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Community-engaged research grants support collaborative studies on performing artist health, music therapy, cancer

Jeff Russell conducts theater safety exercise (man talking to group of students)
Jeff Russell, right, a faculty member in the College of Health Sciences and Professions, conducts a theater safety exercise at Ohio University. He recently received a grant to conduct community-engaged research with the performing artist community of Cirque du Soleil. Photo credit: College of Health Sciences and Professions.

Three faculty members will use grants provided by the Ohio University Research Committee to partner with community members on new research projects focused on the health of performing artists, the impact of music therapy on infant well-being, and the prevalence of childhood cancer.

The Research Division, in consultation with the Center for Campus and Community Engagement, earmarked funding through its internal awards program this year to help advance the university’s Community-Engaged Research Initiative.

“Since its founding, the university has played an integral role in helping to develop the region.  Placing a priority on community-engaged research reminds us how imperative it is to work in collaboration with our community to define goals and ensure mutually beneficial outcomes,” said Roxanne Malé-Brune, director of grant development and projects for the Research Division.

Jeff Russell, an associate professor of athletic training in the College of Health Sciences and Professions, received $7,805 for “High Velocity Head Injury Exposure in Performing Artists.” Russell will work in collaboration with an athletic trainer from Cirque du Soleil in Las Vegas and a stunt woman and performer safety advocate in Vancouver to better understand head injuries encountered by performers.

“When one’s head moves as fast as those performers’ heads do and is subjected to very rapid directional changes—regardless of whether there is actually a blow to the head or a concussion—there may be negative consequences on brain function,” Russell explained. “This is the initial step of a multi-stage project that will help us increase performer safety by giving us data about the physical demands to which the performers’ heads and brains are exposed.”

Partnering with members of the performance community is critical for the success of the research project, Russell noted. “They are the ones who can offer credibility in representing the research to the performing artists, as well as in making the necessary introductions,” he said. “They also provide inside knowledge that is required for success in these high stakes environments.”

Two women sitting on play mat with a baby
Kamile Geist, center, a faculty member in the College of Fine Arts, studies the impact of music therapy on infants and their caregivers. A new Ohio University grant will allow her to work collaboratively with community partners to develop and share new programming. Photo credit: Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine.

Kamile Geist, a professor of music therapy in the College of Fine Arts, and her research team--from music therapy, psychology, early childhood education and social medicine, as well as from the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine’s Clinical & Translational Research Unit--received $7,950 for “The Impact of Music-Based Interactive Strategies (Keep a Beat!) on Infant/Caregiver Stress and Infant Social-Emotional Development: Demonstrating Feasibility for Southeast Ohio Families Served by Help Me Grow.”

The university faculty will partner with Central Ohio Music Therapy to develop a music curriculum that will be taught to home visitor participants who work for Help Me Grow, an Ohio Department of Health parent support program.

“The at-home visitors will bring the music-based curriculum they have learned to the homes, teach caregivers how they can use the strategies when interacting with their infants, and measure over time how the music impacts the social-emotional development of the infants,” Geist explained.

The project will foster additional community engagement by sponsoring family music nights for Help Me Grow participants to meet and share information with the community, university researchers and each other.

Melissa Thomas speaking at a panel discussion
Melissa Thomas, a faculty member in the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine, speaks about community-engaged research during a community panel discussion in November 2019. A new Ohio University grant will allow Thomas and the Vinton County Cancer Research Group to study the prevalence of childhood cancer in the community. Photo credit: Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine.

Melissa Thomas, an assistant professor of primary care in the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine, received $7,995 for “Answering the Community’s Concerns: Employing an Epidemiologic Approach to Investigating Childhood Cancer Rates in Vinton County, Ohio.” 

The Vinton County Cancer Research Group and Thomas will conduct a case review of all childhood cancer cases in Vinton County between 1997 and 2018. The project will involve analyzing data from the Ohio Department of Health and conducting interviews with individuals diagnosed with childhood cancer. The team is seeking to understand the environmental and behavioral factors that may contribute to the high incidence rate of childhood cancers in the county, and want to determine if a cancer cluster exists, Thomas explained.

“The community’s concerns over high cancer rates led to the development of the Vinton County Cancer Research Group, comprised of residents from all walks and phases of life who came together and actually asked Ohio University for assistance,” Thomas said. “When invited to learn about their concerns, I felt my role was to help provide the resources and tools so that the community could take complete ownership of the study.”

In addition to the three community-engaged research initiatives, the Ohio University Research Committee funded a total of eight other faculty projects through the fall 2019 and spring 2020 cycles of its internal awards program:

  1. Jim Montgomery, Rehabilitation and Communication Sciences
    “Remediating Sentence Comprehension Deficits in Children with Developmental Language Disorder (DLD)”
    Amount Funded:  $8,000
  2. François-Xavier Brajot, Communication Sciences and Disorders
    “Cardiovascular Effects on Voice”

    Amount Funded:  $7,424
  3. Paula Miller, Sociology and Anthropology
    “White Like (or Not Like) Me: A Quantitative Study of White Subjectivity”
    Amount Funded:  $8,000
  4. Nilesh Washnik, Rehabilitation and Communication Sciences
    “Electrophysiological and Perceptual Consequences of High Noise Exposure Background”
    Amount Funded:  $4,458
  5. Andrew Weems, Mechanical Engineering
    “Shape Memory Polymer-based Water Filtration System with NASA”
    Amount Funded: $7,989

  6. Shawn Kuchta, Biological Sciences
    “Geographic Range Evolution in Woodland Salamanders: Routes and Constraints”
    Amount Funded: $7,529
  7.  Yuanjie Mao and Nicholas Mezitis, Specialty Medicine
    “Application of Time Restriction Feeding in Patients with Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus”
    Amount Funded: $7,950
  8.  Mohammad Rifat Haider, Social and Public Health
    “Impact Evaluation of Syringe Exchange Program in Reducing Hepatitis C Infections among Drug Users in Ohio”
    Amount Funded: $4,000

More information about the Ohio University Research Committee: https://www.ohio.edu/research/funding

More information about Community-Engaged Research: https://www.ohio.edu/community-engaged-research/