Faculty-student research team present at virtual exchange conference in Brazil

Jessica and Tammy Divens pose at the IVEC Conference

Penn State Shenango student Jessica Divens and Associate Teaching Professor of Occupational Therapy Tammy Divens presented at the International Virtual Exchange Conference (IVEC) in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Credit: Tammy Divens

SHARON, Pa. — Penn State Shenango student Jessica Divens and Associate Teaching Professor of Occupational Therapy Tammy Divens have logged a lot of miles in 2023. Most recently, the mother-daughter and faculty-student team presented at the International Virtual Exchange Conference (IVEC) in Sao Paulo, Brazil, from Oct. 30 through Nov. 1. The duo first traveled to France over the summer to speak at Université Paris Nanterre as part of Penn State’s EDGE program. 

“I have been very fortunate to be able to present internationally,” Jessica Divens said. “From both of these experiences, going out of my comfort zone has allowed me to learn how to present in different settings and understand the perspective of other students from around the world.” 

In Brazil, they were joined by Laura Cruz from Penn State's Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence to present “Happiness and Joie: A mixed methods study of intercultural communication and student well-being in virtual exchange,” which was based on the research conducted by the group in Paris. 

The Divens, along with Cruz, explored a technique called photo narration where students tell their story, not only through words, but through images. 

“We found that it creates a richer experience where students are able to convey their thoughts through a more abstract medium,” Tammy Divens said. “It also de-centers language which enables both the American and international students to equally express themselves regardless of language levels.” 

Jessica Divens, a biobehavioral health major, is taking full advantage of the opportunity to conduct research and travel internationally to present as an undergraduate student. 

“I had the opportunity to learn from researchers and professors worldwide who talked about research ideas that I never would have considered,” Divens said. “Though I am still gaining research experience, I was able to learn from professionals in the field. From this experience, I hope to be able to further my own future research.” 

Divens admitted that these types of educational experiences were not on her radar when she initially enrolled at Penn State Shenango, but because of the resources offered through Penn State and the support of her professors, she has been able to explore her new academic interests. 

“By being at a smaller school, professors are more willing to work with you and help with research opportunities,” said Divens. “The experiences offered here can help better prepare students for their future careers.”