Research & Innovation

Small Grants, Big Impact: Stevens Funds Small Grant Program in College of Arts and Letters

At Stevens Institute of Technology, even small research grants can make a big impact.

Dr. Kelland Thomas, dean of the College of Arts and Letters, is sponsoring four research grants for CAL faculty in partnership with Dr. Mo Dehghani, Vice Provost of Research, Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Stevens.

The inaugural CAL Small Grants Program has awarded four unique projects spearheaded by six CAL faculty members and their partnering students across disciplines like psychology, art and medical humanities.

“The College of Arts and Letters is transforming the traditional role that research plays in the humanities at Stevens,” said Dehghani. “I am excited to see the new research developments occurring in CAL under the leadership of Dean Thomas.”

The four projects are an authentic representation of the future of arts and humanities research in the CAL. The Small Grant Program has allowed CAL faculty to not only get these projects off the ground, but has aided them to hone in on better research questions for funding, which can equate to more successful large-scale funding in the future.

Dr. Lindsey Cormack, assistant professor of political science and one of the recipients of the Small Grants Program, remarked, “I think this sort of seeding program is great because it fosters an environment where CAL faculty can work together and know that there is institutional support behind those efforts.”

Healthcare Mobile Apps and Wearables

After initiating a new medical humanities undergraduate minor in CAL this academic year, Dr. Theresa MacPhail will be utilizing her Small Grants Program funding to support two different projects surrounding people’s use of healthcare technology in the form of mobile app software and wearable hardware.

One of the projects is a cultural history of allergies, where she and Stevens scholar Olivia Schreiber ’18 will interview people with allergies for a comprehensive look at how they understand their allergy and what healthcare mobile apps and wearables they use, if any.

Schreiber, a chemical biology major and medical humanities minor, is also a recipient of funding through the Center for Healthcare Innovation at Stevens, which supports faculty- and student-initiated research that address gaps and issues related to advancing biomedical technology and healthcare delivery.

Through extended interviews, MacPhail and her student researchers like Schreiber are hoping to get a better sense of how those afflicted with allergies are being diagnosed, what methods they are using for treatment, and how technology is integrated (or not) in managing their allergies.

“I am proud to be a science student who will now be able to explore qualitative research methods,” said Schreiber. “I know these skills will come to benefit me in the future as I look forward to entering the field of medicine and public health.”

Reducing Ageism

Even prior to joining Stevens in the fall of 2016, Dr. Ashley Lytle has focused much of her research on understanding and reducing ageism, the negative attitude toward older adults.

The population of older adults is rapidly increasing and reports from the World Health Organization show negative attitudes toward and stereotypes of older adults are spreading just the same. Lytle’s goal is to empirically examine different ways to reduce ageism.

Lytle, assistant professor of psychology, will be running a series of experiments in which her students are participating.

“Without the support of the Small Grants Program, I would be unable to experimentally examine different ways to reduce ageism,” Lytle said. “These experiments are part of a larger research agenda that I will continue to develop and build upon for years to come, with the hopes of securing external funding in the future.”


One of the four projects funded by the CAL Small Grants Program is a mobile app and web platform called ACTIVATAR originally created by visual arts & technology assistant professor Christopher Manzione, who has done extensive work in virtual and augmented reality.

Joined by assistant professor of game design, Nicholas O’Brien, ACTIVATAR aims to be an access point for artists specifically of three different media that tend to overlap in artistic endeavors—video games, moving image (film, video, animation) and VR/augmented reality. Artists in these media, according to O’Brien, tend to work in a silo, making it difficult for them to work together across disciplines.

The grant will help launch the ACTIVATAR app so it may serve as a monthly publication of works of art by artists in each of the three art tech areas, and allow Manzione and O’Brien to extend the scope of their project and gain access to artists they otherwise would not have connected with.

“When you’re working on a project like this that has intentions and ideas of scale and scope,” said O’Brien, “its impact can really help artists go beyond their individual creative practices. A small grant like this allows for a lot to happen really quickly and lets us allocate funds to multiple aspects of development at once.”

Gender, Emotion and Political Communication

Dr. Kristyn Karl, co-PI of a recent $500,000 grant from the Carnegie-MacArthur Foundation on nuclear risk communication, joined forces with Dr. Cormack to secure funding for an experimental study to assess the benefits and drawbacks of certain communicative approaches for female versus male politicians.

“While Kristyn and I come from similar disciplines, our separate research efforts are quite distinct,” noted Cormack. “This small grant has allowed us to bring those distinct perspectives to a topic we are mutually interested in.”

Karl and Cormack, both assistant professors of social sciences, will use the grant to conduct studies on samples from the Stevens student population and then a wider, nationally representative online sample, with the goal of creating a better understanding of how men and women can best navigate different political issues with varying communication approaches.