Thursday, February 28, 2013

A taste of spring: the Little Blue Goes Greenhouse

photo of Alanna
Alanna Nafziger
The Little Blue Goes Greenhouse is a place where children can learn about food, health, sustainability and stewardship--all disguised as gardening. And while the weather is still looking pretty white outside, there's some green going on inside the Edith Bowen Laboratory School's new structure.

"My main goal is to just reconnect the students with the whole process of growing food, getting their hands dirty, playing with bugs," said Alanna Nafziger, who heads up a gardening after-school program at Edith Bowen. She is a former student manager of the USU Organic Farm--and a passionate advocate of teaching children where food comes from and why growing it is important.

The idea began when USU student Ethan DeVilbiss applied for a Blue Goes Green grant to build a raised bed garden and hoop-house. He volunteered at Edith Bowen doing after-school tutoring, and he wanted to add a program on sustainability. (He is now backpacking through Europe, but plans to get involved in the greenhouse when he returns.)

The plans evolved to a full-blown greenhouse that would extend the growing season even more, and the walls went up.
photo of Ethan operating a power drill
Ethan (left) and his brother Taylor worked with other volunteers and contractor Travis Sapp to build the greenhouse. Photo courtesy of John DeVilbiss.
The school's PTA also put some funds forward to support greenhouse activities. When the 2012-2013 school year started, Nafziger began teaching the after-school program. They made seed packets, discussed vermiculture worms and the composting process, learned about topsoil and played with sprouts. Finally, they started some seeds.

On a February day, the greenhouse is a delightfully warm place that smells like new lumber. Inside, young greens are getting a jump start on spring, and the after school children are watching their spinach grow. A logbook will help them track the indoor temperature and how the plants respond to the care they receive.

Someday soon the children will eat club-grown greens. It's all part of their education.

For more photos from the greenhouse, check out our Facebook photo album.

photo of Alanna working with children

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Mike Williams and Danny Berger honored at the Utah Legislature

photo of Williams and Berger with Senator Hillyard
Mike Williams, Utah Senator Lyle Hillyard and Danny Berger
Utah State University fans probably already know the story. During a practice in December, men's basketball player Danny Berger collapsed. Athletic trainer Mike Williams began cardiopulmonary resuscitation and used a defibrillator to restore his heartbeat.

Berger was released from the hospital four days later. 

Yesterday they were both honored in the State Capitol by the Utah House and Senate. Williams also received the Heartsaver Hero Award from the American Heart Association. 

The story makes us proud as Aggies. We're also proud to say Williams is an alumnus of CEHS. He graduated from USU in exercise science before going to to get a masters in sports administration from the University of Idaho. 

Here's a press release from USU's Athletic Media Relations:

Utah State assistant athletic trainer Mike Williams and men’s basketball player Danny Berger were both recognized and honored by the Utah State Legislature Monday as Senator Lyle Hillyard presented them to the Senate Floor and Representative Jack Draxler presented them to the House Floor.

During their visit, Williams was also awarded the Heartsaver Hero Award by the American Heart Association as he began cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and used an automated external defibrillator (AED) on Berger after he collapsed unexpectedly during a USU men’s basketball practice on Dec. 4, 2012.

After Berger’s pulse and heartbeat were restored, he was taken to Logan Regional Hospital and stabilized before being transferred to Intermountain Medical Center in Murray where he was released four days later on Saturday, Dec. 8.

Also during Monday’s legislative session, House Bill 118 passed the House of Representatives, creating a restricted account of $300,000 for the purchase of AED’s to any municipal, county or state department of safety/law enforcement that routinely responds to incidents or potential incidents of sudden cardiac arrest; any school that offers instruction to grades 7th through 12th; and any state institution of higher education.

Williams, who has been an athletic trainer with Utah State University since 1999, also worked for Intermountain Health Care in Logan as an athletic trainer and served as the Head Athletic Trainer for the Idaho Stampede of the Continental Basketball Association (CBA).

