Faculty Research Day 2015

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If research begins with a question – a trail followed and chased for weeks, months, even years – then Beltina Gjeloshi’s began when she was a little girl in Albania, swept up in a national conflict she didn’t understand. Her family lived in poverty and political persecution so she and her mother fled to Italy. At seven she wondered, “Why did it have to be this way?”

That question would become central to the research she presented at Faculty Research Day 2015. How could she affect change so other children didn’t have to live through what she did? In her “International Conflict and Management” course, College of Public and International Affairs Dean Thomas J. Ward asked students to find a nation in conflict and find a solution to “calm the waters” there.

Gjeloshi ’15, who is pursuing a master’s in global development and peace, chose the Central African Republic (CAR) because it “had been in conflict and chaos since 1960.” CAR is one of the ten poorest countries in the world, torn apart by warring rebel factions, with children often unable to go to school.

“I felt this on my skin and in my heart, and it took me back to my childhood only this was ten times worse,” she said.

Her solution: a radio-based communication plan bringing BBC Media Action radio — used to empower and give voice to communities in other African countries — and UNICEF Radio educational programming to CAR. Gjeloshi placed third in the graduate category but the real prize, she said, was sharing her research with so many people. “I never stopped talking,” she said. “The day was amazing.”

One hundred and twenty-nine research posters were presented in the faculty, Ph.D., graduate, and undergraduate categories at Faculty Research Day last Friday. Eleven out of the University of Bridgeport’s 13 schools and colleges, including 29 departments, participated.

“This is our most diverse year yet,” said Christine Hempowicz, director of the Office of Sponsored Research and Programs.

Tarek M. Sobh, senior vice president for graduate studies and research dean of the School of Engineering, said having that level of participation and engagement on a campus of 5,000 students was “stunning.”

“This day cements the fact that we are truly an emerging research institution,” Sobh said. “The function of an eminent higher educational institution is to dispense knowledge but also to create knowledge, and this is what we are doing. It’s about sharing intellectual property. It’s about innovation.”

More than 300 people turned out to view the posters and talk with faculty researchers like Xingguo Xiong, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, whose development of a smart drug delivery system took home a faculty research prize, and students like undergraduate Luke DeRosa, Talissa Traverso, and Savari Divine from the Shintaro Akatsu School of Design, who won first place for research into “building green.”

The attendees and participants packed Littlefield Recital Hall for keynote speaker Mark A. Boyer, Board of Trustees Distinguished professor of Political Science at the University of Connecticut, who urged the researchers to “follow the good idea” to work across disciplines to solve real-world problems and to have fun while doing so.

“It’s what keeps you smart, alive, and intellectually engaged in what you are working on,” he said.

At the awards reception, University President Neil Albert Salonen praised the faculty and students for their innovative thinking. He quipped that when their ideas make them a lot of money they should “remember this day.”

Nearly a week later, Michael Lohle, senior lecturer in the Ernest C. Trefz School of Business, who won a faculty prize for “Real Projects, Virtual Worlds: Coworkers, their Avatars, and the Trust Conundrum” was still marveling over the lively exchanges he had with students and faculty. His research taps into the virtual world concepts used in the popular “World of Warcraft” multiplayer online role playing game.

“I’d look up and there was a big circle of people around me as I discussed my research,’ he said. “It was three people deep, which I just couldn’t believe. It was quite a day.”