First and foremost, if you know how to code and create a piece of technology, it’s not very useful if the user interface is poor. You could have a perfect technical design, but without understanding the psychology of the users, your app probably won’t get used. However, the most interesting aspect to me is artificial intelligence and its applications, which is what I plan to go into after graduating.

Q: With so many accolades over the past two years, what has been the highlight for you so far?

A: The trip to Palo Alto through University Innovation Fellows was 100% my favorite experience since being here. We attended a conference at Stanford; the campus was so beautiful and there were so many amazing speakers at the sessions I attended. It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever gotten to do.

Q: What are your future plans for your time remaining at Michigan Tech and when you complete your undergraduate degrees?

A: I am returning as a Ford IT intern this summer. Other than that, I think I will mostly be focusing on my classes and getting involved on campus where I can. When I complete my undergraduate degrees, I plan on staying here at Michigan Tech for one more year to complete my Accelerated Masters degree!

Q: What do you like to do in your “spare” time in the local area?

A: I love hanging out with my friends, going on adventures, and doing crafts (I love to crochet). One time, my friends and I were volunteering at Treat Street, passing out candy to local children. Afterward we decided to go and watch the sunset at Breakers Beach, which was happening in like 20 minutes. So we went in our Halloween costumes since we didn’t have time to change. That’s probably one of my favorite memories since being here. I love the Keweenaw because you’re so close to so many beautiful sights.

Q: Would you like to share any “Words of Wisdom” with high school juniors and seniors deciding on their college career?

A: I think my best advice for students making their college plans is just to do what feels right. You have so many options, and it can be hard to decide between them all, whether it’s the college you’re deciding on or what major you want to do. But at the end of the day, you know yourself best, so don’t overthink it too much. If something doesn’t feel right, you can always change it. Which is probably one of the hardest things for me because I feel like I want to do everything. And sometimes you have to admit to yourself that something isn’t working out, or else you’ll get overwhelmed.

For more information on our Psychology and Human Factors programs, and the student opportunities highlighted in this post, please contact us at cls@mtu.edu. For our latest happenings, follow us on Instagram @clsmtu or Facebook

Play Recirculate – Hunter Malinowski video
Preview image for Recirculate - Hunter Malinowski video

Recirculate – Hunter Malinowski

The Psychology of Nature


Psychological research is advancing our understanding of how time in nature can improve our mental health and sharpen our cognition. From a stroll through a city park to a day spent hiking in the wilderness, exposure to nature has been linked to a host of benefits, including improved attention, lower stress, better mood, improved immune system, reduced risk of psychiatric disorders and even upticks in empathy and cooperation. [Source: https://www.apa.org/monitor/2020/04/nurtured-nature]

The Department of Cognitive and Learning Sciences has blended these wellness findings with the area’s abundance of outdoor activities and endless beauty into its new course – Nature Psychology. The course was developed by Dr. Samantha Smith, CLS assistant professor, with noteworthy contributions from several other faculty at MTU.The new course centers experiential learning and takes an innovative and interdisciplinary approach to helping students explore how our mental experience is connected to the natural environment. 

The course also featured a significant service learning component. In collaboration with Jill Fisher, program manager at the Keweenaw Land Trust (KLT), the students designed a pamphlet explaining many ways that spending time in nature is good for mental health, physical health, and cognitive performance. The pamphlet will be placed at various KLT trailheads and around the local community. The class also created a family-oriented activity with the aim of getting more people exploring the great outdoors, and the KLT-protected lands in particular.

This year’s course culminated with a weekend nature retreat in the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, allowing students to directly experience and reflect on concepts they discussed throughout the semester. The retreat, facilitated by Dr. Smith and Dr. Erika Vye, included hiking, outdoor cooking, nature-themed discussions and crafts, and time for interpersonal connection and reflection.

Complementary Research and Curriculum Development 

In addition to learning about traditional psychology themes, like the impact of time in nature on cognitive performance and mental health, the new course introduced students to a variety of other perspectives on the human-nature connection. Brigitte Morin (BioSci) illuminated the human body’s physiological response to spending mindful time in the natural world, and Dr. Mark Rhodes (SS) led students on an exploration of human geography, political ecology, and what the word “nature” really means. Dr. Chelsea Schelly (SS) engaged students in an exciting examination of environmentally responsible behaviors, and our interdependent relationship with the biophysical world from a sociological lens. Lisa Gordillo (VPA) spoke to some of her own and others’ work at the intersection of art and ecology to facilitate community engagement and conversations about environmental justice and human rights. Dr. Erika Vye (GLRC) introduced students to the importance of varied personal values for geologic features, the wide-ranging connections people have with landscape, and the value of geoheritage as a geoscience communication tool affording place-based learning experiences that nurture our sense of place. Dr. R.J. Laverne (CFRES) shared his expertise on urban forestry, and the consequences of becoming too disconnected from the natural world that we evolved to thrive in.

