2017 Projects & Mentors

Mentors and Projects

Network Risk of HIV & HCV Infection in Rural Puerto Rico
Prerequisites: This project requires basic research methodology experience – in particular social statistics, familiarity with Excel, and locating scholarly journals through library databases.
This project takes place under support of a Summer REU grant from the National Science Foundation for research in social network analysis (SNA) and minority health. As part of that program, participating students will learn basic approaches to network science/SNA in order to employ these skills where possible in their summer research projects. SNA instruction will take place during a 2-week intensive class led by Kirk Dombrowski (Professor of Sociology, UNL), scheduled for the first two weeks of the program. Training will be used to enrich the students experience in their partner laboratories during the subsequent 8 weeks. The primary student outcome of this part of the summer research experience will be an introductory facility in social network terminology, visualization, and exploration. Participating students work with faculty mentors in a variety of social and behavioral science disciplines to support health research. All projects are on-going, but the work specific to the summer research program will be completed within the 10-week timeframe. At the conclusion of the program, participants will present their research at the Summer Research Symposium poster session.

The Nain Networks Project

Prerequisites: This project requires basic research methodology experience – in particular social statistics, and locating scholarly journals through library databases.
This project investigates eight social network domains of the residents of the Northern community of Nain, Labrador. Socio-demographic and network data were collected between January and June, 2010 from interviews with 330 adult residents. The emphasis of this project will be on the use of network descriptive techniques and statistical analysis to study the relationships between these network domains. A community emerges from the social relationships that bind its members to one another. These relationships are constructed and maintained through specific actions that constitute network domains. Family ties are an example of one network domain. Most network studies focus on measuring the structure of a single network domain which limits our understanding of how relations cumulate into community structure. This study improves upon this by collecting data from the same set of actors across multiple network domains. The eight network domains under study in this project are Country Food Assistance, Non-Country Food Assistance, Jobs, Housing, Household Wellness & Domestic Violence, Traditional Inuit Knowledge, Family and Alcohol Co-Use. The primary purpose of this study is to investigate the structure of each domain and whether and how individuals’ positions in one domain relate to their position in the others. Understanding the dependencies across the various network domains will allow us to achieve a more nuanced understanding of how the multiplexity of social networks creates ambiguity – protecting individuals from isolation and exposing them to risk simultaneously. We can then examine how this ambiguity relates to substantive outcomes such as domestic violence, alcohol abuse and suicide within the community.

Asst. Prof. Christopher Gustafson & Asst. Prof. Liz VanWormerAGRICULTURAL ECONOMICS

The perceived value of girls' and boys' education among three ethnic groups in Tanzania

Prerequisites: Basic research methodology experience, familiarity with Excel, and locating scholarly journals through library databases.

Data were collected with 196 households from three pastoralist/agro-pastoralist ethnic groups in rural Tanzania on the perceived benefits of formally educating girls and boys, as well as households' actual education decisions. These three groups have not traditionally participated significantly in the formal education system, despite Tanzania's goals to achieve universal primary school attendance. The surveyed households are drawn from 21 villages comprising two contiguous geographical divisions. Information is available on the ethnic group of each household, the village the household lives in, household location, school location, school fees, and, among other information, male and female household leaders' education levels. Preliminary analysis indicates that the education choices of a household's neighbors predicts the education choices of the household itself, suggesting network effects. Households provided open-ended responses to questions about the value of education for girls and boys, which needs to be coded for analysis. 

Christopher Gustafson is an Assistant Professor of Behavioral Economics and Health Disparities. Liz VanWormer is an Assistant Professor, School of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences/School of Natural Resources.

Asst Prof. Angela Palmer-WackerlyCOMMUNICATION STUDIES

Supportive Communication, Identity, and Well-being in Rural and Sensitive Health Situations

Prerequisites: Basic research methodology experience, familiarity with Excel, and locating scholarly journals through library databases.
This research project focuses on health communication and the ways in which it can be used to improve supportive communication between individuals, family members, and health care providers. More specifically this focuses on how and why supportive communication that is inclusive of individuals' and families' values and goals can increase well-being. Likewise, this project involves community-based participatory research and mixed methods projects that involve recruiting patients and families in medical and rural contexts, where trust in medical and research institutions is low.


The Interplay between Stress and Social Settings on Mexican-Origin Youth’s Behavioral and Physical Health
This project examines the interplay between ecological stress (e.g., discrimination, economic hardship) and proximal (e.g., family/peer/work) and structural (e.g., cultural, social) influences and how they shape the behavioral and physical health of Mexican-origin youth. Working with a faculty mentor, the opportunities for students include locating and synthesizing literature, learning about a large national dataset, and/or analyzing quantitative data.

Health disparities experienced by minority youth represent a serious public health problem in the United States. Mexican-origin youth are at disproportionate risk for engagement in health-risk behavior and health problems. Based on prior studies, Mexican-origin youth are also at risk for exposure to unique cultural stressors (e.g., discrimination, acculturative stress), in addition to economic hardship, poverty, school dropout, and work that requires little formal education, all of which further threaten well-being. There is a need to understand resilience based mechanisms that may help Mexican-origin youth overcome adversity and promote positive health, which are key for developing successful programming to reduce health disparities for ethnic minority populations. The data for the current project comes from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health’s (Add Health) Mexican-origin subsample (~1600 youth).

Prerequisites: Although not a requirement for involvement, please provide information on any research experience, proficiency with statistical software (e.g., SPSS), and familiarity with conducting literature reviews.