Symposium Superstars

USC Dornsife students win top prizes at the 16th Annual Undergraduate Symposium for Scholarly and Creative Work. In Social Studies II, Stephanie Wetzel wins the Interdisciplinary Award for her research.
Susan Bell

The daughter of a pediatric intensive care (PICU) physician, USC Dornsife psychology major Stephanie Wetzel grew up observing her father make his rounds as he cared for children suffering from life-threating illnesses or injuries.

She felt for the young patients and their anguished parents.

“Since I was a child I was fascinated by the complex diseases I saw there and by all the equipment that is used to monitor and keep even the smallest babies alive,” said Wetzel, a senior who plans to follow in her father’s footsteps. “I felt compassion for the very sick children and families I saw and always hoped that one day I could help alleviate some of their pain and stress.”

When the time came for Wetzel to choose a project for her senior honors thesis in psychology, the PICU seemed liked a perfect focus.

She chose to investigate the relationship between a child’s admission to the PICU and the development of acute stress disorder (ASD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the young patients and their families. Her research project won the Interdisciplinary Award in Social Sciences II at the 16th Annual Undergraduate Symposium for Scholarly and Creative Work held on April 16, in the Tutor Campus Center Ballroom. The awards ceremony and banquet was held at Town and Gown.

Sponsored by the USC Office of the Provost and coordinated by the USC Office of Undergraduate Programs, the symposium is designed to provide USC undergraduates with the unique opportunity to exhibit and share their significant research and creative work with the university community. The event is modeled on a professional conference with students presenting their work through posters, art exhibits and electronic media. Interdisciplinary Award winners and first place winners receive $1,000 and second place winners receive $500.

This year’s prizes were presented by Gene Bickers, vice provost of undergraduate programs, with the exception of the Schwarzenegger Institute prizes, which were presented by Bonnie Reiss, the institute’s global director, and Terry Tamminen, a guest judge and the former Secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. 

Wetzel’s research is part of a larger study conducted by Dr. Lara P. Nelson in the department of Anesthesiology Critical Care Medicine at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.

Past studies of PICUs have indicated that children and their parents are at increased risk for psychological stress after admission. This, Wetzel said, may be due to witnessing or experiencing painful procedures, observing other children go into cardiac arrest, or not understanding the reasons behind their child’s illness — the latter a problem that can be alleviated by clear communication from doctors and hospital staff.

Wetzel’s study enrolled 33 patients, ages 8 through 17, and parents, of mainly Caucasian, Hispanic and African American descent. The children and their families were interviewed and asked to fill out questionnaires upon PICU admission, at a one-month follow-up and at a three-month follow-up in order to track the development of ASD and PTSD.

Wetzel’s poster presentation at the symposium focused on the prevalence rates for ASD and PTSD in children and parents, the relationship between child gender and parental stress, and the relationship between age and the development of ASD or PTSD.

The research showed that all 33 children showed acute stress symptoms and 30 percent qualified for clinical ASD upon admission to the PICU. At the three-month follow-up, 22 percent of children qualified for clinical PTSD and 41 percent displayed post-traumatic stress symptoms. In addition, 18 percent of parents qualified for clinical ASD at admission and another 18 percent displayed acute stress symptoms. At the three-month follow-up, nine percent of parents qualified for clinical PTSD and an additional 27 percent qualified for post-traumatic stress symptoms.

With regard to gender, Wetzel found that parents of sons had significantly more diagnoses of ASD upon admission and significantly more post-traumatic stress symptoms at the three-month follow-up than did parents of daughters. Wetzel also found that at the one-month follow-up, the younger the child, the more stress and severity of stress the child displayed.

“These results show the importance of investigating how the PICU psychologically affects children and families admitted there,” Wetzel said. “Ultimately, the goal would be to use research like this to help make the PICU a less stressful place and to identify those individuals at risk for stress disorders early on in PICU admission, so they can be offered treatment.” 

Wetzel said she gained much from the symposium experience.  

“I was so excited that I got to share all of my results with the judges and attendees at the symposium because many people have never experienced the PICU environment,” Wetzel said. “Winning the Interdisciplinary Award was just the icing on the cake for me. The real reward was getting to work with patients and families in the PICU and learning all the aspects of the research process, from collecting and analyzing data, to writing my thesis.”


