Desiree Caldera and Kaylena MannOct. 8, 2021—Whether a student decides to conduct research in psychology, biology, computer science or another field, that student will always benefit from learning the research process itself.

That’s according to Professor Emeritus of Nutrition and Food Science Terri Lisagor, Ed.D., who—along with her husband Mark Lisagor, D.D.S.—created a fellowship for undergraduate researchers in the CSU Channel Islands (CSUCI) Summer Undergraduate Research Fellows (SURF) program.

“Research awakens their excitement and gets them involved in something they may not have even known they could do,” said Lisagor, who recently retired from CSU Northridge (CSUN). “Research doesn’t give them answers but helps them discover the tools to find those answers. The feeling of ‘I can do it.’ It’s powerful.”

The two recipients of this year’s Lisagor Fellowship Award would seem to support Lisagor’s observation.

“Having the opportunity to create my own research questions and take the reins of my own hypotheses was both stressful and invigorating,” said Psychology major Kaylena Mann, who conducted research into psychological testing. “I learned a lot about my own capabilities as a researcher, as well as how exciting this experience can be.”

“The whole eight weeks of SURF and the project challenged me as a student and my abilities as a Computer Science major,” said Desiree Caldera, who conducted research into cybersecurity. “It was rewarding and I can definitely say I cried when I found out I won the fellowship. It meant a lot to be recognized as a woman of color in computer science.”

The $1,000 fellowship award was on top of the $3,000 stipend each received after being chosen for the eight-week summer program.

Assistant Professor of Psychology HyeSun Lee, Ph.D., was Mann’s faculty mentor.

“Kaylena’s project was about test fairness, especially how some of the wording in a psychological test for social anxiety can be potentially biased against the LGBTQ respondent,” Lee said. “She found wording that suggested stereotypical sexual roles. Kaylena researched test databases and conducted interviews and not only wrote her research paper, but came up with how we could revise these potentially biased test questions.”

Assistant Professor of Computer Science Reza Abdolee, Ph.D., mentored Caldera. Abdolee created a working environment for his students similar to that of a high-tech startup company.

“We are developing an online cybersecurity monitoring testing platform that can be used by small business in Ventura County to test their Information Technology (IT) networks and infrastructure,” he said. “This was a great opportunity for students to learn different technical and communication skills required in the job market and industry. Desiree learned numerous key skills and showed determination that helped her succeed with this project.”

The way SURF research helps prepare students for their careers is one of the things Mark Lisagor likes best about the summer program, which he described as nothing less than life changing. He mirrored his wife’s sentiments, adding this kind of research program, with the one-on-one interaction with faculty members and other student researchers, will serve students well in a 21st century career.

“All of this triples up in the pursuit of their careers,” Mark said. “That’s what jobs are about right now: critical thinking and collaboration. These are tools that will serve them so well in the job market.”

Mann can already feel the difference the SURF program made for her.

“Research is all about making that leap into unknown territory, which can be scary, especially when evaluating a newer topic,” Mann said. “I have never been confident in my own choices, but this research experience pushed me to finally trust myself.”

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