The College recently received a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to explore how interactive digital gaming can improve the health behaviors and outcomes for people age 50 and older.
The College joins 11 other research teams who will receive up to $200,000 each from the foundation’s Health Games Research program to measure the effects that playing video games has on the young and the old.
Projects range from how motion-based games may help stroke patients progress faster in physical therapy to how people in substance abuse treatment can practice skills and behaviors in the virtual world of a game to prevent real-world relapses.
At Union, researchers will spend two years examining the physiological and neuropsychological impact of cybercycling on area seniors. Players on a stationary bike will be monitored for heart rate, body composition, cognitive function, social relationships and other measures while racing against a virtual cycling partner.
Cay Anderson-Hanley, assistant professor of psychology, is the project’s lead researcher. She is collaborating with Paul Arciero, an associate professor of exercise science at Skidmore College.
A reporter and photographer from the Times Union recently sat in on an excercise session. To read the story, click here (registration may be required).
Despite an unsettled economy, applications for early decision to the Class of 2013 are ahead of last year’s pace, an encouraging sign for admissions officials concerned that some families might delay applying to college amid financial uncertainties.
Students applying for early decision by the Nov. 15 deadline rose 7 percent this year, said Matthew Malatesta, vice president for Admissions, Financial Aid and Enrollment.
Malatesta attributed the rise in early decision applications in part to the growing reputation of the College and the value of a Union education. A recent survey placed the College among the top schools in the country where graduates have the most earning potential.
“The quantity and quality of our early decision pool are both up,” Malatesta said. “This is a testament that students see an education at Union College as a good investment. These numbers are an important first indicator that we will have another strong group of students joining our community next fall.”
Malatesta said top-tier schools like Union also may be attractive during this economic downturn because the school has sufficient resources to help families with affordability. The average scholarship at Union was $21,000 last year.
“While the current economic turmoil is worrisome for many, we are a college committed to meeting the full financial need of all students who are accepted,” he said. “Not all colleges are able to meet financial need when they accept students. Ultimately, though, it comes down to where a student wants to attend college, and this is great time to be at Union.”
Students applying under early decision agree to attend Union if admitted. Letters of acceptance will be mailed out around Dec. 15.
The deadline for the second round of early decision is Thursday, Jan. 15, the same as regular admission, with decision letters mailed in early February. 1. Regular decision letters will be sent at the end of March.
Union received a record 5,271 applications last year. With 581 students, the Class of 2012 is one of the largest in recent years. The Class of 2012 includes 289 women and 292 men, and 23 international students from 12 countries, from Bulgaria to Swaziland.
Imagine you’re lost in Dublin. You’ve made it to the Guinness Storehouse at St. James’s Gate Brewery, but have no idea how to get back your hotel. You don’t even remember what road it’s on, so street-by-street directions are useless. Now imagine turning to your cell phone for landmark-by-landmark directions, because you remember exactly where all the big churches you passed are.
Kristina Striegnitz, an assistant professor of computer science, has helped develop a computer program that could do exactly this on phones of the not-too-distant-future.
The program is a natural language generation system, and she hopes that someday, it will evolve into a flexible and complex descendant of the simplistic systems currently used to run automated information lines.
“An example of a very simple natural language generation system is one Amtrak uses,” Striegnitz said. “Amtrak has a system you can call on the phone and it gives you train information.”
“You talk to a computer and you say, ‘I want to go from here to there,’ and it gives you an answer – a natural language answer in English,” she continued. “It’s very simple because we know the types of things the system has to say, because we know what people are going to be asking for.”
The system she created with the help of teammates like Filip Majda is not quite as straightforward, and is meant for more complex use. Majda, a recent exchange student at Union, is now pursuing a master's degree in the Czech Republic.
“Researchers are looking at systems that are more flexible and used for situations where we can’t list all the sentences the systems will need to say,” Striegnitz explained.
She envisions such systems being used to give surgeons virtual training or to provide more helpful directions for navigating on foot.
“I could imagine somebody having this on a smart phone while walking around a city,” Striegnitz said. “People use landmarks much more than street names when giving directions, so this program might say, ‘Go to the tall tower and then turn right.’”
But in order for the program to be reliable, it has to be tested and evaluated and used by real people. Bringing people into her lab, Striegnitz discovered, was challenging. There were scheduling conflicts and paying people for their participation got expensive.
So, she helped create a Web site, GIVE (Generating Instructions in Virtual Environments) to give users a chance to test the program.
“The idea behind GIVE was to set up a scenario to have real evaluations of the system through human users,” Striegnitz said. “They can access it from their desktop, rather than come in to the lab..
“In addition to our system, four other systems from other universities are running as well,” she added. “You are randomly associated with one system when you log on.”
All systems, however, are designed to enable human users to complete a 3-D treasure hunt in a virtual world where they don’t know the rules.
“Because you don’t know how the world works, we provide software that will tell you what to do to find the trophy,” the GIVE site said. “As you play, the system generates English instructions that are meant to help you solve the puzzle.”
As participants play, the GIVE server analyzes how well and how quickly they follow directions. The collected data helps the researchers fine-tune the program.
If you didn’t already equate the holiday season with excess, consider:
Between the end of November and the beginning of January, Americans generate more than their usual share of garbage.
“The holidays are the most wasteful time of the year,” says Jeffrey Corbin, biology professor and member of U Sustain. “Americans throw out 25 percent more trash between Thanksgiving and the New Year than during any other time of the year – that’s 25 million extra pounds of trash.”
And since a key component of any effort to lessen the human impact on the environment is waste reduction, “taking steps to reduce the amount of trash you generate is an easy way to go greener this season,” Corbin said.
To help make this the greenest holiday season yet, U Sustain is inviting members of the campus community to approach the coming weeks with an eye toward sustainability.
The committee’s Web site, www.union.edu/Resources/Campus/sustainability, offers new and creative ideas for eco-friendliness this season. Where can you buy LED holiday lights or recyclable wrapping paper? Should you buy a tree at all? Have you thought about donating to organizations that help fight poverty and injustice around the globe (instead of buying more throwaways that generate more trash)?
The new site is also soliciting green gift and other ideas. (Cork bath mat or kitchen composting crock, anyone?) Please e-mail your tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.