A blog by Mark Derewicz, about society and research and where the two sometimes intersect.
UNC undergrads come into their own with a daily newsmagazine.
Carolina Connection sounds a lot like the name of a program you’d hear on NPR, only a bit more hip. There’s a good reason why—the UNC students who run Carolina Connection receive ample training from NPR veteran Adam Hochberg, who teaches a course on how to produce radio segments from soup to nuts and then how to broadcast them on a local radio station: Chapel Hill’s WCHL 1360.
Hochberg isn’t interested in teaching students how to become NPR producers or correspondents; he wants them to have their own styles. But he also wants them to keep certain journalistic principles at the forefront of their work. This is not talk radio.
For instance, the segment introducing UNC’s incoming chancellor, Carol Folt, featured several sources from Dartmouth, where Folt had served as president, provost, and dean. The first few sources told Connection producer Kirsten Chang why they admired Folt’s leadership skills. But Chang also tracked down some of Folt’s detractors and contextualized their grievances with facts, giving listeners much-needed background information.
In the end, Chang wrapped up her segment as she saw fit—with a source telling listeners that any good leader who faces tough decisions during a long tenure will likely ruffle some feathers along the way.
That’s good reporting. Chang didn’t give equal weight to both sides; she tried to suss out the truth and paint an accurate picture for listeners.
Carolina Connection began back in 2004 and hasn’t missed a week since, except during summer and winter breaks.
In the past two years, the reporting has gotten sharper while the focus has broadened. UNC is still the main beat, but Hochberg encouraged students to search for stories, including investigative pieces, away from campus.
In April, UNC student Mark Haywood reported from Asheboro, North Carolina, on human trafficking. While reporting on a particular trafficking case, he found out that North Carolina has become a top destination for women who’ve been brought to the United States against their will.
Segments like that and the overall production quality of Carolina Connection have earned it the Most Outstanding Student Newscast Award from the Society of Professional Journalists in 2009, 2010, and 2012.
And stuff like that—as well as Hochberg’s involvement—got the attention of producers at WUNC’s The State of Things. On April 25, Host Frank Stasio interviewed Hochberg and UNC students Mike Rodriguez, James Kaminsky, Haywood, and Chang. Take a listen.
Ranking the foods highest in pesticide contamination might be a good idea. The question is, how good?
It’s strawberry season, and so begins the long temptation to buy berries that have been sprayed with pesticides. They’re so much cheaper. But they’re also near the top of the list of foods that remain highly contaminated with pesticides long after the fruit is picked, washed, and stacked on supermarket shelves.
As UNC dietitian Suzanna Havala Hobbs points out in her most recent News and Observer column, the nonprofit organization Environmental Working Group publishes a guide that lists which fruits and vegetables have the highest levels of pesticide contamination. There’s a debate, though, about how helpful this guide is.
To create the rankings, the EWG used data from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which tests produce samples to determine the levels of pesticide contamination after the food has been washed.
“It’s important to minimize your exposure to pesticide residues, and that’s especially true for babies and young children,” Hobbs says in her column. “Their small bodies and rapid growth and development make them particularly vulnerable to damage from environmental contaminants.”
This is why I choose to eat food sans pesticides. But my wallet is only so thick, so I refer to the list and try my best to avoid the forbidden fruit.
Here’s the EWG’s Dirty Dozen for 2013:
7. Sweet bell peppers
8. Nectarines, imported
11. Cherry tomatoes
12. Hot peppers
These lists, though, only go skin deep. Pesticides can seep inside fruits and vegetables.
As researchers are finding, even miniscule amounts of pesticide toxins—a few parts per trillion—can alter the way our genes work, and altering our genes is a good way to spur on disease. The evidence against pesticides is mounting.
So although I sometimes hedge my bets in the supermarket and buy food that’s been sprayed, I wonder if the cards are stacked against me—and my kids—from the get-go.
How do kids perceive advertisements tailored specifically to them?
Advertising companies spend millions to make their products as appealing as possible, often to kids. UNC undergraduate Katherine McIlwain wondered how well that works.
As part of her senior thesis, McIlwain gathered eight mothers and their kids—seven-year-olds and nine-year-olds—and asked them about their diets and television habits.
The mothers told McIlwain that they weren’t worried about advertisements influencing their children. “They said that they make the decisions about what to buy,” McIwain says. They didn’t think particular ads stuck with kids. And, they said, no matter what Count Chocula might say, they’re the ones—not the children—who have final say.
But the mothers also told McIlwain that particular ads might be more persuasive when their kids get a bit older—when children generally have more freedom about where they go, what they think, and what they eat. And by that time, who knows what messages from their younger days will have stuck with them.
When McIlwain questioned the kids, she found that the seven-year-olds couldn’t articulate which specific ads they liked or if they had ever told their moms that they wanted a particular food based on a certain ad.
“But when I asked them about specific brand mascots, such as the Trix rabbit, they could recite the commercials verbatim,” McIlwain says. All they needed was a little cue, and they’d unleash a torrent of verbiage straight from the brains of the ad wizards.
Then McIlwain asked the kids what they thought the ads were trying to communicate. The seven-year-olds struggled with this. They told her that the ads were just trying to be funny or make them hungry.
The nine-year-olds, on the other hand, told McIlwain that the ads featured appealing characters to make their stuff look like fun and better than it actually is. Bingo.
