ASPPH logo


School & Program Updates

School & Program Updates

Iowa Builds Innovative Research Collaboration with Wheaton College

The Iowa Summer Institute in Biostatistics (ISIB) at the University of Iowa College of Public Health has been drawing talented students from around the nation since 2008, but this year, one team’s research experience won’t end with the last day of the program — instead, the students will continue their work under the supervision of a faculty member at their home institution, along with guidance from their UI faculty mentor. The ultimate goal is to produce a published paper.

The idea for the collaborative project grew out of feedback from faculty at small colleges that refer students to the Iowa Summer Institute in Biostatistics.

“It came to our attention, during the 2017 annual Joint Statistical Meetings, that some of our faculty contacts in small liberal arts colleges couldn’t keep pace with their research agenda due to heavy teaching loads,” notes Dr. Gideon Zamba, UI professor of biostatistics and director of ISIB. “Collaborating with faculty from Research-1 institutions was appealing to them. Given that many of our summer research projects can easily lead to publishable research, we decided to pilot test a new collaboration that will build stronger ties with students’ home institutions.”

The inaugural faculty partner in the pilot project is Dr. Darcie Delzell, associate professor of mathematics at Wheaton College, a private liberal arts college located about an hour west of Chicago. Three of Dr. Delzell’s students participated in this year’s summer institute and were mentored at Iowa by Dr. Brian Smith, professor of biostatistics.

The institute, which is funded by the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, gives priority for admission to underrepresented minorities and disadvantaged students and to students from small liberal arts colleges that lack a substantial statistical curriculum.

“Wheaton offers courses in statistics, but doesn’t have a statistics department. So the students have had some exposure to stats at their college, but are getting more through our summer program,” says Dr. Smith. “They’ll take their project back to Wheaton and continue to work on it with their mentor as an independent research project for which they’ll get class credit.”

“I thought the opportunity for faculty at a research university and a primarily teaching college to work together to give students a top-notch research experience was a great idea,” says Dr. Delzell about the pilot project. “It not only allows the students to experience real statistical research, but also gives them the opportunity to take this research all the way to publication of the results. There are a lot of summer-only opportunities for students to do research, but it’s rare that research can continue under the mentoring of a faculty member at the students’ own institutions.”

For the three Wheaton College students — Ms. Tabitha Peter, Ms. Michelle Smith, and Ms. Sara Magnuson, who will all be entering their senior year when they return to school this fall — the summer institute has offered a number of benefits.

“For me, deciding to participate in the institute was a perfect opportunity to gain an introduction to biostatistics while learning how to apply statistical techniques to scientific research in the health-related fields,” said Ms. Smith, a math major. “I’ve enjoyed being part of a cohort of students with different backgrounds and having the opportunity to learn alongside and from each of them.”

For their research project the three students are developing statistical models for medical imaging screening of patients at high risk for lung cancer.

[Photo: Ms. Michelle Smith, Dr. Brian Smith, Ms. Tabitha Peter, Ms. Sara Magnuson]