Ariana Vega’s wide-eyed expression said what her mouth would not.
As the judging panel at the Central Valley Honors Symposium revealed the top three projects and one honorable at this year’s event, Vega, her classmates and professor Dr. Antoniette Aizon were hopeful that the group would manage to earn a place.
After not being announced as the honorable mention or the third-place finisher, the group’s hopes dwindled slightly. When the judges proclaimed them as the competition’s runner-up, elation quickly erupted.
“When we heard our names called we were in disbelief,” Vega said. “My group and I just looked at each other in shock but that quickly turned into happiness and excitement as we went up to get our certificate. It felt so good and we felt so relieved.”
Weeks of hard work had paid off in a somewhat unlikely fashion, given what the students were up against.
As part of Aizon’s Introduction to Research Methods in Psychology course, students are required to work in groups on a project that starts with a research hypothesis and involves creating their literature review, research design, that leads to their own create research study, a process usually reserved for students studying at a graduate level. Normally, the students have 18 weeks to complete their research projects..
Dr. Aizon had described the Central Valley Honors Symposium to her spring students early on, noting that what they were doing in her course would translate to that competition. The catch – the same level of work and more would need to be completed in 12 weeks, not 18, and anyone who wanted to take part in the event had to apply and be accepted by a judging panel before they could move forward.
Additionally, those competing in the symposium were required to complete the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – Human Research Protection Training which has five modules reviewing ethical research guidelines.
“What they’ve done is no small feat. They not only had their coursework to do, but they also had additional research after class to do. They were really churning out the work,” Dr. Aizon said.
The team of four – Vega, Lizbeth Ramirez, Makayla Goethe and Aketzalli Hernandez-Torres – decided to accept the challenge, even in the face of a condensed timeline. Focusing on the question of whether or not eating nuts before bed can help or hurt the quality of an individual’s sleep, the group worked quickly to get their idea, called Food and Sleep, submitted for review. They were one of only nine projects that were accepted into the competition.
The symposium is generally comprised of State Center Community College District students taking honors-level courses.
“The process was pretty chaotic if I'm being honest with you,” Vega said. She recently earned her associate's degree in psychology and will be transferring to Fresno State this fall. “My group and I used the time during class to do what we could in that short amount of time and outside of class we met up probably 3-4 times a week so that we would be caught up on our timeline.”
The efforts culminated on April 15 at Fresno City College as the team presented its research multiple times over the course of a two-hour period. Three judges stopped by individually to review the work, while community members and faculty from across SCCCD were also invited out.
After a long day of talking, the Madera team intently listened to see if their names would be called. Before announcing the top three places, the judges noted they would like to add an honorable mention to this year’s list, which led the Madera team to think that’s where they would be placed since they were competing as a group and not individually like everyone else.
That notion quickly dissipated as the first two teams were announced, creating a special moment that was hard to imagine.
“There’s really honestly no words,” Dr. Aizon said. “I’ve been in programs where I’ve mentored graduate students, I’ve mentored undergrads, and they do this type of activity, but doing the kind of work they did at an associate’s degree level, there’s just no works of how proud I am with what they accomplished. It’s not an easy feat at all and they did it.”