Doctoral students explore interdisciplinary approaches to research with Lacy-Fischer grant funding

For projects examining a wide range of situations—from migrant journeys across borders to the effects of medical offices affirming LGBTQ+ patients to research about connecting people experiencing homelessness with resources—10 groups of graduate students received Lacy-Fischer Interdisciplinary Research Grants in 2023.

Two female students in front of banner for Clinton Global Initiative University
Lacy-Fischer Research Grant awardees Lorely Chavez and Eugenia Zavaleta Lemus participated in the Clinton Global Initiative University at Vanderbilt in Spring 2023.

Eugenia Zavaleta Lemus, a Ph.D. candidate in anthropology and gender studies, expanded her dissertation research, which is focused on understanding how intersectional identities interact with care practices during migrant journeys across borders. With the help of Lacy-Fischer grant funding, Zavaleta Lemus collaborated with Lorely Chavez, a master’s student in Latin American studies and global health, to evaluate domestic violence and access to justice during the pandemic-induced migration in El Salvador and Guatemala. The grant recognized these students’ academic prowess and the potential of their work to contribute to the understanding of the experiences of people migrating.

Nathaniel Tran, a Ph.D. candidate in health policy and services research, collaborated with Tara McKay, assistant professor of medicine, health and society, to better understand what exactly about a clinician or medical office affirms LGBTQ+ patients and, in turn, how the process of affirming LGBTQ+ patients changes if they get vaccines, cancer screenings and other forms of preventive care. This research provides vital new insight into patient care.

The Lacy-Fischer grant supports students through and beyond their academic careers at Vanderbilt. “This grant has propelled me as a researcher and public scholar,” Tran said. “Learning to manage a team has been a valuable complement to the scientific training I’ve had throughout my Ph.D.” Undergraduate students frequently contribute to research teams like Tran’s, fostering active engagement and opportunities for mentorship across different Vanderbilt academic levels.

Sophia Druffner, a Ph.D. candidate in Community Research and Action, stated the Lacy-Fischer funding helped her and medical student Alyssa Altheimer (Class of 2024) co-create a resource-mapping tool ( with Emergency Department social workers for their use, where providers can input the needs of the patient, receive a generated list of resources customized to the patient’s demographics and geographic location, and then refer patients to the most relevant resources. Druffner’s research aims to identify the needs of patients experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity and to design effective interventions for providers to reach them.

Engaging in research that directly influences the community has served as a source of inspiration for numerous Lacy-Fischer grantees, propelling advancements in their research projects and dissertation endeavors. “Catering to the imminent needs of health care professionals makes a real difference in the community,” Druffner said.

Lace-Fischer Research Grant awardee Nathaniel Tran visited Canada as part of his research.

The Lacy-Fischer grants created unique travel and professional development opportunities for Tran and Zavaleta Lemus that broadened their perspectives and enhanced their research. Tran travelled to Canada and Zavaleta Lemus to El Salvador; the trips allowed them to immerse themselves into the communities that their research seeks to serve.

Zavaleta Lemus, who participated in the Clinton Global Initiative University, also said engaging with global leaders and changemakers was inspiring, and the effects of that experience echoed through their work.

2023 Lacy-Fisher Research Grant Recipients:

  • “Connecting to Care: Co-Creation of a Resource-Mapping Tool for Patients At-Risk of Or Experiencing Homelessness Within the Emergency Department.” Sophia Druffner (PI), Community Research & Action; and Alyssa Altheimer, Medicine
  • “Audiovisual Plasticity in Cochlear Implant Users: An fNIRS-EEG Study.” Ansley Kunnath (PI), Neuroscience, Medical Scientist Training Program; and Katelyn Berg, Audiology, Hearing and Speech Sciences
  • “Delineating Stigma and Denialism: Assessing the Effects of Biased Valuation of Body Weight in Patient Care.” Jennifer Lowell (PI), Philosophy; and Matthew Nettles; Medicine & Theological Studies
  • “Cultural Perspectives on Domestic Violence and Justice in Central America.” Eugenia Zavaleta Lemus (PI), Anthropology and Gender Studies; and Lorely Chavez, Public Health, Latin American Studies
  • “Investigating Development of New Graduate STEM Education Programs.” Jonathan Martin (PI), Biomedical Engineering; and Whitney Frierson, Sociology
  • “Detecting siRNA Delivery to Brain with Imaging Mass Spectrometry.” Alexander Sorets (PI), Biomedical Engineering; and Cody Marshall, Chemical and Physical Biology
  • “An Exploratory Study on the Experiences of Neurodiverse Students in a National Science Foundation (NSF) funded Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU).” Jessica Stasik (PI), Astrophysics; and Jiaxin Jessie Wang, Special Education
  • “Improving Preventive Care for Sexual and Gender Minority Adults.” Nathaniel Tran (PI); Health Policy and Services Research; and Tara McKay, Ph.D., Medicine, Health, and Society
  • “A Sweet Treat: Biochemical Investigations of Human Milk Oligosaccharides as Adjuvants in the Antimicrobial Arms Race.” Julie Talbert (PI), Chemistry; Sabrina Spicer, Chemistry; and Rebecca Moore, Ph.D., Infectious Diseases
  • “Quantifying Arousal from Novel, Theory-Led Neuroimaging.” Xuan Wen (PI), Neuroscience; Alexander Maier, Ph.D., Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, Psychology; and Catherine Chang, Ph.D., Biomedical Engineering

Graduate students are invited to apply for the Spring 2024 Lacy-Fischer grants by March 31. Selected proposals will be announced in late April. More information on application requirements, including submission materials and application deadlines is on the Graduate School website.