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Faculty members begin summer projects and research

6/5/2012 —


As the summer begins, so do the projects of a number of Penn State New Kensington faculty members. From composing a requiem mass to conducting research projects on psychological matters to co-editing a book on teaching in prisons, faculty members will be busy over the next few months, though class is not in session. Below, a few share their plans for the summer.

Richard Harnish, Associate Professor of Psychology
K.R. Bridges, Associate Professor of Psychology

Richard Harnish and K.R. Bridges will work with three Penn State New Kensington senior psychology majors on research that explores a range of human behavior, including moral foundations, consumer behavior and the phenomena of “mall hauling.”

Working with senior Brian Ferraccio, Harnish and Bridges will explore the perspectives of two different psychologists, those of Jonathan Haidt, whose Moral Foundations Theory identifies five foundations that he says underlie morality in all societies and individuals and those of Jean Piaget, who developed a theory of moral development which he traced to later conceptions of law, justice and political codes. The project will explore the two different perspectives and attempt to integrate them.

The two professors will also collaborate with student Richard Hofscher, Harnish said, to explore why consumers knowingly purchase products that they do not want and cannot afford. While the behavior is not new, and many know someone who engages in such behavior or does so themselves, there is relatively little knowledge about the psychological process involved in the behavior, according to Harnish.

“The little research that exists suggests co-morbidity with other behaviors such as hoarding,” he said. “We’re exploring if individuals shape their purchasing behavior to maintain and bolster positive self-image motives in consumer behavior.”

A third study, with student Laura Sciamanna, explores what Harnish calls “a relatively new, but little understood phenomena,” of mall hauling, the practice of recording shopping sprees and then sharing them on the internet. Some of the videos rival the popularity of some shows on cable television.

“In these videos, typically, young women in their teens to early twenties post their shopping spree purchasing by posting them onto YouTube,” Harnish said. “The research attempts to understand why these folks post their shopping sprees and why others watch them.”

Jennifer Wood, Associate Professor, Communication Arts and Sciences
Jennifer Wood, whose research focuses on communication, crime and victimization, recently returned from an annual victim/offender dialogue training conducted by Pennsylvania’s Office of the Victim Advocate.

“The office of victim advocate runs a nationally recognized, victim initiated victim/offender dialogue program that brings victims and offenders together in face-to-face meetings to talk about the impact of crime on their lives,” she said. “I’ve volunteered as a facilitator for this program since 2008, and it is some of the most important and rewarding work I do.”

Wood is also co-editing a book with Stephen J. Hartnett of the University of Colorado at Denver and Eleanor Novek at Monmouth University in New Jersey entitled "Working for Justice: A Handbook of Prison Education and Activism."

“The book offers ten chapters that detail communication scholars’ work teaching in prisons and prison reentry programs, as well as their efforts to raise awareness about prison issues in the U.S.,” Wood said.

The book is being published by the University of Illinois Press. Wood said she and her fellow editors expect it to be released sometime in late spring or early summer of 2013.

Wood may also pursue joint projects with Kristine Artello, Assistant Professor of Administration of Justice at Penn State New Kensington.

Douglas Starr, Adjunct Instructor in Music
Douglas Starr, who teaches World Music and Jazz History, and also directs the jazz performance ensemble at Penn State New Kensington, will be working this summer on the composition of a requiem mass that draws upon personal inspiration.

“The words for the standard requiem mass are in Latin, although I am writing my settings in both Latin and English,” he said. “My father was a seminary professor, and my mother, a poet, and I have, thus far, superimposed her poetry (in English) over top Latin text. I’m still going through my father’s writings to find something suitable.”

The mass would ideally be performed in a concert setting, he said, though individual choral movements can be extracted and used as choral anthems during a church worship service. Starr describes the musical setting of a requiem mass as a “remarkable undertaking.”

“I am looking forward to its completion and eventual performance,” Starr said. “It’s a bit spooky to begin this project at age sixty,” he said. “Mozart was still working on his Requiem setting while on his death bed. So I am taking my time and in not a real rush, although I do have performance plans.”

Susan Medley, associate professor of Music and director of choirs at Washington and Jefferson University will conduct the requiem mass’s premiere. Starr said he envisions the premiere performance will include both the William and Jefferson choir and the choir of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Mount Lebanon, where he is Director of Music and Arts. The work will also be published on the website which Starr shares with his wife, composer Annette Tierney, www.tierneystarrmusic.com.

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