MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Traci Jarrett, a Ph.D. student in the West Virginia University Public Health Sciences Program, wants to develop an instrument that will measure social capital in college students to see if there is a relationship between it and health behaviors, such as smoking. To help her in that endeavor, she recently received a grant for more than $60,000 from the National Institutes on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

Social capital comes from the networks, understanding and values that shape the way people relate to each other and participate in social activities.  It is a function of how engaged one is in his or her community.

Through her research, Jarrett has discovered that certain factors may affect one’s social capital. In the study titled, “The Environmental Context of Smoking: Measuring Social Capital in College,” Jarrett and her advisor Kimberly Horn, Ed.D., associate professor in the Department of Community Medicine, plan to examine how engaged students become in the campus community, how they maintain ties to their hometown and if those are associated with smoking.
“This really has not been studied in a college population. However, it has been shown in some adult populations that the more social capital you have, the less you smoke. Others have shown the more social capital you have the more you smoke. I really want to explore what that relationship is like,” Jarrett said.

Jarrett credits her prior experience in directing her to this subject.

“I focused much of my undergraduate career on college health. I was a residence director at Fairmont State University and a sexual health educator at the University of Michigan. So, I really want to focus on the 18 to 24 year olds and how the college environment can both facilitate those behaviors and also protect against negative health behaviors,” Jarrett said.

Jarrett is the second public health sciences Ph.D. student at WVU to receive this type of grant.

Recently, Ph.D. student John Blosnich was awarded the same type of award to study his research project, also related with smoking. Both of these students are mentored by Dr. Horn.

“John and I submitted around the same time. Dr. Horn is an absolute wonderful mentor, and she was instrumental in making sure this grant application was ready to be submitted. She also helped me conceptualize the project from the beginning. She was definitely key in making it happen,” Jarrett said.

Jarrett anticipates graduating at the end of this research project, which should be within two years. After graduation, she plans to stay in this area of research. “I definitely would like to keep studying how the environment and the social environment impact health behaviors, especially in the college population,” she said.

For more information: Angela Jones, HSC News Service, 304-293-7087
tp/asj: 03-31-11