Pieter Verhallen guides 2 high school students to victory in the NCSAS competition

By Jess Clarke

Diksha Krishnaswamy’s love of shopping online has made the Grade 10 student wonder about consumer behavior and what influences people’s decision to buy products.

This curiosity, shared by her classmate Manya Bhagat, led them to an impressive feat: a first place finish in the North Carolina Student Academy of Science (NCSAS) competition this spring. Pieter Verhallen, a marketing professor at Poole College and a specialist in consumer behavior, helped them achieve this.

“They did all the work,” says Verhallen. “I just gave them advice, directions and some criticism.”

His advice and guidance—on choosing a specific research question, analyzing data, writing a research paper, presenting to judges—was exactly the advice the students wanted. Their project, which focused on how different times of day and types of advertising affect consumer buying decisions, was for the STEM club at Green Level High School in Cary.

Verhallen mentored the pair for two months over Zoom at the request of the North Carolina Science Fair Foundation (NCSFF), which coordinates student-led STEM research competitions.

“I didn’t think a university teacher would help secondary school students, so I was really grateful for his involvement,” says Krishnaswamy. “He tried to understand things from our perspective.”

I didn’t think a college professor would help high school kids, so I was really grateful for his involvement.

Some results of their survey of 107 people? Generally, consumers are most likely to buy a product between noon and 6 p.m., regardless of the ad type. Specifically, billboards are more effective in the afternoon and video ads more persuasive in the evening.

The students concluded that more people are home after daytime work hours and more likely to watch video ads. In the afternoon, consumers are more likely to come home from work and see billboards along the way.

After reviewing the results, Bhagat and Krishnaswamy wrote an article which Verhallen read. “He helped us make our article easier for the judges to understand and suggested how to keep the language consistent and objective, so that no one reading it misinterprets the results,” Bhagat said.

The students won third place in their category at the NCSFF Region 3A Virtual Science and Engineering Fair in February. In March, they presented their research at the NCSAS National Competition in Durham at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, which coordinates the event. For winning in their category at the NCSAS event, they are eligible to attend the American Association for the Advancement of Science Research Conference meeting in March 2023.

Verhallen “really helped us not only with the presentation, but also with understanding what constitutes a good question for a research project,” says Bhagat. “He helped us tell the difference between a good study and a bad one. His mentorship has helped us learn valuable lessons and win competitions. »

Pieter Verhallen, teaching assistant professor in marketing

Making a good pitch to the judges is key.

“I was confident in our ability to present our project well, but I was still a bit shocked when we won because the other projects were great too,” says Krishnaswamy.

For Verhallen, it was gratifying to work with motivated students. “They are definitely self-sufficient,” he says. “It’s always nice to work with this kind of student, regardless of age or level.”

And no matter the age or level, a key part of NC State’s mission is to give back to community and state residents.

“We’re training the next generation of graduates, primarily from North Carolina,” says Verhallen. “It’s about the knowledge we create, the research and our overall contribution to science in the region.

NC State’s contribution to science has advanced the NCSFF’s goal of encouraging STEM participation in schools.

“As a small nonprofit, NC State’s support and partnership has been a critical part of our ability to raise awareness and provide opportunity for North Carolina students,” said NCSFF Executive Director, Theresa Gibson.

NC State hosts the statewide version of the North Carolina Science and Engineering Fair on campus most years, which has provided many students with a first-time college visit. Holly Hurlburt, assistant dean of the state of North Carolina and executive director of academic enrichment programs, facilitates the partnership between the university and the NCSFF, which coordinates the fair.

NC State faculty members often work with student researchers as mentors for NCSFF competitions. “Feedback about having a mentor has been overwhelmingly positive throughout the program,” says Gibson. “We are very grateful to Pieter for his generous contribution of time.”

The mentoring relationship is also a positive experience for teachers.

I appreciated their professionalism. They were proactive, well prepared and curious.

In guiding Bhagat and Krishnaswamy, “I appreciated their professionalism. They were proactive, well-prepared and curious,” notes Verhallen. “They wanted to win, that’s for sure.”

Winning regional and national competitions this year gives Krishnaswamy the inspiration she needs, she says. “Our validation of these science competitions makes me really excited to get into this kind of thing at university.”

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