The takeaways to keep for life

Throughout the course, students gained a greater understanding of:

  • how nature impacts human psychology and physiology,
  • how an understanding of psychology and the human-nature connection can be used to promote positive social and environmental outcomes,
  • how to engage in and promote environmental stewardship efforts and become more environmentally responsible citizens of the Earth.

There’s More

The Nature Psychology course is not the only experiential learning opportunity provided by the CLS department. Course offerings also include Environmental Psychology, where students go outside the classroom to observe psychological principles and practices at play in various real-world settings. For example, during the course, students conduct a walkability survey of Houghton, and conduct a scavenger hunt at the A. E. Seaman Mineral Museum to explore the design of educational environments.

In the fall semester, during the Upper Peninsula’s famous “color season”, the department also organizes a “Psych Hike” – a group hike on one of the area’s beautiful trails. This is a great way to calm the mind, move the body, and enjoy time together in nature.  

For more information regarding our Psychology and Human Factors programs, please contact us at cls@mtu.edu. And for the latest happenings, follow us on Instagram @clsmtu or Facebook

Photo credit: Hannah DeRuyter

Kelly Steelman receives ICC Annual Achievement Award

The Institute of Computing and Cybersystems (ICC) has announced the winners of the ICC Annual Achievement Awards. The annual awards recognize exceptional contributions to the mission of the ICC, dedication to research and support of colleagues and students, and were awarded during the Computing[MTU] Showcase. Nominations came from individuals and ICC Centers, and previous winners convened to decide awardees. This year, awards went to Kelly Steelman (CLS), Xiaoyong (Brian) Yuan (AC/CS), and Sidike Paheding (AC/CS).

Steelman, department chair and associate professor in cognitive and learning sciences, and an affiliated associate professor in mechanical engineering-engineering mechanics and computer science, was recognized for achievements in collaborative, interdisciplinary research, and mentorship and support of junior faculty. Steelman is a member of the Center for Human-Centered Computing in the ICC.

Yuan, an assistant professor in applied computing and computer science, was awarded for achievements in research in heterogeneous architectures for collaborative machine learning. Yuan is a member of the Cybersecurity Center in the ICC.

Paheding, an assistant professor in applied computing and computer science, was recognized for achievements in research in out-of-this-world deep learning and cybersecurity. Paheding is a member of the Data Science Center in the ICC.

Recordings and slides from Computing[MTU] Showcase workshops and sessions can be found on the ICC website.

Shruti Amre receives “Best Poster” in first Computing[MTU] Showcase

Michigan Tech’s College of Computing and the Institute of Computing and Cybersystems (ICC) co-hosted the first Computing[MTU] Showcase on April 4-6, 2022. Organizers say the showcase was intended to be a connection-maker on many levels, including undergraduate and graduate students presenting their most exciting innovations and current research.

The Department of Cognitive and Learning Sciences (CLS) was proud to have nine of the 40 entries in the Showcase’s research poster competition come from CLS students. With “Best Poster” going to Shruti Amre, ACSHF PhD student, for “Keep your hands on the wheel: the effect of driver engagement strategy on change detection, mind wandering, and gaze behavior”. Shruti is advised by Dr. Kelly Steelman.

Amre’s winning research poster

A few details on the research

Advanced driver-assist systems (ADAS) have revolutionized traditional driving by enabling drivers to relinquish operational control of the vehicle to automation for part of the total drive. These features only work under certain pre-defined conditions and require drivers to be attentive of their surroundings. While the features are engaged, there is an increased risk associated with drivers losing awareness of their environment. Popular manufacturers like Tesla requires drivers to have their hands-on-the-wheel while Cadillac’s ADAS requires drivers to keep their eyes-on-the road. We utilized a low-fidelity simulation and eye tracking to examine the effects of hands-on-the wheel and eyes-on-the road driver engagement strategies on change detection, mind wandering, and gaze behavior in a semi-autonomous driving task.


The showcase also hosted more than 20 speakers, including counterterrorism, health informatics, machine learning and security experts from companies and institutions ranging from Adobe, Amazon and Microsoft to the National Counterterrorism Center, the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Defense.

Faculty Research Talk by Kevin Trewartha

Cognitive Neuroscience of Aging

Research talk by Dr. Kevin Trewartha

Dr. Kevin Trewartha, associate professor in the Department of Cognitive and Learning Sciences (CLS) and Department of Kinesiology and Integrative Physiology (KIP), will present a talk on cognitive neuroscience of aging, Friday, April 15, 2022, at 3:00 pm, in Rekhi Hall Room G005. The lecture can also be attended virtually on Zoom. For more information on Dr. Trewartha’s research, visit his Aging Cognition Action Lab.

Dr. Hongyu An, assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, will also present. Dr. An’s research interests include neuromorphic engineering/computing, energy-efficient neuromorphic electronic circuit design for Artificial Intelligence, emerging nanoscale device design, and spiking neural networks. Visit Dr. An’s faculty webpage.

The lecture is sponsored by the Department of Computer Science.