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Research Award Winners—The Human Condition

The Student Faculty Research Awards are used to advance the scholarship of graduate students and faculty working in partnership. Grants up to $5,000 are awarded to the selected student/faculty pairs and are intended to help support student research/scholarship/creative activity; give students experience writing grants; and foster the mentoring relationship between faculty and graduate students. This fall, 25 student/faculty pairs were selected to receive the awards. Read some of the winning proposal summaries below that cover topics such as psychology, public health, nutrition, and nursing.

The Relationship Between Language Input, Infant-Directed-Speech Preferences, and Statistical Learning

Rebecca Crum—PhD student, psychology
Jessica Hay—associate professor, Department of Psychology

Infants begin learning about their auditory world from an early age. For example, by 3 months, infants begin showing a preference for listening to infant-directed-speech (IDS), which is characterized as having higher and more variable pitch, shorter phrases, and slower tempo than adult-directed-speech (ADS). This preference appears to get stronger over the first year of life, suggesting that these early perceptual preferences may be driven by exposure to IDS in the infant’s environment. By 8 months, infants are able to track simple syllable co-occurrence statistics to identify word boundaries in continuous speech. This ability is often referred to as statistical learning. Although IDS has been shown to facilitate statistical learning in a word segmentation task, little is known about how infants’ early preferences for IDS might impact their ability to track statistics to find words in fluent speech. Rebecca Crum, psychology PhD student, and Dr. Jessica Hay, associate professor in the Department of Psychology, seek to explore the relationship between language input, IDS preferences, and statistical learning abilities using a within-subjects, longitudinal design. This unique approach to exploring the language development of full-term infants may allow researchers to better understand the potential mechanistic relationships that lead to positive language outcomes.

Navigating the Intersection of Food Insecurity and Diabetes: A Formative Mixed Methods Study

Anna Jackson—PhD student, nutritional sciences
Elizabeth Anderson Steeves—assistant professor, Department of Nutrition

Food insecurity (FI), limited or uncertain access to enough food for a healthy, active life, has a significant impact on the health of individuals and exacerbates the progression of chronic diseases, including diabetes. Patients with diabetes have a higher prevalence of FI and a greater likelihood of physical and psychological distress when compared to non-diabetic individuals. Food insecurity, when compounded with diabetes, results in lower dietary quality and impaired glycemic control. Evidence-based interventions for diabetes prevention among populations with food insecurity require a holistic approach that addresses both the individualistic needs and the environmental barriers of treatment adherence. PhD nutritional sciences student Anna Jackson, along with Elizabeth Anderson Steeves, assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition, intend to explore the home-food environment, food acquisition behaviors, and barriers and facilitators to food access among a population experiencing food insecurity and prediabetes. This information is needed to employ tailored interventions to support program equity and inclusivity of an underserved population at greater risk for diabetes.

Exploring the Relevance of IPV Prevention Programming for LGBT Students at UTK: A case study

William Martinez—PhD student, public health sciences
Jennifer Jabson Tree—associate professor, Department of Public Health

Interpersonal violence (IPV), defined as “the intentional use of physical force or power against other persons by an individual or small group of individuals… and may be physical, sexual, or psychological (also called emotional violence)” is widespread on campuses and disproportionately impacts students from marginalized backgrounds. The Campus Sexual Violence Elimination (SaVE) Act stated that “[LGBT] students are more likely to experience violence and threats of violence, including sexual violence, than their non-LGBT peers.” Several high-quality, effective, IPV prevention programs are available and implemented on college campuses, but they have not substantively addressed the experiences of LGBT students or the impact of these programs on LGBT students. To address the persisting high rate of IPV experienced by LGBT students, there is an opportunity to tailor existing IPV prevention programs to the unique socio-cultural needs of LGBT students. William Martinez, public health sciences PhD student, and Jennifer Jabson Tree, associate professor in the Department of Public Health, hope to address this gap by investigating LGBT students’ programmatic needs for IPV prevention and exploring the feasibility of culturally tailoring an existing, evidence based, IPV prevention program to meet LGBT student needs.

