Virginia Tech researchers will examine high-impact issues this summer with support from the Institute of Society, Culture, and Environment’s Summer Scholars award program. 

Ten faculty members from three colleges received awards, which carry financial support ranging from $9,000 to more than $30,000.  Funds can be used for participant incentives, equipment, faculty stipends, student wages, and travel. Each awardee will also have the opportunity to meet with Betsey McDonel Herr, senior research scientist, who is an experienced grant writer and past program officer.

"The overall goal of the program is to give researchers the resources they need to collect pilot data useful for seeking external support," said Karen Roberto, the institute’s director.  Research topics range from the impacts of parental incarceration on high-risk youth to the identification of changing tissue in relation to breast cancer.

Awardee Carla Finkielstein, an associate professor of biological sciences in the College of Science, and Tina Savla, an associate professor of human development in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, will use the support to collect biological data from healthy female volunteers in order to create an over-the-counter biomarker tool that could help women evaluate their own breast health.

“A biomarker tool would be a valuable tool to make breast cancer evaluation more accessible,” said Finkielstein. “There is a large group of ‘at risk’ women who fail to have their regular screening because of social, economic, cultural, behavioral, or geographic reasons.”

Awardee Christine Labuski, an assistant professor of sociology in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, will use the funds to further her study of gender dynamics in the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota.

"This is a project about social and economic inequalities, the gendered wage gap, and what anthropologists call ‘cultures of energy,’ i.e. the social and political worlds that develop around the consumption of and struggles over fossil fuels and their alternatives," Labuski said.

The funds will allow another awardee, Joyce Arditti, a professor of human development in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, valuable time and resources to examine the effects of parental incarceration on youth’s mental health.  The need is pressing.

"Approximately 52 percent of state inmates and 63 percent of federal inmates are parents to an estimated 1.7 million minor children, accounting for 2.3 percent of the U.S. population under the age of 18," said Arditti.  "We hope to gather sufficient data so that it will not only serve to enrich our external grant proposals, but also stand alone and add to the empirical work on the effects of parental incarceration on children and families."

This data will help address a gap in the literature that assesses family processes such as parenting stress, family visitation at prisons, and the nature of children’s relationships with their incarcerated parent.

A complete list of this summer’s awardees projects are posted on the institute’s website and below:

  • Joyce Arditti, a professor of human development in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, with Elizabeth Johnson of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville and Tom Ollendick, University Distinguished Professor of psychology in the College of Science, will explore, “A Stress Process Model of How Parental Incarceration Impacts Youth Mental Health: The Role of Stigma, Stress, and Coping in Contributing to Child Psychopathology and Adjustment.”
  • Carla Finkielstein, an associate Professor of biological sciences in the College of Science, and Tina Savla, an associate professor of human development and methodologist at the Center for Gerontology in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences will research, “A New Biomarker Tool for Breast Cancer Deduction in Populations at Risk.”
  • Kathy Hosig, an associate professor of population health sciences in the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, with Eileen Smith Andersen-Bill of the Center for Public Health Practice and Research and Ann Forburger, senior project associate in the department of population health sciences in the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, will examine, “Health Literacy and Self-regulation in Community-based Type 2 Diabetes Intervention.”
  • Christine Labuski, an assistant professor of sociology in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, will explore “(Wo)Men Working: Gender, Labor, and Extraction in the Bakken Oil Fields.”
  • Bradley White, an assistant professor, Thomas Ollendick, University Distinguished Professor, and Robin Panneton, an associate professor, all from the department of psychology in the College of Science will investigate, “Eye Gaze and Empathy Deficits in Children with Callous-Unemotional Tendencies.”

The Institute for Society, Culture, and Environment also funded an interdisciplinary team of researchers under the Summer Scholar In-Residence Program:

Angela Scarpa, an associate professor, Martha Ann Bell, a professor, Julie Dunsmore, an associate professor—all of the psychology department in the College of Science—and Richard Ashley, a professor of economics in the Pamplin College of Business, will explore, “A New Construct for Studying Social Reciprocity in Autism.”

The Institute for Society, Culture and Environment (ISCE) serves the university as one of Virginia Tech’s research investment institutes. A core goal of ISCE is to strengthen the university’s competitive position in the social sciences, humanities, and the arts. The Summer Scholars program is one mechanism of that mandate.