Getting to Know the Student Researchers

Kristen Little

Kristen Little at the 2012 Student Research Forum. Photo by Micki Leventhal

Kristen Little, Rebekah Ciribassi and Romeo Love were all taking the anthropology course “Medicine, Culture and Society” when they were given the opportunity to do additional research under the guidance of Professor Crystal Patil.

“I wanted to get some research under my belt before I graduated and I was particularly interested in SCD because it runs in my family,” explained Little, who graduated in May with a BS in anthropology. Her work began with an independent study focusing on the pain experience and treatment of pain with opioids. “I began doing interviews at the UIC Sickle Cell Center and finally the project evolved to focus on how people treat their pain—from alternative approaches including acupuncture, massage and Ayurvedic medicine, to standard prescription medication such as morphine or Demerol. I was interested in neuropathic and nociceptive pain; that is what I did for my poster presentation ‘Sickle Cell Disease: the Experience and Treatment of Pain’ at the Student Research Forum this year.”

Romeo Love

Romeo Love. Photo by Micki Leventhal

Love, who graduated in anthropology in May 2011, is currently working on his masters of social work degree at UIC. He began his work with Patil’s group in summer 2010 looking at SCD patients’ fears of addiction to opiate medications, patients’ experiences at the emergency department, and pain-crisis care in the hospital. “I interviewed 15 patients that summer and developed a greater understanding of the disease. I transitioned this research into my internship program, where I interviewed hospitalized clients about their in-patient and post-discharge needs. Sometimes they were in a great deal of pain and didn’t want to talk. The research gave me the foundation to understand this population and improve my interpersonal communications skills at my internship. Anthropology is linked to so many other disciplines and it serves as a foundation for understanding different cultures and experiences as well as race relations.” Love also presented a poster at the annual Student Research Forum. He credits his SRF endeavor with helping him win a graduate assistantship with the Urban Public Policy Fellowship Program of UIC’s Institute for Policy and Civic Engagement, as well as his MLK, Jr. scholarship awarded to him from the National Association of Black Social Workers.

“Anthropology is interdisciplinary by nature,” agreed Little, whose double minor in biological sciences and international relations underscores the sweep of her interests. “You learn to be culturally relative, and for the future—no matter what I decide to pursue—I know I will have a background in multiple subjects.” Little transitioned her U.S.-based sickle cell project to conduct SCD research in Senegal, a trip that was assisted by a LASURI award.

Rebekah Cirribassi

Rebekah Ciribassi presented her research to the LAS Board of Visitors in May. Photo by Micki Leventhal

Ciribassi came to UIC with international travel already on her resume. As a student at Cary High School, she participated in the Rotary Club Youth Exchange program, spending her final year of high school in Australia. At UIC, she began taking classes with Dr. Patil and discovered her interest in medical anthropology.

“My first paper for Dr. Patil looked at how colonialism negatively impacted the education and health care systems in Mali. Then I did a study abroad research project in Italy during the summer of 2010 and got hooked. I wanted to combine research and educational issues. I took Dr. Patil up on her offer to join the SCD group and started my project in the fall of 2010,” said Ciribassi.

Over a 15-month period, she used qualitative methods to identify barriers to success for young people with SCD in Chicago schools. The pain and neuro-cognitive challenges caused by SCD is an “invisible disability” that is not readily recognized by school teachers, administrators and peers; the range of physical and social barriers, especially when considered within the context of class and race, can have consequences for success in the education system. Her research supports the idea that policies regarding accommodations for these children, as well as support systems for their parents, need to be developed. Ciribassi is now working with Patil on the anti-bullying program.

Ciribassi graduated magna cum laude in December 2011. She received a University Fellowship and began her MA/PhD studies this fall in the anthropology and global health program under the direction of Patil.

Dylon Busser

Dylon Busser speaks about student research opportunities at the Fall 2011 Freshman Town Hall. Photo by Matthew Kaplan

Dylon Busser began working with Patil’s group during his junior year, after meeting the dedicated mentor when both spoke at the LAS Freshman Town Hall Meeting in August 2011 where Patil informed incoming students about the Global Community Learning Certificate and Busser discussed study abroad opportunities. “I had just come back from a study abroad in Thailand where I took classes in medical anthropology and then here I was meeting Dr. Patil,” said the biological sciences major.

“Much of what I’ve done so far has been background work for my 2012 LASURI project, but I’ve also done some work for Dr. Patil organizing all the data that has come in to the lab from the ongoing SCD initiative. Our computer-based system has been a work in progress and during spring term I made some improvements so she can go through and see what kind of big picture stuff she can pull out from all the assorted individual projects.”

Supported by his LASURI award, Busser will conduct field work at the UIC Hospital and SC Center, gathering data on the interactions between patients and care providers including floor staff and nurses. “Those interactions make or break patients’ experiences,” he explained. “We’re comparing different hospital floors. Right now patients come in with pain crisis or other medical issues related to SCD, get admitted to different floors and have widely differing experiences.”

Busser is planning on going on to medical school. “So much of medical education is the biomedical focus of treating a disease with chemicals,” he said. “There is little to speak of regarding understanding how you interact with patients and how that affects health. I will have plenty of opportunity to do petri dish-based laboratory research later, but Dr. Patil’s group and the LASURI support provide me with the chance to study the anthropological aspects of the practice of medicine. By the time I graduate, my total engagement with the project will be two years; what a great opportunity for an undergraduate!