Post-Purchase Consumer Trends and Knowledge with Home-Pack Lunches in School-Age Children of East Tennessee

Catherine Warner—PhD student, public health sciences
Kristina Kintziger—assistant professor, Department of Public Health

One of the key research priorities of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is the development of intervention strategies to identify consumer practices that compromise the safety of Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) regulated products. According to FSIS, preliminary findings indicate that a significant number of home-packed lunches are deviating from recommended safe temperature requirements, revealing an increased risk of foodborne illness to school children and other at-risk sub-populations who bring their lunches from home. More intervention is needed to educate parents and the public on the risk of foodborne illness in home-packed lunches, specifically with those food safety risk factors such as temperature abuse and proper cold holding methods. Catherine Warner, PhD student in public health sciences, and Kristina Kintziger, assistant professor in the Department of Public Health, seek to determine consumer knowledge about food safety, safe temperature of cold-holding foods, and risk associated with home-packed lunches among school age children in Tennessee. Additionally, the assessment seeks to determine if attitudes about food safety and changes to home-packed lunches have significantly shifted since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Feasibility of At-Home Breast Milk Pasteurization

Rebecca Zuchowski—PhD student, nutritional sciences
Katie Kavanagh—associate professor, Department of Nutrition

Informal donor milk-sharing (IDMS) is the practice of obtaining breast milk through community sources such as social media networks. This is very different from procurement of formal donor milk, which is carefully screened, pasteurized, and prioritized for use with medically fragile infants. IDMS is neither screened for pathogens nor pasteurized prior to procurement, as it is obtained through loosely connected networks of those with excess breastmilk and those procuring breastmilk for their healthy infant. As there is limited research on its safe use, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises against IDMS, but acknowledges that if used, caregivers should perform at-home pasteurization (flash-heating) on any informally procured breastmilk, due to the risk of microbial contamination. However, fewer than 10% of those using IDM conduct home-pasteurization, and there is a lack of research exploring the effectiveness of home-pasteurization of breastmilk in the context of a high-income, resource-rich country. Rebecca Zuchowski, nutritional sciences PhD student, and Katie Kavanagh, associate professor in the Department of Nutrition, propose a feasibility project to evaluate the ability to deliver an online home-pasteurization training, including analysis of IDM samples collected before and after home-pasteurization. Gathering this pilot data would allow for a larger, randomized-control trial later.

Surveillance and Pathogen Screening of an Invasive and Medically Important Blow Fly in Knoxville, Tennessee

Hayden McKee-Zech—PhD student, anthropology
Charity Owings—Haslam postdoctoral fellow, Department of Anthropology

Although blow flies, like other “filth flies,” can play a key role in the transmission of pathogens to humans and animals, species such as Chrysomya megacephala, which utilize human feces for nutrition and reproduction, pose a particular danger to human health. This is due to their ability to quickly acquire harmful pathogens, such as E. coli and Salmonella spp., and rapidly disseminate them into urban environments, where they can be transferred to humans. Last year, Hayden McKee-Zech, a PhD student in anthropology, and Charity Owings, Haslam postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Anthropology, discovered the first known occurrence of C. megacephala in the state of Tennessee, found at the Anthropology Research Facility (ARF) at UT. In this proposal, they will study a set of C. megacephala individuals collected over 2021 and design transmissability experiments to determine the viability of pathogens found and whether wild flies carry any antibiotic resistant strains. Results will be shared with the Knox County Health Department in hopes of implementing broader surveillance that may determine mitigation practices for the county.

Understanding the Barriers and Facilitators of Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccination among University Students

Oluwafemifola Onaade—PhD student, public health sciences
Kristina Kintziger—assistant professor, Department of Public Health

In the US, Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is a very common sexually transmitted infection (STI) that is associated with high percentage of different forms of cancer. Despite the existence of a safe vaccine that is highly effective in preventing HPV-associated cancers, there are over 45,000 newly diagnosed HPV-related cancers in the US each year. Data from the National Health Interview Survey showed that in 2018, only about 22% of US adults aged 18−26 received the number of doses of the HPV vaccine recommended through evidence-based research. Oluwafemifola Onaade, a PhD student in public health sciences, and Kristina Kintziger, assistant professor in the Department of Public Health, propose to undertake a study of university students in Tennessee to understand the barriers to and facilitators of receiving the HPV vaccine. Their findings will provide insight into HPV vaccine uptake unique to Tennessee in order to inform future strategies for improving HPV vaccination acceptance.

Engaging an Innovative Approach to Address Competence in Interpretation of Electronic Fetal Monitoring

Susan Hébert—PhD student, nursing
Tami Wyatt—professor, College of Nursing

The electronic fetal monitor (EFM) was developed with the goal of reducing adverse outcomes for newborns, but statistics show that 5.8 neonatal deaths occur in every 1000 live births in the US annually. Investigations into why the promise of the EFM has not been realized have identified a number of human factors: training, evaluation, and use. Susan Hébert, PhD student in nursing, and Tami Wyatt, professor in the College of Nursing, propose to assess the feasibility of using simulation-based methods for training and evaluation with the aim of providing authentic learning experiences based on real-life situations. The goal of this assessment is to ensure high levels of competence in interpreting EFMs and improve practice-readiness in assessing, recognizing, alerting, and intervening in any declining physiological status of newborns.