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Sunday, September 24, 2023

Academics & Research

Sizable grants spur UH research

The College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences was awarded a total of approximately $4 million in grants through various organizations during the last calendar year.

Each year, grants such as these go to research projects in hopes that these projects will help society and advance UH as a university.

“The whole Tier One push is about connecting research and students,” said Associate Dean of Faculty and Research Steven Craig. “The difference between a teaching university and a research university is that at a research university, the students are more directly involved, and that’s what we’re aiming for.”

Grant projects cover a variety of topics and ideas and can come from any department within CLASS, but they share an end goal of having a positive impact on society. Examples of this work can be found at UH’s Anxiety and Health Research Lab and Substance Use Treatment Clinic. This group is a help clinic for people with issues such as behavioral health issues or drug addictions, and it is also a laboratory used to educate students in related fields. Nine different grant research projects are underway at the clinic.

“We have a number of different grant projects at any given time. For example, one study is working on addressing anxiety in people who are HIV-positive and applying new treatment methods for people struggling to maintain their medication. Another is exploring smoking addictions,” said professor Michael Zvolensky, director of the center.

“The study observes how smokers go about consuming their cigarettes, in ways such as how long they inhale or how long they go between inhales, and combines this with what we call ‘smoking topography,’ which observes smoking’s role in their sense of anxiety. The assessment is very in-depth in nature.”

Another example of a psychology-based study is being run at the Sleep and Anxiety Center for Kids, titled “When Parents Go to War: Psychosocial Adjustment among the Families of Deployed Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom Service Members.” More casually known as the Military Family Project, this study, funded by the Department of Defense, takes an in-depth look at the psychological effects of spouses and children of those serving in the military. The study takes a unique approach, forgoing question-and-answer sessions in favor of observing biological measures of stress to help avoid unintentional bias. The researchers take bio-readings and perform sleep studies with members of families of all walks of life.

“Throughout my own military career, I saw a lot of my buddies’ families destroyed during our employment cycle,” said psychology graduate student Simon Lau, project coordinator for the Military Family Project.

“I could only do so much to help since I wasn’t trained, but I wanted to get educated so I could help military families more directly. Hopefully with this research, we’ll be able to develop more preventative or interventional ways to deal with these stressors before the deployment cycle begins.”

Most grants to CLASS students fall under one of three departments: psychology, communication disorders or health and human performance.

“These departments receive so many grants because the money is absolutely necessary for their research,” Craig said. “That’s not to say that other departments, like English or history, never receive grant money. They tend to use it in other ways, such as a community outreach program, an out-of-the-norm trip or to hire more grad students.”

A project from a different CLASS department that receives grant money is the Gulf Coast Food Project. The GCFP is a group venture by documentary filmmaking professor Temple Northup and history professors Todd Romero and Monica Perales that attempts to take a close, intimate look at the varied cultures of Houston, using the subject of food to bring them all together. The project encompasses audio and video projects and was awarded a $100,000 grant from the National Endowment for Humanities last December.

“The thing you have to remember is you can’t have a class called Creativity 101,” Craig said. “If you want to have a top-notch school, you need to integrate students and research into unique, creative projects so that everyone benefits.”

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