Students Make Their Mark at National Competition

By Lisa Y. Garibay

UTEP News Service

You may know of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, but you may never have associated them with prevention research in psychology.

Four UTEP Ph.D. candidates in health psychology assumed the name of the famous TV crime fighters when they teamed up to compete in the Society for Prevention Research’s 8th annual Sloboda and Bukoski Cup national competition this spring.Statistical Power Rangers team members included, from left, Nazanin M. Heydarian, Katherine Aguirre, Mosi Dane'el, and Gabriel Frietze.Statistical Power Rangers team members included, from left, Nazanin M. Heydarian, Katherine Aguirre, Mosi Dane'el, and Gabriel Frietze.

“The name of our team was the Mighty Morphin Statistical Power Rangers – a play on a concept in statistics (power), a popular TV series, and the acronym for the conference,” said captain Nazanin Heydarian. Rounding out the team were Katherine Aguirre, Mosi Dane'el, and Gabriel Frietze. They worked closely with faculty mentors Matthew Carlson, Ph.D., assistant professor who specializes in grammar and language acquisition and cognition, and Felipe Gonzalez Castro, Ph.D., director of UTEP’s Health Psychology Program and president of the Society for Prevention Research.

The SPR sponsors the Sloboda and Bukoski Cup as a friendly competition among research teams in recognition of the importance of the collaborative process. The winner has the honor of bringing home the traveling cup for one academic year. Competitors work with the same data set, problem solve together for a brief period of time, then jointly present their ideas to each other and a larger group of experienced prevention scientists at the annual conference.

Results were announced during the SPR’s 21st annual meeting, “The Science of Prevention: Building a Comprehensive National Strategy for Well-Being,” May 28-31 in San Francisco.

UTEP’s group vied for the cup alongside teams from the University of Minnesota, Penn State, the University of Southern California, and Northwestern University. Each team was given a set of data in March and was charged with creating their own research project using that dataset, with steps including reviewing literature, generating hypotheses, conducting analyses, and preparing a presentation for a 10-minute symposium talk on their results. A panel of senior prevention scientist judges and the audience at the symposium rated the quality of the research work and the presentation.

As part of the application process, teams had to submit a one-minute introductory video; UTEP’s can be seen here. While they ultimately did not bring the cup home to El Paso, the team was lauded for having the best creative media.

“Though we did not win the cup, we felt that we competitively represented UTEP well at a prestigious national conference,” Heydarian said, noting that this was the first time the students had presented at such a large and influential conference. All received positive feedback from senior researchers.

The Society for Prevention Research is dedicated to advancing scientific investigation on the etiology and prevention of social, physical and mental health, and on the translation of that information to promote health and well-being. The annual conference brings the organization’s multi-disciplinary international membership of scientists, practitioners, advocates, administrators, and policymakers together for greater dissemination of prevention science worldwide. Heydarian was excited to be networking among such influential professionals and knows that the competition helped boost her professional standing.

“I am proud of this team of health psychology doctoral students as they rose to the occasion and represented UTEP for the first time, and very well, in this prestigious SPR Cup competition,” Castro said. “Their success was also a product of Dr. Carlson's dedicated mentorship. It was an intense yet rewarding experience due to the initiative and talent of these students.”