2004 Impact Award Winners

This page will introduce you to the five winners of the 2004 Graduate Education Advancement Board Award for Research with a Direct Impact on North Carolina — or Impact Award — and to the 11 honorable mention Achievement Award winners. The breadth of these students' work reaches from one end of North Carolina to the other. You are sure to find a student who is working directly in your community or whose work directly affects the lives of North Carolinians.

Impact Award winners:

Brian Keppler, Pharmaceutical Sciences
Kristen Kucera, Epidemiology
Jennifer Morgan, Sociology
Craig Schwalbe, Social Work
Michael Wiley, Dramatic Art

Achievement Award Winners:

Sally Clendon, Speech and Hearing Sciences
Kimberly Cobb, Maternal and Child Health
Timothy Diette, Economics
G. Rebecca Dobbs, Geography
Matthew Harper, History
Jada L. Locklear, Epidemiology, and Ursula Tsosie, Epidemiology
Elizabeth Markatos, Health Behavior and Health Education
Melissa Nelson, Nutrition
Patricia F. Pearce, Nursing
Kenneth Zogry, History

Impact Award Winners

Brian Keppler, Pharmaceutical Sciences

"Identifying Inhibitors of Telomerase Assemblage"

There were roughly 16,500 cancer-related deaths and 39,600 new cases of cancer reported in North Carolina in 2003. The continuous development of new anti-cancer strategies may be the key to preserving the health of North Carolinians as well as people all over the world.

Research being done by Brian Keppler, a Ph.D. student in UNC-Chapel Hill's Program in Pharmaceutical Science and Medicinal Chemistry, hopes to make an important contribution to the field of anti-cancer drug discovery. Brian's research work is a novel approach of targeting cancer cells by inhibiting an enzyme called telomerase. Telomerase is essential for the development of almost all types of cancer, but current approaches toward inhibiting telomerase affect only the enzyme's ability to synthesize DNA at the end of the chromosomes. Brian, however, has shown that blocking specific interactions within the telomerase complex results in a nonfunctional enzyme. This may provide a unique technology platform for knocking out all the physiological roles of telomerase in cancer cells.

By developing a new technology platform to treat cancer, Brian's work will stimulate others in the field to investigate this approach; another beneficial outcome is the possibility of a marketable anti-cancer drug.

Kristen Kucera, Epidemiology

"Ergonomic Assessment and Low-Back Outcomes Among North Carolina Commercial Fishermen"

Commercial fishing is important to North Carolina's economy - hard crabs brought in $32.1 million in 2000 and according to the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries, there are an estimated 7,000-plus fishermen with "endorsement to sell" licenses.

However, fishermen and women in coastal North Carolina are especially vulnerable to low-back pain and injuries because of the nature of their work - activities such as lifting, lowering, and moving heavily weighted objects. Since many fishermen do not have health insurance and a lost day of work means they will not have income for that day, Carolina Ph.D. student Kristen Kucera conducting research that has the potential to prevent such wage-loss injuries.

Kristen has spent many long days on fishing boats on the North Carolina coast, recording the work tasks performed by fishermen and collecting ergonomic data. She is focusing on musculoskeletal problems, specifically back pain and back injury, of fishermen. Kristen's research combines traditional epidemiologic approaches to injury problems with ergonomic data on the musculoskeletal loads on the back during fishing tasks - a new innovative approach to this research.

By seeking to identify the causes of occupational injury among this group of economically important, but medically under-served North Carolinians, Kristen's research may lead to the prevention of health problems and reductions in the human and economic costs that result from these injuries. Her research findings might also be applicable to other groups of workers who work alone or in small groups and on irregular schedules, such as farmers, loggers, and construction workers.

Jennifer Morgan, Sociology

"Just a Job? A Mixed-Method Multi-Level Analysis of the Meaning and Motivation Behind Direct Care Worker Turnover"

In 2002, nursing homes and adult care homes in North Carolina faced direct care workers turnover rates of 95 percent and 115 percent, respectively. In other words, if an organization has 50 direct care worker positions, it can expect to lose approximately 20 to 50 employees in a given year. This problem is expected to worsen as the Baby Boomers age and their needs for long-term care increases.

