University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee Campus

Momentum

Fall 2023

Campus Magazine

Student Research

The annual Student Research Showcase provides students across the university with an opportunity to engage with the academic research process and connect with the Sarasota-Manatee campus research community. Hosted in the Selby Auditorium on the Sarasota-Manatee campus, the 2023 Student Research Showcase featured presentations and posters from more than 50 undergraduate and graduate students, the largest turnout in the event’s history. Research subjects ranged from red tide to the darknet and beyond.

Of all the things I did in my time at USF, this will probably be the most impactful for me.

Nelly Edin

Mitigating red tide: Nelly Edin

Since moving to Sarasota from Stockholm, Sweden, in 2016, Nelly Edin has grown accustomed to the annual red tide algal blooms, which negatively affect the local economy, the environment and can cause people to experience respiratory and gastrointestinal issues, including temporary damage to metacognitive functions.  

“Over the past decade, there has been an increased prevalence, severity and geographic spread,” said Edin, who worked with Marlius Castillo, an assistant professor of instruction of chemistry, to develop a literature review and evaluate mitigation efforts.  

“A couple of years ago was really bad. You go outside and you’re coughing and sneezing, your eyes are irritated,” said Edin. “The wind can carry the toxins more than two miles, so it’s not just people who are on just the beach that feel the effects.”  

Edin’s research included a trip to Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium, where she learned about the threat red tide poses to Florida marine life, including manatees, sea turtles and dolphins.  
Edin presented her findings at the 2023 Student Research Showcase shortly before graduating with a bachelor’s degree in biology and gaining acceptance to Venture for America’s two-year 
fellowship program.  

“The predominant mitigation method used focuses on removing dead fish from beaches and regulating shellfish harvests, but this does not affect the underlying cause of the blooms,” said Edin, who is optimistic about the results of ongoing studies to use modified clay to mitigate future blooms. “Clay flocculation has been successfully used in China for many years and could be adopted in the Florida coastal region.”

An ongoing project supported by the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science aims to have an answer to Edin’s question — and a “shovel ready” implementation strategy — by 2025.

According to Edin, the research she conducted with Castillo was the highlight of her USF experience.  

“Of all the things I did in my time at USF, this will probably be the most impactful for me,” she said. “It gave me the opportunity to pursue something I was really interested in. If anything, it’ll probably be one of my greatest achievements.” 

The power of nostalgia: Angela Perez Cruz

In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, Angela Perez Cruz, who is double majoring in biomedical sciences and psychology, noticed that she and many of her peers were flocking to entertainment — namely, movies and television — from their childhood. 

“I just felt so inclined to watch my favorite shows, and I wondered why — because it wasn’t just an individual thing. This phenomenon was pretty widespread among my peers,” said Perez Cruz, who was a junior in high school when the COVID-19 pandemic caused school closures across the country. “I thought there must be some form of psychological basis to this. There has to be a reason. And, indeed, there was.”

Perez Cruz set out to uncover the connection between social isolation and what she calls, “nostalgic indulgence.” She concluded that indulging in nostalgic activities — like watching old movies and television shows — effectively combats the negative effects of social isolation and contributes to overall brain health, both neurologically and psychologically, by stimulating the reward system and other areas related to happiness, and by increasing a sense of social connectedness and support.

“Nostalgia is one of the healthiest coping mechanisms that someone can adopt, and it is a remedy that comes at no cost,” said Perez Cruz, who presented her research at the 2023 Student Research Showcase and at Harvard University. 

Ransomware, cybercriminals and the darknet: Taylor Fisher and Sterling Michel

Ask Taylor Fisher or Sterling Michel what poses the largest global cybersecurity threat, and they’ll give you a rundown on the darknet, which enables the distribution ransomware, making it easier for cybercriminals to launch attacks.

“The average ransomware attack costs $5 million and poses a risk to hospitals, financial institutions, government entities and other critical institutions,” said Michel, a marketing major, who contributed to what the team fondly refers to as “the hacker project,” a three-part initiative to collect interview data from active hackers, develop chatbots and conduct a threat assessment of darknet markets. 

“Our goal was to use all of this to be able to get a better idea, not only of the ideologies and the motivations behind hacking, but also the risk,” said Fisher, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Criminology and the associate director of research for Sarasota Cybersecurity, an innovative and interdisciplinary research lab designed to ensure a safer digital future. “We know that there is a spectrum of hackers, from very basic users, who are just trying to see what they can do, to nation-state hackers. So, we’re trying to get a better understanding of what that community looks like, particularly through the lens of the darknet.”

Fisher and Michel worked with C. Jordan Howell and Roberta O’Malley, assistant professors in the Department of Criminology, Giti Javidi, director of the Information Assurance and Cybersecurity Management program, and others to deliver a nuanced depiction of the threat landscape and proactive policy suggestions to disrupt the illicit online ecosystem and prevent cyber-attacks.

“Traditional cybersecurity studies have siloed themselves in the fields of computer science, information sciences and criminology,” Fisher said. “Our study bridges these gaps using an interdisciplinary, mixed methods approach to assess competency signaling in darknet market vendors.”

Raising awareness about the needs of students with disabilities: Hawa Allarakhia

Hawa Allarakhia, a doctoral candidate in the College of Education and graduate assistant in the Office of Research, played a pivotal role in orchestrating the 2023 Student Research Showcase, which featured 15 speakers and 35 poster presentations.

“It was a great group of people who shared their hard work with us during the symposium. I was thrilled with the turnout,” said Allarakhia, who called the event a wonderful learning experience.

“We had a lot of students from hospitality and tourism, from the health sciences, from education. Just a variety of different majors and different types of research.”

Allarakhia is in the process of conducting her own research, which aims to raise awareness about the needs of students with disabilities. She began, this fall, by collecting survey data from College of Education faculty regarding their knowledge, ability and willingness to accommodate students with disabilities.  

“I chose the topic because it’s part of my life experience navigating the educational setting with a disability,” said Allarakhia, who uses an electronic personal assistance mobility device. “I thought it would be good to find out where the knowledge gaps are.” 
In addition to asking survey respondents to rate their willingness to accommodate students with disabilities, Allarakhia is also assessing their knowledge of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

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About Sarasota-Manatee Campus Magazine

Momentum is published by USF Research and Innovation and the Office of University Communications and Marketing on the Sarasota-Manatee campus. The University of South Florida, a member of the Association of American Universities, is a high-impact research university with campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee.