Undergraduate Research & Creative Activity


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The Undergraduate Research & Creative Activity Conference (URCA) is a premier annual event at The University of Alabama that provides undergraduates an opportunity to highlight their research or creative activity. The Culverhouse College of Business is proud of its undergraduate students’ achievements in research and their participation in URCA. In 2019, 30 Culverhouse Students presented their research results at the URCA.

2021 Award Winners

  • Ashton Royal: 1st place, Completed Research (Business) for Diversity Catalyzing Solutions: The Impact of Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) on COVID-19 Crisis (Faculty Advisor: Theresa Welbourne)
  • Catherine Besand: 1st place, Work in Progress (Business) for What’s In It For The Untitler: An Exploration of The Impact of Untitling Women (Faculty Advisor: Stacey Robinson)
  • Jonathan Oakley Prell: 2nd place, Work in Progress (Business) for Illicit Wildlife Trade: Network Interdiction (Faculty Advisor: Burcu Keskin)
  • Alegna Contreas: 1st place, Completed Research (Health Sciences) for Inhibitory Effect of Lipid Guest Compounds on the in vitro Digestion of Starch (Faculty Advisor: Lingyan Kong)
  • Connor Dessert: Excellence in Research Award, (Business) for Tracking Student Correspondence and Class Performance (Faculty Advisor: Chapman Greer)
  • Nicole Kozhukhov: Excellence in Research Award, (Business) for Political Contribution & Pension Plan Return In Swing States (Faculty Advisor: Sugata Ray)
  • Anna Kutbay: Excellence in Research Award, (Business) for Co-Movements of International Housing Prices: a Dynamic Factor Analysis (Faculty Advisor: Junsoo Lee)

All 2021 Participants

What’s In It for The Untitler: An Exploration of the Impact of Untitling Women

Catherine Besand

Mentor: Stacey Robinson

Abstract

In a world where professional and titled women (e.g., Dr., Vice President, Captain) seek equality, the practice of removing a woman’s title and referring to her by first name or by Miss/Mrs/Ms is still prevalent. Recently termed “untitling” (Diehl and Dzubinski 2021), this practice has critical professional implications. Not using a woman’s title or addressing her by first name (e.g., Kamala v. Vice President Harris), negatively impacts perceptions of the women subjected to being untitled. For example, professionals who are referred to by their titles or surname are judged as more credible, eminent, higher status, deserving of eminence-related benefits and awards, and worthy of receiving grant funding (Atir et al. 2018). Previous research on women in academia and medicine concurs that women are more likely than their male colleagues to be addressed by first name rather than surname or proper title and that a lack of equality in addressing professional, titled women goes beyond pride and prestige and may have a lasting impact on one’s career in regards to status, perceived ability, and recognition in the workplace and field of study (Takiff et al. 2001). While there is recent research on the impact of untitling on those being untitled, research evaluating what’s in it for the person engaged in the untitling (i.e., individual not using proper title to address her) is lacking. As such, the present research is focused on capturing what motivates an individual to untitle another individual. In short, what’s in it for the person engaged in untitling behavior? Initial experimental findings demonstrate male participants feel both threatened and powerful when exposed to a formally titled professional woman. In addition, this research demonstrates men feel insecure when the title of “Dr.” is used with a woman’s name. A 2x2 experiment (untitled: male v. female x title: present v. absent) reveals male participants feel more secure and less anxious when exposed to information about a female physician referred to by first name, compared to her formal title. This work provides an initial step toward recognizing why an individual untitles another and provides an opportunity to confront and create equality among professionals.

Adversity, Growth, and Opportunity: Implications of the Covid-19 Pandemic for Business Education and Practice

Kaitlyn Cahill

Mentor: Paul Drnevich

Abstract

The COVID-19 pandemic has been affecting every sector of life worldwide since early 2020. From layoffs to lockdowns and school closures to safer at-home distance learning mandates, it is nearly impossible to find a segment of society that hasn’t been affected. Commonly, most people assume and focus on only the negative adverse impacts of the pandemic. However, a longer-term focus would indicate that historically, most crises have silver linings and with crisis also comes opportunity. For example, the financial crisis and related economic recession of 2008, as well as the devastation of the 2012 tornado, are two major events that greatly impacted the local area. As such, plans of action and proper resources are needed to better prepare us for when unexpected events occur in our lives and impact us on every level.

In this study, we seek to explore this broader range of possible longer-term implications from the COVID-19 pandemic with a focus on lessons and opportunities for business educators, students, and practitioners. We aim this paper at both professors and students, as well as local Alabama-based business owners, and the local and state government officials who seek to enact policies in response to the pandemic’s implications for these stakeholders. We argue that simply put, future graduates should be better prepared for how to handle adversity and change throughout their careers, to better enable them to succeed, and their education process should do its best to effect this outcome.

