Scholars mentoring program showing benefits
More than 40 Winston-Salem State University (WSSU) students are participating in an innovative undergraduate research program. “Building Bridges through Undergraduate Research” partners each Chancellor and Provost scholar with a faculty mentor with whom they spend up to 10 hours a week working on a research project. At the conclusion of the academic year, the students will present the findings of their research at the annual University Scholarship Day event.
The program supports the university’s strategic goal of providing high-impact learning opportunities across the curriculum. Undergraduate research projects give students experience in the hands-on application of what they learn in class – critical for developing essential skills, says Michael McKenzie, associate dean for student research and director of the Simon Green Atkins Scholars Society.
“It is amazing the transformation that takes place. At the beginning of the year, students barely know what research is. By the end of the year, they can’t stop talking about their mentor or their project,” he said. “We know this program is making a difference, not just for students, but also for faculty.”
Last year’s participants in the program give it high praise.
“Research has furthered my critical thinking and analytical skills that I am able to implement within the classroom and work force,” said Erica Browning, a sophomore justice studies major.
“I found the opportunity to work with Erica profoundly invaluable as a professor of social work; I am passionate about helping students understand how research impacts practice,” Melius said. “Working closely with my research assistant not only allowed me an opportunity to integrate her into my scholarly activities, but gave me an insight into the power of mentorship as an avenue for promoting academic excellence among students attending an HBCU.” A social work major from Lexington, N.C., who participated in the program last year under the guidance of Janella Melius, associate professor of social work. Her project focused on childhood obesity, analyzing the underlying cultural factors that contribute to obesity. “It has provided me with a give-and-take relationship with a professor in my major. Not only do I help the professor, but the professor helps me by serving as a mentor to guide me through the major."
Another of last year’s participants, sophomore biology major Sydney Sutton-Hyman, of Greensboro, N.C., worked with Stephanie Dance-Barnes, co-chair of the Department of Biological Sciences. The pair focused their research on developing more effective diagnostic tools and chemotherapeutic strategies to mitigate the impact of triple-negative breast cancer, a very aggressive and often deadly cancer.
“Being a part of the research program has allowed me to do a lot regarding my major and has essentially allowed me to test out my future career path,” said Sutton-Hyman. “Being paired with Dr. Dance-Barnes created many fantastic opportunities for public speaking, and learning in general. I really appreciate this program.”
Dance-Barnes note that the program facilitated enhancement of student learning.
“I have witnessed first-hand the development of skills such as critical thinking, creativity, problem-solving and intellectual independence in the students that I have had the pleasure of mentoring in my research laboratory,” she said. “The Scholars program has been so impactful in fostering an innovation-oriented culture.” The two will team up again this year to continue their research.
This year’s projects cover a broad range of topics. Amanda Price, assistant professor of exercise physiology, expects to focus her research on African-American college students.
“My research focuses on encouraging college students to lead healthier lifestyles to reduce chronic disease risk factor development in African-Americans, who are at a disproportionately higher risk for chronic diseases,” said Price.
The research will examine the contributors to poor health behaviors among African-Americans and will test interventions, working directly with college students to improve their individual behaviors. Her assistant will work with her on two main projects, which include a cardiovascular disease risk factor prevention program for WSSU students and a project examining health literacy and health status of students at WSSU, the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, and Salem College.
Cynthia Williams-Brown, chair and associate professor in the Department of Health, Physical Education and Sports Studies, will be collaborating with freshman exercise and physiology major Melodee Yasmine Cherry of Garysburg, N.C.
“Ms. Cherry will be working with me on an ongoing initiative called CHOICES (Childhood Health and Obesity Initiative: Communities Empowered for Success),” said Brown-Williams. “CHOICES is an obesity prevention intervention program to be implemented in a summer camp setting targeting 10- to 12-year-old children from low-income and minority families.”
An examination of law enforcement dynamics is the focus of research for Denise Nations, associate professor and co-chair in the Department of History, Politics and Social Justice. She will collaborate on two projects with Ania Gatewood, a sophomore Justice Studies major from Concord, N.C. The first project will focus on the female law enforcement officer in North Carolina.
“The purpose of this study is to increase our knowledge of sworn female officers’ (SFOs) perceptions of their workplace, colleagues, the community and policing strategies,” she said. “Historically, workplace problems, including treatment by other (male) officers and gender and racial discrimination have been identified as sources of stress for female officers. This research will examine the perceptions using a sample of North Carolina female law enforcement personnel officers; using both qualitative and quantitative data.”
The second research project will focus on the impact of microaggressions on college students.
“This study will use critical race theory (CRT) as a framework to examine how racial microaggression affected the college path of undergraduates. The study intends to extend the research on the context and effects of racial microaggression by examining college students’ perceptions of teacher level microaggression and the ensuing effects on academic efficacy and college selection.”