Chris Kegler ’15 (CAHNR, CLAS) received a donor-funded Summer Undergraduate Research Fund (SURF) Award for summer 2014 to study the process of self-identifying as HIV-positive. Chris traveled to Atlanta, GA to facilitate focus group discussions about the identification process and is now completing his data analysis.
Lauren O’Malley wrote the following profile of Chris, which was originally published on the College of Agriculture, Health, and Natural Resources’ Naturally@UConn blog:
While at UConn, Chris Kegler immerses himself in research and health promotion. After he graduates this spring with a dual degree in allied health sciences and psychology, Chris wants to delve into the complex and multi-faceted field of HIV/AIDS research. Here is what he said in an interview.
What attracted you to UConn? I grew up in Storrs, and so I have always been familiar with UConn. I knew many students and professors who all had great experiences here. After I received a scholarship, this solidified my decision, and I knew that UConn was the right place for me.
Why did you choose your particular major? I entered UConn as an undecided major who was leaning towards nursing. However, during my freshman year, I started working in a psychology laboratory that dealt with behavioral HIV/AIDS research. I completely fell in love with the work that I was doing, and I decided to choose psychology as my major. Later, I also realized my passion for public health, and I decided to add allied health sciences with a concentration in public health and health promotion as my second major. Now, I am getting a dual degree in allied health and psychology. I am interested in behavioral medicine and interventions for people living with chronic illnesses, and I love that my dual degree allows me to explore this from multiple perspectives.
Which one of your UConn activities, internships or jobs was the most memorable? Why? My most memorable part of UConn is my research. My main research experience has been with the Southeastern HIV/AIDS Research Evaluation (SHARE) Project, through UConn’s Center for Health, Intervention and Prevention (CHIP). Last year, I received a Summer Undergraduate Research Fund (SURF) Award so that I could continue working for the SHARE Project over the summer.
My research looks at the process people go through when they identify as HIV-positive. I study how people diagnosed with a chronic illness, such as HIV, finally come to terms with their condition. This process of self-identification is extremely complex and can take years, and so I investigate what helps or hinders this process and the psychological health outcomes it can have.
This past summer, I went to Atlanta, Georgia, the base of the SHARE Project. While there, I ran three focus groups of eighteen people and facilitated discussions on identifying as HIV-positive. I transcribed the data that I collected, and I hope to have a manuscript ready for publication soon.
Name two other experiences that have enriched your studies. I am part of UConn Sexperts, a Health Education Office group that educates peers on campus about sexual health and stress management. Being a Sexpert gives me a great opportunity to improve my health promotion and presentation skills in a fun environment.
I am also a brother of Alpha Phi Omega, a community service fraternity on campus. I served as an officer last year.
What was the biggest challenge in your UConn career? I am extremely passionate about behavioral medicine and interventions for people living with chronic illnesses, particularly HIV. My biggest challenge at UConn was figuring out how to navigate the waters of research and academia, in order to find the best ways to get involved and make an impact in this particular area.
Another challenge I faced was learning to manage my time and balance all of my commitments. Between the SHARE Project and Sexperts, I work about thirty hours each week, on top of a full course load for my dual degree.
When do you expect to graduate? What then? I hope to graduate in May 2015. Currently, I am working on my honors theses for my dual degrees. For my allied health thesis, I am researching the process of identifying as HIV-positive. For my psychology thesis, I am analyzing grocery store receipts of people living with HIV to see if this gives any insight.
After graduation, I want to pursue a PhD in health psychology or behavioral medicine. I am applying to graduate schools with these programs all over the country, wherever the HIV research is. After I receive my degree, I want to continue to focus on behavioral HIV research, perhaps for a research university or for a government organization like the CDC or NIH.
Eventually, I hope that there will be no need for HIV to be the focus of my life, and it will no longer be such a rampant, devastating disease. For now, however, HIV is an enormous issue worldwide, and it is something that I have dedicated my life to.
Is there anything else you would like us to know about you? Being queer in college has been an awesome experience! I’ve learned that if you are queer, it does not mean you have to be a fashion designer or fall into any other stereotype. You can pursue whatever you are passionate about, and you can do something different. I have certainly managed to do that during my time at UConn.