Dancer’s Perfectionism Pairs Perfectly with Analytics

Published: Mar 8, 2013
Allison Calvanese ’13, a member of the Spartan Scarlets dance team and Delta Gamma sorority, has participated in at least seven different research projects with UT and University of South Florida professors.
Allison Calvanese ’13, a member of the Spartan Scarlets dance team and Delta Gamma sorority, has participated in at least seven different research projects with UT and University of South Florida professors.

Allison Calvanese ’13 always wanted to be a dancer. She even went to a high school focused on the arts where she majored in dance. But a car accident left her with an injured knee and the need for a career switch.

She wasn’t sure what she wanted to do when she got to UT, but majored in pre-medicine biology since the sciences interested her. All it took was an intro to public health course to change her mind.

“It just felt right,” said Calvanese, of Long Island, NY, who minors in sociology.

That feeling aside, she hated her first statistics course and sat in the back, not paying full attention. Then she started to recognize the concepts and the puzzles started making sense.

“Eventually I started understating it,” said Calvanese, “and now it’s fun, especially seeing all the parts come together.”

Calvanese, a member of the Spartan Scarlets dance team and Delta Gamma sorority, has since participated in at least seven different research projects with UT and University of South Florida professors, conducting analysis, gathering data and even presenting at national conferences.

She’ll present at two in April at the Society for Public Health Education where she received a scholarship as well, and at the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance.

She’ll present on the high levels of carbon monoxide found on hookah smokers with only a limited amount of time spent in hookah bars, and on a texting and smoking cessation study that found participants who received daily, educational and encouraging text messages were more successful with their smoking cessation efforts than those who did not.

Assistant Professor Mary Martinasek first met Calvanese when the young woman sat in the back of Martinasek’s biostatistics class. At the end of the semester, she inquired about internships.

Martinasek asked if Calvanese would be interested in working on hookah research with her, analyzing data. She agreed.

“I was expecting just a simple graph and got the most incredible report with a narrative, table and graph for each of the more than 70 variables,” said Martinasek. “On her own accord she has learned sophisticated analysis techniques to work with other professors. I am so impressed by her work ethic, impressive reports and motivation to learn independently.”

Calvanese landed some other internships, including one with the Manatee County government focusing on diabetes education, and one with USF’s Public Health Department (on Martinasek’s shared study) recruiting participants for a texting and smoking cessation study. She currently interns with the American Lung Association assisting with fundraisers and sponsorships and with UT’s public health department on a social marketing campaign to deter hookah smoking among students.

In 2012, Calvanese worked with Jacob Wilson, an assistant professor of health sciences and human performance, on an amino acid study, examining the rate and extent of bioavailability of rice compared to whey protein. It was in this study Calvanese scoured libraries and Web resources to teach herself the measurement protocols used by the FDA.

She spent hours staring at a computer screen, deciphering the language used in the analytics, referencing her old calculus book (“I was so glad I wasn’t able to sell back that book,”) and then learning how to perform the tests herself using programs like SPSS.

“If I get a problem, I have to solve it. It must be done right, and it has to be perfect,” said Calvanese, citing her dance roots for instilling this sense of perfection in her. Now a drive for good, scientific data drives her. “I’ll keep working until I get it right.”


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