[Danielle Chaloux] Welcome to Live and Learn, a production of the Honors Program of the University of Connecticut. I am Danielle Chaloux and this is Episode 5 for the week of October 23rd. Halloween is coming up and Honors for Diversity is hosting their annual “My Culture is Not a Costume” discussion about how one can show appreciation for a culture without disrespecting members of a cultural group, or culturally appropriating their traditions. That will be on Tuesday, October 24th in the Student Union room 317 (7-8 PM). On Wednesday, October 25th, we are celebrating student research, scholarship, and creative projects with the fall Frontiers poster exhibition in the Wilbur Cross south reading room from 5-7 PM. Stop by to see undergraduate students and what they’ve been up to.
And now, a UConn professor who is studying exertional heat stroke, heat illnesses and hydration to find ways to prevent sudden death during sport and physical activity.
[Douglas Casa] My name is Douglas Casa. I am the CEO of the Korey Stringer Institute. I am a professor of Kinesiology at the University of Connecticut.
[Chaloux] We spoke with Dr. Casa about his work at the Korey Stringer Institute, working with undergraduates, and what the research has shown.
[Casa] Korey Stringer was an NFL offensive lineman for the Minnesota Vikings and he died from an exertional heat stroke in August of 2001. He is the only NFL player in history, in 100 years, to die during a practice or a game. Like I said, he had a heat stroke, really brutally hot conditions on the first day of practice in Minnesota during a heat wave back in 2001. And, he struggled that day in the heat and the next morning he came back and it was hot again and struggled again that day and unfortunately he did not have appropriate treatment in regards to rapid cooling. He stayed hyperthermic for too long and ended up passing away in the middle of the night the following day. I worked with his widow, Kelsey, for many years after as an expert witness on the lawsuits she had. And, when she settled with the NFL, her and Commissioner Goodell, from the NFL, asked if we would be willing to host a lasting legacy for Korey to prevent future things like this from happening for athletes who are fighters and laborers. And that is what we have been doing the last seven years.
[Chaloux] And what is exertional heat stroke?
[Casa] Exertional heat stroke happens when people get severely hyperthermic, or they get too hot. The intensity is too high, the environmental conditions could most likely be oppressive. They have central nervous system dysfunction like maybe they’re unconscious or have cognitive dysfunction. If you stay hyperthermic, like above 104 or 105 (degrees) range for more than 30 minutes, it’s very likely you’ll have long term complications. You could potentially die from the incident so the appropriate, best practice is treatment for heat stroke is cooling someone down as fast as possible.
[Chaloux] What is the research or work that you’re doing at the Institute?
[Casa] So we have two big things that we do at the Korey Stringer Institute. One side that we do is anything related to enhancing athletic performance, or military performance, a person that has to do intense physical activity, especially in the heat… how can you enhance performance? Things like body cooling strategies, keeping your temperature down, heat acclimatization, getting used to the heat, hydration, the influence of certain medications or supplements or different clothing or textiles, or things like that. So anything you can do to enhance performance. The second half of what we do at KSI has to do with the medical and clinical side of things. What are the best ways to prevent, recognize, treat, and help people recover from an exertional heat stroke. And then other things related to preventing sudden death during physical activity whether they be cardiac conditions, or head injuries, or other conditions that could put people at risk. so the medical/clinical side is half and enhancing athletic performance, especially in the heat, is half of what we do.
[Chaloux] And what are some of the findings you’ve seen over the past several years?
[Casa] So I’d say some of KSI’s biggest contributions to the medical literature and society at large is definitely things we know about recognizing and treating exertional heat stroke. So, what are the right modalities to assess body temperature for instance. And in terms of what is the best way of cooling a hyperthermic person, what are the ramifications for the different amount of time it takes, and we basically played a big role and we are proud of the role we took in getting people to use cold water immersion for treatment of heat stroke. And then also the strategy called “cool first, transport second”. So if someone has a heat stroke at a in high school or college, most of those places that follow best practices, they cool them on-site before shipping them to the hospital because they don’t want to lose any of the minutes waiting for an ambulance, waiting to go back to the hospital, waiting to start cooling at the hospital because it takes us out of that 30 minute window we have to get their temperature down rapidly. And then we’ve also done a myriad of things in the realm of preventing heat stroke. But, anytime you’re preventing heat stroke like things like heat acclimatization, hydration, body cooling, those are also things that enhance athletic performance in the heat. So we’ve done a lot of work in that area that has contributed to the exercise science, performance side of things but also the literature.
