JOHNSON CITY (March 7, 2023) – East Tennessee State University launched its second cohort of the ETSU Mentored Substance Use Research (EMSUR) training program, designed to train substance use researchers across multiple disciplines in order to improve health outcomes in Central Appalachia.
A total of 14 ETSU graduate and undergraduate students were selected for the second cohort and are paired with a faculty mentor to train them in substance use research.
Seven faculty members are participating as mentors in the program, which is led by Dr. Manik Ahuja, assistant professor in the Department of Health Services Management and Policy in the ETSU College of Public Health.
Ahuja, a trained substance use researcher, spearheaded the EMSUR program at ETSU after he was selected as one of five faculty members from across the country to attend New York University’s Substance Abuse Research Education and Training (SARET) Visiting Mentor Development Program.
SARET, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), trains future professionals in substance use disorder (SUD) research. NYU’s Visiting Mentor Development Program prepares faculty to create similar programs at their home institutions.
Ahuja partnered with ETSU’s Addiction Science Center in the College of Public Health, putting out a call for applicants in 2022. Students were matched with faculty mentors based on their interests. In addition to doing mentored research over 12 weeks this spring, they will complete a modular, web-based curriculum through NYU, which prepares them for SUD-related research careers.
“EMSUR presents a unique opportunity to train the next generation of substance use researchers, particularly in the Central Appalachia region,” said Ahuja. “As the region continues to be disproportionately burdened with both substance use and mental health disorders, there is an urgent need to reduce these health disparities. ETSU is well-positioned to continue to lead in this area, given its strong interdisciplinary/interprofessional focus, its infrastructure and track record of successful collaborations across campus.
“During our first cohort, 15 students were trained across four colleges, and we aim to continue these efforts this spring and in the coming years. I am excited to see the strong interest and passion of ETSU students and faculty who are interested in making an impact in the field of substance use/addiction research,” said Ahuja.
Third-year Quillen College of Medicine student Olivia Knoll applied and was accepted into the EMSUR cohort. She will be mentored by Dr. Brooke Schmeichel, assistant professor in Quillen’s Department of Biomedical Sciences.
“So many mothers in our Appalachian Highlands region struggle with addiction, and it can impact entire families in terrible and long-lasting ways,” said Knoll. “My goal as a future OB/GYN is to empower patients to find meaningful recovery from substance addiction and give their babies the best possible start in life. It’s exciting to participate in the research that Dr. Schmeichel is doing with animal models to better understand neonatal abstinence syndrome. Her mentorship, plus spending time with colleagues from other disciplines combating the opioid epidemic, is helping me develop skills I’ll use throughout my career to empower patients to break their cycles of addiction.”
Ashlee Eastman is one of two undergraduate EMSUR trainees. She attended a Leading Voices in Public Health lecture at ETSU by Sam Quinones, author of “Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic,” and was inspired by the discussion of Quinones’ firsthand experience interviewing those struggling with opioid addiction and the nuances that many do not speak about.
Another EMSUR trainee, Eva Jessee, said “As a nurse practitioner, I will see a variety of patients on a daily basis. The training that I receive through EMSUR will enable me to better target at-risk patients and work toward helping them lead healthy lives. It will also connect me with a host of resources and evidence-based practices that will positively influence client care.”
The following students and mentors are participating in EMSUR:
- Esther Adebayo-Abikoye (College of Public Health), mentored by Dr. Mary Ellen Wright, College of Nursing
- Cameron Berard (College of Public Health), mentored by Dr. Holly Wei, College of Nursing
- Sai Dwarampudi (Quillen College of Medicine), mentored by Dr. Andrea Clements, Department of Psychology
- Ashlee Eastman (College of Public Health), mentored by Dr. Siva Digavalli, Bill Gatton College of Pharmacy
- James Eastman (College of Public Health), mentored by Dr. Manik Ahuja, Department of Health Services Management and Policy
- Isaiah Hart (College of Nursing), mentored by Dr. Manik Ahuja
- Kali Holt (Quillen College of Medicine), mentored by Dr. Brooke Schmeichel, Department of Biomedical Sciences
- Eva Jessee (College of Nursing), mentored by Dr. Holly Wei
- Arpana Karki (College of Public Health), mentored by Dr. Manik Ahuja
- Olivia Knoll (Quillen College of Medicine), mentored by Dr. Brooke Schmeichel
- Charles Olomofe (College of Public Health), mentored by Dr. Holly Wei
- Krista Petersen (College of Public Health), mentored by Dr. Mary Ellen Wright