Direct care workers include nursing assistants, home care aides, personal care workers, and unlicensed assistive personnel - those who provide direct care at the most basic level for pay. Jennifer Morgan, a Carolina doctoral student in Sociology, is working to improve the situation of low-wage direct care workers and the clients they serve in North Carolina.

Much of Jennifer's work has been done through the Office of Long-Term Care at the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, in a pilot project that seeks to reduce turnover, increase job satisfaction and increase career commitment of direct care workers by providing continuing education classes and financial incentives.

Craig Schwalbe, Social Work

"Measuring Risk for Juvenile Justice Decision-Making"

North Carolina juvenile court judges use a risk assessment survey to help determine the most appropriate level of supervision that will prevent recidivism in youthful offenders. This survey currently consists of a number of questions about a juvenile's background: the quality of parental supervision, association with delinquent peers, and drug and alcohol abuse, among other issues.

Working with officials at the North Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, graduate student Craig Schwalbe has tested the predictive value of the risk assessment survey with diverse populations of juveniles. Based on his research, Craig has recommended that more "social" risk factors should be placed on the survey - questions concerning juvenile and parent cooperation with court services, juvenile characteristics like hostility and hyperactivity, and exposure to violence and criminal behavior in the family. His recommendations will help create a more efficient, effective risk assessment survey to be used by North Carolina's juvenile court system.

Michael Wiley, Dramatic Art

"Inspiring Underprivileged Youth Through Historical Plays"

For children growing up in low-income, often single-parent homes, there are many obstacles to achieving a higher education. To encourage these children to set and reach their educational goals, Carolina graduate student Michael Wiley has written and performed two plays about African-Americans who, through hard work and determination, reach their goals.

For three years, Michael has traveled the state performing plays about African-American historical figures and serving to inspire underprivileged youth to follow their academic and artistic dreams. "I wanted to use my art to help these children create their own academic, social and financial opportunities," explained Michael, a graduate student in the Department of Dramatic Art's Professional Actor Training Program. "I carry the message of self-motivation and achievement."

The two plays written and performed by Michael, "One Noble Journey" and "A Game Apart: The Jackie Robinson Story," tells the stories, respectively, of Henry "Box" Brown, a slave who shipped himself to freedom, and of Jackie Robinson's role in breaking the color barrier in baseball and other professional sports. Over this time, Michael has been able to perform for hundreds of students around North Carolina.

Achievement Award Winners

Sally Clendon, Speech and Hearing Sciences

"MEville to WEville: A comprehensive Literacy Instructional Program for Children with Severe Disabilities"

Children in North Carolina with severe disabilities have had few options for developing literacy and communication skills in the past. Without functional literacy skills, these students — with severe to profound mental retardation — are dramatically restricted in their self-expression, independence, and educational and vocational opportunities.

Carolina graduate student Sally Clendon is trying to address this problem by gauging the success of a pilot program, the "MEville to WEville Literacy Program," being conducted in a rural North Carolina school system. Sally is looking at the impact of this new literacy instructional program on the skills of 30 students and the attitudes of their four teachers. This new curriculum allows these North Carolina teachers to be the first in the world to have access to a comprehensive, intensive, technology-based literacy instructional program that was specifically designed to meet the unique needs of the children in their classrooms.

By assessing the success of this new approach to literacy instruction, Sally hopes to contribute to the quality of education and identify instruction programs that are effective in teaching severely disabled students.

Kimberly Cobb, Maternal and Child Health

"Newborn Screening in North Carolina: A Look at Collection, Follow-up and Physician's Knowledge and Practices"

Since 1997, the North Carolina Newborn Screening program has used tandem mass spectrometry (MS/MS) to screen newborn babies for up to 25 metabolic disorders, making it the first state in the nation to use this technology in a mass screening program. Catching and treating these congenital disorders early can prevent the irreversible and costly consequences of these disorders.

As North Carolina is the first to use MS/MS in screening process, there is a need to study the effectiveness of this system in order to make an already good program into an exemplary one. For example, do screening procedures vary from hospitals to birthing centers or for home births? If a newborn receives an abnormal test result, is the baby's family notified in a timely manner so a repeat screening can be conducted? What do North Carolina's pediatricians understand about this new technology and can instructional aides for health care professionals be improved?