[Chaloux] Do you work with undergraduates in research?
[Casa] Oh yeah, we are extremely thankful. One of the big reasons I think KSI has had much success over the last seven years is the undergraduates from the University of Connecticut. We have about 20 staff that consists of Masters students, PhD, post-docs, and professors that are paid by the Korey Stringer Institute. But then we had 60 volunteers, that takes us to about 80 people for staff, and those 60 people played intrical roles in the research studies we do. I’ll just give you one example. We did a study that we contacted every single high school in America to see if they had an athletic trainer and the extent of coverage if they did, and if they didn’t why they didn’t. So we contacted all 21,000 high schools and we only did that because of the amazing staff that we have. So we literally had 30 people working on that for a year.
[Chaloux] And did you hear from all 21,000 schools?
[Casa] Well we contacted all of them up to four times, but we actually an amazing dataset. We actually ended up having correspondents with almost 12,000 of the schools, which is incredible for really getting an idea of what is happening nationally. And we have another project now where we’re actually back again contacting all of the high schools. And right now we are less than 1000 left of every high school that we got information on for what we needed for our study. And this is all happening because of the incredible undergraduates here that are super smart, super motivated, and they come to us as a lot of them have a passion or interest in either sports or medicine, or often a combination of them both.
[Chaloux] What are some of the qualities a researcher looks for in an undergrad assistant?
[Casa] We don’t look for anyone that doesn’t have experience, per say. We look for someone that has the interest and the passion, the internal motivation, someone who just feels a connection with what we’re doing.
[Chaloux] So do some investigation about the labs and the work that’s being done at UConn. Talk to some professors and see if your interests line up!
[Chaloux] When Spencer Matonis, a junior in the Honors Program studying Material Sciences and Engineering with a concentration in Nanotechnology, went looking for research, he found a business need instead and found Coalesce, a database for undergrads to find opportunities. Can you talk about the process of founding a start-up and how that came to fruition?
[Spencer Matonis] Absolutely. About October 26th of 2016 is when I first incepted Coalesce and put pen to paper to essentially sketch out the very first structure of the site as well as the workflow that currently exists with students getting into research and getting a job, how professors get funding, and then how I would like to see it happen. I took that workflow and made it into a software system. What I ended up doing was I found a software called Bubble which allows for a non-technical website building essentially, so it’s much more design-oriented, it is in between traditional coding and something maybe like Squarespace. Bubble is a nice middle ground, and the design-oriented process was really good for me. So, essentially with Bubble I was able to make an early MVP, a minimal viable product, in about a month, and then once I got to that stage and I started taking on marking efforts and tackling data entry stuff as well as consumer interviews. I was able to talk to the Bubble community and essentially got a couple of freelance developers to work with, so with those developers in place and freelancers for data entry, it’s just a big hustle and grind and you’re constantly pitching, so I probably end up pitching by proxy about once a day. So I’ve pitched 365 times more or less. And it’s amazing, one thing I was thinking about recently is that you can pitch 150 times, and you’re generally supposed to use the same narrative, and you want to have a narrative, you want to be able to tell your story, how you got into the sector, what’s the need, what’s the solution, and what’s the market, in 2 minutes in the same exact format you tell it the same way every time, and it’s amazing after 200 times or so, something new might click. And you would be able to broaden your perspective, and realize I can see why people are telling me this or I see the market from a different angle now, and you might make a slight adaptation or iteration. It is a long process so, you have to be patient. It is a taxing process, so you have to keep up your mental health, you have to have a support structure. I think it all goes back to why you chose the topic and what you’re interested in. If you’re just looking for the money, or fame, start-ups are not the option for you. It is a lot of tinkering and frustration and failure.
[Chaloux] And what’s your pitch?
[Matonis] My pitch is that we’re the first ever database for students, that we’re the first ever database for university research labs, and we’re bringing specialized software to a sector that has been left behind in the past 10 years or so. So there’s Blackboard and other ed-tech solutions for all the classes that you take, yet graduate students don’t have that resource. So professors up until this data have hodge-podged bunch of different things together, and now we’re bringing a platform that will hopefully go on every research computer in the country, and we’ll be able to help them with inventory at bringing new students into the lab, getting them funding, managing lab operations on a day-to-day basis, in a much more efficient and intuitive platform that currently is out there.
[Chaloux] That’s all for this week. Visit honors.uconn.edu/podcast to tell us about your favorite class at UConn, share feedback, and enter to win a long-sleeve Honors Program t-shirt with the code word “macaroni”.