Evolution of a First-Year Research Project

May 30, 2019

Philip Le ’22

Doing your own research can lead you to interesting places. And it can start with a class project like it did for Jasper Yang ’21 in Global Health, a Global Learning Program tutorial taught by Susan J. Ferguson, professor of sociology, and Shannon Hinsa-Leasure, associate professor biology, in spring 2018.

Venturing into Uncharted Waters: Yang’s Research Process and Discoveries

A few weeks into the semester, the students had to brainstorm some research topics of interest. For his research project, Yang decided to study emergency medical services (EMS) in the Americas. “In high school I had the opportunity to work for my local town ambulance as a certified EMT and learned so much about the importance of pre-hospital emergency care,” he says.

Yang also “began to notice a lack of discourse about this type of medical care in public health readings and discussions.” This motivated him to focus his research on EMS in Costa Rica and Cuba, 2 of the 3 countries the class visited during its course-embedded travel, plus the United States.

To provide further support for his research project, Yang conducted a literature review by looking at data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO), and a number of scientific articles from different journals.

“One of the most helpful articles that I found was actually written by a Grinnell alumna,” he says. “I was able to get into contact with Tela Ebersole ’16 to talk more about my research. She also helped me reach out to an actual Costa Rican Red Cross ambulance worker, who gave me a detailed and unique perspective on their pre-hospital emergency care system.”

By the time he made it to Costa Rica and Cuba, Yang was fully prepared with numerous questions for his research subjects, who ranged from doctors and medical school deans to children of an indigenous community. “This has allowed us to gather information from a great many different perspectives,” he explains.

However, at the same time, Yang found it challenging to process the enormous amount of input from not only his interviews but also the lectures along the way. There were “really long days full of travel and amazing lectures,” he says, “so I made sure to carry my notepad around with me everywhere.”

In spite of his good command of Spanish, Yang had difficulty communicating with the locals, which lightly interfered with his data collection process. Therefore, he had to rely on some proficient Spanish speakers in his class and the tour guides for translation.

Yared Melesse and students particpate in community engagement in Havana Cuba

Enhancing His Knowledge of EMS, Strengthening His Communication Skills

Yang found that “there is a lack of spending on pre-hospital emergency care relative to the healthcare industry.” He also learned that although the U.S. ambulance system is the oldest among the three, problems still exist in rural versus urban areas, though they are less severe than in Costa Rica or Cuba.

“The most important takeaway,” he says, “is the great importance of fast and adequate pre-hospital emergency care.”

This research project has given Yang a wonderful chance to both dig deeper into his past experiences in EMS and to participate in the Student Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activity Symposium 2019 as a second-year biology major. “Presenting research is something that I think all students should at some point do and something that I definitely want to do again.”

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