Williams began his athletic training career at Utah State University where he received his bachelor’s degree in exercise science in 1996. He then attended graduate school at the University of Idaho and graduated with a master's of science degree in sports administration in 1997.

Berger, a 6-6 guard from Medford, Ore., started the first five games of the 2012-13 season and was averaging 7.6 points, 3.6 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game, while shooting 40.0 percent from the field (12-30), 25.0 percent from three-point range (4-16) and 83.3 percent at the free throw line (10-12) at the time of his accident. He started 25 of 31 games during his first year at USU during the 2011-12 season.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Utah Conference on Undergraduate Research

Students have gathered data indicating that the adult children who care for a parent with dementia have significantly more family conflict than caregivers who are spouses.

Now they would like to know why.

The children of aging parents have to fulfill more roles than a spousal caregiver, the team of student researchers found. (Their work involved gathering baseline data for a larger study.) That said, their research showed that the multiple roles shouldered by adult children caregivers didn't explain why they were experiencing more family conflict. Future study should look for other reasons, they concluded.

photo of student researchers

The student team included Heather Sheffer, Aaron Gibbons and Deborah Teuscher, all from the Family, Consumer and Human Development department.

A walk through the afternoon poster session revealed a lot of other unanswered questions. Here are just a few:

photo of Chance Christensen

Student researcher Chance Christensen was involved in studying the effects of the drug Prozac on rats--specifically whether it could improve a rat's sense of time when the animal has been stressed. The researchers found that under anxiety, a rat's perception of time was delayed. The drug reduced the delay in perception, though it didn't eliminate it. 

In the future the researchers hope to increase the sample size and vary the doses according to the rats' behavior. The study was out of the Psychology department.

photo of Eric Hastings

Eric Hastings was involved in studying whether students' performance improved if they had a newer, nicer-looking building to learn in. The research results indicated that for the most part, any gains in performance were short-lived. The study, which is being conducted by the Center for the School of the Future, is ongoing.

photo of Kevin Lawanto

Kevin Lawanto, a student in the psychology department, was involved in studying NrCAM knockout mice--which are thought to have characteristics in common with autism. Researchers studied aggressiveness and scent marking behavior in the male mice. The subject mice tended to be more aggressive, but even after winning a fight they did not scent-mark their territory the way typical mice do. The research team hopes to increase its sample size and continue studying aggression.

For more scenes from the conference, visit our Facebook photo album.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

J. Scott Savage: Four steps to an awesome story

J. Scott savage and audience
Yesterday, students from Edith Bowen Laboratory School took some tips from nationally-renowned children's author J. Scott Savage.

He is the author of the Farworld series and Zombie Kid.

Older writers might like the writing advice, too, so here it is:

1. You need a main character. "If you want your protagonist to be a man-eating, cheese-wearing, tap dancing squirrel, you can do it," he said. "It's your story."

2.  Get a goal. This part is tricky--the best stories probably have a more interesting goal than getting homework done before bedtime. The Edith Bowen students decided their hero would save the school from destruction.

3. Find and overcome obstacles that stand between the protagonist and the goal. The student audience came up with a lake of hot lava, a giant rock mountain and an enormous insane bunny rabbit.

4. Include consequences. "The consequences are the results of the hero's actions, but they don't have to be bad," Savage said.

The students' story ended with the rescue of the school.

But it takes more than plotting. "If you want to be a good writer, you've got to be a good reader," he said.

children raise their hands

Why was he sharing writing tips with such a young audience? Because young writers can be successful. Christopher Paolini started Eragon when he was 15. And while Savage didn't necessarily plan on a writing career when he was in elementary school, his report cards would have statements like this:

"When Jeff is paying attention, he does really well. But a lot of times, Jeff isn't paying attention."