To conduct our study of how business practices were affected by implications of the COVID-19 pandemic, we reviewed and analyzed a variety of literature to identify common trends in the data that have emerged thus far. We identified three main implications which we term Adversity, Growth, and Opportunity. Our findings indicate that a substantial number of businesses in several sectors have been hurt significantly, some businesses in other sectors have been able to thrive due to their positioning, and new business opportunities have also been created by the pandemic allowing some businesses to form or expand to take advantage of the changing marketplace. Some such new opportunities which may continue to expand for the foreseeable future include increased demand for mental healthcare as well as for imparting social skills over longer than expected time horizons to students going through their formative years of school in socially distanced and online settings.

One early implication for education is that instruction at the university level, especially in The Culverhouse College of Business, tends to use an overreliance on positive/growth-oriented hypothetical scenarios. These examples are not effective for teaching them to manage adversity as little to no time is spent going over negative/adverse scenarios. Addressing these educational shortcomings has an impact not only on the University of Alabama but also on the economic impact on Tuscaloosa County and the whole state of Alabama. In this study, we examine a range of such implications in business education, practice, and policy, and conclude with a discussion of suggestions for additional future research.

Cultivating the Ideal Student Experience

Stephanie Cohen

Mentor: Quoc Hoang

Abstract

A 2014 Gallup-Purdue University study examined the relationship between the college experience and the degree to which college graduates have successful jobs and lives. The study concluded that there are six experiences that are high predictors of success—both personal and professional–of college graduates. These “Big Six” experiences fall into two categories: Support and experiential. In the study, graduates read six statements and indicated the extent to which they agreed/disagreed with each statement. The first three statements focused on the mentorship students experienced in college, while the remaining three focused on student involvement with long-term projects, internships, or other extracurricular activities. Interestingly, only 3% of college graduates reported having these experiences. Though the study brought a large problem to light, it also provided us with the information necessary to solve it.

Throughout the past year, COVID-19 has turned the world upside down for many students. The prevalence of virtual and hybrid learning has undoubtedly made it more difficult for students to identify and access the high-quality experiential learning and support that the Gallup-Purdue study suggested was so important for post-graduate success. As a result, it has become increasingly important to make a conscious effort to put the student experience at the forefront of everything a university does.

While the past year was full of uncertainty, it did not stop students, faculty, and staff from doing incredible things. The adaptability of students throughout the pandemic has been apparent, as many students have achieved incredible successes over the last year. That said, there is a gap between the existence of these successes and their visibility across campus.

This project investigated what higher-ed institutions, namely the Culverhouse College of Business, could do to ensure that more students are able to graduate feeling like they had a comprehensive undergraduate experience that included each “Big Six” element. The objective was to highlight “cool people doing cool things” through these resources, thereby emphasizing existing resources and experiences while also motivating the college to create additional ones.

One initial recommendation is a more interactive newsletter with sections for highlighting students, reminding them of important dates, informing them about upcoming events and seminars, and a submission box for questions. Each newsletter would answer questions submitted to the one preceding it. An additional recommendation is an interactive space for students to find answers to all of their questions regarding careers, classes, scholarships, extracurricular opportunities, and anything else that supports their success and well-being. Finally, web and social media resources to highlight people and experiences available in the college have been developed. The ultimate goal is to have both physical and virtual spaces that include all of the recommendations that lead to a high-quality, student experience.

Through this applied research project, we generated tangible ideas that support the Culverhouse College of Business’ ability to put the student experience at the center of everything the college does, thereby maximizing the likelihood of student success and well-being. All of these projects are ongoing and are designed to outlive the graduation of students involved in the research process.

Examining the Link Between Healthcare IT Spending and Data Breaches

Carson Derringer

Mentors: Marilyn Whitman, Thomas English

Abstract

Justification: Hospitals in the United States spent over $43 billion on IT expenses in 2019.

During this same year, 85 hospitals and health systems reported breaches to the Department of Health and Human Services. The current breadth of the literature has covered how healthcare facilities have adjusted their spending in response to data breaches, what kinds of hospitals are generally targeted by attackers, and how providers have responded to warnings from regulatory agencies about imminent cybersecurity threats. However, there has not been a deep dive into how spending correlates with the occurrence of breaches as well as trending patterns of the most common breach types.

Purpose: The purpose of our project is to determine if and how IT spending has any correlation with data breach occurrences, types, or locations within hospitals that provided spending data to the American Hospital Association. Our null hypothesis would be that spending and breaches have no correlation, therefore hospitals do not need to devote such a large portion of their budgets towards cybersecurity efforts.

Method: We utilize data from the American Hospital Association Annual Survey (AHA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Breach Archive. The AHA data we have available includes general hospital information and IT spending for 2017, 2018, and 2019.

Operating expenses and capital expenses for the purpose of this research have been combined for a more efficient and universal analysis of the IT departments that reported data breaches to HHS in those years. Additionally, we have removed hospitals that did not report at least two years of expenses, as these would not reflect a change or pattern in spending over time. We have used Microsoft Excel as a tool for data organization and analyses and Tableau for our visualizations.

Result: The correlation between yearly IT spending and the likelihood of a cybersecurity attack that same year is explored in this research. Our sample consisted of 3,191 acute care hospitals that reported at least 2 out of 3 years (2017-2019) of IT spending. Data from HHS indicates that from 2016-2019 the percent of breaches involving Hacking/IT-related breaches increased significantly from 29.41% in 2016 to 43.53% in 2019. In 2019, 85 hospitals and health systems reported a breach. Future analysis will examine the role that IT spending plays in experiencing a breach. That is, we seek to determine if IT spending impacts the likelihood of experiencing a breach.

Conclusion: Given the vast amounts spent on IT expenses, and providers’ ongoing challenge to provide more with less, enhancing our understanding of the relationship between spending and cybersecurity is vital to curbing healthcare expenditures or prioritizing IT expenditures to minimize cybersecurity attacks. As cybersecurity attacks continue to increase in both frequency and severity, it is necessary to understand the role that IT expense plays.

Tracking Student Correspondence and Class Performance

Connor Dessert

Mentor: Chapman Greer

Abstract

Background

The disruption of the traditional learning model caused by COVID-19 has created an environment where students regularly switch between in-person and virtual attendance as they are exposed to, or contract, the virus. To mitigate the risk of transmission in the classroom, students must email their professors, justifying their absences, which usually extend to 10-14 days. We initially thought this provided an interesting opportunity to track COVID-related correspondence alongside student performance in Dr. Greer’s classes (i.e., observing student performance after an email was received, stating they would be attending virtually for a period due to COVID).

The Project

We extended the collection of student correspondence to all emails sent to Dr. Greer from members of her classes. Using NVivo, each email is documented, stored under the student’s record, and is used to assign a “status” to that student. Over the course of the semester, the goal is to track “status” versus performance – measured as a running cumulative total in the class – along the same time axis to see if there are observable correlations between the information we gather about students and their performance in the class. We will use Excel, NVivo, and Tableau to catalog student correspondence and performance across the SP2021 semester.

Findings

As of 2/28, the data collection is still in an early stage, as class sizes have been locked in for only one month following the extended Add/Drop date (1.29.21). By the presentation date, we will have nearly two months of data collected, from which we will display our findings. Our findings will be displayed on an individual student level. For broader comparisons, we will also represent our findings on an aggregate level, by class, and across classes. We will be using Tableau software to visually represent our findings, as preliminary datasets we have constructed can be understood with little burden to a reader’s cognitive load. Please see the sample datasets we have prepared to demonstrate how we will showcase the actual data we have collected.

Next Steps and Project Relevance

If we determine that the collection methods and data representations we build from our data offer valuable insights into how a student might perform, we hypothesize that it would be prudent to construct a database that can, in real-time, compare student “status” with class performance. Ideally, this database would automatically update both categories by scanning real-time student emails using text analysis software (NVivo) and pulling real-time quantifiable grading metrics from Blackboard. Both data sets would be built into a Tableau Dashboard, notifying the professor if critical criteria are met (e.g., various combinations of student “status” and “performance” changes). Such critical criteria have yet to be determined, as that is the scope of the project and research currently being conducted. We hypothesize that such a system would better allow professors and teaching faculty to intervene early in scenarios where significant student performance changes might otherwise occur.

A Literature Review: The Effects and Studies on Student-Athlete Transfers

Veronica Douglas

Mentor: Robert Hammond

Abstract

The focus of my research is a literature review on student-athlete transfers including transfer rates, reasons and rules for transferring, and public opinion concerning the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA)’s role. Within the last couple of years, the rates of student-athlete transfers have increased, especially in sports such as men’s and women’s basketball, football, and men’s ice hockey. Due to the changes in collegiate sports popularity and increase in professionalism, the NCAA has is constantly creating new policies for transferring athletes. I focused my study on academic journal articles that documented the effect of student-athlete transfers, not only for the academic and mental effect of the students but also on the universities. I also studied public opinion of student-athlete transfers and overall opinions of the NCAA, including governing roles such as the graduate student policy, the rules of transfers, and the residence requirement policy. In recent years, the NCAA has changed its policies regarding their governing roles, especially regarding graduate student transfer policies. I analyzed those changes and their effect on student-athletes in regard to stated academic, coaching, and personal transfer reasons. My results concluded that the transfer process for student-athletes has an underlying negative effect on academic goals and graduation rates.

Examining the Disparities in Access to Obstetric Care in Alabama

Abigayel Fables, Breandan Molloy, Matthew Bolton, William Garcia

Mentors: Thomas English, Marilyn Whitman, Dwight Lewis

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this research is to highlight the disparities of obstetric care/prenatal care for women in Alabama based on their location and the adverse effects it creates for them.

