Lee students in the anthropology and science departments conduct groundbreaking research
Two Lee students are busy doing some serious research in their fields.
Senior anthropology major Jed Foster and junior biochemistry major Elizabeth Landry presented research findings from their separate, ongoing studies at the Appalachian College Association (ACA) Conference. They were two of 26 students from the Appalachian region awarded over $10,000 of Colonel B. Ledford Scholarships to fund individual research over the summer.
Foster was inspired by his global perspectives trip and, under the guidance of Dr. Murl Dirksen, chose to conduct his research on China's reversal of the one-child policy which has for years maintained infamy in the western hemisphere. But after the Chinese government recently shifted the policy to a two-child allowance, Foster decided to research how the change is morphing the country's society.
“I wanted to see how the one-child policy had affected traditional notions of family and kinship,” Foster said. “It was recently repealed and replaced with the two-child policy, and because of the recentness of the event, I thought it would be a good study to see how the Chinese family has changed since its implementation.”
Foster interviewed 30 Chinese residents including Millennials, parents and grandparents in rural and urban areas.
“I was able to hire a friend of mine who is a seminary student and Chinese national,” Foster said. “The grant money was enough for both of us to go, and he served as a translator for two months.”
As Foster’s project mentor, Dirksen said working with the anthropology student was a brilliant opportunity.
“Jed’s qualitative methodology and findings are exceptional,” Dirksen said. “Given the difficulty of conducting this type of research on government population policy and programming, Foster has done an amazing job for an undergraduate. He is one of the brightest and most promising student scholars I have had the privilege to work with.”
Associate professor of sociology Dr. Arlie Tagayuna also played a pivotal role in Foster’s presentation as his research methods instructor. Tagayuna said the department has given Foster much to work with, but what he has done with the information makes him exceptional.
“Jed has become one of those few students who goes beyond what is expected,” Tagayuna said. “He has been armed with a research skill set that doesn’t stop in research class but uses it to further his professional development.”
According to Tagayuna, Foster’s work is far beyond his years.
“His project is actually a very sophisticated project,” Tagayuna said. “It is comparable to Ph.D. work, considering I asked him to interview 30 people.”
With assistant professor of biology Dr. Jonathan Cornett’s guidance, Elizabeth Landry conducted research on Huntington’s disease.
As a biochemistry major, Landry said she found interest in researching the biology of the disease.
“Huntington’s disease is a dominantly inherited neurodegenerative disease,” Landry said. “I work specifically on the cellular level.”
With hopes of becoming a psychiatrist, Landry said she felt motivated to study a mental disease that affects people she plans on working with professionally.
“I work at Moccasin Bend Mental Health Institute for an internship, and I actually have a patient with Huntington’s disease,” Landry said. “Working with people there is what I am really passionate about.”
At the ACA Conference, Landry’s presentation gained some attention from people who share her interests.
“Someone from the National Huntington’s Disease Foundation saw it and contacted my mentor and said they were interested in having me speak at conferences,” Landry said. “They also said they have a foundation that offers another grant to continue my research.”
Landry said her goal is to provide hope for all those with Huntington’s disease.
“We hope if we can find out on the molecular level what’s happening we can make a drug that targets more specifically to alleviate all the symptoms,” Landry said. “Our goal is to be able to live a normal life even if you aren’t cured.”
Dr. Jonathan Cornett expressed his pride over Landry's success.
“Elizabeth was able to make solid progress on her project over the summer, and her results are very exciting as they provide a path for further study,” Cornett said. “Elizabeth’s interest in psychiatry naturally extends to the study of Huntington’s disease. She is an excellent and highly motivated student, and I look forward to seeing her continue to progress in her career.”
Originally planning on ending her research, Landry said her patients are making her potentially reconsider.
“I initially did the research to prepare for medical school, but I was able to go back to Moccasin Bend and talk to my patient about my research and I haven’t see him so happy as when I talk about the research,” Landry said. “Seeing that bridge made me want to pursue it more.”
Both students said they wanted to express immense gratitude toward their individual mentors and departments.
The ACA is an association of 35 private four-year liberal arts institutions from the central Appalachian Mountains including Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.
For more information about the Appalachian College Association, visit https://acaweb.org/.