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Walden Magazine // Jul 01, 2009

Insights Into New Research

Poster session award recipients share research findings on grassroots schools and histoplasmosis.

During the January 2009 Winter Session academic residency, Walden University faculty and students participated in a poster session to share their research. Dr. Vicky Eiben and Joann Cloud received awards for their posters.

Defining and Achieving Sustainability

Vicky EibenDr. Vicky Eiben studies grassroots education initiatives in rural areas of the United States, including Wisconsin, Arkansas, and Maine. Eiben uses her research to improve the Driftless Folk School in rural Wisconsin, which she co-founded in 2005. The school employs a folk education model, pioneered in 19th-century Denmark, which gives individuals in rural communities a way to share their knowledge with each other through non-traditional classes such as gardening and sculpture.

For her poster presentation, Eiben shared findings that could help others make their grassroots education initiatives sustainable. Specifically, she stressed that leaders of education initiatives should listen attentively to the input of community stakeholders.

“The schools I researched shared their stories about key elements that have made their organizations click and sustain over time, she says. “Then the Driftless Folk School looked at those stories and asked ‘How does this apply to us?’”

One way it applied was when the school's board was making a real estate decision. The Driftless Folk School had never owned its own building—the farmers and artists who taught at the school had always used their barns and studios as classrooms. So when the school's board considered buying a building, they allowed the students and teachers to voice their opinions on the issue.

Because of Eiben's study, the teachers and students had seen the financial troubles other initiatives encountered when they took on a mortgage. “The supporters felt a facility would just become a money drain,” Eiben says, and the board ultimately voted against the purchase.

Eiben hopes the research she presented at the poster session will help more education initiatives thrive, because they give residents a way to positively impact their communities. “It brings together all the diversities of the community to share in ideas and resources,” she says.

Tracking a Public Health Threat

As a research investigator for ARUP Laboratories, Joann Cloud views her Walden research as the perfect opportunity to combine her work with her desired area of study. For both, Cloud receives samples from doctors and hospitals that she tests for histoplasmosis, a disease often beginning with respiratory symptoms caused by inhalation of a fungus found in certain soils in the Mississippi and Ohio River Valley regions.

In her poster presentation, Cloud advocated that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention should track histoplasmosis, because a formal tracking system would allow authorities to pinpoint where the disease occurs the most. Then health professionals could inform the most vulnerable populations in those regions, including outdoor workers, on how to prevent infection.

Histoplasmosis can be fatal if it attacks a vital organ, but because the disease is not formally tracked, the number of cases is unknown. Cloud says four percent of her samples test positive for the disease, with increased numbers in Texas and California. She expects those numbers to increase, because histoplasmosis occurs more commonly in patients who have weakened immune systems—a number that is growing due to an aging population and the increasingly longer life expectancies of HIV-positive and other immunocompromised patients.

“I think the CDC should track it,” says Cloud, “and I think they will in the future, as they improve their software systems.”

Bob Dylan suffered from histoplasmosis in 1997.