Justification

This research is important because Alabama has some of the highest rates of infant and maternal mortality in the United States and has been showing increasing rates in recent years. This is very concerning because rates of maternal and infant mortality typically do not rise significantly in developed countries. It is important to identify what is driving these disparities in obstetrics (OB) and prenatal care that are contributing to higher mortality rates in the interest of reducing barriers to care.

Method

To dig deeper into this issue, we used the American Hospital Association annual survey data in conjunction with CMS data to identify specific healthcare centers with obstetric beds as well as the location, size, and designation of these centers. Data for 2017, 2018, and 2019 was used. We then used Excel to isolate and join the data we considered to be important to variables such as total beds, total facility admission, Medicare and Medicaid Discharges and days, whether they are a critical access, rural referral or sole community provider if they have OB services, and their latitude, longitude, city, and state. We also identified facilities’ rural, urban or isolated designation by comparing the facility zip code with RUCA data. We then ran a correlation analysis to find the relationships between these variables. We were able to link outcome data by the facility to our ACA data with CMS IDs. We used Tableau to create a map of the state of Alabama to visualize our findings. We will use SPSS to build regression models to fully explore the disparities in access to OB care.

Results

Using latitude and longitude variables, we were able to isolate facilities with OB services and critical care access in Tableau. We targeted latitudes and longitudes in the state of Alabama. Our results indicate that any city that isn’t a metro area such as Birmingham, Montgomery, or Mobile has a smaller population of healthcare facilities. There are large concentrations of health facilities in metropolitan areas. Our analysis has shown that many rural counties in Alabama are not capable of providing adequate prenatal and OB care to the women who reside there, instituting a barrier of care that forces these women to travel to urban areas to access the care they need. For example, Urban areas have an average capability of OB services of 2.0 out of 3.0 while in large rural and small rural we see averages of 1.17 and 1.67 out of 3 respectively (level 3 facilities would be able to perform all uncomplicated and complicated OB and delivery procedures and a level 1 would be able to perform the majority of uncomplicated OB services and deliveries).

Conclusion

To summarize, hospitals in rural areas are not offering the services necessary to adequately address labor and delivery cases. Consequently, there is less access to maternal and OB care in rural areas which is contributing to the increasing rates of infant and maternal mortality in Alabama.

Current State of Telehealth in Hospitals

Ella Finley, Khuyen Tran, Jay Vickers

Mentors: Thomas English, Marilyn Whitman

Abstract

Objective:

Telehealth refers to “the use of electronic information and telecommunication technologies to support long-distance clinical health care, patient and professional health-related education, public health and health administration” (HRSA, 2020). The recent health crisis forcing social distancing requirements has propelled telehealth to the forefront of care delivery with payors expanding the services allowed via telehealth. Consequently, the demand for telehealth services has never been greater. As such, the present study aims to offer a comprehensive overview of the current state of telehealth in the acute care setting. To our knowledge, no such overview has been offered for the acute care setting in particular. Thus, we seek to explore the telehealth landscape among U.S. hospitals to enhance our understanding of where we stand in hopes of better-informing leaders on the path ahead. First, we explore the various characteristics of facilities currently offering telehealth services. Second, we examine performance indicators to better understand the role that telehealth may play in improving patient outcomes. In doing so we hope to inform hospital leaders who may be considering offering telehealth services on its potential benefits. 

Data sources:

We analyzed data from 2017, 2018, and 2019 American Hospital Association’s (AHA) Annual Surveys. Data from the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) on readmission rates were also used. Data were combined at the facility level using the Medicare ID number. 

Methods:

For structural data, we defined hospitals as offering ‘telehealth’ services if they indicated offering one or more of the telehealth services listed in the AHA annual survey. In addition to organizational structure, we considered participation in an Accountable Care Organization, as well as the types of data from CMS’s Hospital Compare, which was used to identify hospital readmission rates. Also, data from CMS’ Hospital Value-Based Purchasing (HVBP) database was used. We utilized the given total performance score, which was based on normalized clinical outcomes domain score (25%), Person and Community Engagement Domain Score (25%), Safety Domain Score (25%), and the Normalized Efficiency and Cost Reduction Domain Score (25%). All of these sources were joined together by CMS’ CCN# and visualized in Tableau by year. Once the data is fully cleaned regressions models will be built in SPSS. We will conduct a linear regression that uses generalized estimating equations to account for the correlation of an individual hospital's readmission rates over time.

Results:

A total of 6,282 hospitals were included in our analysis of which 2,770 provided some form of telehealth service. When grouping hospitals by type of organization, we found that there were 1,234 government (nonfederal), 3,155 nongovernment (not-for-profit), 1,682 investor-owned (for-profit), and 211 government (federal) organizations within our data set. 

