The Scholarly Approach
By Carol Keocheckian '81
For the second consecutive year, CLU's spring Festival of Scholars showcased academic achievement during seven days of research presentations, panel discussions and artistic performances.
Introduced last year as a vehicle for undergraduate students in the College of Arts and Sciences to share their original research and projects, the Festival of Scholars was expanded in 2008 to include graduate students and faculty and to feature work from the School of Business and the School of Education.
The multi-faceted celebration included presentations on topics varying from Hispanic literature and gender norms in child's play to kinetic analysis of athletes and environmental ethics. An outgrowth of CLU's philosophy of teaching and learning, the Festival of Scholars engages students in scholarship outside the normal curriculum and encourages research at a higher level.
CLU Magazine is pleased to publish content from two of the many excellent research projects and interviews with students regarding their experiences and findings.
The Economic Costs of the Iraq War
Last fall three economics students began discussing research topics they might explore for presentation at Festival of Scholars with professor Jamshid Damooei. After much conversation, they decided on a topic they believe affects everyone on the planet — the Iraq War and its impact on the American economy.
The students — economics majors Greg Young, Eric Garcia and Aditya Mehta — conducted exhaustive research through their tutorial class Intermediate Macro Economics.
"We had a basic outline," relates Young, "but the more we looked into it, the more it evolved."
Developing a set of objectives for their paper made it easier for the students to focus their research. As a result, they narrowed their investigation to analyzing the true cost of war to the United States through the framework of an economist. Their goal was to define what the U.S. is giving up by pursuing the war in Iraq and what this means to the average American citizen.
The students scrutinized increases in military spending, delved into additional services related to caring for veterans and determined how the war has affected oil prices. With figures gleaned from government Web sites, the Congressional Research Service, works of award-winning economists and many other sources, they found that the Congressional Budget Office estimate of about $600 billion in total direct costs of the war is grossly underestimated. The students assert that the true costs to American taxpayers may exceed $2 trillion when other expenditures such as veteran lifetime healthcare and disability payments, restocking depleted military equipment and interest on loans used to finance the war are also calculated into the mix.
"The war is having a huge impact on the economy," Garcia says, pointing out that the war is costing the U.S. more than $16 billion a month. "Just think of how much we're spending each day that could go towards domestic needs — more teachers, keeping schools open, more police and Head Start programs."
Although there has never been a tax hike to cover the growing expenditures in the Middle East, Young notes, "We're paying for it through market resources."
Since the war began, the researchers found, the price of a barrel of oil has increased $10. The U.S. imports about 5 billion barrels a year so a $10 per barrel increase translates into an extra expenditure of $50 billion per year. [These numbers have soared since the research was presented in April.]
"Oil is needed to produce everything," Young continues. "Today, 5 percent more of our income goes to oil-related expenditures. As a result, the average American is spending $138 a month more to maintain the same standard of living as pre-war."
"The economy is turning to military spending," Mehta adds. "The government is forgoing other jobs by stimulating military employment."
While teachers build intellectual resources for the future, their compensation is modest. Military pay, however, has been boosted by 28 percent, the students learned, and new recruits are now offered sign-up bonuses of up to $40,000. Experienced troops receive re-enlistment bonuses of up to $150,000.
Presenting their research during the Festival of Scholars was very gratifying. "What we told them [students] is very different from what the media have told them," Garcia relates. "It was stimulating to do one of these projects on such a controversial topic. I don't know if other schools enable you to do this kind of research before you graduate."
"I was excited," Mehta recalls. "I want people to know what the war actually costs and where else that money could be used. I would like to thank the school and Dr. Damooei for giving me the opportunity to do this."
Students are often anxious about completing class assignments. But a spring semester research project in criminal psychology that required interviews with jail inmates caused some extra trepidation.
The purpose of the study was to compare male and female inmates by offense type and demographic variables, as well as to learn about their criminal history, family and their perceptions on motives, rehabilitation and the future.
Using the data they gathered, 33 students examined the social psychological factors associated with criminal offending, compared responses of male and female inmates, and measured the responses against existing research on the causes of criminal offending and the relationships to factors such as illicit drug use.
For students considering careers in criminal justice, forensic psychology and related fields, interviewing convicted offenders provides a valuable learning opportunity in applying previously learned theories and research, points out Robert Meadows, a criminal justice professor who team-taught the course with psychology professor Julie Kuehnel.
Male students interviewed male inmates while female students questioned female inmates. Matching the class makeup, 17 male and 15 female inmates volunteered to be interviewed. Most were serving sentences of three months to a year for drug offenses, probation violations, assault or theft.
Almost all the women admitted to having suffered domestic abuse from boyfriends and yet most still remained with them. Two common factors that surfaced among the male inmate population were drug use or addiction and a failure to complete school. Psychology major Jenna Perry concluded that most of the offenses were a result of poverty and family influence.
One of the most surprising findings for criminal justice major Jennifer LaMoure was that 13 of the 15 female inmates in the study had a total of 53 children, from multiple fathers. While their mothers serve time, the children are cared for primarily by their grandparents, great-grandparents or their mothers' boyfriends.
"When women are pregnant and give birth in prison," LaMoure learned, "they only get to spend a day with their babies. Consequently, some of these children have never met their mothers. They are placed into foster homes or into broken homes of family members.
Therefore, the cycle of poverty and abuse continues."
"The majority of male inmates had no male role model in their lives," psychology major Daniel Knauss notes. "Yet, one male inmate had a great upbringing; he dropped out of high school to surf, hung with a peer group that was the worst influence and got into drugs."
"There is a common stereotype of criminals coming from broken homes," business major Melissa Buckley noted. "But there was a female inmate whose parents were married, had eight children and attended church regularly. There was no indication of drug use in the home."
Despite these exceptions, the students discovered a high correlation between broken homes and having a large number of siblings and incarceration.
The researchers came away with many new questions: What is the result of a lack of parental bonding? The lack of a father figure? Poverty? Can intervention programs teach inmates how to form attachments?
They also found that the prison system does not foster changes in behavior. They realized that drug addiction is very powerful and that more funding is needed for rehabilitation.
"It's easy to rehab in prison within a controlled environment," Knauss points out. "But when inmates get out of jail, they tend to return to their prior lifestyle."
"Prison is not rehabilitating," LaMoure asserts, "just incarcerating." There are limited programs to assist inmates in making permanent life changes, she explains. "There is a dorm program conducted 30 hours per week where inmates can learn life skills, computer skills and anger management. However, there's a very rigorous process to get in, and the program has limited space."
Whether the dorm program is effective remains to be seen. LaMoure has been hired as an intern to determine whether inmates who participate in the special program have a greater success rate when they return to society than inmates who do not participate in the program.
Students who presented the class's research at the Festival of Scholars are Buckley, a business major; Leandra Duckett, criminal justice; Knauss, psychology; LaMoure, criminal justice; Perry, psychology; Shelby Purmont, sociology; and Nichole Williams, exercise science and sports medicine.
The inmate interviews proved to be such a powerful educational tool that Meadows and Kuehnel intend to make them an ongoing requirement for their class.
"We are looking into expanding the interviews to different prisons and developing more opportunities for student internships in various facilities," Meadows relates.
Participating in the study was illuminating for the students and frustrating at the same time. "It affirmed my frustration about what to do," Knauss says. "There is no easy answer, and it will take tons of money."
Perry found that being able to apply her education to research, to present findings and to talk about the problems was rewarding and reaffirmed her desire to help society.
Before participating in the study, Duckett wanted to be a lawyer. Now she is reconsidering her career options. "I want to look at other professions where I can help people," she says.