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Look Up! Students Research Crosswalk Safety and Cellphone Usage

Published: November 02, 2018

Blake Delgadillo ’21 lives on campus and has watched many of his peers refuse to look up from their mobile phones before entering a crosswalk. When his team was looking for a research idea in his oral communication course this semester, pedestrian safety seemed an obvious suggestion.

“My fellow classmates and I noticed that there seemed to be ambiguous communication around pedestrian crosswalks on campus,” Delgadillo said. “We knew that this topic would be quite interesting.”

Florida Communication Association Conference student research presentation
UT students placed with three awards at the recent Florida Communication Association’s 88th Annual Convention. All of the students are members of UT’s Honors Program and were in courses taught by Chris Gurrie, associate professor, and Kristen Foltz, professor of instruction.

His team, which included Danusia Mryczko ’22, Jordan Raivitch ’21 and Tamar Shimon ’22, presented their research findings in Orlando at the Florida Communication Association’s 88th Annual Convention Oct. 18–20. The judges thought the research was just as compelling, and out of all of the undergraduate and graduate student presentations, awarded them the best overall, first place Competitive Communication Scholarship Poster award.

Two other teams received awards as well. John Cacchio ’21, Marissa Henderson ’21, Jill Gomez ’20 and Amber Johnston ’20 won first place, oral presentation award for their project, “Health Anxiety and Cyberchondria: Consequences of the Rising Prevalence of Self-Diagnosis.” Kaitlyn Bailey ’20, Diego Patino ’19 and Gianna Pinasco ’18 won second place, best overall for their project, “Social Media Impact on Hawaii’s Tourism Industry.”

All of the students are members of UT’s Honors Program and were in courses taught by Chris Gurrie, associate professor, and Kristen Foltz, professor of instruction. Their travel and conference experience was funded with support from the Honors Program, Office of Undergraduate Research and Inquiry, and the College of Arts and Letters.

Florida Communication Association Conference student research presentation
From left, Tamar Shimon ’22, Blake Delgadillo ’21, Gurrie, Jordan Raivitch ’21 and Danusia Mryczko ’22 received best overall, first place Competitive Communication Scholarship Poster award for their research project, “An Analysis of How Communication Affects the Safety of Pedestrian Crosswalks.”

“Before doing the research, we came up with our hypothesis, and we knew that technology would have a negative effect on the communication between drivers and pedestrians,” said Shimon, a forensic science major with a minor in speech from Marietta, GA. “What I did not expect was by how big of a margin this would be. More people are worried about their phones rather than their surroundings or other people; that just devastates me.”

The students watched 112 pedestrians crossing the street at Frederic Spaulding Drive and North Brevard Avenue (the intersection near Brevard Hall, Sykes Chapel and Palm Apartments) and found that most pedestrians tended to be on their mobile phone, did not look before crossing the street and tended to walk in a diagonal pattern when crossing.

Their literature review found that the compliance rate for stop signs when pedestrians were not present was about 30 percent. When pedestrians were present, that average only increased to 54 percent, meaning in 46 percent of the time, drivers disregarded the stop signs.

“I was surprised by our results, mostly because I thought more students would look both ways before crossing,” said Raivitch, a philosophy major with minors in Spanish, chemistry and speech from Richboro, PA. “I also thought more drivers would come to a full stop, and stop before the crosswalk, instead of half-way through it.”

The students plan to utilize the findings to make campus a safer place.

Florida Communication Association Conference student research presentation
Foltz, who was named FCA 2018 Scholar of the Year and was voted in as vice president of the association, said her goal is for students to be less intimidated by research and to increase their excitement for it, as well as to increase their appreciation for the importance of oral presentation skills.


“Students and drivers often do not know their exact right of way, and we believe that the implementation of educational programs, seminars or training would benefit both drivers and pedestrians on campus,” Delgadillo said. “I am a First-Year Experience peer mentor, and we teach our mentees about a broad range of topics, but we do not teach them about pedestrian safety. We would like to see the topic of pedestrian safety be conveyed in freshmen orientation or First-Year Seminar.”

The team is also working with Gurrie on preparing the research for publication. Gurrie, who won the 2016 FCA Scholar of the Year and is journal editor for the association, said providing research opportunities in this way often exposes students who wouldn’t have an opportunity otherwise due to their prescribed course schedules or academic trajectories.

“You’re showing them an academic world that they might not have access to in any other way,” said Gurrie.

Henderson, a public health major with a concentration in behavioral health and a minor in leadership from Aurora, OH, described her group’s research on cyberchondria, “which is the overuse of utilizing search engines for self-diagnosis purposes that in turn, creates stress and anxiety in that individual. Our group was entirely made up of students interested in health and biology and a large part of our interest in this research came from how the use of search engines is affecting doctor-patient relationships and impacting the medical field.”

Her teammate, Johnston, a nursing major from Westford, MA, said the project “was a great opportunity to learn how to convey original ideas and concepts to professionals, especially those who are also in the medical field.”

Florida Communication Association Conference student research presentation
From left, Jill Gomez ’20, Marissa Henderson ’21 and Amber Johnston ’20 were members of the team placing first for their oral presentation of their research, “Health Anxiety and Cyberchondria: Consequences of the Rising Prevalence of Self-Diagnosis.”

Foltz, who was named FCA 2018 Scholar of the Year and was voted in as vice president of the association, said her goal is for students to be less intimidated by research and to increase their excitement for it, as well as to increase their appreciation for the importance of oral presentation skills.

“It’s also important for the students to see us in action, to see that we do a lot more than teach, and to see that it’s important to join professional organizations and do those kinds of leadership roles, even when you’re not a student trying to build your resume for a grad school application. Professionally, it’s important.”

Foltz and Gurrie will be taking Rahal Wijewardene ’18, a student who has been involved with Gurrie in an independent study involving the UT Center for Public Speaking, to the National Communication Association annual convention in Salt Lake City, UT, later in November.

It’s just another way the professors are making their coursework applicable to real-world work. It’s a lesson not lost on Mryczko.

“Participating in the conference has shown me how to apply the skills I learn in class to the outside world,” said Mryczko ’22, a forensic science major with minors in criminal investigations and psychology of Chicago, IL. “I feel that when professors are able to demonstrate the relevance of the work we do in class, it increases a student’s interest and engagement. For me, that is one of the most valuable skills a professor can give to a student.”



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