Students share research in inaugural public health forum

Elon University, Davidson College and Furman University collaborated this month to host an undergraduate research forum featuring student projects that sought answers to several public health questions and concerns.

By Sarah Collins ‘18

Elon University students studying applied mathematics, creative writing, economics, psychology and more brought together knowledge from their respective majors this month in an undergraduate research forum that raised awareness of U.S. and global public health concerns.

The Inaugural Undergraduate Public Health Research Collaboration, a joint effort organized by Elon University, Davidson College and Furman University, gave Elon students an opportunity to share their individual research findings with peers from other elite schools.

Students presented their research Sept. 4, 2015, on Furman’s campus in Greenville, South Carolina, with topics ranging from a mathematical model of Dengue Fever to an analysis of eating disorders through creative nonfiction.

Additional research projects examined stigmas associated with perinatally acquired HIV, effects of artificial sweeteners, attitudes toward depression on college campuses and chromosomal abnormalities, among other topics.

Elon College Fellow and Lumen Scholar Sophie Rupp delivered an oral presentation on her analysis of young adults with kidney failure transitioning from pediatric to adult care. Rupp’s research focused on 18- to 29-year-old patients and their developments in education and employment.

She said she hopes her research can affect changes in the way hospitals handle the social development of patients with end-stage renal disease.

“Presenting my research to such an accomplished audience was a really positive experience for me,” Rupp said. “Hopefully my findings will be used to inform hospital healthcare models about changes they can make to ease the transition from pediatric to adult care, especially for patients with chronic illnesses.”

Professor Cynthia Fair in the Department of Human Service Studies, along with faculty colleagues Caroline Ketcham and Amanda Tapler, accompanied 11 Elon students to the event. Biology, exercise science, and public health studies majors also were represented in that group.

“Interest in public health is sweeping the country,” Fair said. “We wanted to create a venue for students from a variety of disciplines to share multiple perspectives on public health.”

The innovative collaboration emerged last summer from a brainstorming session involving faculty at the three schools. Fair said the group wanted to establish a means for students studying public health, specifically in a liberal arts context, to collaborate on cutting-edge research.

Public health combines advocacy for healthy living with the study of physical wellbeing, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Public health is a relatively new presence at Elon, where it has been a minor for eight years and a major for five.

Fair invited students to the conference based on their participation in Elon’s Summer Undergraduate Research Experiences. She selected students who demonstrated significant progress in their research.

Students listened to keynote speaker Kelly Brownell, dean of the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University, and afterward gave poster presentations detailing their research findings.

This partnership is a first step in establishing public health as a major player on Elon’s campus. With hopes to host the forum in 2016 and plans to invite other institutions to the conversation, Fair anticipates growth in Elon’s public health program over the coming years.

“Public health opens doors for students who may not have realized potential opportunities in that area,” Fair said. “This research collaboration draws attention to the many possibilities under public health across Elon’s campus.”