Student Profile: Sophomore Public Health Major Jordan Smith and Associate Professor Kamesha Spates, Ph.D.

How did you first get involved in the Sophomore Research Experience?

Headshot of Jordan Smith

Smith: I participated in the Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) at Kent last summer after working in research in my first year of school. I ended up reaching out about the Sophomore Research Experience during the summer program to continue into the fall.  

What made you decide to work as a mentor for the Sophomore Research Experience?

Dr. Spates: I got involved with the Sophomore Research Experience program because I am passionate about demystifying the research process for undergraduate students. I have also seen first-hand the way that working with undergraduate students at this level can change the trajectory of a student’s life after graduation. I see an increase in their confidence levels and a mental shift in what they believe that they can go on to achieve.

Kamesha Spates Headshot

What kind of research did you do, and what part of your work are you most proud of?

Smith: Well, I have to start with what I am most proud of because it just happened recently! My research group—the Racial Justice Health Equity Research and Education Collaborative—submitted a manuscript (my first!) for review to a journal! The manuscript is based on interviews with Congolese refugee women about their experience in the United States, and more specifically, how their cultural beliefs affected their experiences resettling. The information can then, hopefully, be further used by other researchers and advocates to provide culturally specific tools to aid Congolese refugee women and their families upon arrival to the United States. For some brief context, in 2019, about 43% of refugees resettled in the United States were from the Democratic Republic of Congo—so our research truly contributes to helping a large subset of the refugee population.

What kind of research did you work on, and how do you feel that your own experience helped your student's research process?

Dr. Spates: I can relate to my students on so many levels. I was a first-generation college student, from an underrepresented background, working two jobs while taking classes, hindered by imposter syndrome, and completely intimidated by research. Several of the students that I mentor today deal with these same things. I understand what my students are feeling when they sit down to discuss research for the first time. I was blessed enough to have great mentors as an undergraduate student that saw my potential. It is now my responsibility to pay it forward. I work to train the next generation of social scientists, health scholars, and practitioners to better understand and meet the needs of underserved communities. Therefore, my work with my current SRE scholar, Jordan Smith, has been centered around two projects. In the first, Jordan has worked with me to examine the experiences of Congolese refugee women living in the United States. For the second project, Jordan will work with me to better understand the experiences of Black Americans living with a clinically diagnosed form of depression.

How do you think the experience impacted you as a student, and what did you take away from it?

Smith: I am a premed student, and I think with that path really comes a tendency to sort of “drown” into the life and physical sciences throughout the years. We all want our doctors to really understand the science of medicine, but I also believe that medicine relies heavily on the art of practice too. My goal was intentional in getting deeply invested in the social sciences as well as part of my academic career because I authentically feel that it will mold me into a more compassionate and well-rounded physician and person.

How do you feel the program helps students grow? 

Dr. Spates: This program provides invaluable professional development and financial support at a critical time. It is difficult for a student to participate in research outside of what’s required in the classroom if they are also working to financially make ends meet during their free time. Also, the Sophomore Research Experience provides students with tools to help them to get the most out of their time with their mentors. My previous SRE student is now thriving in a top Master’s in Public Health program on the east coast, and she is still very committed to research. I have no doubt that I will be saying the same thing about Jordan Smith in a few years. He is a pheromonal student with a keen eye toward using research to answer real world questions. 

What do you feel is the most beneficial part of working with a mentor during the research?

Smith: Truthfully, more than anything I appreciate the opportunity to build close relationships with my professors. While the actual work I am doing in research does provide insight, I know that my mentors all have far more experience (in research and life) than I can get in four years and there is a lot to be learned from their stories. As somebody that is very interested in pretty much all fields, my focus in undergraduate research is to narrow down which interest I want to turn into a career—I currently am associated with three labs on campus, all in different fields of study! 

What do you feel is the best part of working with a student researcher?

Dr. Spates: I enjoy being present to see first-hand when the “light bulb” goes off. When the student realizes that the research process is not as intimidating as they once thought. Hearing them say, “I can do this!” I live by Benjamin Hardy’s philosophy! He says, “Anything that you’ll ever do well will be the result of high-quality mentoring. If you suck at something, it’s because you haven’t received quality mentoring in that thing.” I truly believe this!

What advice would you give to other students considering participating in the Sophomore Research Experience?

Smith: The short answer: Do it! It is among my strongest of opinions that if you are interested in something (or think you are) that you should go all in with it. There is so much to gain from undergraduate research. It may be that you learn you want to choose a research career, but it could also be that you absolutely don’t want that—I don’t think you can truly know until you commit to it! Even if you end up not being involved in research long term, I think it is a great opportunity to build relationships and to dig deeper into a subject you learn about in class and understand the process that goes into translating some phenomenon from the world into information taught in the classroom.

What do you feel is the best way for a mentor to help guide the student during his or her research experience?

Dr. Spates: I would advise other professors to just go for it! I realize that we have huge demands on our time. But I encourage you to think back to how far you have come in your education journey. Think back to your “undergraduate” self. It was often the small sacrifices that someone made for us that got us to that next stage. There is no one way to mentor a student, but there are a few things that to keep in mind. First, it is important to meet the student where they are. Second, do what works for you, but just do it.