Zachary Nicholas

Major(s): Anthropology and Biology

A three quarter portrait of Zachary

Title: Deciphering Cultural Roles and Social Pressure on Parents of Children with Special Needs

Describe your project: I will be examining what social factors influence decisions made by parents of children with special needs. I will also be looking at how the world around children with special needs is typically regulated by people without special needs and how that may be biased and affect their development and childhood.

Who is your mentor for your project?
Dr. Bambi Chapin, Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Health Administration and Policy

How did you find your mentor? Why did you choose them?
Dr. Chapin has been my faculty advisor since I transferred to UMBC in fall 2017. In fall 2019, I was in one of Dr. Chapin’s classes and that is when I realized that our research interests were similar. I thought she would be the right person to oversee my project with her extensive knowledge on parent-child relationships and children’s cognitive development.

How did you become interested in this project?
I have always been interested in topics like genetics, genomics, heredity, and human history. While trying to narrow down on my future career choices, I was shadowing prenatal genetic counselors. With each case, I wanted to know what was going through the parents’ minds when either there was a high risk for their child having a genetic disease or their child was diagnosed. There seemed to be bountiful layers and possibilities on what affected those parents when it came to making a decision to either get tested to know if the child has a disease for sure, or not to risk doing a procedure that causes a higher miscarriage rate. The variability in parents’ responses is what got my mind wanting to know more on the subject.

What was the most unexpected thing about being a researcher?
The most unexpected aspects of this project have been how difficult it is to get permission to conduct qualitative observational research in a medical setting and how effortlessly the subject and focus of your project can change based off the data that is produced.

What has been the most rewarding part?
When the parents, siblings, and health practitioners of the children with special needs get a chance to express their thoughts about the subject it is beautiful to watch. It is something that is a huge part of their lives and is also something that they are passionate about, yet they rarely can talk freely about how they feel on the subject.

How will you disseminate your research?
I will conduct a PowerPoint presentation at URCAD and plan to publish my paper as a short ethnography.

What is your advice to other students about getting involved in research?
Do not be afraid to put in extra work when it comes to your project. It will be a reflection of you and will be a time where you can explore your academic interests in depth.

What are your career goals?
After graduating from UMBC, I plan to attain my Ph.D. in Genetics. I would like to either become a professor or work in the Biological Science Research Industry.


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