Student research proves to be a valuable regional resource

The Tick Talk team. Back row: Jordan Wilkinson, Kelsey Damrad, Quinn O’Callaghan, Esther Shevel, Laura Jensen, John Carey, Zach McGrath, Annie Courtens, Zameena Mejia and Jennifer Newman. Front row: Hannah Nesich, Jennifer McGreevey, Smaranda Dumitru, and Sonia Shah. Photo courtesy of Stef Teran.

SUNY New Paltz students enrolled in the seminar course “Science, Environment, and Disease: New Approaches to Science Journalism,” are playing a vital role in bringing  research about Lyme disease to the forefront.

Led by Sonia Shah, 2014 James H. Ottaway Sr. Visiting Professor of Journalism, students took part in a 14-week collaborative investigation independently conducting over three-dozen interviews with patients, doctors, and scientists and reviewed over 100 publications. Their research, along with news stories, in-depth features, and op-eds pieces they’ve written, make up the new website aptly named Tick Talk.

“Focusing on this disease was an obvious choice, since my specialty is the intersections between disease, environment, and politics, and New Paltz lies in the epicenter of the Lyme disease epidemic,” said Shah. “Lyme disease should be an easy disease to control. We know how to prevent it and we know how to cure it too. And yet, thanks to reasons both scientific and political, the disease continues to spread, virtually unchecked.”

For John Carey ’16 (Geology), whose research focused on biofilm, a group of microorganisms in which cells stick to each other on a surface, understanding the implications of its connection to Lyme disease from key scientific leaders was helpful in conducting his own research.

“The personal contact with the scientists is something I deeply valued,” said Carey. “I was able to interview experts in the field who offered some helpful insight and feedback on my research and writing.”

This interaction, noted Carey, provided him with practical experience and allowed him to develop a deeper understanding of how knowledge advances in a field–particularly Lyme disease as it’s so complex.

Annie Courtens ’15 (Sociology) agrees.

“Focusing on Lyme disease the whole semester was an incredible learning experience because it’s an issue that falls close to home—and for most of us who live in the Hudson Valley,” said Courtens. “Investing the time into researching the disease has allowed for a better understanding of something that I thought I knew enough about. This project allowed us to fully conceptualize the many facets that a disease can inflict and cause on so many levels that we might not always see.”

“Our hope is that the website will be useful for local readers,” said Shah. “It sheds light on the various aspects of the disease and how they are connected, as well as its growing burden in the upstate New York region and beyond.”

SUNY New Paltz student researchers include: Suzie Berkowitz-Abbas ’14 (Journalism), Quinn O’Callaghan ’14 (Journalism), John Carey ’16 (Geology), April Castillo ’14 (Journalism),  Annie Courtens ’15 (Sociology), Kelsey Damrad ’14 (Journalism), Smaranda Dumitru ’14 (Journalism), Laura Jensen ’14 (Digital Media and Management), Zach McGrath (Journalism), Jennifer McGreevey ’14 (Journalism), Zameena Mejia ’15 (Journalism), Hannah Nesich ’14 (Journalism), Jennifer Newman ’14 (Journalism), Esther Shevel ’15 (Journalism), Katie Speller ’14 (Journalism), and Jordan Wilkinson ’14 (Journalism).

“Working on the Tick Talk project gave me the chance to explore a side of reporting and storytelling that I had never really thought to pursue. It got me thinking about ways disease, environment, and social issues all come together in the complex human narratives of our area and it challenged me to look deeper into my arsenal of reporting tools to look into these stories. It was a challenging, worthwhile experience.”  Katie Speller ’14

The James H. Ottaway Sr. Visiting Professorship, SUNY New Paltz’s only endowed professorship, is named for the founder of Ottaway Newspapers Inc., now the Dow Jones Local Media Group, which operates print and online community media franchises in seven states. The flagship newspaper of the chain is the Times Herald-Record in Middletown, N.Y. For more information, visit