More and more, undergraduate students across UC’s campus get the chance to observe, participate in, and even conduct research. Asia Harris, a sophomore studying Health Promotion and Education at the College of Education, Criminal Justice, and Human Services (CECH) gained just that opportunity as a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellow, known as SURF.
Harris graduated from Princeton High School, and started UC as a freshman biology major. While working in a research lab, Harris realized early on that shaking and tallying test tubes was not as satisfying to her as sifting through statistics and data tables. With the SURF experience, “being able to finally get my hands on data I was really interested in, I felt like I could see the results. I could analyze it, understand it, see the effects.” She had found the kind of research she could connect to. “The data was more alive to me here, than studying fruit flies.” She soon gravitated to the School of Human Services to study public health, where she likes the classes, and feels like it’s a better fit.
During the summer fellowship, Harris worked with a team in the INNOVATIONS Lab at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and Medical Center in the Department of Behavioral Medicine and Clinical Psychology. “My research project focused on childhood obesity, primarily in Cincinnati Public School kindergarteners,” says Harris. The data she compiled included assessments of “how many parks in a neighborhood, how many grocery stores in a neighborhood, things that may impact obesity. One factor considered was whether or not a student went to preschool. Usually the trend [showed] that those students who went to preschool were not obese.”
Along with three other students, Harris was part of a research team led by Dr. Monica Mitchell. Occasionally, she would have the opportunity to shadow Dr. Mitchell on visits to youth organizations, like the Boys and Girls Clubs or other afterschool programs, meeting with organizers there to raise awareness about childhood obesity.
“I enjoyed my summer at Children’s meeting many different people and learning new things. I also got to volunteer at their Annual Sickle Cell Research and Education day. It was a great event with a big turn out.” The annual event features food, games and childcare as an opportunity for families to learn more about current research on sickle cell disease.
The SURF program holds weekly meetings during the summer for all the undergraduate fellows together, often addressing topics of public health. Student fellows attend lectures, watch videos, and discuss different theories and ongoing research studies.
This year, Harris is staying involved in public health research, now working in STARS, Student Achievement in Research and Scholarship. Another UC program designed to give undergraduates a taste of research experience, STARS assigns students one-on-one with a faculty mentor. Harris works with Amy Bernard, associate professor of Health Promotion and Education in the School of Human Services.
Bernard is working as an evaluation consultant for WeThrive, a Hamilton County Public Health Program. The project includes working with select schools to encourage physical activity in the classroom. “Our research surveys teachers to find out if they are incorporating any physical activity breaks throughout the day and how it may help attentiveness and discipline problems, as well as how much time in a classroom is devoted to attentiveness and discipline problems.”
The WeThrive program is publishing a resource guide, an idea book for ways teachers can add in physical activity breaks throughout the day. UC’s role in the project is to survey teachers and assess the results.
Harris and Bernard meet every other week to discuss and review Harris’ assignments, like running data in SPSS, describing assessments, or conducting lit reviews. “Undergraduate research is becoming so important to the university, it’s a good way for students considering grad school to understand the concept of research,” says Bernard.
Additionally, STARS meets weekly with its students for professional development sessions. Bernard says, “I was really impressed that Asia came in asking questions, smart questions about graduate school and research. She is very professional, and surprisingly on the ball for an undergraduate student to be already considering those things for graduate school.”
One of the major components of STARS is its emphasis on growing a mentoring relationship between faculty and students. “Dr. Bernard has been a great source of information for me; it’s nice to get the interaction in the career, and about you,” says Harris.
Bernard says that as Harris continues to stay involved in the research, “I think Asia will have the opportunity to interact with other health professionals on the project. She’ll get to see what type of job you would get in the field after completing a graduate degree.”
Harris cites a college scholarship she received upon graduating from high school as a major factor in where she is today at UC, and hopes someday she can pay back the gratitude. She wants to attend graduate school after she finishes her bachelor’s degree, and eventually would like to work in public health administration, healthcare, or for a government agency. She says she’d love an opportunity some day “to serve as the health-minded professional, or the health advocate in an educational environment.”
She encourages undergraduate students to take on some kind of research experience while in college. “Regardless of how you might feel now about research, it’s not like you think it is. It can really be more hands-on and can teach you more about your field than you realize.”
She says students should not discount themselves from an application process. "Don’t be afraid that you’re not the perfect candidate for it, just apply. You could be exactly what they are looking for."
The Undergraduate Research Council is currently accepting applications for summer research programs, from now until March 4, 2011. UC’s undergraduate research opportunities offer students the chance to work one-on-one with faculty and other student-researchers from across more than 250 degree programs.
Whether research assistantships, summer research experiences, or fieldwork, chances are there are opportunities to gain research experience regardless of your area of study. For more information, see:
SURF – Summer Undergraduate Research Fellows
STARS – Student Achievement in Research and Scholarship
School of Human Services