Conclusions:  

Enhancing our understanding of telehealth utilization may assist leaders in their efforts to improve outcomes. As health providers are increasingly challenged to do more with less, the need to invest in services that contribute to the organization’s efforts to improve quality, as well as the bottom line, is of critical importance. Despite decades of pushback, telehealth is likely here to stay. Providers should take the opportunity to understand how best to leverage these services to meet demand and enhance the patient experience. 

Fake News In Social Media: Effects on Vaccine Usage and Developments

Hays Hooten

Mentor: Susan Fant

Abstract

People receive news updates constantly each day from various news platforms. These platforms have the ability to distribute information widely. Reading similar versions of headlining stories from different people as well as robots can make it hard to distinguish what is true or false. Our society is both consciously and subconsciously absorbing “fake news” every single day on social media. Fake news is news that contains deliberate disinformation to deceive readers. My research is studying the effects of fake news on social media platforms for the development and usage of vaccines.

Students at The University of Alabama has partnered with the University of Minnesota’s “The Mono Project” which is currently developing a vaccine that could potentially prevent Epstein Barr Virus (EBV)-caused diseases, such as infectious mononucleosis, cancers, systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), celiac disease, and multiple sclerosis (MS). A vaccine could also potentially prevent severe illness or even death from EBV infection following transplantation, especially in pediatric patients who have not been exposed to the virus or built up an immunity.

Through running the Mono Project’s social media accounts, I am able to experience firsthand the negative associations people make with the word vaccine. A research article by Andew Wakefield (1999), claimed there was a link between the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine in accordance with an increased autism rate in British children. This was an article published in The Lancet, a prestigious medical journal. The paper has since been discredited and Wakefield lost his medical license (Public Health). There have been several studies since, but none have linked autism and vaccines. This is a prime example of how one false claim can spiral into a frenzy of fake news. Since that article was released not many people know that it has no scientific truth to it and that it was retracted. One of the dangers of fake news is that it can be extremely difficult to tell what is true and what is false. Individuals and organizations are able to post an article or discuss a topic on social media and the public will believe it is true. These organizations are for the most part well respected by the general population. This means that if they announce that a doctor released an article saying that vaccines are a direct link to autism people will believe them even if the claim is completely false.

Researchers have now linked falling immunization rates to recent resurgences of vaccine-preventable diseases. In 2010, California saw 9,120 cases of whooping cough, more than any year since the whooping cough vaccine was introduced in the 1940s. Ten infants too young to be vaccinated died of whooping cough during the outbreak. The CDC warns that events like these will become more frequent and harder to control if vaccination rates continue to fall (Public Health). This is extremely dangerous for the United States and the whole world. The World Health Organization is concerned about the fake news associated with the coronavirus outbreak. This misinformation is shared mainly through social media posts and causes unnecessary fear and chaos around the globe (NPR).

As we move and advance into the future of technology, it seems to be pushing us back into the past with vaccines. If social media users were not sharing articles and talking about how vaccines are having horrible side effects then there may not be a rise in vaccine-preventable diseases. To keep our country healthy the immunization rates cannot fall below the 95% threshold and they have due to people no longer trusting modern medicine (Carrieri, Madio, Principe). When a population's immunization rates fall below the threshold it makes the country more susceptible to disease.

This past year at The Mono Project we had to hold off on the Epstein-Barr Virus posts on our social media accounts due to the sensitivity and severity of the Covid-19 pandemic which had vaccine priority. Posting about another vaccine or illness could come across as insensitive to some which was an issue we had to worry about. We have been and still are not able to use the hashtag vaccine (#vaccine) due to the threat of an attack by anti-vaxxers and the possibility of being shadowbanned.

The Mono Project is aiming to develop the first vaccine for the Epstein-Barr Virus as well as trying to change the stigma around vaccines through social media. Social media users can aimlessly comment on our social media posts talking about how horrible vaccines are when in reality they save lives every single day. My research is going to demonstrate the relationship between fake news on social media platforms and its effects on the development and usage of vaccines.

The Impact of Accountable Care Organizations Effect on Quality of Care and Patient Satisfaction

M'Kaila Isom

Mentors: Marilyn Whitman, Thomas English

Abstract

Justification: Accountable Care Organizations (ACO) are an organization composed of physicians, hospitals, and other healthcare providers that come together voluntarily to give coordinated high-quality care to patients (CMS 2020). The goal of ACOs is to deliver high-quality care to patients while avoiding unnecessary services and reducing medical errors. Emerging from the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, the ACO program began in 2012. From 2012 through 2018, there was a steady increase in new ACO formation. Recent case studies show that the implementation of ACOs only improved hospitals that were performing well. However, under-performing hospitals participating in ACOs experience little to no change (SagePub 2020). Nearly a decade in, we seek to examine the effect of ACO participation on HRRP. That is, the present study examines the impact of ACO participation on quality measures and readmission rates.

