Student projects examine housing, healthcare and food in Charlotte’s Historic West End

Student presenting research

This summer 11 students presented their research in the New Science Center auditorium on the campus of Johnson C Smith University. It was all a part of an eight week Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) created and funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). As a collaboration among Davidson College, JCSU, and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, this project places students in research settings alongside faculty members and key community players to define and creatively address social problems in the neighborhoods that surround Beatties Ford Road in Charlotte.

“The students that complete this REU program, and indeed any research initiative during the undergraduate years have a clear advantage when applying to graduate or professional school, as they bring a maturity and level of critical thinking that is coveted in advanced educational training,” said Dr. Phillip Otienoburu, a faculty mentor for the REU program.

These particular students, who come from a number of universities across the nation, were selected from a competitive pool of 216 applicants. 

Students collaborated with mentors and community partners to develop hypothesis-driven projects to address differential access to food, housing, and healthcare as part of an ongoing research project about social inequalities in Charlotte’s Historic West End neighborhood.

Otienoburu emphasized, “This makes the REU program most fulfilling, since our students not only benefit from the mentorship of the faculty, who are leaders in their disciplines, but have immersive experiences in organizations that we have cultivated collaborations with over the years.”

Grace Duah of Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania, who focused her research on healthcare, said this program provided her the skillsets for her career. 

“I’ve learned how to build camaraderie with the community. Being able to build that trust because I feel like it’s a very important skill to have,” she explained.  She added, “I enjoyed most talking to people.”

Desteny Ventura of Lehman, who researched North Carolinas (WIC) program, echoed Duah’s sentiment. 

“Something I enjoyed while doing this was conducting the interviews and talking to different store representatives because their answers are just amazing,” Ventura explained.

NSF and partners provided housing, stipends, and travel and research expenses for student participants.

Participants with the National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates shared their findings in a community presentation at Johnson C. Smith University last week.