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Eleanor Battison M.A. ‘14 and professor Delishia Pittman explore coping mechanisms for African Americans in three interrelated studies

November 13, 2013

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In 2013, Eleanor Battison was in search of a topic for her master’s thesis. A student in the Professional Mental Health Counseling program, she knew she wanted to research culture and acculturation, the ways in which people develop worldviews and how people identify with cultural groups. But she needed a sharper focus for a research question, and a population to study.

Delishia Pittman, assistant professor of counseling psychology, had hired Battison for a number of research projects throughout her studies, so Pittman was a natural person for Battison to turn to for guidance.

“I came to her and said, ‘I want to do these things but I don’t have access to data and populations,’” Battison said. The timing was perfect. Pittman was in the process of working on two research projects that she needed help with. If Battison signed on, she could hone her research skills and gain access to the data Pittman was working with, using it to pursue her own investigations.  So, Battison says,“I attached my interests to hers.”

Collaborative Study

Pittman’s research projects focused on how people use alcohol and other substances to cope with traumatic experiences. One focused on college-age African-Americans in Oregon and a second focused on a community sample of African-Americans at high risk for substance abuse. The last population, Pittman said, can be difficult to access within the state.

By assisting with Pittman’s research, Battison sharpened her writing skills and grew proficient with sophisticated data-collection software. Guided by her mentor, she also began to craft her own survey questions and determined how she would present them in her thesis research. “She wanted to study how sexual behavior is a sort of coping mechanism,” Pittman said. “That was the place where a conversation about merging our research started.”

Battison’s questions contributed to her professor’s project, complementing Pittman’s questionnaires on culture and acculturation with her own on sexual health.

Next Steps

This collaborative mode of research has given both student and professor more enthusiasm for their research. But the benefits are more tangible, too. Without Pittman’s connections Battison might have scrambled to find study participants.

Pittman’s two studies have now progressed to the data-gathering phase. To screen participants for the community study, Battison is working with fellow student Shannon Mouzon to conduct a series of hour-long interviews. Pittman shaped the students’ understanding of ethical considerations and the screening process, Mouzan said, and the professor’s work sets a standard to aspire to. Pittman asked for the students’ input throughout the project, all the while giving them detailed feedback.

“She has been really great about explaining what she needs and being really supportive,” Battison said.

For Pittman, scheduled meetings with her student researchers keep her from getting distracted by other projects, or floating in academic jargon. “We sort of have to operate at 30,000 feet,” Pittman said. “Students help keep us connected to a ground-level view.”

To learn more about Delishia Pittman, visit her faculty profile.

Caleb Diehl B.A. ‘16 contributed to this story.

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