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Elon senior to present research in national program

Larissa Ferretti, a senior Honors Fellow and psychology major, will share her research this spring with lawmakers in Washington about the effects of parental involvement in teaching math and number skills to young children. The May presentation is part of a highly selective program that features leading undergraduate research from around the nation.

Elon senior Larissa Ferretti (seated) with her mentor, psychology professor Maureen Vandermaas-Peeler

The Council on Undergraduate Research hosts its “Posters on the Hill” event each year. Presenters are chosen from a national pool of applicants – only 60 students or so from the United States and its holdings are selected to participate.

“This is going to be a good experience for me to see if I enjoy talking with lawmakers about policy,” said Ferretti, a native of Vero Beach, Fla., who was mentored by psychology professor Maureen Vandermaas-Peeler.

Ferretti’s project, “Effects of Parent Guidance on Preschoolers' Numeracy Skills,” investigates parental guidance strategies in building preschoolers’ emergent numeracy skills. Numeracy, or mathematical literacy, applies not only to school-based mathematics or numbers, but also to the use of mathematics in everyday life.

Emergent numeracy is the mathematical learning that occurs before a child enters formal education. Learning that takes place at home before any formal education can be instrumental in the future success of a child. Games provide parents and children with a social context in which to learn and are an ideal activity in which to observe the acquisition of numeracy skills through guided participation.

Initial observations indicate that the most commonly used strategies were reminders to count and number recognition questions during the game activities. Parents reported that 4-year-olds incorporated math skills developed during the activities into everyday life.

Ferretti and Vandermaas-Peeler expect to prepare a manuscript on the results of their studies for publication in a peer-reviewed journal.

“It’s a tremendous honor to be selected for this,” Vandermaas-Peeler said. “The selection committee has chosen the highest quality projects to showcase to generate support for undergraduate research. We’re delighted.”

CUR received a record number of applications for the 2009 presentations. Students and their mentors are invited to take part in a general poster session and are scheduled to meet with congressional representatives to discuss the value of and to help voice calls for support for research at the undergraduate level.

Ferretti serves as president of Psi Chi and is involved with numerous volunteer initiatives. She and Vandermaas-Peeler chose to study numeracy because of the United States’ lack of research in the area and the opportunity to better understand parent guidance in a play context. The student-mentor team worked on the project through SURE 2008, in which Ferretti was selected as the Joseph Powell SURE Fellow, and during the academic year.

Ferretti also was honored as a J.E. Rawls Undergraduate Research Scholar for the 2008-2009 academic year and has been accepted to present her work at the National Conferences on Undergraduate Research in April. She will pursue a doctorate in counseling psychology or human development and family studies upon graduation.

Ultimately, Ferretti said, she would like to help families learn good mental health practices. She hopes to work in a community counseling center that focuses on empowering children and families with diverse cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. She is also interested in conducting research and working closely with government officials to foster change in policies concerning American families.

Vandermaas-Peeler serves as director of the Honors Program at Elon. She has been a faculty member for 13 years and has been an active mentor for undergraduate researchers. Many of her students have had work published or presented at national, regional and local conferences.

Melissa Apperson ’07, mentored by associate professor Brooke Barnett in the School of Communications, presented research in 2007 for the Posters on the Hill event.

Karl Sienerth,
2/23/2009 1:38 PM