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Spring 2002 l Capital University Journal
Research Notes

Projects aims to keep surgeons operating
Warren Smith


Left in a hero’s wake
Rebecca Cameron


Computing a cultural difference
Nancy Tsai and Russell Ching


Arts add texture to learning
Crystal Olson


For Dickens, life is a carnival
Mark Hennelly


Perceptions sway athlete play
Gloria Solomon


E. coli: Lurking in a store near you?
Susanne Lindgren


Projects aims to keep surgeons operating

Photo of Warren Smith
It’s a fair bet most patients want their surgeons comfortable and happy when the cutting starts.

Unfortunately, surgeons who use less invasive “laparoscopic” surgery techniques are often just the opposite. They’re forced to work with long, awkward instruments while viewing fish-eye video images from a small camera, all of which lead to repetitive stress injuries.

Sac State professor Warren Smith is trying to help. Laparoscopic surgery, which involves smaller incisions than traditional surgery, is wonderful as far as patient recovery goes. So Smith is focused on making the operations less taxing for the surgeons.

For the last six years, he and student assistants have been perfecting a computer-controlled “Ergonomic Workstation” to monitor surgeons’ mental and physical stress. They’re trying to identify where the worst stress occurs so improvements can be made. And now Yale University researchers, who are working in the same area, have purchased the system for their own studies.

“This is a huge issue for surgeons,” Smith says. “Hopefully, research using this system will help companies develop better instruments, and help hospitals develop better operating rooms and
procedures.”

It isn’t simple—or inexpensive—to turn an eager student into a surgeon. They usually spend at least nine years in training after earning their four-year college degrees, according to the American Medical Association. The longer they can extend their career after that, the better.

Smith got started after talking with Martinez surgeon Ramon Berguer, who was concerned about the number of surgeons suffering from injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome, sore backs and shoulders, and loss of feeling in their fingers.
Smith and his students introduced their first monitoring system five years ago at a medical conference in San Diego. Volunteer surgeons were wired to the computer, which then measured muscle movement while they performed various tasks with surgical instruments.

“The surgeons were very interested,” Smith says. “One after another they would tell us about pains in their shoulder or thumbs going numb, all related to the use of their instruments. Here were these doctors asking us engineers if we could help with medical problems.”

After years of improvements, the latest system is much more sophisticated. It now measures muscle movement, brain waves, hand sweat, heart rate, and the angle of arms and head.

The system is now wireless, which made wearing it much more comfortable for surgeons. A very small computer is worn in a belt pouch and sends signals to the main laptop computer. It doesn’t interfere with surgery, so Yale University has been able to use it to monitor surgeons in operations on human patients. It also works with a multi-camera system, so researchers can record what the surgeon was doing when physical and mental stress levels changed.

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Left in a hero’s wake

Photo of Rebecca CameronThe events of Sept. 11 brought an intense outpouring of appreciation for firefighters and other law enforcement personnel. But for the families and co-workers left behind, the adulation is likely to be bittersweet, says psychology professor Rebecca Cameron.

Cameron, a clinical psychologist, studies the impact of traumatic stress on firefighters and their partners. She says that when a spouse, family member or friend dies a hero, the surviving loved one has to deal with more than loss.

“As in any grief process there may be anger, especially if they had argued with the person before they died. In this situation, survivors may especially wonder if they’re entitled to their anger,” Cameron says. “Guilt is largely amplified. All the normal feelings that encompass grief are potentially more challenging in light of this person now being revered.”

Any time a firefighter is killed it affects a community. But it’s unprecedented to have hundreds killed at once, Cameron notes. In the aftermath of the terror attacks individual losses may have been overshadowed by the enormity of the situation.

“Those left behind may feel their loss was diminished now that their family member is one in a sea of names,” she says. “Also the surviving relatives want to be seen as model family members. It’s hard to live up to that status.”

