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Inaugural Health Fair Celebrates Undergraduate Collaboration

By Caroline Thompson, Contributor

Students and faculty from Furman University, Davidson College and Elon University gathered in Younts Conference Center for a first-time collaborative research symposium Fri., Sept. 4. Although it was the first event of its kind for the institutions, it certainly will not be the last.  

The Inaugural Undergraduate Public Health Research Collaboration featured oral presentations of student research representing each university, a CLP-accredited keynote address from a renowned public health expert and poster presentations featuring 29 undergraduate research projects.

The purpose of this event was to provide an opportunity for students and faculty of Furman, Davidson and Elon to gather and discuss public health issues, programs and careers, and to highlight the outstanding public health research of the three universities.

“Obviously I was really excited to come here,” Sophie Rupp, a senior from Elon, said. “It was my first time presenting research to a large audience.”

Rupp gave a 15 minute oral presentation on social support networks for patients facing chronic illnesses. Her research included interviews with young individuals about social pressures relating to end stage renal disease. The presentation analyzed the qualitative side of a pressing public health issue.

Furman’s oral presentation represented the Earth and Environmental Sciences (EES) Department. Senior EES major Tyler Peeples conducted research with Greenville Health System on accessibility to child health care services in Greenville County. Peeples made a GIS software-based map that can be used anywhere that has an Internet connection.

Suresh Muthukrishnan,  Ph.D., an EES professor and Peeples’ project advisor, believes the event has potential for more meaningful research in the future.

“The student presenters [were] polished, mature and presented outstanding projects,” Muthukrishnan said. “There is also a lot of potential to collaborate in the future to help their shared expertise.”

Kelly Brownell,  Ph.D., Dean of the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University, served as the keynote speaker. Brownell’s speech analyzed effective food policy, highlighting its interdisciplinary nature between hard sciences and economics.

As for the poster sessions, undergraduate researchers presented everything from microbiology and behavioral psychology to fertility treatment culture in China. Meghan Slining, Ph.D., a public health professor at Furman, enjoyed one poster tracing tick epidemiology throughout the U.S.

“I enjoyed this poster in particular, because it’s demonstrating the interdisciplinarity of public health,” Slining said. “You have two earth and environmental science majors and two biology majors working with faculty who have interdisciplinary research efforts. It was so great to see the four of them present.”

The idea for a broad collaboration began with a meeting between public health departmental leaders of the three universities, in which they discussed the growing interest in public health as a discipline and profession, as well as the teaching and scholarship activities within academia.

Alicia Powers, Ph.D., associate professor of Health Sciences at Furman, and Lonita Stegall, the administrative assistant for the Health Sciences Department, began coordinating the event for Furman earlier this year in March.

“This collaboration [provided] an opportunity for students to network with other students and faculty from peer institutions,” Powers said. It also allowed for faculty “to discuss their teachings, scholarship interests and priorities for the next few years.”

According to Powers, the first Undergraduate Public Health Research Collaboration was overwhelmingly successful for all involved.

“Over 75 attendees represented these three institutions,” Powers said.

The three institutions plan to continue the program annually, with each university serving as host in alternating years. Next year’s collaboration will occur at Elon and is already eagerly anticipated as another great opportunity for undergraduates and faculty to showcase their extensive research in a growing field.

 

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