Carolina graduate student Kimberly Cobb will ask these questions as she examines the effectiveness of the North Carolina Newborn Screening program. Kimberly's findings could result in policy changes to improve the screening program. This is important for North Carolina, as many other states look to our state for guidance in using this sophisticated, expedient means for detecting problems in our newborn population.

Timothy Diette, Economics

"The Algebra Obstacle: Access, Race, and the Math Achievement Gap"

Middle school Algebra is often seen by educators as a "gateway" - to advanced math courses in high schools and as an indication of whether students can meet minimum requirements to get into college.

Graduate student Timothy Diette is looking at disparities in the number and ethnicity of North Carolina students who take middle school Algebra. Do opportunities to take Algebra 1 in the seventh or eighth grades vary significantly across North Carolina schools? Does taking Algebra 1 - or not taking Algebra 1 - affect a student's standardized test scores? What are the lasting impacts on a student's high school achievement and future college opportunities?

Timothy's research can possibly determine whether students who have taken Algebra 1 in middle school are significantly more likely to complete the requirements for North Carolina's Educational Pathways, allowing for entrance into college. His work could help North Carolina provide equal educational opportunities to all racial and socioeconomic groups.

G. Rebecca Dobbs, Geography

"North Carolina's Piedmont Urban Crescent and the Indian Trading Path: A Polycentric Urban Region and its Early Roots"

It is a commonly held legend in North Carolina that the state's urban centers were founded along a centuries-old historic "Indian Trading Path." From the Triangle to Charlotte, a string of cities known as the Piedmont Urban Crescent form an urbanized region with a disproportionate percentage of the state's population and economic growth. In essence, the crescent is North Carolina's "Main Street."

Why is so much of the state's human capital concentrated along this corridor? Carolina graduate student Rebecca Dobbs believes that this corridor is a "polycentric urban region," an urban form made up of a number of specialized, interdependent cities located close enough to each other to allow for considerable interstate contact. But is this region formed from the "footprint" of the Indian Trading Path, followed by North Carolina settlers during the mid-1700's? Rebecca hopes to solve this mystery by examining archival and field data to pinpoint the routes of the Trading Path and determine if the path is the root of today's settlement patterns in North Carolina.

Understanding the nature of the Piedmont Urban Crescent in light of geographic thinking will help state planners and policymakers make better decisions. For example, how best to deal with urban/suburban sprawl? How can the state harness the qualities that make polycentric urban regions so successful in today's economy? And by mapping out the route of the Trading Path, it allows for the preservation and use of the path by researchers and genealogists.

Matthew Harper, History

"Establishing a New Public Sphere: Black Manhood and Competing Strategies for Leadership in North Carolina, 1880-1930"

Historians have found a fairly comprehensive body of information about the important contributions of black women in North Carolina during the late nineteenth- and early twentieth centuries. However, the dearth of historical documents on North Carolina black communities has led to a spotty treatment of the contributions of black men during this same period.

To add to the historical knowledge of North Carolina, Chapel Hill graduate student Matt Harper is highlighting the accomplishments of these black men - clergymen and educated and newly professional businessmen. These men joined national leadership councils, established Masonic lodges, started successful businesses and schools, and even formed a military regiment for the Spanish-American War.

Matt's research will look at these men's strategies to combat segregation, to network in large areas, and to shape race relations and politics in North Carolina. As state educators seek to present the many stories of North Carolina's past, historians such as Matt is helping to make available the stories of a little-talked-about segment of the African-American community.

Jada L. Locklear, Epidemiology, and Ursula Tsosie, Epidemiology

"American Indian Breast Health Survey in North Carolina"

American Indian women tend to have the poorest cancer survival rate among all minority populations. Carolina graduate students Jada Locklear and Ursula Tsosie are conducting the first ever breast health survey among North Carolina's American Indian women.

In collaboration with the North Carolina Commission on Indian Affairs, Jada and Ursula distributed surveys to each tribe in North Carolina. The survey will help ascertain the specifics of mammography screening practices, attitudes, and health beliefs among American Indian women age 40 and older living in North Carolina. This project will also investigate and describe the risk factors associated with breast cancer among this population, including how their risk compares with other women of screening age.

Jada and Ursula are currently collecting the completed surveys and entering the data into a database, which will later undergo statistical analysis. Their findings will be shared with each North Carolina tribe and the state to help generate grant-funding for breast cancer education programs.