The burden rests with the surviving firefighters as well. “Firefighters are an exceptional group. They tend to be very family-oriented,” she says. “Although firefighters routinely encounter death and injury, when the victim is known or is a co-worker, it is more salient.”

As the country continues to “get back to normal” it’s inevitable outward displays of community support for public safety officials and their families will wane, and may bring a new feeling of loss. Cameron notes that those who were in the spotlight may have to readjust to being out of it. “Having once been a hero is difficult,” she says.

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Computing a cultural difference

Photo of Nancy Tsai and Russelll chningNancy Tsai, Russell Ching and many other experts have an inkling that companies in the United States take advantage of information technology more than nations in Southeast Asia.

They just aren’t sure how much difference there is. And when the idea to formally research the topic came up at a recent conference, the two were more than willing to volunteer.

Tsai and Ching, both Sac State professors of management information science, are surveying large companies such as IBM, Intel and Hewlett-Packard. They and Somboonwan Satyarakwit of the Institute for Development Administration in Bangkok, Thailand, are examining the United States, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand.

Tsai says the research will be helpful for information technology education.

“I really believe there is a big difference between the countries,” Tsai says. “With this research, we’ll be able to show what programs should be developed in the Asian nations, and how we can improve our curriculum here.”

Tsai expects to find U.S. companies are more invested in information technology. The United States will probably be more involved with e-business, she says, and companies here are more likely to do their own programming rather than depending on off-the-shelf software. She also is ready for some surprises.

After the research is completed, Tsai and Ching hope to work with Asian universities on developing MIS programs.

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Arts add texture to learning

Photo of Crystal OlsonExposure to the arts molds a better student. That’s the theory behind the MOSAICS Project, a Sac State program that aims to improve student performance by emphasizing instruction in the visual and performing arts.

“We want to demonstrate the power of the arts in the classroom. We intend to show that there is a very strong correlation between instruction that integrates the arts across the curriculum and improvement in student achievement,” says Crystal Olson, MOSAICS Project coordinator and a lecturer in teacher education. “We want to bring balance into classrooms and resist emphasizing high test scores to the exclusion of every-
thing else.”

Buoyed by a $135,000 California Arts Council grant, the MOSAICS Project, which stands for Measurable Outcomes for K-12 Student Achievement through Arts in Communities and Schools, is designed to give classroom teachers expertise in providing arts experiences for students. It’s training that will come in handy now that the California State Board of Education has adopted state content standards that put the visual and performing arts on the same level as other content areas.

Among the goals of the project is a model for a master of arts in education—curriculum and instruction with an emphasis in arts in education that can be replicated at other universities. Olson is following the efforts of the 38 teachers enrolled in the pilot program at Sac State.

As part of their instruction, the student teachers receive guidance in developing support for future art projects. They also must complete a research project and create an arts curriculum.

The student efforts includes several murals, many reflecting the multicultural aspects of the communities they serve. Another mixes art with geometry, having middle schoolers make huge models of triangles and spheres with rolled-up newspaper. Others use creative drama and storytelling as a way to improve reading comprehension.

Though the results she has so far are only preliminary, they are quite encouraging. “You can almost use the word transformative,” Olson says.

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For Dickens, life is a carnival

Photo of Mark HennellyEven if they’re unaware of it, most people are familiar with Charles Dickens’ works. Sayings from his writings such as “Bah, humbug!” and “It was the best the times, it was the worst of times…” have become part of popular culture.

His novels have inspired innumerable plays, paintings, musical compositions, films, television adaptations and websites.

But why does Dickens remain popular? According to Mark Hennelly, chair of Sac State’s English department, it’s Dickens’ way of romanticizing everyday life. “After all, trifles make the sum of life,” said Dickens character David Cooperfield.

Hennelly researches Dickens’ writings and lifestyle, and has published more than 15 essays and reviews about the famous author. What most captivates him is the way Dickens played with contradictions.

“On the one hand, he had to be very disciplined in order to be published. He made an art form out of the periodic novel, writing 32 pages a month for 19 months at a time, and he only missed a deadline once.

