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Margeaux Gray

Needless to say, the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted life as we knew it. Biobehavioral health faculty and students are part of an interdisciplinary team at the forefront of studying the virus’s local effects. 

The Data 4 Action study is examining changes in COVID-19 prevalence and changes in the experiences of community residents, faculty/staff, and students related to the pandemic in Centre County. The project is a collaboration among Penn State’s Social Science Research Institute, the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences, and the Clinical and Translational Science Institute.

Orfeu Buxton, professor of biobehavioral health and director of the Sleep, Health & Society Collaboratory at Penn State, and Margeaux Gray, assistant research professor in biobehavioral health, are involved in the collection of hair samples from participants involved in the large, Data 4 Action study, which seeks to give a rich picture of the ways in which Centre County residents are feeling and responding to the pandemic.

A number of undergraduate students are working alongside Gray and Buxton. From tracking supplies for the study and assembling hair kits to completing quality assurance checks on the data, these students are key members of the group.

Megan Williams, a junior biobehavioral health major and Schreyer Honors College student, has been involved with the project since August and is in charge of ensuring that the hair samples are appropriately tracked, vacuum-packed and stored at ultra-low temperature. Before Megan and her team can store the samples, they are collected at the Clinical Research Center, where clinical staff are busy gathering samples from about 70 participants a day, along with surveys and blood samples.

“I find the work super exciting because ten years from now, when we are talking about COVID-19, how many people who were undergraduates at the time will be able to say that they took part in cutting edge research?” asked Williams. “I’m grateful to be part of it and think it’s a really important study for the community.”

Future funding is currently being sought in the hope that the Data 4 Action project can continue past its initial two years’ funding.

Details about the Centre County COVID-19 Data 4 Action Research Project can be found by visiting the Penn State Social Science Research Institute website.

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