Emily LiuThrough one simple email, a unique research partnership was set in motion in the fall of 2015. Emily Liu, a high school junior in the Paul Laurence Dunbar Math, Science and Technology magnet program, was searching for a research mentor for her capstone project. Through extensive reviews of website information, Emily was drawn to the work of Dr. Alison Gustafson, Associate Professor in the Department of Dietetics and Human Nutrition. She emailed Dr. Gustafson, received a quick reply, and a student seeking a mentor had found a research faculty member eager to serve in this role.

Since last November, Emily has been working with Dr. Gustafson to analyze research data collected through the School of Human Environmental Sciences obesity grant funded by the Centers for Disease Control. Dr. Gustafson led the process of conducting random dial telephone surveys in 741 homes in Clinton, Elliott, Letcher, Lewis, Logan and Martin counties, the six counties included in the scope of the grant. Emily has worked with Dr. Gustafson to analyze the data examining fruit and vegetable intake, access to healthy foods, shopping habits, healthy lifestyle choices and community concerns. She developed descriptive tables summarizing the raw data, learned basic procedures for statistical analysis, and ran statistical tests to determine how research variables were associated.

Throughout the process, Emily learned from Dr. Gustafson, developing research skills and exploring key factors for obesity risk. She shared, “Working on this research project, I have become really interested in statistics and population studies. I’ve learned the power of research as well as the power of behavioral and social sciences.”

Emily’s skill and knowledge development were quickly noted by her mentor. Dr. Gustafson shared, “Emily has been a delight to work with, and I have been so impressed with her ability to grasp high level concepts. She has a true passion to give back to her state.”

Emily also gained valuable experience in sharing research results as she competed in school, district, regional and state science fairs. Her project titled “Food Environment and Community Perception as Key Factors for Obesity Risk in Rural Appalachia Kentucky” garnered several awards along with way. She was both a district and regional science fair winner in the behavioral and social sciences category. She received the American Psychological Association Award at the regional science fair and went on to compete at the state level.

The overall learning process has been powerful for Emily. She remarked, “Through my work with Dr. Gustafson, I’ve learned that change can happen. People may feel like they are stuck and have no direction, whether it’s in research or in their food environment access. However, there are always new solutions and directions to go, as well as people who are out there trying to help.”

Author: Kim Henken
Contact: Kim Henken, 859-257-3887
Terms: DHN