Elizabeth Markatos, Health Behavior and Health Education

"Process Evaluation of an Intervention Designed to Reduce Smoking at High School Football Games"

Only 29 percent of North Carolina's 117 school districts have "Tobacco-Free School" policies. Recently, a project to communicate and enforce Tobacco-Free School policies resulted in a pilot program, "Tackle Smoking," which encouraged schools to place "no-smoking" signs and make public announcements during high school football games that the school did not allow smoking. Carolina graduate student Betty Markatos wanted to find out how well the "Tackle Smoking" project was working.

To evaluate this pilot project, Betty helped conduct 645 public surveys of game spectators at high school games in which public announcements about no-smoking policies were made. Betty's insightful survey, the first of its kind, found that 75.9 percent of football game spectators support tobacco-free school policy.

The public opinion poll information that Betty collected, along with the evaluation of the "Tackle Smoking" project, will help North Carolina expand its efforts to reduce youth smoking and encourage more teen smoking prevention programs.

Melissa Nelson, Nutrition

"Obesity, Physical Activity and the Neighborhood Environment"

In 2002, more than half of North Carolina adults were overweight or obese, an alarming 82 percent increase from 1990. This overweight, sedentary populace costs the state of North Carolina more than $6.2 billion every year.

However, the approach to fighting obesity in North Carolina must take into consideration the many environmental factors that determine whether a young person will become an obese adult. Did a child grow up in a neighborhood with parks and pedestrian-friendly streets that encouraged exercise? Or, did he or she grow up in a neighbor where high crime rates and no access to exercise facilities promoted sedentary behavior?

Carolina graduate student Melissa Nelson is examining the impact of the type of neighborhood a child grows up in to a child's overall activity patterns and the subsequent impact of these activities on weight gain and the risk of obesity in early adulthood. She is looking at data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health that has been linked by residential location to a Geographic Information Systems-derived database, which allows her to characterize important dimensions of the neighborhood environment that may impact activity patterns (parks, exercise facilities, crime rates, pedestrian-friendly streets and sidewalks, etc.)

Melissa's research promises important insights into the complex relationships underlying the development of obesity. These insights will allow North Carolina to enhance current health promotion efforts and develop healthier neighborhoods.

Patricia F. Pearce, Nursing

"Designing with Children, for Children: Computerized Activity Recall"

Physical activity for middle school students is a healthy approach to preventing obesity and type-2 diabetes. However, understanding the physical activities of middle school children is a challenge.

Carolina graduate student Patricia Pearce is attempting to measure the physical activity of middle school students (grades 6-8) in eastern North Carolina. She is developing a valid and reliable measurement of physical activities of these young students by engaging them in self-reporting their activities. Patricia plans to design a computer-based questionnaire that can be used by children to recall and report their physical activities accurately and effectively.

Patricia's work has tremendous potential for use in assessing the physical activity of school-age children. The computer questionnaire could automatically capture the results and analyze them in ways that will provide immediate feedback to the children, their parents, and health care professionals. It could also serve as a measure for monitoring the necessary balance between nutritional intake and energy expenditure in an ongoing manner.

Kenneth Zogry, History

"Struggling with History: A Man, a House, and the Early Civil Rights Movement in North Carolina"

Dr. Manassa T. Pope (1858-1934) is a remarkable figure in North Carolina history. Born the son of a slave, Pope, in 1886, became the first African-American physician licensed in North Carolina. He served as an officer in the Third North Carolina Volunteers during the Spanish American War. He ran for mayor of Raleigh in 1919, the only known incidence of a black man running for mayor of the capital city of a southern state during the height of segregation.

Carolina graduate student Kenneth Zogry is committed to preserving the historical home and family papers of Dr. Pope, who lived and practiced medicine on Wilmington Street in downtown Raleigh. Kenneth is spearheading the effort to convert the Pope property into North Carolina's first African-American house museum. Ken has already saved the family's comprehensive collection of papers, the largest and most significant African-American archive of their type.

Once completed, the Pope House Museum will be the cornerstone of downtown Raleigh's economic redevelopment and an historical resource of immeasurable value to both local residents and citizens across the state. The project has the support of the Raleigh city council and some of the state's leading philanthropies, including the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation. The Pope House Museum Foundation has also created a Web site.