By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – Can social media cause depression?
How does the Nebraska corn harvest impact the whitetail deer population?
What prevents people from getting a flu shot?
Will club volleyball participation land athletes a collegiate scholarship?
Undergraduate students at the University of Nebraska at Kearney answered those questions and a whole lot more Wednesday during the 20th annual Student Research Day on campus.
The event, held in the Nebraskan Student Union, showcased the scholarly work of nearly 180 students involved in collaborative or independent research at UNK.
“Undergraduate research is a big thing at UNK,” said John Falconer, who noted that about one-third of the undergraduate students here work with faculty members on research projects.
Falconer, with the UNK Office of Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity, said that involvement allows students to expand upon their classroom lessons and prepare for future careers in their field of study.
“It’s a huge advantage when they’re competing for a job,” he said.
Wednesday’s event, which included more than 140 poster and oral presentations and an awards ceremony, gave students in all disciplines a chance to discuss their work with members of the public and UNK community.
Taylor Kizer, a health science major from Overton on a pre-physician assistant track, shared the results of a study she conducted with UNK assistant professor Mickey Langlais and Arizona State University.
They looked at social media use – Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram – and whether it can adversely affect mental health.
The results, tabulated by surveying people around Kearney and Tempe, Arizona, show certain social media activities increased participants’ perceived levels of depression and anxiety.
“It was less about being on social media and more what you’re doing on social media,” said Kizer, who is pursuing a minor in psychology and family studies.
The sophomore said interacting and communicating with others through social media isn’t a bad thing, but passive activities such as counting “likes” on posts can lead to negative feelings if that number is underwhelming.
“Everybody wants likes, even if they say they don’t,” she said.
Participants in the study, who had an average age of 27, spent an average of about 2 1/2 hours on social media each day.
Kizer isn’t suggesting people delete their social media accounts – she doesn’t plan to – but she does have a recommendation.
“I would say limiting your social media usage would actually be beneficial to your mental health,” she said.
Kizer and Langlais will present their study at conferences later this year in Fort Collins, Colorado, and San Diego, California, with the results separated into two generational categories. Those findings show people 23 and younger are more immune to the negative effects of social media, which surprised Kizer.
“I actually thought it would be the other way around,” she said.
UNK junior Lindsey Smith, a setter on the Loper volleyball team, used her research project with professor Nita Unruh to look at club volleyball participation and whether it increases an athlete’s chances of landing a collegiate scholarship.
“Club volleyball is becoming a lot more popular and common among youth athletics,” said Smith, a sports management major from Dakota Dunes, South Dakota.
By surveying 110 athletes from 17 different NAIA, Division I and Division II programs in the Midwest, she discovered that nearly all of them played club volleyball prior to college and most believe that experience enhanced their skills and got them more recruiting attention from collegiate coaches.
However, Smith said her data shows there isn’t a significant difference in the scholarship dollars awarded to collegiate players who were involved in club volleyball compared to those who weren’t.
Smith, who participated in club volleyball for seven years, also found that 39 percent of those surveyed specialized in volleyball starting in middle or high school, meaning that’s the only sport they played.
“It’s becoming more common to specialize in volleyball,” she said.
The concern, Smith noted, is specialization can lead to overuse injuries and mental burnout for younger athletes, and club volleyball programs are often time-consuming and costly.
She believes changes need to be made at the club volleyball level to increase access for all athletes and allow them to play other sports.
The type of research on display Wednesday creates “an energy” on campus and shows students they can become leaders in their field, according to Falconer.
It also sends a message to future Lopers.
“Students come here because they know they’ll get to do research,” Falconer said.