Later, daydreaming became an important part of his career path. Well, that and reading and writing and plotting. The students got a good start at that on Wednesday.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The excitement, minus the fear: an ambassador speaks on coming to USU as a transfer student

Photo of Shane Jonson
Shane Jonson is the student ambassador from the Family, Consumer and Human Development department. Today he is sharing his experiences about advising transfer students who are thinking about finishing their degree here at Utah State. He knows a thing or two about it, since he transferred here himself. Take it away, Shane!
By far my favorite duty as an ambassador is going to the recruiting open houses. In particular, the transfer open houses are the best for me. I came to Utah State University as a transfer student, so I know how exciting it is to continue your college education in a new place. It feels somewhat similar to staring off as a freshman, without all of the fears about college in general since you already have some experience being a student.
Recently, I had the opportunity to go to transfer open houses at Snow College in Ephraim, and USU Eastern in Price. It was interesting to note how these open houses differed from those that are attracting new freshmen. For one thing, these students had a lot more figured out as far as what they want to study and what kind of student they want to be. They come and talk to us without needing a parent to do it for them, which I enjoyed a great deal.
Since they had a clearer vision of their college career ahead of them, I was able to talk to them in greater detail about the programs the college of education has to offer, and give them some advice about college life in Logan. I could help them learn which housing would be most appropriate for what they were looking for in regards to location, price, social scene, age demographic, and of course dating opportunities.
Most of their questions were more specific to life at Utah State instead of the academic aspect. I was able to help several students who are planning to make the transition in the fall to find info about housing and employment, and offer them valuable resources to make their transition a little smoother.
They also had questions regarding the major courses they would need to take in their area of study, since most of them had their general education credits already completed. This was also fun for me because I could tell them about my personal experiences; which classes I liked the most and why; and which they should try to get done early or put off until later.
The open houses were an awesome experience, and I was really glad I had the chance to interact with these transfer students and offer them some insight into the years of school they will spend at Utah State, and how to make the best of them.

The EEJ College of Education and Human Services student ambassadors are here to answer questions about getting an education at USU. They know what it takes to be successful. Do you want information about a department or major? Ask them!

The ambassadors will be in Rock Springs, Wyoming at Western Wyoming College on Thursday, February 28. Two representatives will be available from 10 am to 1 pm in the center of the Pendulum building.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

School children explore the physics of fun

Students from the Promontory School of Expeditionary Learning visited research labs in the Health, Physical Education and Recreation building this week. As it turns out, the HPER building is a great place to learn about STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).

A group of children shoot foam rockets

As fun as this looks, it's science. David Tyler Hinkson, an undergraduate majoring in exercise science, helps the students experiment with angles and force to make the rockets fly farther in the Biomechanics Lab.

a girl jumps onto a force plate

A force plate is hooked up to a computer that will graph out the impact of this student's landing. She and her classmates were encouraged to try a hard landing...

... and a soft one. The computer maps the difference and helps the students learn not only about physics, but also about preventing injury.

Graduate student Ashley Szpindor majors in corporate wellness. Here, she volunteers to show students how much force they can apply with their hands. They squeeze a device that measures the difference in strength between dominant versus non-dominant hands and one versus two hands.

Vibrations platforms are used to increase bone density and also improve performance (people can jump higher after standing on one). The machines also introduced the children to the concept of waves, frequency and amplitude. 

A child moves beans between yogurt cups with a spoon

How many beans can you move from one yogurt cup to another? The students try out some tasks that people who have experienced a stroke are asked to do in the Motor Rehabilitation and Learning Lab. The children use their non-dominant hands to get a better understanding of how hard the motion can be for a person whose brain has been damaged--and they discover that with practice, they can do it better.

These special glasses alternate between clear and opaque, which makes catching more difficult--but it also helps the wearer understand the ball's trajectory and predict its path. The children tried them out at the Sensory Motor Behavior Lab.

Can you draw circles with your hands and a six with your foot? The ability to do more than one task is called coordination--and studying it helps researchers at the  know more about how the brain works.

Another research project has the subject tap in rhythm, then measures what happens when the tapping continues in silence or with distractions. Data collected in these experiments helps researchers understand more about the brain.

