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College of Science

Recent Research

A History of Our National Parks

Thousands of people each year visit national parks in the U.S. where they hike, bike, camp, view scenic vistas and learn about our unique and outstanding natural resources. However, few people consider national parks as the subject of a college class. Sarah Diaz, Ph.D. and Linda Lane, Ph.D., both professors in the Department of Recreation and Sport Management at CCU, recognized the value of our natural parks as a learning resource and developed a new class, RSM 200 – History of the National Parks. In concert with developing the class they also designed and wrote a content resource that is being published by Kendall-Hunt as an interactive website. Each of the class chapters includes extensive text, discussions and activities that can either be completed online or downloaded, assignments, additional resources such as readings, links, videos and maps, a master glossary, a follow-up quiz, flashcards and dozens of references. The advantages of a web site relative to a textbook include lower cost at about $80 per student, beautiful pictures and interactive activities that can be regularly updated. “We think we have created something new that can help inform and excite people about our amazing National Park Service and we are very proud of it,” says Diaz.

Diaz, S. and Lane, L. (2019 in press). History of the National Parks. Kendall-Hunt Publishing Company: Dubuque, IA. Accessible from:

High School Students and Risky Behavior

High school students in the U.S. express a wide range of risky behaviors, but few studies have examined how these behaviors may interact. Understanding such an interaction may help in developing new and more effective health campaigns targeting adolescents. A 2018 study published in the Journal of Adolescent and Family Health and written by Michael Dunn, Ph.D. and John Yannessa, Ph.D., both in the Department of Health Sciences at CCU, set out to determine if there was an interaction among non-medical use of prescription drugs, sexual behavior and depression among U.S. high school students. This study was undertaken to explore whether there was a relationship between depression and self-medication and the effects the behavior had on sexual risk-taking among adolescents. Using survey data collected from 15,624 individuals the researchers found that individuals who were frequently depressed and reported use of non-medical prescription drugs were also more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors. “Our results are important because issues related to mental health and non-medical prescription drug abuse may influence other risk behaviors such as sexual risk taking” said Dunn and Yannessa. The results reported here support the need to address mental health issues before the teen years. Dunn and Yannessa added, “These results add to our growing body of work demonstrating the need for those working with youth to probe beyond the more apparent risky behaviors in the effort to uncover perhaps more deeply rooted negative mental health states. In so doing, schools and community organizations should endeavor to coordinate community campaigns designed to identify depressed youth before the teen years.”

Dunn, M.S. and J.F. Yannessa. 2018. Non-medical use of prescription drugs and sexual risk behaviors among depressed adolescents. Journal of Adolescent and Family Health 9:1-15.

Breakdown of Wood and Leaves in Freshwater Streams: How Do Environmental Factors Interact?

Freshwater streams in forested landscapes receive large inputs of dead wood and leaves from the surrounding forest. The breakdown of this material, mediated largely by physical processes and fungi, in turn determines carbon, nutrient and energy availability for other stream-dwelling organisms. Two of the most common human changes to streams are increased nutrient loading from runoff of fertilizers and increasing temperature due to logging and global warming. Vlad Gulis, Ph.D. (Department of Biology) has spent many years studying the ecology of streams in the mountains of North Carolina. He and his colleagues set out to determine how nutrients and temperature affected fungal activity during the breakdown of wood and leaves. They manipulated the amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus in five streams at the Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory and then tracked fungal activity in different seasons over a 3-year period. The results showed that microbial activity and plant litter decomposition increased with temperature and were also strongly stimulated by nutrient addition. The responses to these two factors were additive. “These findings mean that increased nutrients and temperature will lead to greater fluxes of carbon dioxide from streams and rivers to the atmosphere through stimulated microbial respiration and will also result in faster disappearance and decreased stocks of organic matter (leaves and wood) in these aquatic ecosystems,” Gulis said. The results are significant as “plant litter is an important food source to larvae of aquatic insects, which in turn are eaten by invertebrate predators, salamanders, and fish.”

Manning DWP, Rosemond AD, Gulis V, Benstead JP, Kominoski JS. Nutrients and temperature additively increase stream microbial respiration. Glob Change Biol. 2017;00:1–15. gcb.13906

Popular R&B/Hip Hop Songs Change with the Economy

It is generally accepted that economic ups and downs are reflected in the mood or sentiment of the population. But just exactly how does this mood influence how people act and make choices? Such a question has broad relevance for those attempting to understand the continuously changing landscape of popular culture and associated media. A recent study published by two CCU faculty, Jason Eastman, Ph.D. (Department of Sociology) and Terry Pettijohn, Ph.D. (Department of Psychology), focused on R&B/Hip Hop songs that topped the Billboard chart from 1946 to 2010. They measured various parameters of the chart-topping songs and then searched for trends across different social and economic conditions. During difficult times, female artists were more popular. Furthermore, challenging social conditions produced songs that were longer, slower and less upbeat. “We were interested in expanding our past research on how pop and country genres change with the economy to R&B music,” said Pettijohn. “Similar to the pop and country investigations, people prefer older, more mature and comforting R&B artists when social and economic conditions are challenging. We discuss further differences between the genres in the article.

Eastman, J.T. and T.F. Pettijohn II (2017, online first). Good times and endless love: Billboard R&B/Hip Hop songs of the year across social and economic conditions. Psychology of Popular Media Culture Advance online publication.