Physiological Research at Head Start Creates Opportunities for UA Students

Students Ashley Daugherty, Caitlin Baggett, and Linnea Moran conduct an assessment on hat day at Head Start.

The past year marked the beginning of data collection for Dr. Jason DeCaro’s multiyear Head Start research project. This interdisciplinary project focuses on child development during the transitions from prekindergarten through first grade. Dr. DeCaro joins Drs. Ansley Gilpin and John Lochman of the Psychology Department and Dr. Caroline Boxmeyer of the Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine, as well as community partners from the Community Service Programs of West Alabama.

Students Ashley Daugherty, Caitlin Baggett, and Linnea Moran conduct an assessment on hat day at Head Start.
Students Ashley Daugherty, Caitlin Baggett, and Linnea Moran conduct an assessment on hat day at Head Start.

Funded by the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), Power PATH is an intervention program designed to improve emotional, behavioral, social, and cognitive wellbeing. Included in Power PATH is PATHS, a supplemental preschool curriculum that offers children techniques for dealing with difficult emotions and processing emotions in appropriate ways in the classroom. The addition of parent intervention meetings, adapted from the Coping Power program, is a novel contribution of the UA project. Parents learn about the PATHS curriculum and can reinforce the lessons from PATHS at home, receive resources related to managing stress and improving their own wellbeing, and have an opportunity to network with other parents.

As one of only four grants funded by the ACF to study “dual-generation” approaches in Head Start that address the needs of the entire family, this is a fantastic opportunity to evaluate programs that could affect Head Start programs across the county. Children learning the curriculum are being compared to a control group of children not learning the curriculum to determine any differences between the two groups. Dr. DeCaro leads the portion of the project that evaluates physiological responses to stress in four-year-olds during their first exposure to the PATHS curriculum and again at the end of the study in first grade. Physiological assessments include ECG, skin conductance, saliva samples for the stress-related hormone cortisol, and basic anthropometric measurements. During the fall 2014 semester alone, the physiological teams were in contact with more than 100 four-year-olds.

This project has created many exciting opportunities for students. Graduate students Sarah Elizabeth Morrow and Edward Quinn of the Anthropology Department and Allie Nancarrow of the Psychology Department have led field research teams at nine different Head Start centers across West Alabama. This project has also afforded our Department the opportunity to expose an unprecedented number of undergraduates to real biocultural research. Forty-four undergraduate students were involved on the physiological side of the project in fall 2014 alone. Students majoring in a broad range of disciplines, including anthropology, biology, chemistry, premedical studies, environmental engineering, international relations, and computer science found roles within this study.

Students Steven Beall, Lauren Pratt, and Tiffini Taylor observe a child as he watches videos for his assessment.
Students Steven Beall, Lauren Pratt, and Tiffini Taylor observe a child as he watches videos for his assessment.

Student field teams work in groups of two or three, dividing up duties of interviewing, collecting ECG and skin conductance data, and keeping the study protocols on task and organized. Other students conduct lab work, analyzing ECG data, organizing and analyzing written data sheets, and checking video recordings to identify key events in the interview protocol. The third major aspect of student involvement is with lab management. Students work closely with graduate students and Lab Manager, Shanta Hardrick Burrell, to learn about informed consent management, file keeping, and how to maintain records in order to protect respondents.

One of the most exciting aspects for many students has been to simply interact with the children. From drawing pictures together to discussing their favorite birthday presents, assessments are special times when each child feels listened to and attended to by the field team. As a complex and important research project, Power PATH will continue to expand over the next few years. We look forward to continuing to work with a diverse and broad range of students (and community volunteers) in order to make this program a success. If you are interested in joining this project in some capacity, please contact Sarah Elizabeth Morrow, lead physiological graduate student at semorrow@crimson.ua.edu. Students are eligible for either ANT or PY credits; volunteers are also always welcome!

Incoming Department Members

New fall 2014 anthropology students (C. Lynn).

This past fall, we welcomed three new faculty members. Drs. Lesley Jo Weaver and Cameron Lacquement joined our faculty as Assistant Professors. In addition, Dr. David Meek, spouse of Dr. Weaver, joined as an Adjunct Faculty member in our department and taught a course for us in the fall 2014.

Dr. Lesley Jo Weaver
Lesley Jo Weaver

Jo Weaver received her Ph.D. and M.P.H from Emory University. She does research around the topics of chronic diseases, mental health, and nutrition in Brazil and India. Her doctoral work focused on social and family roles among women with type 2 diabetes in urban North India. Here she found that although women’s family roles in this cultural context can be extremely demanding and may detract from women’s ability to take care of their diabetes, these roles provide a source of social cohesion that appears to protect them from the mental ill health that often accompanies diabetes. Dr. Weaver is currently developing a new project on food insecurity and mental health in rural Brazil. As a response to public health and development initiatives that tend to examine only the nutritional aspects of food insecurity, this project is designed to test the relative contribution of both nutritional and social pathways in the established link between food insecurity and mental ill health. This is one arm of a larger global comparative study she is conducting with colleagues who work in Ethiopia, Haiti, and Malawi. Pilot work she conducted in 2013 suggested that in this community, social aspects of food insecurity, such as eating foods that carry the stigma of being “poor people’s foods,” may be just as damaging to mental health as the nutritional insufficiency that is sometimes also associated with food insecurity.