“But, on the other hand, he was very restless. He would walk all night, sometimes 20 miles to London and back, and he was an agitator for reform and for the lower class. He also regularly hosted carnivals in his backyard, that involved the entire town. The contradictions, the discipline and the restlessness, are very provocative.”

Hennelly is currently researching a “carnivalesque” reading of the novel Martin Chuzzlewit, which he hopes to publish in a journal dedicated to Dickens.

“He loved fairs and carnivals, in his life and in his writings,” Hennelly says. “There are a number of different carnival figures likes clowns, fools and rogues in his fiction, but perhaps the most interesting symbol of the carnivalesque play is the motif of the somersault. It joins heaven and earth, and because what was on the bottom replaces what is on the top, it represents a reversal of conventional categories of value.”

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Perceptions sway athlete play

Photo of Gloria SolomonIn the world of amateur sports, what you believe is what you get, says kinesiology and health science professor Gloria Solomon. If the coach doesn’t have confidence in an athlete, the athlete rarely improves.

In several studies of college and high school player-coach interactions, Solomon found the feedback an athlete receives from his or her coach has an effect on athletic performance. And head coaches give significantly better feedback to athletes they deem “high expectancy” players, which leads to higher performance.

More surprisingly, Solomon learned that when athletes were considered high-expectancy, it wasn’t based on athletic ability or athlete confidence. “The predictor of actual performance was the coach’s perception of the athlete’s confidence,” says Solomon, a certified sport psychology consultant who has been both a coach and an athlete.

For several years Solomon has been testing expectancy theory, which looks at the effect of one person’s expectations on another’s performance. “I wondered how some coaches could bring out the best in athletes while others couldn’t,” she says.

Expectancy theory had been used in education, but Solomon is the first to find relationship between expectancy and athletic performance. Her findings have been published in several professional journals, most recently in the International Journal of Sports Psychology.

Another revelation came during a study that documented the actual feedback coaches issued to athletes at practices. “When you ask coaches to reflect on the feedback they’ve given, they see themselves more positively than was the case,” Solomon says. “The athletes, on the other hand, are very accurate in remembering what was said. Coaches are a little disconnected from what they say and what athletes pick up on and remember.”

Solomon saw positive signs when she looked at interactions between coaches and athletes in youth sport, and between assistant coaches and athletes in high school and college. There was not the same difference in feedback among youth sport coaches.

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E. coli: Lurking in a store near you?

Photo of Susanne LindgrenBack away from that burger – unless you’ve taken its temperature. Ground beef purchased in the Sacramento area shows occurrences of a toxic form of E. coli, says Susanne Lindgren, a Sac State biology professor.

As part of a recent study, Lindgren and graduate student Julie Oliver tested 200 samples of ground beef from a variety of outlets – from high-end grocery chains to warehouse stores. They found an 11 percent positive rate of the enterohemorrhagic, or EHEC, strain of E. coli, which can cause serious illness.

“Across the board, regardless of fat content or the store where the meat was purchased, EHEC was there,” Lindgren says, “even though the USDA has a zero tolerance for it.”

The good news, Lindgren says, is that consumers can protect themselves from potential illness by following safe food preparation procedures, including thoroughly cooking ground beef. “We need to educate consumers to handle food well. I think it’s unrealistic to expect food to be EHEC-free,” she says.

“Not all bacteria are bad. E. coli is the number one aerobic bacteria in our intestines and there are more good E. coli in the world than bad,” Lindgren points out. And meat can contain as much as 100,000 bacteria per gram before it is cooked. “Look, it’s there. It may not be EHEC but until you know what it is, it’s a good idea to follow the guidelines.”

Lindgren’s and Oliver’s analysis of the ground beef involved looking for the gene of an EHEC toxin in each sample. “With this method, you can get really low levels of detection,” Lindgren says.

The next phase of the project will be to try to reduce the viability of the pathogen. “We want to see what conditions it can survive in,” Lindgren says.

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