Students recognized for diversity studies
“Diversity” was the operative word March 21 at a ceremony honoring the winners of the 2017 second annual Undergraduate Symposium on Diversity. Students had conducted research on wide-ranging topics, from how Medicare affects life satisfaction among the elderly to how perceptions of black women’s hairstyles impact their job prospects. Four presentations were recognized for outstanding excellence: two group projects and two individual winners.
“The symposium was an impressive event,” said Dr. Cordula Mora, director of the Center for Undergraduate Research and Scholarship (CURS), which hosted the event. “There were 45 posters presented by 85 students. This is such an important topic, especially right now. We need to take every opportunity to teach about diversity, because ignorance breeds fear. We need to champion diversity and use education to provide insight into the lives of others.”
Winning for their independent studies were Kandann Coleman, a senior and McNair Scholar majoring in nutrition and chemistry, for “Secure Your Bobby Pins and Secure Your Job: The Relationship Between Natural Hair and Job Security,” mentored by Tracy Tabaczynski, McNair Scholars Program; and Christopher Carter, also a senior McNair Scholar, majoring in education and minoring in music, for “The Journey to a New World: Uncovering Realities of First-Generation College Students,” mentored by Dr. Tim Murnen, School of Teaching and Learning.
The winning group presentations, both from classes with Hee Soon Lee, social work, were “Current Bullying Prevention Programs and Policies in Schools,” by DeAndra Grant, Emily Kalman, Alexis Kieffer and Kaitlin Pohlman; and “Medicare and Life Satisfaction,” by Krista Weaver, Priscilla Perez and Haley Perkins.
Each winning presentation garnered a glass award created by Joel O’Dorisio, School of Art.
Dr. John Fischer, vice provost for academic affairs, said that, in designing the symposium, it was decided to not attempt to define diversity or restrict the presentations but let the participants decide how broad the definition should be, and the results bore out that instinct.
“The symposium is part of the University’s growing commitment to diversity and inclusion,” he said, adding that now substantial summer fellowships are available to students who wish to pursue further studies.
Research projects did not have to be connected to coursework, as in the case of Coleman’s study of black women’s hair and employment. She intends to go on to a degree in health communication and eventually medical school, but was curious about other women’s experiences in the workplace. Does wearing “natural” hair evoke prejudice among employers? Must women straighten their hair or wear it in braids or in a more sleek style?
“As I begin to transition from school to the real world, I realize that hair is a very big issue for black women and other women of color,” she said. “I wanted to know how hair plays into us getting and keeping jobs. I did a 10-question survey of women about their feelings and looked at jobs in the five sectors identified by the U.S. Department of Labor.”
About the hair bias, Coleman said, “It’s something everyone is scared about; we know it’s true but we don’t talk about it. You want to make the right choice, you know you’re talented and you can do the work but women experience fear, guilt and anger about how society views them and how they respond. I found many are refusing to take jobs where they can’t be themselves.”
Carter in his study interviewed first-generation college students and the faculty who teach them. “What was so powerful to me was that I really found no common thread, but very distinct experiences. Some reported having an identity crisis, others struggled financially, some felt guilt for breaking away and being the first to go to college.
“I think educators really need to be flexible and respond individually to meet the needs of these students to make education achievable for all and for them to be successful.”
Although all are social work majors, the three students on the study of “Medicare and Life Satisfaction” have different career goals. Perez, a sophomore who is in a dual program with gerontology and plans to go into long-term care administration, said the group found a correlation between senior citizens who had both Medicare Part A and Part B, which cover both doctor visits and other out-of-pocket expenses, and being most content. “You need a little bit of everything,” she said.
Weaver, a senior from Columbus, plans to work with people 65 and older who are in prison serving life sentences or on Death Row. “They are such a vulnerable population,” she said, and many would not receive such long sentences today for their crimes. Helping meet their medical and social needs is what she aspires to work toward.
Perkins, a senior from Cincinnati, is exploring work with older adults with Alzheimer’s disease or younger people with autism. Inspired by family members who have the conditions, she will have an internship working with people with autism and has worked with the elderly.
“I want to do work that is meaningful and impacts others,” she said.
The CURS diversity experience had an impact on Kieffer, who said she has been considering various aspects of social work but the bullying question her group tackled is tilting her toward working in a school settling.
“It’s reaffirmed my interest in school counseling,” she said. “Bullying is one large, gray area. There are so few guidelines for teachers and administrators. Teachers can see physical bullying, but cyber bullying and emotional bullying are harder to tackle. It’s especially hard for pre-adolescents who are at a very vulnerable stage of life and very impressionable. What happens can affect their confidence and self-esteem for the rest of their lives.”