Research  Symposium Winners:


1st Prize

Jordan Perkins

Project Title: “Disaster Relief: Deployable Shelters”

Faculty Sponsor: Doris Sung of USC School of Architecture

2nd  Prize

Eunice Chang

Project Title: “Once Upon a Slave’s Ambition”

Faculty Sponsors: Maks Naporowski, Sheila Sofian and Shelly Wattenbarger of animation at USC School of Cinematic Arts

Honorable Mention

Saad Haddad

Project Title: “Mai”

Faculty Sponsor: Bruce Broughton of USC Thornton School of Music

Honorable Mention

Anaka Morris

Project Title: “Somewhere in South Central”

Faculty Sponsor: Alan Mittelstaedt of USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism



Interdisciplinary Award

Jasmine Torres

Project Title: “Foster Youth: An interdisciplinary approach to media representations, support networks, and education”

Faculty Sponsors: Zoe Corwin of USC Rossier School of Education; George Sanchez of American studies and ethnicity at USC Dornsife

1st Prize

Anneleise Azua

Project Title: “Curanderismo in the Rio Grande Valley: A Study of Transformation”

Faculty Sponsor: George Sanchez of American studies and ethnicity at USC Dornsife

2nd Prize

Vivian Yan

Project Title: “ ‘Their History,’ ‘Our History’: Constructions of Chinese American History and Community Identity, 1960-2013”

Faculty Sponsor: Lon Kurashige of history at USC Dornsife

Honorable Mention

Katrina Miller

Project Title: “El Rexurdimento: The Redemption of Galician Poetry”

Faculty Sponsor: Margaret Rosenthal of comparative literature at USC Dornsife

Honorable Mention

Quyen Nguyen Le

Project Title: “elsewhere, within here: On the Shifting Intersections of Identities and Formations of Personal Narratives among Queer Vietnamese-American Women”

Faculty Sponsor: Michael Du Plessis of comparative literature at USC Dornsife

Honorable Mention

Kalena Giessler

Project Title: “Examining Obsidian Provenance and Procurement: a pXRF Analysis of Obsidian Artifacts Found at Chavín de Huántar, Peru”

Faculty Sponsor: John Rick of anthropology at Stanford University; Lynn Swartz Dodd of religion at USC Dornsife



1st Prize

Elaine Roh

Project Name: “Adaptive Capacity to Bacterial Diet Modulates Aging in C. elegans

Faculty Sponsors: Sean Curran of USC Davis School of Gerontology, USC Dornsife and Keck School of Medicine of USC; Shanshan Pang of USC Davis

2nd Prize

Eliza Asherian

Project Title: “Chronic Ethanol Exposure in Mice Leads to Neuroinflammatory Response and Increased P2X7 Receptor Expression”

Faculty Sponsors: Liana Asatryan of clinical pharmacy, and pharmaceutical economics and policy; and Daryl Davies of pharmacology and pharmaceutical sciences at USC School of Pharmacy

2nd Prize

Karthik Vasan

Project Title: “Inhibition of cell growth and induction of apoptosis in KSHV-transformed cells by an inhibitor of sirtuins, Nicotinamide (Vitamin B3)”

Faculty Sponsor: Shou-Jiang Gao of molecular microbiology and immunology at Keck School of Medicine of USC

Honorable Mention

Yael Freiberg

Project Title: “A Four-Chromosome Yeast Model for Robertsonian Translocation Biological Sciences (B.S.)”

Faculty Sponsors: Susan Forsburg, Ruben Petreaca and Ji-Ping Yuan of molecular and computational biology at USC Dornsife

Honorable Mention

Joshua Dreyzen

Project Title: “Characterization of sleep disruption in known sleep and homeostatic synaptic plasticity mutants”

Faculty Sponsor: Dion Dickman of USC Dornsife

Honorable Mention

Brian Lentz

Project Title: “Rates and costs of ion transport are genetically determined during animal development”

Faculty Sponsors: Donal Manahan of USC Dornsife; Francis Pan of marine environmental biology at USC Dornsifre; Scott Applebaum



Interdisciplinary Award

Lindsay Arvin, Benjamin Anderson, David Bolen, Kevin Chan, Jeremy Chen, Taylor Hellam, Jonathan Ho, Amelia Moura, Imata Safo, Kelvin Vasquez, Jing Yuan  

Project Title: “SCEC-VDO: Information Technology for Earthquake Hazard Communication”

Faculty Sponsors: Robert De Groot and Thomas Jordan of Earth sciences at USC Dornsife

