Undergrads learn flexibility in community-engaged research

Early this summer, Eric Prince’s undergraduate research appeared to be going great. A Virginia Commonwealth University senior majoring in health, physical education and exercise science, Prince had just been awarded one of the university’s three undergraduate fellowships for community-engaged and translational research.

With financial backing for his research — a rarity for undergraduates — Prince was working with Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU’s Teaching, Encouragement, Exercise, Nutrition and Support (T.E.E.N.S) weight management program.

“We hoped to find whether or not the overhydration of fat-free mass (bone, muscle, minerals) returned to normal following the weight management program,” Prince said. “In adults, this overhydration of the fat-free mass typically remains the same following weight change, so a finding that differed in adolescents would be very important.”

Prince measured participants’ overall fitness at the beginning of the program and planned to measure again three months later, but at the three-month mark he noticed something unexpected: Many of the research participants weren’t coming back.

“I definitely felt frustration — frustration at the situation and frustration that the research wouldn’t be completed,” Prince said.

Despite the presumed setback, Herb Hill, director of VCU’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, said Prince was in exactly the right situation.

“When we talk about success with a student research project, we’re not talking about whether students got the results they expected or whether they got from point A to point B without any problems,” Hill said. “For a student at the undergraduate level to have an opportunity to engage with challenges and have to adapt as obstacles present themselves is really what these fellowships are all about.”

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