Methods: Data from the American Hospital Association Annual Survey from 2017 – 2019 was used. Hospital complications and deaths, patient satisfaction, and readmission data were obtained from CMS for 2018 and 2019. We grouped ACOs by geographic regions: Midwest, Northeast, South, and West. Once the data is fully cleaned regressions models will be built in SPSS. We will conduct a linear regression that uses generalized estimating equations to account for the correlation of an individual hospital’s readmission rates over time.

Results: After removing duplicates, 4728 hospitals remained with either serious health conditions, readmissions data, and patient satisfaction scores. Through assessment and extraction, roughly 300 hospitals were used as final measures. As of 2015, 554 new ACOs were formed. Though we notice a steady decline in rates of readmissions per year, accurate numbers are still being calculated. We are waiting on final results to see how the stabilization of ACOs has affected quality measures and if HRRP can be ruled out as a factor for this change.

Conclusion: The purpose of our study is to ensure ACOs deliver on quality and readmissions rate with each joining hospital. It is important for health leaders to discover methods that could save time and energy. Our understanding of an ACO’s role further explores the improvement of care and coordination which inevitably lowers readmission rates. The increase of ACO formation has now stabilized and grows at a slower rate.

Political Contribution & Pension Plan Return In Swing States

Nicole Kozhukhov

Mentor: Sugata Ray

Abstract

I am currently in the process of exploring and analyzing political contributions made by members on the pension plan boards of swing states (Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin) from the years 2001-2018. I chose these specific swing states due to the frequency at which they appeared as swing states in past election years within my dataset time period. At this time, I am parsing through data in RStudio from the Federal Elections Committee bulk data and voter registration data. These sources should provide context for some of the questions I will potentially be measuring such as: “Did the prevalence of these contributions have any effect on annual return for the plan?”, “Is there any correlation with the number of contributions by a certain director and their time served on the board?”.

Co-Movements of International Housing Prices: a Dynamic Factor Analysis

Anna Kutbay

Mentor: Junsoo Lee

Abstract

Global economic development can be evaluated through many lenses. One that is rather under-researched, yet has wide-ranging implications for growth and development, is housing prices. Forecasting housing prices in any state or country assesses stability, precedes credit contractions, and impacts consumption, drivers of economic activity[1]. My research seeks to understand how co-movements in housing price indices reflect economic volatility. Most research on the subject performs co-movement analysis on a micro-level: housing prices in one country, across several states, or across only one identifiable region. But our study supplements existing literature by using an expansive data set larger than previous work. Our preliminary results have indicated that not only do housing prices correlate across nations from a variety of economic and development backgrounds, but shifts in one country’s economic activity create a resounding global impact.

Our methodology and data ask whether there is evidence of global co-movements in housing prices. The subsequent follow-up then becomes: to what extent can these movements be explained by regional and economic factors? We obtained our data set from the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD). The data represents the percent change in housing prices on a base year, a variable known as Housing Price Indices (HPI), or Residential Property Price Indices. From there, a dynamic factor model (DFM) was used to represent relationships among time series variables specific to macroeconomic forecasting[2]. Our DFM allows us to graph regional co-movements, as well as understand the extent to which a region influences HPI over time. We divided our OECD data set into three subsets by start year: 1971, with 19 countries and 198 quarters of data, 2001, with 27 countries and 78 quarters, and 2007, with 39 countries and 54 quarters. This division created a robust analysis, considering not every country has data going back to 1971. Next, we picked Regions A – D to group the countries together as part of the factor analysis. Regions A and B were purely geographic, with B being more specific. Region C was currency-based, grouping Eurozone, Non-Eurozone, North America, and other countries into respective groups to assess rigidity of currencies. Finally, Region D grouped countries by their GDP growth percentage.

While our results are still in development, some early co-movements arise, such as a global rise and decline in housing prices preceding and following the 2008 crisis. Our results could not only explain this but help to determine just how interconnected countries are when it comes to housing prices; this measure of economic activity, as proved in 2008, is critical in predicting housing bubbles, credit seizures, and currency depreciation. If we can accurately predict how much one country’s housing shifts impact the region and globe, it has the potential to predict economic crisis before it strikes.

Uniting Through Disaster: Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) Responding to Crisis

Hadden Langley

Mentor: Theresa Welbourne

Abstract

Uniting Through Disaster: Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) Responding to Crisis

Employee resource groups (ERGs), also known as affinity groups, emerged in the 1970s as a way to unite individuals within an organization around a shared identity, life experience, or background. Since then, they have transformed from a mere support network to furthering many crucial business functions such as recruitment, retention, talent development, and employee education. ERGs are well equipped to do this, as there are usually groups for specific minority populations such as women, Black, LGBTQ, Latino, and Asian groups. Companies also have EGRs for backgrounds, like groups for veterans, generations, and environmentally conscious individuals. ERGs also provide support to communities and employees in times of crisis. They are ideally suited to accomplish this, as they are viewed as a safe space for many employees, and ERGs are well connected to the communities to which they belong.

