The Towson University community has been amazingly responsive since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic—from faculty moving courses to distance learning, staff shifting workloads and our amazing students remaining resilient as they finished the spring 2020 semester. There are countless examples of how TU has stepped up! Early on, the TU Career Center sensed that student employment would be impacted dramatically by the pandemic. A survey completed by the Career Center found that 79% of TU students (that responded to the survey) have had their part-time employment affected by COVID-19.

In response to this issue, an idea emerged from discussions with Lisa Plowfield, dean of the College of Health Professions (CHP), regarding re-allocating unused budgets from the fiscal year. Dean Plowfield quickly moved unused funds toward research for CHP faculty to redirect their work toward COVID-19. This spurred an idea for the BTU partnerships team to reallocate unused FY20 funds to help mitigate the effects of student unemployment—we would facilitate the hiring of TU students, for interested faculty across the university, for research directed towards COVID-19 as well.

Stipulations for this work is that research must follow all Federal, State and CDC guidelines. The work can be positioned as preliminary research for projects to be developed further in the coming months of FY21, but there is no commitment for further funding from BTU. This could also support the pivoting or shifting of existing projects/research to focus on COVID-19 recovery and impact. The BTU team, and the Division of Strategic Partnerships and Applied Research as a whole, are providing the necessary and important backbone work of getting the students hired through the system and supporting the faculty in getting the projects going immediately.

An overwhelming response

The call was rolled out to members of the BTU Council, faculty project leads for current BTU investments, and the deans of each college on Monday, May 11. The response has been overwhelming. Within one week the BTU team has facilitated the hiring of 24 student research assistants for 16 faculty/staff projects in every academic college, including Cook Library. The projects are innovative and will undoubtedly spur research projects beyond the time period of employment.

This is truly a win-win-win-win for Towson University.

  • It demonstrates the capacity of TU to provide undergraduate research opportunities for our students.
  • It mitigates the effects of loss of income and employment for TU students.
  • It provides community-engaged research support for faculty and staff.
  • Project outcomes will help in the analysis and mitigation of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Undergraduate research projects examples

Masks during COVID-19 and speech intelligibility

Dr. Paul Evitts, Department of Speech-Language Pathology & Audiology, is exploring research showing the beneficial effects of the inclusion of visual information (audio + visual) on the intelligibility of speech across numerous populations. Due to the coronavirus, masks are now required in many states as well as numerous countries around the globe. The effects of this requirement on speech intelligibility is unknown. The proposed study will investigate the effects of facial masks on the speech intelligibility of speakers.

Social media and stigma during the COVID-19 pandemic

Dr. Sushma Kumble, Department of Mass Communication, will be looking at stigma messages that are disseminated on Twitter about the COVID-19 pandemic. This is an important topic of study on two levels, as stigma around this global pandemic has resulted in discrimination of Asians globally, and people’s hesitation to seek medical intervention because they are scared to be stigmatized.

Company messaging during the COVID-19 pandemic

Dr. Stella Tomasi, Department of Business Analytics & Technology Management, will focus on obtaining company messages that are disseminated on websites about the COVID-19 pandemic. She will look at how various companies around the country are reacting to the COVID-19 pandemic to provide details on company operations to employees and customers. In addition, she will review how state response to social distancing played a role in messages from companies.

How Black churches are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic

Dr. Donn Worgs, Department of Political Science, is conducting a survey of Black churches regarding how they are navigating the coronavirus crisis. He will be attempting to find out what challenges they are facing and what adaptations they are doing to sustain their mission, maintain their institutions, and continue their community outreach and service activities. The goal is to document the challenges as well as their adaptations, and ultimately share these findings with potential resource providers, as well as their peer institutions.

These are just a few of the projects that have received student employment support as the BTU presidential priority has pivoted the community engagement and partnership work for the university.