Intellectual capital on display during annual Projects Day Research Symposium

By Eric S. Bartelt West Point Public Affairs Specialist Date: Friday, May 03, 2024 Time: 2:15 EST
1 / 8

WEST POINT, N.Y. – The U.S. Military Academy cadets put their intellectual capital on display for other cadets, faculty, military leaders and project partners from industry and the military to view during the 25th annual Projects Day Research Symposium on May 2.

The symposium showcased more than 400 research projects from across all academic disciplines at the academy. 

“This culminating event is a testament to our cadets’ significant intellectual development as they communicate the depth of their discipline to hundreds of advisors and external visitors,” said Brig. Gen. Shane Reeves, USMA Dean of the Academic Board. “Whether conducting a capstone brief or defending a senior thesis, cadets develop hands-on research skills that push them to think deeper, anticipate and overcome challenges, and inspire them to continue to tackle the Army’s toughest problems.”

This year’s academic theme is “Innovation, Technology and the Future of National Defense,” and the projects the cadets poured their hearts and souls into have the capacity to one day make a difference in the field to not only impact the ability for Soldiers to do their jobs better, but also save countless lives.

Cadet projects run the full gamut of technology game-changers such as nanomaterial sprayable battery technologies and munitions, which could improve batteries and hydrogen fuel cells, boosting performance for both energy storage and generation to allow more efficient power sources. Another project focused on Automated Breach Capabilities that developed an automated system to replace handheld tools for cutting through heavily fortified structures, which is a need during modern military conflicts.

The automated system aims to create a safer, more efficient and easier to use way for Soldiers to breach defenses without direct exposure to danger.

With the cadets involved in projects that can exponentially help the warfighting capabilities of the military in the future, it is music to the ears to those who work at the forefront of the Army’s future.

“As the Futures Command command sergeant major, I’m confident that our Army is heading in the right direction for future conflicts,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Brian Hester, Army Futures Command command sergeant major. “It’s amazing how these cadets are looking toward the future and are working at the forefront of Army transformation.”

As these cadets are only a few months away from leading their own platoons in the Army, Hester believes that it is amazing that these impeccable future leaders demonstrating their creations during this event are not only benefitting themselves but the Army as a whole.

“Their innovation in all aspects including lethality and technology, including robotics and artificial intelligence, are directly contributing to Army transformation efforts,” Hester stated.

Another project designed to help save lives and improve mental health was a pilot project by Class of 2024 Cadet Shayla Bonzelet with the help of her academic advisor, Dr. Joel Cartwright, research psychologist in the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership, called “Eyes Don’t Lie: Combining Suicide Risk Screening and Physiological Responses.”

The purpose of the project among the 38 cadets who participated was using eye-tracking, facial expression and Galvanic Skin Response technology to detect physiological indicators and reactions during a survey questionnaire covering demographics, suicide risk, mental health and other factors with the study aiming to uncover correlations between physiological responses and self-reported data, potentially identifying key biomarkers of undisclosed suicide risk.

With project partner, Stop Soldier Suicide, the hope from the findings and further research is it can hopefully lead to improved methods for identifying individuals in need of further of help because of their willingness to disclose their true mental health state.

Part of the research literature findings is that cultural stigmas often create hesitancy to self-report suicidal thoughts, and the statistics from a 2022 study tells a grim reality that the suicide rate among military members is 71.8% higher than that of the national average in the United States.

The purpose of this study by Bonzelet was to determine the respondent’s physiological responses through their eye tracking, facial expressions and skin response from non-sensitive and sensitive questions.

Questions ranged from exercise habits, favorite color and what you eat for breakfast to suicide history and adverse childhood experiences. If any cadet scored a 13-plus on the Brief Suicide Cognition Scale, Cartwright received an email notification, and the cadet went to the Center for Personal Development.

Bonzelet, who is an Applied Psychology major, was excited to be involved in something new and that attracted much attention.

“I was looking to get involved with research when I first talked with Dr. Cartwright and learned about this project,” Bonzelet said. “It stood out to me as something I hadn’t heard about before and something that could potentially have incredible benefits later down the road. I can think of individuals close to me who have struggled with mental health and suicidal ideations, as many people can, so the topic is important to me.”

From the pilot study, Bonzelet indicated the main purpose was simply to discover if there were any physiological differences between sensitive and non-sensitive questions that could warrant future research on the topic.

“We were looking at where and how long individuals were focusing on response options, whether there were any peaks in arousal with Galvanic Skin Response, and whether there were heightened emotional expressions between one type of question versus another,” Bonzelet explained. “We mainly used the questions of favorite color and suicide history for analysis on non-sensitive and sensitive questions, respectively.

“We did find a few significant physiological differences within dwell time, the time spent focusing on one region, and number of peaks, an emotional arousal, in our analysis of the data,” she added. “These differences warrant future research on the topic.”

Bonzelet’s hope is that this research project continues to further understand physiological differences that could determine how to utilize them to create more accurate suicide and behavioral health risk screeners, even when respondents may be hesitant to disclose their true thoughts.

Bonzelet said the Cartwright was an indispensable resource throughout the project as the project originally came from an idea of his and his colleague, Dr. John Richardson.

“I was fortunate to work on the pilot with them,” Bonzelet said. “Dr. Cartwright is a wealth of knowledge, and he was always patient and willing to teach me as we made our way through each step of this project. I first came to him asking about research opportunities about a year and a half ago and he has been an incredible mentor ever since.”

Cartwright is incredibly proud of the progress that Bonzelet has made since she initially reached out in the fall of 2023 on this particular venture.

“Her keen interest in psychology and her commitment to assisting her peers drove her to pursue an independent study alongside Dr. Richardson and I,” Cartwright said. “Over the months, her dedication and curiosity flourished and transformed this endeavor into her thesis project. Working with Cadet Bonzelet has been a genuine honor, and witnessing her growth and development during this period has been profoundly rewarding.”

The “Eyes Don’t Lie” project is just a part of the hope of benefitting Soldiers in the future as the Army continues its modernization and how this will all help make the best Soldier possible.

“As technology advances, wearable devices such as the Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) and similar equipment designed to enhance Soldier performance and cognitive resilience are becoming more widespread,” Cartwright said. “The physiological data collected from these devices can be instrumental in identifying risks related to behavioral health.

“Moreover, by analyzing the physiological differences observed, we can enhance the accuracy of risk assessments even in cases where respondents may be reluctant to fully disclose their mental state,” he added. “This improvement in assessment accuracy facilitates the deployment of more timely and effective intervention strategies.”

Bonzelet hopes that pending future research develops the idea further in utilizing physiological responses with behavioral health risk screeners to improve their accuracy.

“Oftentimes, service members are hesitant to disclose the true nature of their thoughts and challenges for fear of the potential impacts on their career,” she said. “So having a way to implement more prompt intervention would be beneficial.”

Cartwright added that the commitment to this project extends not only to the Army but society, and demonstrating how academic endeavors can address critical issues and contribute positively to the military and broader community.

“The presentation is an excellent opportunity for attendees to recognize and appreciate the significance and impact of our cadets’ research on critical societal and military challenges,” Cartwright concluded.

To view more photos from the Projects Day Research Symposium, visit Projects Day Research Symposium | Flickr.