With ERGs being structured to foster a sense of belonging, we were prompted to conduct a literature review and collect data on how ERGs respond to crises. Specifically, we were able to access survey responses from an organization that administered a diversity award program.  We analyzed over 150 survey responses to understand what diversity and inclusion (D&I) teams and ERGs did for employees and communities in response to COVID and crisis situations prior to COVID.

We found that ERGs provided relief in many different ways such as monetary donations, allowing flexible work arrangements, providing mental health resources, distributing personal protective equipment, helping parents with childcare, and maintaining connections in a virtual environment. Through our literature review, we aimed to find what ERGs did in response to specific crises, and how these events actually fueled inclusiveness within organizations. During times of crisis, ERGs can be an essential tool for organizations by providing feedback, staying connected to the community, managing business relationships, and fostering a sense of belonging. It was noticed that global catastrophes tend to bring people together, by uniting people through sympathy and compassion. ERGs play a key role in this process by allowing employees to feel as though they have a safe space to discuss their frustrations and anxieties regarding crises.

In the wake of George Floyd’s death, multiple corporations allocated funds to combat racial injustice and assist underprivileged minority communities.  Donation recipients were chosen by their Black ERG. Actions like these, enacted through ERGs, can play a crucial role in progressing the diversity of an organization and fostering an inclusive workplace, where every employee feels valued by their company. The impact that ERGs have on their respective companies has progressed significantly since their initial inception, but there are several more advancements to be made to make them as effective as possible.

How does Up-Take of Fortified Home Retrofits Impact Homeowners Insurance Coverages and Protection Gaps?

Trenton McAdams

Mentor: Sebastian Awondo

Abstract

We empirically investigate changes in salient homeowners insurance coverages after houses are retrofitted to be more resilient to windstorms and receive insurance discounts on the wind portion of the premium. We employ insurance policy data in Alabama to test for differences in the moments of salient insurance policy attributes before and after the policy changes. We find a statistically significant increase in coverage for dwelling, damage on other's property, liability protection, and ordinance law with the new/modified insurance policies. On the contrary, we find a significant decrease in coverage for personal property and additional living expenses.

The Impact of Media Sensationalism and False Reporting on Investor Behavior

William Ortmayer

Mentor: Chez Sealy

Abstract

Individual investors can have a significant influence on today’s capital markets, and they are increasingly exposed to a variety of news media outlets. With a growing number of false news reporting incidences and pervasive media sensationalism surrounding public company information, it is important to understand the impact that this media exposure has on investors. We use an experiment to analyze how false news and sensationalized media reports impact investors’ judgments and decisions. Importantly, our study will allow us to examine whether investors accurately adjust for this media bias upon discovering the truth. The psychological theory of belief perseverance suggests that investors will react to false news by under-adjusting when true information is revealed, while affect theory predicts that investors will form a stronger affective connection to sensationalized information, causing an over-adjustment. We predict that individuals will anchor to negative false information, leading to under-adjustment, while positive false information will lead to over-adjustment, and these effects will be moderated by media sensationalism. This research proves especially relevant to practice as retail investing hits all-time highs and will contribute to our understanding of the impact of media on investor behavior.

Illicit Wildlife Trade: Network Interdiction

Jonathan Prell

Mentor: Burcu Keskin

Abstract

The illicit trade of wildlife is a dreadful and global reality that threatens the lives of several species around the world. The criminal economy through wildlife trafficking is estimated to be over twenty billion USD. This complex system is comparable to other illicit crimes such as drug, weapon, and human trafficking; and furthermore, it often has linkages with these other illicit trades, as least as a precursor. There has been much research and media awareness published about the conservation and moral wrongs of wildlife trade, but little is known about the supply chain operations of this illegal activity, especially from a quantitative, operations research perspective. This research reviews illicit wildlife trafficking through an operations and supply chain lens. By understanding these challenges faced in wildlife trafficking, we present opportunities to resolve them using OR/MS techniques. There will be a groundwork for future developments in detection, interdiction, and elimination of illicit wildlife trade, and ultimately, conserving nature.

