Above and Beyond

by Christopher Martin ’98

As a child, Mark Stramaglia ’07 and his friends passed many afternoons huddled around a flickering screen playing computer video games. But the boys’ love of gaming was tempered by the reality that one member of their group could not join in the fun. Stramaglia’s brother, Matthew, has cerebral palsy and since he could not play the games himself, he remained simply an observer.

As a computer science major at Azusa Pacific University, Stramaglia decided to pick up enough computer programming skills to design a computer game his brother could play. He decided to reprogram a current program to fit Matthew’s needs. Stramaglia began by studying user interfaces within various games to break down and understand the way users interact with computer games. After doing so, he redesigned one to require less input from the user and created a prototype for his brother to play.

Stramaglia immensely enjoyed the project, but it represented more than just a way for him to create an opportunity for his brother. The experience proved advantageous for his own purposes as well. As one of many APU undergraduate and graduate students completing independent research projects in addition to their regular courses, Stramaglia knows firsthand the enrichment such endeavors provide.

Recognizing this same truth, the university seeks to support student research at an increasingly high level. Though APU students have always been involved in various research projects at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, efforts have intensified recently due to an increased push by the university to foster a campus environment in which research thrives and transformational scholarship endures.

“The university has taken many steps to support research and foster a climate of scholarship on campus,” said Beverly Hardcastle Stanford, Ph.D., director of the Office of Research Support. “It begins with the faculty and ripples out to the students as they get ideas for the kinds of work they do.”

Stramaglia is one such example. He began his project as part of an Independent Study Directed Research class in the Department of Computer Science. Upon learning about the project, Mel Shoemaker, Ph.D., recently retired director of the Honors Program, recommended that he apply for a university grant to travel and present his work at the National Collegiate Honors Conference.

“The university was very encouraging,” said Stramaglia. “The work itself was very student-driven, but once the fruits were evident, they stepped in to take care of everything so I could present my work at the conference.”

According to Mark Eaton, Ph.D., interim director of the Undergraduate Research Program, conferences are but one way in which APU promotes student research. “The university is committed to supporting scholarship in many ways, but sending students to conferences provides great affirmation for the strong work they do,” Eaton said. “We’ve seen an increase in applications every year and are delighted students are taking advantage of these opportunities.”

"Getting my Ph.D. is no longer an option but a must. Not because I feel obligated, but because I simply want to understand things at a deeper level."

Kirsten Bault ’05 recently completed a research study titled, “The Theology of Employee Selection,” which she presented at a conference of the American Academy of Religion. According to Bault, the opportunity to present the paper proved but one of the many benefits to her project. “I learned so much as I went through the process of researching and writing the paper,” Bault said. “It exposed me to many different viewpoints and perspectives, and I had a great opportunity to work one-on-one with faculty.”

According to Diane Guido, Ph.D., vice provost for undergraduate programs, research projects like those conducted by Stramaglia and Bault often lead to productive results long after the research ends. “It is such a great growth opportunity for students to present their work among peers in their field,” Guido said. “It is an exciting experience that can help refine a future career.”

John Kozyra ’06, who presented his research paper titled, “Conscience, Neuroscience, and Nonreductive Physicalism,” at the American Academy of Religion in November, agrees with Guido’s assessment. “Through doing research, I have been able to see and experience the potential I have for a future in academic research,” Kozyra said. “Getting my Ph.D. is no longer an option but a must. Not because I feel obligated, but because I simply want to understand things at a deeper level.”

According to Guido, these projects do not just benefit the students who complete them, but elevate the campus community collectively by increasing scholarship. “Work like this deepens the entire academic atmosphere on campus,” Guido said. “It really is the faculty that have been instrumental in moving this forward, and students respond with a great desire to avail themselves of these opportunities. It really is exciting to watch a heightened visibility of research and scholarship on campus.”

Recent student recognition affirms this heightened level of scholarship. For the second year in a row, two APU alumni received Fulbright scholar grants to conduct research internationally. “We’ve received a lot of publicity for the students who have received the Fulbright grants,” Guido said. “It’s encouraging to watch APU students succeed with the excellent work they are doing. Being able to travel and learn overseas is such a rich example of the transformational scholarship experience.”

The benefits of an increased focus on research appeal to graduate students as well. In an effort to meet the needs of these students, particularly doctoral candidates, the university recently established the Office of Research Support, of which Stanford is the director. Since its inception, Stanford has brought in speakers to discuss methodology and arranged for consultants to help doctoral candidates strengthen their dissertations. She assists with travel grants for researching graduate students to present their findings and scholarship at conferences.

Stanford also spreads the word and encourages faculty to apply for research grants awarded by the Faculty Research Council. In addition, the council selects students who are paid to work with the faculty members on research studies. “This is a program that benefits both students and faculty members alike,” Stanford said. “The faculty member gains assistance from the student and the student learns about research by helping the faculty member.”

According to Stanford, these are but a few specific examples of APU’s overall commitment to promoting a climate of scholarship for both students and faculty. “What an honor to work everyday with scholars as they conduct their research and prepare their projects,” Stanford said. “They do terrific work and my job is simply to provide the resources and help they need as they conduct their research.”

Christopher Martin ’98 lives in Washington, DC. christophermartin@clearchannel.com