1st Prize

Evan Brown

Project Title: “Nanowire Simulations Provide Key to Harnessing Sun”

Faculty Sponsors: Aiichiro Nakano of computer science, physics & astronomy, and chemical Engineering & materials Science; Chunyang Sheng of chemical engineering & materials science; Fuyuki Shimojo of physics at Kumamoto University, Japan

2nd Prize

Renée Wang

Project Title: “Trace Metal Transport and Illegal Gold Mining in Peru”

Faculty Sponsor: Joshua West of Earth sciences at USC Dornsife

Honorable Mention

Carlos Portela

Project Title: “High Temperature Nanoindentation Method: reducing sample oxidation in metallicsingle crystals”

Faculty Sponsors: Andrea M. Hodge of aerospace and mechanical engineering at USC Viterbi School of Engineering

Honorable Mention

Matthew Orr

Project Title: “Photon-dominated Region Modeling of the [C I], [C II], and CO Line Emission from a Boundary in the Taurus Molecular Cloud”

Faculty Sponsors: Gene Bickers of physics and astronomy at USC Dornsife; Paul Goldsmith and Jorge Pineda of Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology



Interdisciplinary Award

Jack Koppa

Project Title: “FrackMented – Contextualizing Environmental Policy”

Faculty Sponsor: James Boyda of media arts and practice at USC School of Cinematic Arts

1st Prize

Michael Bertch

Project Title: “Hostile Takeover: The USIA and the Soviet Occupation of Austria, 1945-1955”

Faculty Sponsor: Paul Lerner of history at USC Dornsife

2nd Prize

Kristene Hossepian, Corey Pettit, Vivian Rotenstein

Project Title: “Restorative Versus Punitive Justice: A College Student’s Perspective”

Faculty Sponsor: Gayla Margolin and Michelle Ramos of psychology at USC Dornsife

Honorable Mention

Stephanie Chui, Francesca Corley

Project Title: “A Pharmacological Pandemic: How counterfeit drugs have turned medicine against us & how we can stop it”

Faculty Sponsor: Erin Quinn of science and health at USC Dornsife and family medicine at Keck School of Medicine of USC

Honorable Mention

Da Eun Kim

Project Title: “Breaking the Cycle – Cracking Gender Disparity in Game Development Education”

Faculty Sponsor: Mathew Curtis of USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism



Interdisciplinary Award

Stephanie Wetzel

Project Title: “Acute Stress Disorder and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder in children and parents after child’s admission to a pediatric intensive care unit (PICU)”

Faculty Sponsor: JoAnn Farver of psychology at USC Dornsife; Jeffrey I. Gold and Lara P. Nelson of anesthesiology, critical care medicine at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles

1st Prize

Mary Bassily

Project Title: “Characterizing Vowel Production in Post-Glossectomy Speech Using Real-time MRI”

Faculty Sponsors: Christina Hagedorn and Rachel Walker of linguistics at USC Dornsife; Shrikanth Narayanan of electrical engineering at USC Viterbi School of Engineering

2nd Prize

Kelsey Bradshaw

Project Title “GABRA2 Associations with Conduct Problems in Childhood and Alcohol Dependence by Mid-Adulthood in a Non-Western Sample”

Faculty Sponsor: Susan Luczak of psychology at USC Dornsife

Honorable Mention

Elizabeth Volpicelli

Project Title: “A Twin Study of Accumulated Environmental Risk Factors on Childhood Antisocial Behavior”

Faculty Sponsor: Laura Baker of psychology at USC Dornsife

Honorable Mention

Svadharma Keerthi, Janis Yue

Project Title: “Effects of Marijuana Use on Cognitive Ability: A Twin Study”

Faculty Sponsor: Laura Baker and Nick Jackson of psychology at USC Dornsife


SPECIAL AWARD – USC Schwarzenegger Institute

1st Prize

Erica Arnold, Peter Grasso

Project Title: “Sustainable Energy Recovery from Wastewater Treatment by Bioelectrochemical Fuel Cells (BEFCs)”

Faculty Sponsor: Massoud Pirbazari of Astani Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at USC Viterbi School of Engineering

2nd Prize

Thomas Tito

Project Title: “Polyamines Supported on Fibrous Silica Nanospheres: New Regenerable Adsorbents for CO2 Recycling”

Faculty Sponsor: Surya Prakash of chemistry at USC Dornsife; Laxman Gurung, research assistant at USC Dornsife