Nick Nasca

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 Nick Nasca

Nick Nasca

Health disco academic program
Third-year, Psychology Minor in Spanish OSU-Cascades
healthy disco cohort year

Hi, my name is Nick Nasca, and this past school year I participated in the URSA Engage program. URSA Engage is a program that pairs undergraduate students interested in research with faculty members looking for research assistants. I was paired with Dr. Brianne Kothari at OSU-Cascades. She was one of my professors, and when I expressed interest in research opportunities she went above and beyond to orient me toward a project she and some colleagues had been working on for years. She helped me carve out a role within this project where I could explore something interesting to me that was also useful to her project. I was very excited to be working on research that had such direct real-world applications.  

Dr. Kothari’s project is a research-backed pilot program for helping foster youth in Oregon. The curriculum she and her colleagues have designed is meant to be delivered digitally. Therefore, my research focused around reviewing literature on youth engagement and developing a preliminary measure for operationalizing and assessing engagement in a digital setting. 

Doing the Work

Dr. Kothari met with me once a week every week. She started by passing on all her tips and tricks for combing through research databases and organizing my findings as I go. Before this experience, any foray into a research database just felt like slightly organized chaos to me.  Over the course of months, I completed a scoping review of literature pertaining to youth engagement in digital settings. Dr. Kothari even helped me connect with some of the researchers whose articles I was reviewing. I finally felt like I was a researcher rather than a student doing a research assignment. The process was difficult at times. It was tough to find the time every week to dedicate to the project, but Dr. Kothari was always very accommodating and patient with me and my schedule. She allowed me to work at my own pace, and she even encouraged me to sign up for the OSU-Cascades Research Symposium.

Putting it all together

On May 24, I presented my findings at the OSU-Cascades Research Symposium. Dr Kothari showed me how to take everything I learned through my review and synthesize it into a report. This was the most fun part. Not only did I create a useful report on the research available surrounding my topic, but I was also able to take what I learned about youth engagement in digital settings and make recommendations for how best to measure it, as well as for how future research into the topic should be directed.   

Informed by my talks with leading researchers and community partners, I created a rough draft of a dynamic system for measuring engagement. The hope is that this system can be fine-tuned and replicated to fit many contexts. At the symposium, I even met other professors who expressed interest in allowing me to pilot test my dynamic measure of engagement with some of their Zoom classes. I am so interested in the topic that this fall I plan on applying for another research fellowship to further my project. It is exciting to think that I could produce a tool that will help educators and facilitators of mental health curriculum deliver more effective programming across many different contexts! Overall, my experience in the URSA Engage program has made me incredibly more competent in the world of research, and it has given me the confidence to pursue my project further.


Nick Nasca research poster

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What was your path to OSU?  

My path to OSU has been a bit non-traditional. After my first year of college in Nashville, Tenn., I moved to Utah where I worked in wilderness therapy for four years and founded an adventure life coaching program for adolescents in Utah county.

In 2021, I left my business in my partners’ hands and started chipping away at the credits I still needed via online school at a Utah university. I decided I wanted to go to a university that felt like it really fit me for my upper-level classes. I found OSU-Cascades and when I visited it just felt comfortable and right. I am a huge rock climber and skier, so I really love it here in Bend.

Why are you interested in research?

I was interested in research first because of how graduate programs value it when they look at prospective graduate students.

However, very early on I started to see that research and the data it collects, especially concerning human behavior and human affairs, is incredibly interesting.

Why did you want to be part of Healthy Discoveries?

I wanted to be part of Healthy Discoveries to encourage people to take advantage of this amazing resource at our school. You'd be surprised just how valuable these experiences can be in your professional life.

What research will you be working on and with whom?

For my research, I am working with Brianne Kothari and her colleagues on a pilot project called SYNC: Strengthening Youth Networks and Coping.

The SYNC program is a remotely delivered mental health intervention for foster youth that Brianne and her colleagues have developed over the past couple of years by creating and using a scoping review of peer-reviewed literature on foster youth outcomes to inform their design.

The aim of the program is to be effective in helping foster youth transition out of the system and into adulthood more successfully. It's really cool to be working on a project that has such direct, real-world applications.

What are your future career or academic plans?

My future career plans are to go to graduate school and acquire a master’s degree in counseling.

Then, I hope to work with youth in the mental and behavioral health industry to gain experience before opening up my own practice as a general outpatient therapist.


The Healthy Discoveries undergraduate research program is made possible with the generous support of the Patricia Valian Reser Fund for Experiential Learning.