Spit for Science is an effort to create a university-wide research experience for VCU students in an area of great importance for college students – alcohol use and mental health related outcomes, which affect 1 in 4 individuals over the age of 18.
This effort will capitalize on the expertise of VCU faculty and bring VCU’s research expertise in substance use and behavioral and emotional health “home” to VCU in ways that will benefit our students and our university community. The project is led by Dr. Kenneth Kendler, Director of the Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics (VIPBG), and Dr. Danielle Dick, Director of the College Behavioral and Emotional Health Institute (COBE). VIPBG is a world-renowned research institute focusing on genetic and environmental risk factors for psychiatric and substance use disorders. COBE brings together researchers from across the university who study behavioral and emotional health and has the goal of promoting behavioral and emotional health through the integration of research with policy, programming, and practice. The themes of Spit for Science are also closely aligned with the VCU Quest for Distinction.
"Become a leader among national research universities in providing all students with high quality…experiences focused on inquiry, discovery, and innovation…": The Spit for Science project represents an opportunity to integrate research into the VCU student experience and curriculum and create a shared research opportunity across VCU students. It creates an educational experience unique to VCU in a high priority area.
The project increases student awareness of the research process, a major mission of universities, (1) by having the opportunity to be participants, (2) by learning about the kinds of results coming out of the study (through follow-up newsletters and talks around campus), and (3) through the ability to be involved in coordinating and running the study and to earn research credit by so doing. We would like the students to "take ownership" of the project, explaining it and recruiting peers, being involved in data collection and other aspects of the study coordination, and having an opportunity to analyze data and write honors theses based on the de-identified data.
"Attain distinction as a fully integrated urban, public research university through contributions in human health, research, scholarship and creative expression that advance knowledge and enhance the quality of life."
The study provides the opportunity to educate students (and the public more generally, through parent and community outreach) on a cutting edge, high priority research area critical to human health. Further, it represents an opportunity to put VCU on the map as launching a major effort at a large research university in this high priority, high impact area in a way that is not currently being done at any other major university in the country.
"Become a national model for community engagement and regional impact."
Not only will the project engage the VCU and Richmond community in dialogue about these important issues, but the results from the study can also be used to feedback into the prevention and intervention programming at VCU, providing a direct effort to improve student health and wellness. Further, the topics of study (genetics, alcohol and other substance use, and emotional health) are important topics that are high-publicity and that have widespread implications.
Accordingly, we hope the study will inspire dialogue about many important issues facing our society from the future of healthcare and medicine to the ethical issues surrounding genetics, such as implications for discrimination at the level of employment or health insurance; how genetics affects our perceptions of autonomy, individual freedom, and personal choice and responsibility; the potential for "designer babies," etc. The topic is rich for many different discussion directions to engage VCU students with the possibility to integrate into themes across the curricula in departments ranging from the sciences to the arts. Further, the study will help us to understand predictors of academic success and performance at VCU.