Undergraduate Research: the Relationship Changes Everything

In the week leading up to commencement, we celebrate the small-college experience that gives York College its distinct personality in the City University system. The close student-faculty relationship at York enables undergraduates to engage in high-level academic research, from first idea to final presentation. Here is a look at one of the students who participated in the first Research Day.

Cherry Sudartano’s research project with Psychology Prof. William Ashton had one  unexpected result: It showed her once and for all -- empirically and emotionally -- that she made the right choice when she transferred to York from LaGuardia Community College.
You see, she said recently, she was torn between York and Hunter College and came to the Jamaica campus only after missing the Hunter application deadline. Her goal was clear. She wanted to study child development issues because childhood friends had been abused. Her registered for Prof. Ashton’s Organizational Behavior and began her major in psychology.
Jump two years. Sudartano is presenting the research she helped design with Prof. Ashton at the 14th Annual NEURON in NY conference. That’s the Northeast Under/graduate Research Organization for Neuroscience. Never mind the subject, we’ll get to that later. What’s important is that the conference took place at Hunter College. Hunter students presented research, too. Hunter graduate students.
She called the moment ironic – as in delicious irony – and she understood why York mattered to her.
“If I had gone [to Hunter,]” she said, “I wouldn’t have been able to present. I know I made the right choice.”
In Organizational Behavior, she Prof. Ashton’s learning-styles inventory validated her own feeling about how she learned and how she studied. “This way I knew what works best for me,” she said. She also made an important connection.
She finished the course, then received an e-mail from Prof. Ashton asking her to be his research assistant.
“I had to talk her into it,” he said. “There is a greater emphasis on doing research now, on sharing that research with posters, on giving students the experience of academic research connected to their course of study.”
That commitment has changed the status of students, too,” Sudartano said. “First, there’s always a professor right there. And now I have students asking ME questions; it has given me experience as a TA.
“I learned research techniques ... learned to read a paper and determine what argument the author was making. And I’m now certified to do research on human beings.”
Her research looked at something called “defensive attribution,” examining third-party points-of-view in accidents. It grew out of Prof. Ashton’s research in the perceptions and attitudes about sexual assault.
 “People can be manipulated by how a set of facts is presented,” Sudartano said. She presented subjects with the facts of a scenario – a car accident, spilling soda on someone’s I-Pod – in different orders and measured how perceptions of blame changed.
“Cherry has been doing the work of a grad student,” Prof. Ashton said. “Her participation frees me from doing the detailed work of the experiment. She also helped design some of the research. Her help has been amazing. I’m really sorry to see her leave.”
Sudartano said she plans to work before applying to grad school next year.  “Research at York has opened my eyes,” she said. “It is what I want to do.”
But Cherry Sudartano’s life has been about choices.
She grew up in the Chinese-Indonesian community in the capital city of Jakarta. Like an older brother and sister, she was offered the chance to continue her education overseas. While they chose colleges in Germany, she said she wanted to come to New York City. Her father helped her move into an apartment in Elmhurst, then, at 19, she was on her own in another country.
But it was not foreign to her
“I visited my sister in Berlin, and that was very European,” she said. “Then I got to Elmhurst, and, you know, with all the activity and different people, it seemed familiar. It felt like my neighborhood at home.”

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