Doctoral students explore interdisciplinary approaches to research with funding from the Lacy-Fischer Fellowship

For projects that examine a wide range of situations, from migrant journeys across borders to the effects of doctors’ offices that affirm LGBTQ+ patients to research on connecting the homeless to resources, 10 groups of students graduate students received Lacy-Fischer Interdisciplinary Research Fellowships in 2023.

Lacy-Fischer Research Fellows Lorely Chavez and Eugenia Zavaleta Lemus participated in the Clinton Global Initiative University at Vanderbilt in Spring 2023.

Eugenia Zavaleta Lemus, Ph.D. candidate in anthropology and gender studies, expanded her research thesis, which focuses on understanding how intersectional identities interact with caregiving practices during migrant journeys across borders. With help from the Lacy-Fischer grant, Zavaleta Lemus collaborated with Lorely Chavez, a master’s student in Latin American studies and global health, to assess domestic violence and access to justice during pandemic-induced migration in El Salvador and Guatemala. The scholarship recognized the academic prowess of these students and the potential of their work to contribute to the understanding of the experiences of people who migrate.

Nathaniel Tran, Ph.D. candidate in health services and policy research, collaborated with Tara McKay, assistant professor of medicine, health and society, to better understand what exactly a doctor or doctor’s office is saying to LGBTQ+ patients, and in turn , how the affirmative process for LGBTQ+ patients changes if they receive vaccines, cancer screenings, and other forms of preventive care. This research provides vital new insight into patient care.

The Lacy-Fischer Scholarship supports students during and beyond their academic career at Vanderbilt. This scholarship has pushed me forward as a researcher and public scholar, said Tran. Learning to manage a team has been a valuable addition to the scientific training I have had throughout my PhD. Undergraduate students frequently contribute to research teams such as Trans, fostering active engagement and mentoring opportunities at various academic levels at Vanderbilt.

Sophia Druffner, Ph.D. candidate in Community Research and Action, said Lacy-Fischer funding has helped her and medical student Alyssa Altheimer (Class of 2024) jointly create a resource mapping tool ( ) with Emergency Department social workers for use, where providers can enter patient needs, receive a generated list of resources customized based on patient demographics and geographic location, and then refer patients to most relevant resources. Druffners research aims to identify the needs of patients experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity and design effective interventions for providers to reach them.

Engaging in research that directly impacts the community has served as a source of inspiration for numerous Lacy-Fischer Fellows, driving advancements in their research projects and dissertation efforts. Addressing the immediate needs of health care professionals makes a real difference in the community, Druffner said.

Lace-Fischer Research Fellow Nathaniel Tran visited Canada as part of his research.

The Lacy-Fischer Fellowships created unique travel and professional development opportunities for Tran and Zavaleta Lemus that broadened their perspectives and enhanced their research. Tran traveled to Canada and Zavaleta Lemus to El Salvador; the trips allowed them to immerse themselves in the communities their research aims to serve.

Zavaleta Lemus, who participated in the Clinton Global Initiative University, also said that engaging with world leaders and changemakers was inspiring, and the effects of that experience echoed through her work.

Recipients of the 2023 Lacy-Fisher Research Fellowship:

  • Connecting to Care: Co-creation of a resource mapping tool for at-risk or homeless patients within the emergency department. Sophia Druffner (PI), Research and Community Action; and Alyssa Altheimer, Medicine
  • Audiovisual plasticity in cochlear implant users: an fNIRS-EEG study. Ansley Kunnath (PI), Medical Scientist Training Program in Neuroscience; and Katelyn Berg, Audiology, Hearing and Speech Sciences
  • Bridging stigma and denial: assessing the effects of biased assessment of body weight on patient care. Jennifer Lowell (PI), Philosophy; and Matthew Nettles; Medicine and theological studies
  • Cultural Perspectives on Domestic Violence and Justice in Central America. Eugenia Zavaleta Lemus (PI), Anthropology and gender studies; and Lorely Chavez, Public Health, Latin American Studies
  • Investigating the development of new graduate STEM education programs. Jonathan Martin (PI), Biomedical Engineering; and Whitney Frierson, Sociology
  • Detecting siRNA delivery to the brain with imaging mass spectrometry. Alexander Sorets (PI), Biomedical Engineering; and Cody Marshall, Chemical Biology and Physics
  • An exploratory study of the experiences of neurodiverse students in a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). Jessica Stasik (PI), Astrophysics; and Jiaxin Jessie Wang, Special Education
  • Improve preventive care for adults from sexual and gender minorities. Nathaniel Tran (PI); Research in health policies and services; and Tara McKay, Ph.D., Medicine, Health and Society
  • In Sweet Treat: Biochemical Investigations of Human Milk Oligosaccharides as Adjuvants in the Antimicrobial Arms Race.Julie Talbert (PI), Chemistry; Sabrina Spicer, Chemistry; and Rebecca Moore, Ph.D., Infectious Diseases
  • Arousal quantification from a novel theory-driven neuroimaging. Xuan Wen (PI), Neuroscience; Alexander Maier, Ph.D., Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, Psychology; and Catherine Chang, Ph.D., Biomedical Engineering

Graduate students are invited to apply for the Spring 2024 Lacy-Fischer Fellowships for March 31. The selected proposals will be announced at the end of April. More information on application requirements, including application materials and application deadlines, can be found on the Graduate School website.

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