Undergraduate Research Opportunities, Certificate Set CHS Apart

By Ellee Sidebottom and Ryan Clark
CHS Contributors

In the College of Health Sciences, we are truly the Gateway to the Health Professions. One way we are able to offer this path is through consistent research opportunities. And one of the ways CHS sets itself apart is by offering undergraduate research opportunities to its students.

For those who did not know, the College offers a specific Certificate in Undergraduate Research in Human Health Sciences — to encourage and recognize undergraduate students who devote a significant portion of their undergraduate education to scholarly and research pursuits within the College. The certificate provides any University of Kentucky undergraduate student with the opportunity to gain advanced knowledge in interdisciplinary clinical, translational, and basic research in the Human Health Sciences fields. This certificate will enhance the educational goals of any University of Kentucky student interested in obtaining experience in health-related research to benefit their pursuit of a healthcare related career. 

We chatted with four current CHS students (although two will be graduating this week), and asked them about these research benefits, what they’ve chosen to study, and why they chose to get involved.

Meet (from left to right):

  • Logan Eastwood, a Human Health Sciences major and a senior on the Pre-Physical Therapy track from Murray, Ky.;
  • Ally Mantuano, an HHS major who will be a junior on the Pre-Med track from Cincinnati, Ohio;
  • Jillian Jackson, an HHS major on the Pre-Optometry track and a graduating senior also from Bowling Green, Ky.;
  • Breona Link, a Clinical Leadership and Management major and a graduating senior from Bowling Green, Ky.

All students are pursuing an undergraduate research certificate in CHS. Let's ask them some questions:

What kind of research are you currently working on?

Breona: I am involved with a qualitative study with Brandi White, PhD, MPH, focused on health equity and black women living in the East Side of Lexington. We investigate the barriers and facilitators for exercise of these women, especially since there are higher rates of cardiovascular disease in this area.

Ally: I am involved with Esther Dupont-Versteegden, PhD, and her study, which is focused on learning about the cellular effects of massage on muscle tissue.

Logan: My research mentor is Chris Fry, PhD, and I am currently working in his lab which is focused on musculoskeletal research relating to ACL injuries. We study the single muscle fibers of quadriceps to determine how the ACL recovery process can be improved in the future.

Jillian: My research mentor is Patrick Kitzman, PT, PhD. I am involved with his study, which focuses on uncovering biases, misconceptions and stereotypes of disabilities in Kentucky’s rural communities.

Why did you choose to get involved with undergraduate student research in CHS?

Breona: I was enrolled in CLM 323: Social Determinants of Health with Dr. Brandi White and became very interested in the concepts that we studied and discussed. I found a passion for studying health equity and wanted to learn more, so I got in touch with Dr. White and started working on this study.

Ally: I wasn’t actively looking for a research opportunity but saw a flyer for Dr. Dupont’s study and they were looking for human subjects to do trials on. I contacted the study coordinators and volunteered as a human subject. After that experience, I reached out to Dr. Dupont because I had an interest in working in the lab, and here I am.

Logan: I am a part of CHS, as well as the Lewis Honors College. I wanted to find a research opportunity that would be the focus of my honors thesis and would be applicable to my future career as a Physical Therapist, too.

Jillian: I am getting ready to apply to programs for Optometry and wanted to get experience before graduate school. There weren’t any research opportunities specifically related to Optometry, but Dr. Kitzman’s study interested me because it could help me become a better-informed physician.

Why do you like participating in undergraduate student research?

Breona: I love how student-driven it is. Dr. White is very open minded and always willing to listen to my ideas and insight. Additionally, I am encouraged to make my own path and seek opportunities to learn more about what I am specifically interested in.

Ally: Student research is a group effort; everyone’s opinions are valued, and active listening is a big part of our weekly meetings. I also love that the research provides an opportunity to apply concepts learned in classes to real-world experience, while helping people as well.

Logan: I love seeing the external ways that you can improve recovery; it allows me to gain another perspective and connect the concepts I’ve learned about in class. Dr. Fry has mentored me through this whole experience, and I have learned so much that has already helped me in my undergraduate classes and will continue to help me in graduate school.

Jillian: This study gives me a wider perspective of different topics in healthcare that I didn’t previously learn about or have experience with. I am able to learn about the processes of research, such as digesting research papers and the overall research process.

What has been your favorite part of your research study so far?

Breona: I had the opportunity to present at my first virtual research conference last year which was an amazing experience. Additionally, I love the collaboration with my faculty mentor, Dr. White, and being able to build relationships with faculty and students.

Ally: After I was a human subject in the study, I was actually able to cut and stain my own muscle tissue — that was really cool.

Logan: My favorite part so far was seeing our research typed up in a paper. We had been gathering research for a whole semester before seeing the full results and it was awesome to see parts of my work included in the paper. We are currently working on finishing the research, with hopes to have our work published.

Jillian: My favorite part was seeing the research that I had analyzed being made into a poster and having my name on it as an author. I have never had anything published previously and that was so exciting.

What is your advice for students interested in participating in undergraduate student research?

Breona: Do it. I have gained so many applicable skills through my research such as relationship-building with study participants, technical skills with RedCap (a survey platform), and networking opportunities with faculty and research coordinators.

Ally: Look for something you are interested in; the work will be more valuable if you’re passionate about it. Furthermore, look for something that could be applicable to your future career because that will help you down the road.

Logan: Don’t be afraid to reach out. If you find a (subject) you’re interested in, seek it out.

Jillian: Nobody expects you to be an expert — we’re still undergraduates — they will help guide you and support you in your learning. Also, there are so many different options. There are more technical study roles, like in the lab, or there are more qualitative studies, like surveys, interviews and interventions.

Who has impacted your undergraduate research experience the most?

Breona: I love working with Dr. White and her research coordinator, India Smith. They are open to my ideas, flexible with my time and scheduling, and encourage me to follow my passions.

Ally: I really appreciate Dr. Dupont for giving me this opportunity. She has been so patient and understanding.

Logan: I want to thank Dr. Fry for letting me be involved with the study. Previously, I was an undergraduate student who had no research experience but was passionate about getting involved. The rest of the lab team has been tremendously helpful too and continues to give me advice and insights into research.

Jillian: Dr. Kitzman has been great at getting me introduced to the research process, and I’ve learned a lot about what goes into working with communities such as rural communities.

Interested in getting involved with undergraduate research at CHS? Follow this link for more information: https://www.uky.edu/chs/research