Shenango students present research to state lawmakers in Harrisburg

Exterior view of the Pennsylvania State Capitol Building at night with lights and a fountain illuminated in a purple light

Human development and family studies major Ashley Poghen, and criminal justice major Michael Horstman, will present at the annual Undergraduate Research at the Capitol – Pennsylvania (URC-PA) event on Tuesday, March 7.

Credit: Christopher Boswell - AdobeStock

SHARON, Pa. — Two students from Penn State Shenango will travel to the Pennsylvania State Capitol Building in Harrisburg on Tuesday, March 7, to present at the annual Undergraduate Research at the Capitol – Pennsylvania (URC-PA) event. 

Human development and family studies major Ashley Poghen, and criminal justice major Michael Horstman, will present their research posters titled “From Crisis to Compassion: Fostering a Culture of Resiliency at Penn State Shenango,” and “A Critical Review of International Organizations, the United States, and the War in Ukraine,” respectively.  

The URC-PA event allows undergraduate students enrolled in colleges and universities from across the commonwealth the opportunity to showcase their research to state lawmakers and their staff. The student participants, along with faculty advisers, can engage with members of the Pennsylvania House and Senate on the topics that are important to our society. This year is the first URC-PA event since the COVID-19 pandemic and occurs on the same day as Governor Josh Shapiro’s budget address. 

International affairs were the driving force behind Horstman’s research. “I was a teaching assistant in a Homeland Security class when the war started in Ukraine,” said Horstman. “We changed the entire curriculum of the class around that topic, and I conducted research for the whole spring semester [of 2022].” Horstman confesses that public speaking hasn’t always come naturally to him. “I appreciate that I have the opportunity to present because before college I was not a public speaker. Once I started presenting throughout my college career it became a lot more comfortable. Presenting here first [at the Shenango campus] helped me prepare to present on the state level.” 

Poghen’s research is a direct result of the pandemic, relating to the decline in mental health and engagement seen on college campuses. An interdisciplinary group of faculty members at the Shenango campus have been implementing mental health training sessions and engagement activities as part of the Working on Wellness Together: Engage your Healthiest Self project to combat this decline. “I was hired to be a research student to work on the project alongside the team of faculty,” said Poghen. “The research was conducted across three levels that consisted of curricular, cocurricular, and extracurricular activities involving faculty, staff and students.”

Poghen, along with faculty members, has two semesters worth of data collected at this point in the project. “Wellness of myself as a student is important and I believe the instructors here care about their students all around well-being from personal experience.” 

The privilege of presenting this research to an audience of key state legislators is not lost on Poghen or Horstman, who both say that the ability to represent Penn State Shenango in this way is a point of pride.  

“It is an honor to be able to share this research and a hope that this project can aid other students and faculty as it does at Penn State Shenango,” Poghen said. “To be able to share its impacts and results so far, the data gives me hope that there is the possibility for change for other campuses if the need is there.” 

“I absolutely love the idea of representing this campus on the state level,” said Horstman. “This school has provided me with the education that I need to have success in the future, and I’m very thankful for this campus, and for allowing me to represent it.” 

The Undergraduate Research at the Capitol event runs from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Tuesday, March 7, and showcases presentations from approximately 30 students, all from Pennsylvania colleges and universities.