Kim Gocchi Carrasco

When senior sociology major and pre-dental student Kourtney Kuyper took Sociology 495 (Senior Seminar) in fall 2014, she became interested in becoming involved in medical research. After the seminar class ended, Dr. Tyler, the class’ instructor, presented Kourtney with the opportunity to work with her and her colleagues in an ongoing research study as a USTARS (Undergraduate Sociology Teaching and Research Student). As a USTARS, Kourtney would be able to aid Dr. Tyler in her research while being funded for her work. Her involvement in the USTARS program has been Kourtney’s first on-campus research experience.

During her experience as a USTARS, which began in January 2015, Kourtney has had many opportunities to take part in sociological research, as well as learn about the technologies and processes which make that research possible.

With Dr. Tyler, Kourtney and other undergraduate and graduate students have been analyzing data collected from a summer 2014 pilot study led by Tyler concerning the HIV crisis in Zambia. The 2014 pilot study involves the interviews of 250 Zambian street youth. The youth were asked about certain risk behaviors related to the transmission of HIV, such as use of illicit substances, and knowledge about the virus and its transmission. In addition, the youth in the study were tested for HIV.

Throughout spring 2015, Kourtney and others have been coding and organizing the data from this pilot study. Kourtney has been responsible for assembling study results regarding the Zambian youths’ knowledge of HIV and their risk behaviors.

Dr. Tyler’s research team (which includes Dr. Charles Wood of UNL’s Virology Center, Dr. Ray Handema, a researcher who lives in Lusaka, and Rachel Schmitz, Sociology graduate student) have also written a paper about their findings in Zambia, with Kourtney acting as one of the paper’s co-authors. The paper, titled “Motivations for Substance Use among Zambian Street Youth” is currently under review. The chance to both work on the paper and submit it for review has given Kourtney the chance to learn about the editing and publishing process.

In addition, Kourtney has been responsible for managing and planning weekly meetings for Dr. Tyler’s research team. During these meetings, the team discusses the progress of their research as well as the direction their study will take in the near future.

Currently, Kourtney is assisting Dr. Tyler and her colleagues, who are composing a grant which they hope will secure them funding to further their ongoing work in Zambia.

In all, Kourtney’s experience as a USTARS has given her a better idea of what sociological research entails.

“Before becoming a USTARS I wasn’t aware of the checks and balances which went into writing a grant and getting it approved,” Kourtney said. “The opportunity to work with Dr. Tyler has shown me how much work really goes into sociological research.”

Kourtney’s work with Dr. Tyler and her colleagues will continue into summer 2015, Kourtney said.

Story by Lane Chasek

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