From Internship to Publication: Cheyenne Thompson Takes It On

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Health Science major Cheyenne Thompson is a self-described “total freak for health insurance.” In fact, one of her goals is to read the entire Affordable Care Act before she graduates — which is over a thousand pages, she notes. “I absolutely love health insurance. The way that it affects every single person is something that is super impactful.”

That draw to big issues is why Thompson decided to major in Health Science. “I want to be impactful in a way that helps a lot of people at a population level,” she says. It’s also why she jumped at the chance to intern with assistant professor Samantha Rosenthal on a research project that may ultimately affect huge populations of people.

Finding Her Internship

How Thompson’s internship came about speaks volumes about students’ relationships with faculty at JWU. Shipe went to see Cara Sammartino, chair of Health Science, and said she was looking for an internship opportunity. Sammartino then connected her with Rosenthal.

“Cara told me that Cheyenne is interested in getting a master's in public health or research,” says Rosenthal. “And she asked if I had any research projects going on that she could participate in. I asked Cheyenne to send me her résumé and we met. I told her about this research project and the role she could play. It was just a good fit.”

Rosenthal’s data-based research project is a collaborative effort with two other researchers, one of whom is a doctor teaching at Harvard Medical School. “It looks at the relationship between adverse childhood experiences and long term poor health outcomes across all organ systems in the body,” she says. “We’re looking at kidney failure, depression, heart disease, vision problems…so it's really just this whole host of poor health outcomes.”

"It's highly unusual for any undergraduate student to have this opportunity."

The connection between adverse childhood experiences — everything from physical and sexual abuse to substance abuse within the household — and poor health later in life might be hard for some people to grasp, says Rosenthal. But the connection is real. “A lot of the research has to do with different causal pathways and mechanisms by which you go from having these adverse childhood experiences to all these poor health outcomes.”

She says that one of those causal pathways is based on epigenetics, which is the study of the heritable changes that can turn genes on and off. “You inherit certain things from the epigenome of your biological parents,” says Rosenthal. “Even from your maternal grandparents as well through the maternal line, where we see that certain things, but specifically stress and chronic stress, literally change the molecules attached to your DNA.”

Thompson’s role is to prepare the research results for publication in a peer-reviewed journal, help identify a suitable publication to submit it to, and also manage the ‘policy action’ section of the paper. According to Rosenthal, that means she will identify “different treatment programs, policies and practices that can be implemented that can be effective in addressing either having adverse childhood experiences in the first place, or kind of interrupting the pathways that go from those experiences to all these poor health outcomes.”

Reaping the Benefits

“That’s super exciting for me because I really want to go into policy and I really want to go into analysis of policy. Writing peer-reviewed articles is a very big part of the field,” says Thompson. “Most undergraduates don't get the opportunity to work with people who are distinguished in their field, and don't get the opportunity to work on something of that magnitude. Which is really scary when I think about it because I personally don't think by any means I'm at that level of expertise. Sam has made me feel like I can contribute to the paper, which is really nice.”

“It's highly unusual for any undergraduate student to have the opportunity to work on a manuscript that will be submitted for publication,” Rosenthal notes. “So when we finish this paper and submit it and it gets published in a peer-reviewed journal, Cheyenne will be highly competitive for entry-level research based jobs or any master's of public health program or any other graduate level program where research is involved.”