Story by Kaitlyn Sewell '15
Randolph-Macon College student Alex Zizzi ’14 is paving the road to her dream career with the help of her SURF (Schapiro Undergraduate Research Fellowship) project. SURF offers students the unique opportunity to conduct 10 weeks of full-time, original research during the summer months, under the guidance of a faculty mentor.
“I am looking at demographic variables to determine which patients are most likely to seek health information through means other than a doctor—specifically, the Internet,” Zizzi explains. “I’m doing a quantitative analysis of ethnicity, age, education, health status, and poverty level, and experience with using the Internet.”
Benefits of Mentorship
For Zizzi, a Spanish and sociology major from Greenwich, Connecticut, an average day of research involves reading journal articles, looking for historical and present-day evidence, and analyzing survey data in a quantitative analysis program called Stata. Her mentor, Sociology Professor Amy Armenia, is much of her driving force. “I took her Race and Ethnic Relations and Research Methods courses. I love the way she teaches,” Zizzi says. “I have been handing her a new draft of my SURF paper every day, and she helps me interpret my analyses.”
Armenia, who is experiencing her first summer as a SURF mentor, believes the program is an opportunity for students to “contribute to the body of knowledge in a discipline. SURF students are the best of the best. It has been a lot of fun for me to work with Alex on advanced quantitative research.”
Zizzi presented her results during the SURF Symposium on August 8. She will also submit her conclusions to the Eastern Sociological Society Conference, and she hopes to publish her findings.
“This kind of research—basically interpreting surveys and responses on a large scale—is used by marketing companies to determine response to various ideas,” Zizzi explains. “However, it can also be used by nonprofits or organizations that are interested in social change by measuring the public’s response to various elements. In particular, I would like to study how Americans interact with the healthcare system.”
“More than anything, I think this project is helping Alex build a foundation of quantitative methods that will give her a head start in any graduate program,” says Armenia. “This project will make her a competitive applicant to some prestigious Ph.D. programs in sociology.”
Recognition and Involvement
The R-MC community has recognized Zizzi for many of her accomplishments. She is a Presidential Scholar and has been on Dean’s List since her first semester. She was awarded the Phi Beta Kappa Freshman Award, the Douglas W. Foard Phi Beta Kappa Sophomore Award and the Who’s Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges Award. In 2012 she was inducted into Sigma Delta Pi and Gamma Sigma Alpha, and in 2013 she was inducted into Omicron Delta Pi and Alpha Kappa Delta.
Zizzi is the philanthropy coordinator for Alpha Gamma Delta, a sorority that raises money for diabetes research; closer to campus, has given back to Rescue Road Warriors, a program that saves animals from kill shelters. She is president of the Student Honors Association, serves as a sociology tutor and mentor in the Higgins Academic Center (HAC), and she is a proud member of the 2013 Intramural Volleyball Champions. When she is at home, Zizzi works as a technician assistant at a local veterinary office.
Zizzi has advice for future SURF participants.
“Make sure your mentor is someone you want to work closely with,” Zizzi shares, based on her positive experience with Armenia. “Also, don’t procrastinate. Deadlines sneak up on you very quickly.”
A Yellow Jacket’s Future
After graduation, Zizzi plans to attend graduate school and pursue a career in quantitative analytic research.
“My dream would be to do research that I could then use to change the way a system works,” says Zizzi. “Change doesn't happen unless someone can convince others that change is more profitable than maintaining the current balance, and the easiest way to do that is to use numbers.”
The SURF program was established in 1995 through a generous gift made by Ben ’64 and Peggy Schapiro. The Schapiros continue to support this program, which promotes scholarly undergraduate research by R-MC students in all disciplines.