Trailblazers in Mentorship
USF Sarasota-Manatee Campus Faculty Members Matched With Graduate And Doctoral Students Across All USF Campuses
By Rich Shopes
A new program at USF is connecting graduate and doctoral students with faculty researchers at the Sarasota-Manatee campus.
The Trailblazers program matches graduate and doctoral students from across the three USF campuses with faculty mentors, providing the students with quality research experiences in their chosen fields and the faculty with support for their research endeavors.
Sandra Stone, assistant dean of graduate studies at the Sarasota-Manatee campus, helped create the program to attract research assistants. “Because of the consolidation of USF’s three campuses into one university, professors on our campus now have the ability to work with hundreds of graduate students from across the university and the students have expanded opportunities to gain valuable research experiences,” said Stone.
Six students – four PhD candidates and two students enrolled in graduate programs – were awarded researcher positions from a pool of 22 students who applied during the program’s rollout in spring 2021. Students approved for the program are eligible for generous grants to defer tuition and other expenses: Masters students receive up to $10,000 while PhD candidates are awarded up to $25,000.
In addition to Stone, a criminology professor, six other Sarasota-Manatee researchers were matched with assistants: Michelle Arnold (communication sciences and disorders), Paul Kirchman (chemistry), Jenni Menon Mariano (educational psychology), Fawn Ngo (criminology), Giti Javidi (information assurance and cybersecurity management) and Ehsan Sheybani (information systems/decisions sciences).
“We are all very excited because this program is a key component in building opur graduate programs and research capacity at the Sarasota-Manatee campus,” Stone said. One of those assistants, psychology student Amanda Connella, said she applied for the Trailblazers program because it enables her to perform research in her field of interest, human trafficking. In addition to working with Stone, she’ll assist Joan A. Reid, director of the USF Human Trafficking Risk to Resilience Research Lab on the St. Petersburg campus.
“I thought this might make a good master’s thesis,” she said. “It also offers me an opportunity to work with and get to know professors from other campuses. This is a really good program in terms of connecting people.”
Connella will assist in a year-long study of trafficked boys and male teens. The researchers will interview shelters and family assistance agencies and compare statistics to those from a study 10 years ago. So far, most research into human trafficking has focused on girls and young women.
“Boys are trafficked at the same rate as girls, but there are not as many resources available to them,” Connella said. “There’s still a lot of stigma and roadblocks for these boys in getting the help they need. In general, there’s not a lot of research in this area.”
Another research assistant, Tram Tran, will assist Ngo, an experienced criminologist, in exploring factors that contribute to persistent drug use.
The two plan to travel to Vietnam to interview participants of a drug-intervention program. Ngo, who spent much of her childhood in Vietnam, is fluent in Vietnamese, as is Vietnam-born Tran. Concerns about COVID-19 prevented the researchers from entering Vietnam in the summer.
Ngo said their study will look for common themes in the participants’ personal histories. She said she’s curious whether the same factors accounting for drug use in the U.S. are present in the Vietnamese addicts as well, or are other factors to blame?
“Was it pressure from friends, problems in their family, job stress or was there another reason?” she asked. “The study will look into what led them to start using drugs and why they persisted and moved to harsher drugs.”
Tran said she’s thrilled to work with Ngo. The second-year doctoral student is studying mental health and the underlying factors of drug addiction. Before coming to USF she was a Fulbright scholar at Johns Hopkins University.
“This scholarship is a great opportunity to work with Dr. Ngo and to gain important experience,” Tran said. “It will help me to learn more about research and to gain hands-on experience in collecting and analyzing data and understanding what it means. This program really is a great opportunity for me. I’m very excited to get started.”