Diversity Catalyzing Solutions: The Impact of Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) on COVID-19 Crisis

Ashton Royal

Mentor: Theresa Welbourne

Abstract

In more recent years, businesses have realized that diversity has an impact on customer relations. Given this and an attempt to create more workplace inclusivity, businesses have started to implement employee resource groups or ERGs. At its base level, ERGs are groups of employees who join together in their workplace based on shared characteristics or life experiences. Their basis was to give people in underrepresented groups a voice, and while that still holds true, more recently ERGs have evolved to prove their value to a business in a plethora of ways, including strengthening communications and connections as companies respond to coronavirus. ERGs have had a history of helping bring calm during rough times; for example, the inception point of ERGs was forming a Black Caucus, the precursor to current ERGs, at Xerox in the 1960s to promote diversity during the race riots. Given the current climate of the pandemic and the fact that ERGs are a powerful tool for engagement, we asked the following question: “Are ERGs effective in handling the coronavirus crisis?” This led to a qualitative data analysis of comment data given in response to 2 different surveys conducted about ERGs’ responses to coronavirus within organizations that have previously participated in the ERG Leadership Summit put on by the University of Southern California. In this survey, we found out what, if anything, ERGs are doing to help in response to COVID-19. We found that ERGs responded in a few prominent ways like disaster relief donations, social and personal support, and family support just to name a few. Our data analysis led to a literature review in order to further dive into whether ERGs are truly effective in this pandemic. Through this, we found that ERGs within proactive organizations are pivotal in strategies responding to coronavirus as well as connecting employees and communities that have been dispersed and disengaged by the virus. Given the structure of ERGs, their bottom-up approach, and the trust between ERG leaders and peers, it has proven to be an effective tool for helping employees who may feel isolated from quarantining or working from home as well as striving for better connection to communities and making an impact there. This research is important as we take what we learn from these data analyses and literature reviews and apply it to leveraging ERGs in the future, honing in on better coordination and focus in order to have a higher impact both in the day-to-day and the inevitable future crises.

Readmission and Patient Education Center Research

Blair Swindle

Mentors: Thomas English, Marilyn Whitman

Abstract

Objective:

The purpose of the study is to assess the relationship between hospital readmission rates and patient education centers. The staggering costs of readmissions are estimated at $26 billion annually (Wilson, 2019). With approximately 27% of 30-day hospital readmission rates are considered to be preventable, it is not surprising that readmissions have been dubbed the “low hanging fruit.” Consequently, reducing hospital readmission is a key policy goal due to its potential to improve quality and reduce costs. Thus, the present study aims to enhance our understanding of measures that may impact readmission rates. Of particular interest is patient education centers; that is, does providing patient education centers reduce readmission rates?

Data Sources:

Data from the American Hospital Association Annual Survey was obtained for 2017, 2018, and 2019. We also utilized publicly available data from Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Specifically, CMS was used for readmission data and patient outcomes. AHA was used for hospital structural data.

Methods:

Data were combined and analyzed using Excel. Initial univariate analysis shows that readmission rates and patient education centers are related. Once the data is fully cleaned regressions models will be built in SPSS. We will conduct a linear regression that uses generalized estimating equations to account for the correlation of individual hospital readmission rates over time.

Results:

The results will be based on 2017- 2019 readmission data and its correlation to patient education centers. We will correlate data to show how education centers have the potential to decrease readmission rates across multiple hospitals. There is a negative correlation amongst different variables, specifically, heart failure, COPD, and pneumonia readmission rates, that proves with proper implementation of education centers readmissions can be improved.

Conclusions:

Reducing readmissions, particularly those that are preventable, is a key focus among industry leaders. The present study’s findings, therefore, have important implications for hospital leaders. Specifically, enhancing our understanding of the role that patient education centers play in the effort to reduce readmissions may assist hospital leaders in determining how best to invest resources.

Chatbots & Shopping Cart Abandonment

Caneel VanNostrand

Mentor: Carol Jones

Abstract

The abandonment of online shopping carts results in approximately $4.6 trillion lost in revenue for retailers each year (Bakker, 2016), leading to an abundance of research in the space trying to understand what can be done to convert the abandoners and bring them to complete their transactions. Now, thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, e-commerce has grown at an unprecedented rate, only increasing the importance of being able to understand and control the process of getting online shoppers to the finish line completing their purchases. Some online retailers have started using pop-up chatbots to interact with shoppers and offer assistance in hopes that these chatbots will create personal interaction and provide the necessary information to consumers to encourage them to complete their purchases. The fact that consumers often shop differently when purchasing items they feel embarrassed about is well-documented (Blair & Roese, 2013), but what this process may look like online and how this may relate to abandoned purchases is not yet understood well. While online shopping is often assumed to be a private experience and therefore not an avenue by which social embarrassment occurs, a chatbot introduces a social agent to the shopping experience. This ongoing research aims to understand if these chatbots are therefore leading to increased embarrassment in the online purchase of certain products and therefore increased shopping cart abandonment, and if so, what can be done to mitigate the chatbots’ negative impact. Initial results confirm that while chatbots have a positive impact on purchases of non-embarrassing products, they negatively impact purchases of embarrassing products like condoms. Ongoing research seeks to understand what factors may moderate this relationship and reduce the social risk the chatbots create.