Michael Gallo ’19
“Exploring the Intersection of Justice and Health”
Major/Minor: Biochemistry, public health
Hometown: Clayton, NC
Project Advisor: Dr. James Teufel
Describe your project.
Over the course of the summer, Dr. Teufel and I worked on three projects that sought to explore the relationship between justice and health. We accomplished this by conducting research related to that concept at three different levels: individual, domestic, and international. The individual level research was a longitudinal study that assessed the impact of receiving civil legal aid services on the economic self-sufficiency and poverty status of women experiencing intimate partner violence. For the domestic and international levels, we conducted ecological studies using data from the Justice Index and the World Justice Project to analyze whether variable measures of access to justice were predictive of health outcomes such as life expectancy and infant mortality.
How did your project come about?
In fall 2017 I did an Independent Study with Dr. Teufel where he first introduced me to the theoretical framework regarding how justice is related to health. I further explored this topic through readings and discussions, and then we laid some of the groundwork that would eventually inform our SOAR project. I approached Dr. Teufel this past spring about continuing the research we had done during my independent study by applying for SOAR and we brainstormed the research questions that guided our work.
What’s the best part about working with your faculty mentor? What valuable insights has he brought to your project?
The best part about working with Dr. Teufel is his endless expertise and insight on anything and everything related to public health. He is truthfully the best mentor a student could ask for and has challenged me to work to my full potential, especially this summer, by guiding me in the right directions but letting me overcome the challenges of academic research on my own and discover the joy of delving into a topic that I am incredibly passionate about. Dr. Teufel did a phenomenal job helping me to think about how to frame my research topics and disseminate our results to an interdisciplinary audience. Oh, and he happens to be the most sarcastic and funny person I have ever met.
What was your biggest obstacle?
Honestly the biggest obstacle I faced this summer was that my computer would consistently crash in the middle of my research and I never quite got into the routine of regularly saving whatever it was I happened to be working on. Dr. Teufel and I both have a unique habit of opening a thousand tabs, a few dozen Excel spreadsheets, and a handful of SPSS databases all at once, and just as it stresses out most people who see our laptops, at times my MacBook would have enough and decide to quit on me, setting me back to square one on several instances.
What has been your biggest takeaway from this experience?
My biggest takeaway from SOAR was that public health research, particularly my focus on the association of access to justice and health outcomes, is 100% something I want to continue exploring moving forward in my future career. Not only did I genuinely enjoy the research process, but it was also gratifying to put ideas and results out there that could one day potentially help to inform policies and practices in the field. Another key takeaway from our work was that the United States performs rather poorly in many dimensions of justice and health compared to similar high-income democratic countries and has much room to improve—both broad issues that I will have to better understand and work toward improving as an aspiring physician.
What was the result of your project?
The results of all of our projects supported the hypotheses we had made at the beginning of the summer. Obtaining legal aid services had a significant impact on improving economic self-sufficiency and decreasing poverty status for women who were experiencing intimate partner violence. Access to justice was a remarkably excellent predictor of all of the key health outcomes we analyzed in our domestic and international studies. In fact, this dimension was a better predictor of health than other well-documented predictors such as the Gini Index of Income Inequality and healthcare expenditure per capita. The predictions we had before starting our research made intuitive sense, but now we are able to back them up with replicable quantitative results demonstrating the significance of our research findings.
Overall, how do you feel about being awarded this opportunity? Why should other students take advantage of the SOAR program at Moravian College?
I was incredibly honored to be selected for the SOAR program at Moravian. It was a very competitive year and not all proposals were accepted, so kudos to every one of the students who were a part of this year’s cohort. Graduate and professional programs stress the importance of undergraduate research and after being a part of SOAR it is easy to see why. I would highly recommend that other students who have a great working relationship with a professor, and an area in their respective field that they want to explore more, participate in SOAR. Learning in the classroom is one thing, but seeking out answers to tough questions and discovering new results is what makes research so exciting and worthwhile.
Do you plan to expand upon your research?
Even though SOAR has ended, I will be continuing my summer research into this upcoming school year. I will have a work study position as a research assistant under Dr. Teufel and I will be taking our results for the various projects we worked on this summer and writing manuscripts to be published in several different academic journals. Further down the line, we will also be working on other studies related to civil legal aid and social return on investment.
Will you present this research outside the SOAR presentations?
This summer I presented all three of my SOAR projects and one project I collaborated on with another student, William Pelletiers, at the Landmark Summer Research Symposium hosted at Juniata College. We are planning on presenting the same four projects at the upcoming informatics conference hosted by Dr. Ben Coleman at Moravian College, at the National Conference for Undergraduate Research, any SOAR-affiliated conferences at Moravian College, and potentially at Pennsylvania legal aid conferences and public health conferences during the upcoming academic year. Also, since my project was co-sponsored by the Center of Intercultural Advancement, I am anticipating at least one extra presentation directly related to that sponsorship.