Korean High School Students Engage in Intensive Research Projects with University of Utah Faculty

For 8 Korean high school students, this summer offered an opportunity most undergraduate students would kill for, the chance to work one on one with University of Utah faculty on an intensive research project in the field of their choice.

The global internship that made this possible was put together as a partnership between the University of Utah and Incheon International High School in South Korea.

This is only one of the many ongoing academic relationships the University of Utah has fostered since the partnership with the U Asia Campus began in 2014.

The Korean students were paired up with four faculty from the University of Utah across the three disciplines offered at the U Asia Campus, Psychology, Communication, and Social Work.

“The goal of the program is to help students to get a feel for college life, what the University of Utah is like, and what the United States is like,” said Brian Baucom, a participating professor from the Department of Psychology. “Our role as faculty in this is helping the students to have a brief, intensive research experience. Each pair of students has joined one faculty member in conducting a research project regarding what we typically do in our area of expertise.”

Baucom’s work with his students involved the study of voice pattern and engagement with actively suicidal clients in the realm of clinical psychology.

The study is focused on military suicide specifically, and with the increase in suicide amongst military personnel, Baucom’s goal is to find how best to help soldiers who are known to be actively suicidal.

“This project looks at the way therapists talk to their clients, and how that’s related to the client feeling emotionally connected to their therapist,” Baucom said.

They looked at whether it was more helpful for a therapist to remain calm and cool, or actively responsive to the client’s emotions and engage with them in a more direct manner. The students’ research was based on recordings of actual therapist sessions collected from Colorado.

“The students are hearing real recordings between a therapist and their client, and real interventions with that same person,” Baucom said. “They are helping us to prepare those audio files for analysis, and then we work together to analyze the files they’ve prepared, and then join them up with past files to run statistics to find which form of therapist engagement is more effective.”

The students were actively engaged in research, directly partnered with their assigned faculty member for roughly six hours a day during their two-week stay at the university. In addition to the research work, the students also wrote group papers on the findings of their research projects, with the experience culminating in a presentation of their research given on their last week.

“The experience so far has been fantastic. Both of the students I am working with have been very enthusiastic and very eager to learn,” Baucom said. “One of the things that has been really nice to see is that they have been asking a lot of questions, and it has been really nice to see them begin to quickly make connections.”

 “Having an intensive research opportunity like this is unusual for someone in high school, and to be honest, it’s rare to even have an experience like this in college, working in such a small group directly with a faculty member and seeing the various phases of the research,” Baucom said.

Research projects such as these, especially within the international field act not only as strong opportunities for students to gain significant experience and knowledge within the realm of higher education, but also help to serve as a catalyst for further international study.

“My experience at the University of Utah has been amazing, and I am sure now that I will attend a university abroad. Working with my partners and professors on this research has been very helpful to me,” Said Jessie Jihun Kim.

Kim who was one of the participating students in the program, partnered with faculty to gather research on personalized genetic medicine in breast cancer treatment.

Marouf Hasian from the Department of Communication was working with his students on the subject of medical humanitarianism, specifically in the realm of the recent Ebola outbreaks in West Africa and the United States.

The students studied the phenomenon of stigma against those who had worked overseas as doctors and nurses in Ebola infected countries.

“Much of their interest was due to MERS [Middle East Respiratory Syndrome], with South Korea going through a very similar situation with similar types of stigma due to a different disease,” Hasian said. “I think that was one of the reasons they were interested in learning about Ebola and the way the United States and other countries deal with stigma.”

His students engaged in a large amount of research covering everything from the potential means of the spread of Ebola, to media representation and its effect on public opinion.

“For me this has been very rewarding because it has taught me a new way of communicating information for a younger generation that I think is pedagogically enlightening,” Hasian said. “One of the most unique aspects of this program is that it allows me to learn from them and their educational system, and they get to learn what the University of Utah is like and what researchers do here. They get to have interactions with me that many graduate students in our own department don’t even get to have.”

The students engaged with Hasian in this work seemed to take away just as much as he did from the research experience. For the students involved, the knowledge gained offers the chance to extend their learning far beyond the research done here at the university.

“I think this program was a great opportunity for us to cooperate with university faculty and meeting with them one on one to discuss global issues,” said Kenneth YoonChul Choi, one of the participating exchange students. “My topic was on Ebola, and through this experience I gained a lot of information, and I think I will be able to use much of the knowledge I gained here to continue my research into other fields.”

For Hasian, the global internship program has given him the opportunity to not only tap into the academic training of some bright young minds from across the world, but also to present an aspect of what makes the University of Utah such an internationally engaged place of higher learning.

“I see myself as an ambassador who says, we’re not just strong because we are a member of the Pac-12, we are strong because we are doing the kind of important research that I hope the people in Korea would look at and say ‘Wow, that’s not only important, but it’s nice to see collaboration between our students and their researchers.’”

“This is a very special opportunity for students. In Korea doing research with a professor is a unique experience, even more so for a high school student,” said Dan Junyoung Jung, one of the participating exchange students. “For us to experience this kind of program has been a very fortunate opportunity.”

The students participated in the global internship program at the University of Utah from July 20 to August 2, 2015.