May 19, 2024

Advanced Ailment Care

Elevating Health Solutions

Students from Brown University and Tougaloo College investigate public health challenges in rural areas

3 min read

The student researchers bring different perspectives, experiences and training to the collaboration. 

Devon Newman, a junior in Brown’s five-year undergraduate/master of public health program, is an intern at the Brown-Lifespan Center for Digital Health and has worked as a teaching assistant for multiple public health classes. Newman’s group is looking at volatile organic compounds, which are air pollutants that can affect human health. For a recent assignment, the group started with longitudinal data provided by Walker and made statistical associations with meteorological conditions — for example, they looked at whether the day of the week has an impact on the amount of VOCs in the atmosphere. 

Newman is overseeing the statistical analyses for his group, and he’s been able to advance his knowledge of the statistical programming language R. He said he typically does more than the assignment requires, such as organizing data and performing additional analyses, because he knows that the information is important to the success of the project. 

“I like to think we’re giving Dr. Walker ideas about exploring different associations — maybe she’ll look at our work and think, ‘Oh, that’s something I hadn’t considered.’” Newman said. “It’s live data, as opposed to a data set that a professor made for us to practice with.”

One of the group goals is to unearth insights from the data, he said, to share practices with the community on what they can do to protect themselves from the effects of wood pellet plants, and to inform policy and advocacy efforts focused on regulating the industry.

“Knowing that our work will be put to use makes it a little more stressful than a typical class, because we are aware this has an impact on individuals, on livelihoods,” he said. “But it’s also really interesting and fulfilling.”

Ta’Lynda Boyd, a Tougaloo senior majoring in biology, is another member of the VOC-measuring group. Boyd said she has enjoyed going on field visits to collect data and has liked seeing how the roles of individuals contribute to the success of the group. Rural Public Health is the first public health course she has taken, and she said she appreciated the willingness of her fellow group members to share strategies for working with data and presenting their analyses. Boyd felt it was valuable for her to see how students at another university, in a different geographical area with a different academic culture, approached the same assignment. 

“We got to do the research and bring the data back to [our Brown classmates] and then they asked us questions, like, ‘How did you address that situation?’ ‘What did you all do to go get the data’?” Boyd said. “Then they’d do some analysis and we’d ask them, ‘Well, how did you work that out with the data?’ And then we’d all use that information to come to conclusions together. It just made a whole 360-degree circle that functioned correctly.” 

Tougaloo senior La’Kedric Fultz is part of a group that collected noise measurements in downtown Jackson, as part of a separate project from the Gloster study. Fultz is majoring in biology, and while he has public health research experience from participation in the Jackson Heart Study Scholars Program, he’d never before worked with research-grade sound level meters.

“It was great to get hands-on experience in that way,” Fultz said.

Fultz said that he appreciated that Walker made an effort to bring the Tougaloo students into the class at Brown even though they were Zooming in from Jackson, a time zone behind Providence.


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