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Graduate students present research to lawmakers in Raleigh

BOONE – Three graduate-level research projects from Appalachian State University that could impact the state’s economy were showcased at a recent North Carolina Graduate Education Day held at the Legislative Complex in Raleigh. The first-ever event, sponsored by the North Carolina Conference of Graduate Schools, highlighted the significance of graduate education to the future of the state.

Four Appalachian students participated. Their research topics were blood pressure reduction; the relationship between land cover and water quality; and affordable self-sustaining, zero-energy home design and construction.

“We picked the best research projects from our campus that have the most relevance to the future of the state,” said Edelma Huntley, dean of graduate and research studies. “What is also interesting is that two of these students came to North Carolina for graduate education because of the out-of-state tuition program called the Academic Common Market. They’re not residents, but they chose to come here and will probably stay in North Carolina.” The Academic Common Market allows out-of-state students whose home institutions do not offer their chosen degree program to pay in-state tuition rates in North Carolina.

The event featured presentations from competitively selected graduate students from the 19 higher educational institutions in the state with graduate (master’s, doctoral) programs. The day consisted of poster presentations and meetings with students’ legislative representatives.

The selected research projects were as follows:

Appalachian’s Vascular Biology and Autonomic Studies Laboratory has been investigating ways to reduce blood pressure in adults without the use of prescription medication. Exercise science student Chelsea Curry shared data gathered in a gender-comparison study of men and women ages 40 to 60 and the effects of different types of exercise on their cardiovascular health. She found that cardiovascular training effectively decreased blood pressure in males and females alike, and that weight training reduced women’s blood pressure better than it did men’s blood pressure. This information, coupled with future studies, can help increase citizens’ overall health and decrease dependence on out-of-pocket insurance costs. Curry is a student in the Department of Health, Leisure and Exercise Science in Appalachian’s College of Health Sciences.

Impervious surfaces, such as roads, rooftops and parking lots are known to have negative effects on water quality of streams, while forest land cover near streams can have positive effects on water quality. Geography student Christopher Coffey examined the influences of total percentages of both man-made and natural land cover – as well as riparian buffers set at various distances – on water quality in the headwaters of the New River. His research suggests limiting the amount of impervious surfaces that occur within 100 meters of streams and establishing a 50-meter forested stream buffer zone. Coffey is a student in the Department of Geography and Planning in Appalachian’s College of Arts and Sciences.

With the goal to educate the public about the benefits, ease and importance of energy-efficient design, appropriate technology students David Lee and Katharine Lea are leading an interdisciplinary collaboration to design and construct a self-sustaining, net zero-energy home. Their structure, called The Solar Homestead, will be transported to Washington, D.C., for entry in the international U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2011 competition. The core house draws power from a photovoltaic canopy, supported by outbuilding modules or OMs, which are reminiscent of traditional lean-to sheds. These OMs are arranged to bring the focus of the homestead to a comfortable “great porch,” much like the traditional architecture of the region. Lee and Lea are graduate students in the College of Fine and Applied Arts.

Appalachian’s Cratis D. Williams Graduate School helps individuals reach the next level in their career by offering 52 degree programs at the doctoral, specialist and master’s levels and 14 graduate certificates. The graduate school serves approximately 2,500 students, about half of whom attend class in one of 20 locations across Western North Carolina in special cohorts designed to meet the needs of working professionals.