The Promontory School of Expeditionary Learning encourages children to experience the topics they will learn. Their visit to the HPER labs enriched the concepts in the motion unit they are currently on.

The Utah State University students who guided them gained some practical experience, too--they had the opportunity to teach STEM concepts in a fun, physical way.

For more information on the three HPER labs, contact:

Breanna Studenka of the Sensory Motor Behavior Lab: breanna.studenka[at]
Dr. Sydney Schaefer of the Motor Rehabilitation and Learning Lab: sydney.schaefer[at]
Eadric Bressel of the Biomechanics Lab: eadric.bressel[at]

Monday, February 4, 2013

The big game is over, but the trend toward big players continues.

Dr. Dale Wagner, associate professor of Exercise Physiology, was recently quoted in a Smithsonian article about football players’ increase in size over time.

He agreed to weigh in on the issue for us, too, introducing his research and fielding questions. Here’s what he had to say:

photo of a football player
BMI is a misleading way to calculate
obesity in strength-trained athletes.
A few years ago I published a research paper with a graduate student on the topic of obesity in NCAA football players.*  One reason for our study was because an editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) claimed that 97% of NFL players were overweight and 56% were obese. 

This was very misleading data because the JAMA researchers relied simply on the heights and weights of the players to make their assessment.  Weight (in kg) divided by height (in meters squared) is called the body mass index (BMI), and is a popular method, especially by clinicians such as physicians, for estimating “overweight” and “obesity."

However, strength-trained individuals have a larger than normal amount of muscle mass.  Thus, they will often be misclassified as "overweight” or even “obese” when, in fact, they might be very lean.  Indeed, this was the case in our study; BMI overestimated the prevalence of overweight and obesity in about 51% of the players we tested.  The majority of NCAA (and NFL) football players have a healthy amount of body fat and many are actually quite lean (low amount of body fat). 

Nevertheless, about 16% of the NCAA players we tested qualified as truly “obese”, meaning that in addition to a large BMI they also had an excessively large waist circumference and too much body fat. 

Q: Is the increase in football players' size explained only by fat, or are other factors?

Without a doubt the size of football players has increased over the last 60 years.  Recent research quantifies this.  Today’s players are just a couple inches taller, but many pounds heavier.  For example, a typical lineman from the 1950’s weighed about 250 pounds; many of today’s NFL linemen are nearly 100 pounds heavier!  Certainly much of the increase is due to muscle mass (better training & lifting practices and better nutrition), but in some cases the additional weight is fat weight.

Q: Is the idea of a lean, physically fit athlete changing on the football field?

The ideal is to have the biggest, leanest, fastest, and strongest athletes on the field.  Whether you select a lighter, leaner, faster athlete over a larger, fatter, slower athlete depends on a variety of factors (e.g., position, style of play, etc.).

Q: Is the value of a physically large, heavy lineman overrated?

The question becomes would you rather have a lean 250-pound lineman or an obese 320-pound lineman?  Many times the heavier lineman, even if carrying an excess of body fat, will win the battle; thus, I don’t think the value of heavy lineman is overrated. 

Q: For those who are overweight, what are the health implications, both during and after their playing careers?

Having excess body fat has been associated with many negative health consequences such as an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, osteoarthritis, etc.  These diseases might not manifest themselves in the young football player in his twenties while he is competing, but one study of former NFL players showed that 60% of NFL linemen had metabolic syndrome (e.g., multiple cardiovascular disease risk factors) while the national average for metabolic syndrome is about 23% of the population. 

Q: At the college level, what do you think should be done to optimize player health? And will it come at the price of team performance?

On the one hand, coaches encourage players (particularly linemen) to get bigger, and there is incentive for the players to do it (lucrative NFL contracts, etc.).  On the other hand, there should be some moral and ethical obligation to educate the collegiate player about the potential health consequences of having excess body fat.  In my opinion, the sports medicine staff and probably a team nutritionist should talk to the players about maintaining a healthy body weight both during and after their competitive career.