It doesn’t necessarily matter, though, that nine-year-olds have figured out the game. Like adults, kids can be persuaded. They want to be persuaded. It’s the job of advertisers to figure out how best to do that. And soon, it will be McIlwain’s job, too. After she graduates this month she’ll move to Chicago to work at Ogilvy and Mather, a large advertising firm with a client list that includes Coca-Cola, Nestlé, Ikea, IBM, Nike, DuPont, Pfizer, LG Electronics, and the Department of Homeland Security.
“Yes, I’ll be going to the dark side,” she jokes. “I’ll be conducting research for specific clients. My entire job description is: figure out the best way to target the audience with certain ads.”
Right now she doesn’t know which client she’ll be working with. “I might be tasked with how to best target children,” she says. And she might consider the product to be less than wholesome.
How will she feel about that?
“Not good,” she says. “It’ll be an ethical dilemma, but I’ve decided I’ll have to cross that bridge if I come to it.”
What she really wants to do is put in a good five or ten years as a professional ad executive and then go to graduate school. “I think the ability to do the kind of research I want to do will be augmented if I’m on the other side for a while,” she says. “To know how kids are being advertised to, I might have to advertise to them, myself.”
May the force be with her.
Undergraduate research is in full bloom all the time at Carolina. But for one day, hundreds of students show their work in one place, at the same time, all together.
It’s that time of year again—time to gather hundreds of UNC undergrads under one roof to show off their research on subjects as disparate as dopamine depletion and solar energy for California dairies, urban honeycombs and early blood-clot formation, dark matter and nationalistic propaganda as a tool of control in China.
In one regard, wandering through the poster presentations in the Great Hall of UNC’s student union can be overwhelming. But the students are so eager to tell you about their work that you can’t help but get sucked into conversations you never thought you’d have. When a conversation ends, you backpedal a bit and gear up for another one with another super-smart student a few paces away.
You can, though, choose who to talk to. In fact, you’ll have to pick and choose.
There will be 147 students presenting research via poster boards and brief conversations. Talking to all of them between 1:00 pm to 3:45 p.m. will be impossible.
But a word of advice: don’t let confusing or complex poster titles scare you off. Read their abstracts to get a grip on what they’re working on. Or just ask them, “What is all this about?” And they’ll happily answer you in as much detail as you want.
The poster session is organized alphabetically by subject. So near the front door you’ll find American studies students, future anthropologists, and then a bunch of biology and chemistry majors, followed by our future economic gurus, historians, and so forth. Pick up a schedule at the front door so you can get the most out of your time.
Or just use this handy online schedule, which provides abstracts of each student’s research.
There are also platform sessions in various rooms in the student union. Here students get 15 minutes to explain their research. There’s also a handy online schedule for them.
Enjoy. But remember that all this is just one part of what the Office for Undergraduate Research does all year long, as this article in the University Gazette makes clear.
And on that note, let me thank Pat Pukkila, associate dean and founding director of the Office for Undergraduate Research, for all her selfless work over the past 14 years. Pukkila, who’s also a professor of biology, is retiring in June. She’s led UNC’s efforts to broaden the research experience for students. For instance, 65 percent of graduating seniors earned academic credit for undergraduate research during the 2011-2012 academic year.
Beyond the numbers, Pukkila has helped establish a culture of inquiry among Carolina’s undergrads and even faculty. Undergraduate research is now part of the curriculum at UNC. And for that we owe Pat Pukkila a debt of gratitude.
Hans Paerl’s water monitoring system will be back online in time for hurricane season.
Chlorophyll. Salinity. Temperature. All kinds of things play roles in water quality, which is vital for the health of fisheries.
Until July 1, 2011, the Pamlico Sound had an excellent water-monitoring system, one that other states modeled. Dubbed FerryMon, it was devised by UNC marine scientist Hans Paerl and Duke’s Joe Ramus. They equipped three ferries with water-collecting equipment so that the Pamlico Sound could be monitored at different locations all day, every day. They made their findings public, and you could track the data just as the researchers did.
FerryMon operated like clockwork for 10 years until the state had to make tough budgetary decisions in 2011. FerryMon was scaled back; the three ferries still carried monitoring equipment, but Paerl could only secure enough funding to collect and analyze water samples from one ferry that crosses the Neuse Estuary. And that wasn’t enough study how a storm affects the whole of the sound.
As he told Endeavors in 2012:
“We have very little idea what Hurricane Irene did to the Pamlico Sound last summer,” Paerl says. “And that’s really a shame because if you want to look at water-quality trends, you need a continuous set of data over the course of years.”
Paerl hopes to regain funding. At 64, he’s now part of the old guard at UNC’s Institute of Marine Sciences, though he’s lost little passion. He’d rather be on the water, he says, but he spends a fair amount of time trying to get FerryMon back on line.
He pauses. “You know, I’m a pit bull when it comes to this stuff.”
A pit bull that doesn’t let go.
Paerl’s small National Science Foundation grant to keep FerryMon operating on a limited scale will run out this year, and he was preparing to take the system completely off-line this summer. But FerryMon has received a reprieve.
Thanks to a grant of $143,742 from the N.C. Marine Resources Fund, FerryMon will resume its full schedule of collecting and analyzing water samples from two ferries.
Next June, if the commissions agree that FerryMon provided satisfactory data, the program could receive another year of funding.
After that, Paerl will be on his own again.
“I’m beating all the bushes I can,” he says, “to secure permanent funding.”
Pearl’s grant was the largest of eight “habitat focus” grants—totaling $611,753—that the UNC Institute of Marine Sciences received from the N.C. Marine Resources Fund, which granted a total of $2.43 million dollars to projects this year. The money comes from the sale of Coastal Recreational Fishing Licenses.