The Grind: Stepping Out of Our Comfort Zones

Posted On March 28, 2017 by Caleb Smith, Undergraduate Research University Assistant & Georgia State Honors College '19

Undergraduate Research is often a concept foreign to students.  It is frequently met with a lack of interest or confusion. Students think it will either be too rigorous, mundane, or unbeneficial.  They may ask questions like, “Where do I even start?” or “How is this going to help me get a job?” or even “How do I include this in my major without going over my Hope hours?” All of these questions are valid. The purpose of The Grind is to demystify undergraduate research and provide undergraduates at Georgia State with further insight into the benefits of undergraduate research involvement, while also offering perspectives from everyday students doing the extraordinary. Through the column, you will meet students involved in research and learn about resources and research experiences like the University Assistantship Program, Research Essentials, Student Write-Ins, GSURC, the Honors Thesis project, and DISCOVERY (the Honors College Research Journal).

In this issue, you will meet Teal Gordon, who is a senior in the Ernest G. Welch School of Art and Design. Georgia State Honors College senior and studio art major, Teal Gordon, has begun to bring light to one of the most prevalent diseases affecting American families. During Teal’s junior year of college, she worked at a local daycare while studying photography. Throughout her experience with children who suffered from autism, she decided to conduct research on the correlation between photography and autism. Teal was particularly interested in how photography could improve the communication skills of young autistic children. This interest transformed into Teal’s Honors Thesis project, which then, led her to becoming the first student to host an Art Exhibition and Artist Talk at the Honors College based on her project.

According to the CDC, approximately one out of six children in the U.S. has a developmental disability, mainly consisting of cerebral palsy and autism. I wanted to learn more about Teal’s research experience and the path that led her to produce an independent research project. She has been very busy this semester completing her last major requirements and planning her post-graduation plans. I was able to catch up with Teal in the Honors College student lounge, and we had a candid discussion about her experiences with undergraduate research at Georgia State.


Teal Gordon

Gordon and her Honors College Art Exhibition
Photo by Hannah Copp

Q&A with Teal

Caleb: What has been your research journey?

Teal: I first had to figure out what to do. I had an advisor (Dr. Lillie Huddleston, Clinical Assistant of Health Promotion & Behavior in the Center for Leadership in Disability. Also serves as the project lead for Autism Plan for Georgia Implementation Grant) who was able to assist me on how I should conduct my research. I was able to apply Photovoice, which is a tool that allows communities to self-examine their environment and know what to improve on. Instead of using this for a community, I decided to use it for my kids who suffer from autism so I would be able to examine their interactions and environment via photography. I wanted to jump into the blackness and do something different.

Teal Gordon

Gordon alongside Dr. Lillie Huddleston following her Artist Talk.
Photo by Hannah Copp

C: As an art student what made you interested in research?

T: As an art student, we do a lot of research. Unlike most students, we aren’t able to write much on our research so our art must back up our work. I check out tons of books about everything; I check out on average 7-8 books a week. Speaking of books, I’ve already read two this week. Even if I can’t read, I just flip through the pages because there’s so much to know!

C: What research activities have you participated in during your time at GSU?

T: I participated in GSURC. For my project, I took part in “Clean Up”, where I helped collect garbage along the Chattahoochee River while taking pictures. For my project, I took pictures of trash in a very commercialized way. I took pictures of used Coke cans, but in a manner that made it appealing. I enjoyed how interactive my experience was at GSURC. It was great being able to receive feedback, answer questions, and seeing the reactions on people’s faces throughout the audience.

C: I saw that you completed an Honors Thesis Project. What was your topic?

T: My topic was on the unconventional relationship between photography and autism. I believe that every child with autism is different. Due to my photography background and working with kids, I was able to experiment on how pictures can be used as a form of communication and learning for people who suffer from autism. I can remember one of my students drawing a family portrait so detailed that it looked as though a professional drew it. I found it cool how two things such as photography and autism that seem unparalleled have so much in common.

C: Do you feel that more undergraduate students should partake in research? If so, why?

T: Yeah, the great part about being an undergraduate is that you have to take classes that you might not necessarily want to study. As an undergrad, you’re constantly being exposed both to what you do and don’t want to study. As a result, you’ll be able to think broader on a subject matter while also being able to apply what you’ve learned to different aspects of your life. It’s amazing, because I couldn’t tell you how many times that the critical thinking skills that I’ve gained from conducting research have been used while in the workplace.

Teal Gordon

Gordon discussing her thesis project at her Honors College Artist Talk.
Photo by Hannah Copp

C: Where do you see yourself five years from now? Moreover, do you think that what you’ve learned from your research will play a role in your future success?

T: Five years from now I hope to be in a place where I can make my art while having a program that I can teach my kids alternative arts like photography. I think figuring out what to do for my thesis project helped me to think about problem-solving – merging two unrelated sectors helps you think critically.

C: Now that it’s safe to say that you’re experienced in the field of research. What do you have to say to students who aren’t too excited about public speaking?

T: I promise you, it’s not that bad. It’s such a phenomenal experience to display and talk about your work after you’ve worked so hard on it. Yes, you’re able to post it online but it’s more accessible for your audience to view your work up close and to hear you talking about it. Seeing people view your work is one of the best feelings; no one can describe your work as well you can.

Thanks to Teal’s creative studies, she helps show that undergraduate research is a vehicle for discovering new strategies to solving everyday issues. We all possess the talents necessary to conduct research, and this can be accomplished by first stepping out of our comfort zones. Research creates an environment where students can take a deeper consideration into their studies and understand how their discoveries can potentially lead to groundbreaking changes in their chosen fields. If you are ready to start or enhance your research journey, visit the Honors College Undergraduate Research Program webpage for resources, schedule an appointment to discuss your research ideas, or stop by during Research Walk-In hours.