Mentor Dr. Eric Rosenberg (above) holds weekly virtual meetings with Angelina Monaco to discuss her NASA Space Grant research on the effects of isolation and loss of social networks that has potential applications for space travelers.
NASA’s Space Grants fund space-related research projects conducted by undergraduates, who are guided by faculty advisors. In the 2021–2022 academic year, a record number of Georgian Court University (GCU) students—five—each received a $2,000 NASA Space Grant. “These students have an incredible opportunity to go beyond classroom learning to conduct real and relevant research that explores the frontiers of science and make real contributions to the growing body of space-related knowledge,” says Anne Tabor-Morris, Ph.D., GCU professor of physics and coordinator of NASA Science Outreach and New Jersey NASA Space Grant representative.
Over the next several weeks, get ready to meet each of this academic year’s GCU Space Grant recipients and learn about their research. This week, meet Angelina Monaco, a nursing student from Matawan, New Jersey.
Angelina Monaco ’23, like many college students, has a lot on her plate. In addition to classes, the nursing student works part time as a patient observer at a local hospital. She even is looking to start a small Bible study with other GCU students. Still, when Eric Rosenberg, Ph.D., GCU assistant professor of applied computing and director of the computer information systems program, invited her to apply for a NASA Space Grant, Angelina was all in.
Dr. Rosenberg sought out Angelina to work with him for a few reasons. She was a standout student in his Making Sense of Data: Statistical Thinking course, earning an A and completing “a very interesting final project” that examined networking with respect to marriage and church attendance rates. In Dr. Rosenberg, Angelina would have an excellent mentor. He has authored three books and dozens of journal articles and is an inventor on 19 U.S. patents.
As part of the application, Angelina and Dr. Rosenberg needed to identify a research topic. That wasn’t as simple as it might initially appear, so Dr. Tabor-Morris, with her extensive Space Grant experience, provided valuable suggestions to narrow the possibilities they brought to the table. “I like learning about the human body,” says Angelina. “I’m intrigued by its design and the complexity of our anatomy.” Angelina’s other interests include psychology and sociology, and ultimately, she decided to research how isolation in space might affect astronauts, as well as possible ways to improve their mental state while not on Earth—but of course, she would need to start with people on Earth. Her research’s formal title: “The Effect of Isolation and Loss of Social Networks with Applications in Space Exploration.”
Angelina’s research involves examining relevant scientific literature and analyzing the data she collects, culminating in a paper and presentation at a poster session for all New Jersey NASA Space Grant recipients this spring. What’s most interesting so far? The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis may affect individuals’ response to stress but the differences between people’s social networking and how they might cope with loss of different parts of their actual social networks has yet to be explored.
Angelina meets weekly with Dr. Rosenberg, and she values his mentorship. From him, she’s learned how to narrow her research scope, productively use search terms, record key information, and approach a quantitative analysis of the data she has collected. She isn’t the only one gaining from the collaboration. “Angelina really enjoys stretching herself intellectually and doing this research, so it is a pleasure to guide her,” says Dr. Rosenberg. “It’s challenging and fun to see how Angelina and I can work to create a useful synthesis of the large amount of qualitative and quantitative data she has collected.”
Dr. Rosenberg is also learning. “Her topic on the impact of isolation and loss of social networks in space exploration has led her to interesting material on human physiology, so I have learned a wee bit of that too,” he says.
Angelina’s career path isn’t totally clear yet. While labor and delivery nursing interests her, she is still undecided. She says, “For the past few years, I have had an interest in learning about the complexity of the world around me, but never considered myself a researcher until now.” Working with Dr. Rosenberg on previous research and now on the NASA Space Grant has made her think that research could be a possibility in her future and even part of her career.
Other Student Profiles in the GCU Space Grant Series
Diana Gallego: “The Impact of Mental Health on the Human Autonomic Nervous System”
Emily Humphries: “Comparing Algorithmic Efficiencies of MATLAB, Mathematica, and Maple”
Patrick Morris: “The Effect of Cognitive Demand on Exercise Capacity and Performance”
Victoria Vonfrolio: “Properties of Special Matrices in Mathematics”
Story contributed by freelance writer Sheila Noonan. Photos by Joshua Tinto ’20, ’22.