Dr. Cameron Lacquement
Cameron Lacquement

Cameron Lacquement received his undergraduate degree from Western Carolina University in anthropology focusing on forensics and criminal justice in 2002.  He received his masters from UA under the supervision of Dr. Jim Knight in 2004 by examining domestic architecture in the Black Warrior and Tombigbee River valleys.  The project required examining the archaeological evidence in the area but also had a experimental component, which involved the building and burning of a full-sized early Mississippian flexed pole house. During this time, he started branching out to other disciplines to support his research including wood science technology and structural engineering. His master’s research has been published as a book through the University of Alabama Press and an article in the Journal Of Primitive Technology. In 2009, Dr. Lacquement received his Ph.D from UA.  His dissertation research examined prehistoric monumental structures and landscapes and quantified the amount of labor necessary to create them in order to address the sociopolitical organization of labor involved in the construction of prehistoric monuments in the Southeast US. Portions of his research have been published and presented at SEAC. Since completing his degree, Dr. Lacquement has served as a instructor and now Assistant Professor in the department.  He teaches many of the introduction classes, creates and maintains online classes, and serves as the Director of Undergraduate Studies.  In his off-time, Dr. Lacquementenjoys woodworking and carpentry, bowling, and playing softball for the department’s team, the Argonauts.

Dr. David Meek
David Meek

David Meek (PhD University of Georgia, 2014) is an environmental anthropologist, critical geographer, and education scholar with an area specialization in Brazil. Dr. Meek theoretically grounds his research in a synthesis of political ecology, critical pedagogy, and place-based education. His interests include sustainable agriculture, social movements, and environmental education. Dr. Meek’s work has been conducted using a combination of traditional anthropological and cartographic methods, such as GIS, remote sensing, and historic aerial photography. Dr. Meek has carried out research on sustainable agriculture education within Brazil’s Landless Workers’ Movement. This research explored how people learn about sustainable agriculture through political participation and the potential impact this learning has on agricultural practices and landscape changes. Dr. Meek’s past research focused on the relationships between public policies, economic incentives, and educational processes within an agrarian reform settlement in the Brazilian Amazon. Dr. Meek is currently collaborating on a research project with UA’s Dr. Caroline Boxmeyer looking at the relationship between K-5 students’ participation in the Druid City Garden project and academic performance, environmental knowledge, and nutritional choices. Dr. Meek has also been appointed a co-coordinator for a UNESCO-funded project that is bringing twenty MST activists from Brazil to various locations in the United States to work on agroecological community organizing. As part of a larger applied anthropological research project, he is exploring how this transnational solidarity exchange program influences US grassroots organizations’ knowledge about strategies of social mobilization, and agroecological techniques. While scholarship on transnational solidarity movements is growing, this research focuses on the unexplored element of non-formal learning that happens within these networks.  In a series of publications currently under review, Dr. Meek has begun advancing a theoretical framework of the political ecology of education. This perspective illuminates how the reciprocal relations between political economic forces and pedagogical opportunities—from tacit to formal learning—affect the production, dissemination, and contestation of environmental knowledge at various interconnected scales. The various research projects that Dr. Meek is involved with provide empirical data to support the advancement of the political ecology of education framework.

New fall 2014 anthropology students (C. Lynn).
New fall 2014 anthropology students (C. Lynn).

In addition to faculty, eight new graduate students joined the department in the fall, and three of our previous MA students were accepted to continue working with us as doctoral students. Clay Nelson is an archaeologist who received his BA and MA from UA and will continue at the doctoral level focusing on Southeastern U.S. archaeology and Mississippian societies. Ashley Stewart received her BA from Auburn in 2010 and a master’s degree from our department this past spring and will continue her focus in bioarchaeology here at the doctoral level. Mirjam Holleman joins us as a doctoral student in the Biocultural Medical program. She completed her BA and MA in the Netherlands and will focus on disabilities research in Poland.

Several new master’s students also joined us. Shannon Edsall (BA, Auburn) and Allyson Harrison (BA, University of Michigan-Dearborn) joined us to study bioarchaeology. Katie Lazzara (BS/BA, University of Iowa), Cassie Medeiros (BA, William & Mary), and Gracie Riehm (BA, University of Georgia) are archaeology students. Katie is here to study Andean archaeology, Cassie joined us to study the archaeology of alcohol, and Gracie is interested in Southeastern archaeology and the Late Mississippian and Contact periods. Nikki Henderson (BS, Emory) and Edward Quinn (BA, University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse) are biocultural medical students. Nikki joined us to study mental health and addiction, while Edward is focused on social rank and chronic stress.