Amazon Adventure

Scholarship sends student on research quest to Peru

Keaton Unroe ’17 (right) was one of 14 honors students from across the U.S. who took part in the Health Without Borders program.

Keaton Unroe ’17 (right) was one of 14 honors students from across the U.S. who took part in the Health Without Borders program.

Honors student Keaton Unroe ’17 had never been abroad until earlier this year. Now, as part of a research project related to traditional medicine, he has interviewed a shaman and a brujo in the Peruvian Amazon. A brujo?

“A brujo is a male witch who is kind of like a shaman. He can do good, like a shaman, but unlike a shaman he can also put a curse on people,” said Unroe, who in January participated in a research-oriented program that examined the effects of urbanization, deforestation and resource exploitation on the environment and human health in the Amazon Basin.

Also during his time in the ecological heart of South America, he interviewed traditional medicine vendors, did his laundry in the Amazon River and visited the Amazon rainforest.

Unroe, a member of the Cormier Honors College for Citizen Scholars, was one of 14 undergraduate honors students from across the country who took part in the three-week Health Without Borders program co-sponsored by the National Collegiate Honors Council and Florida International University. Students in the program developed and conducted unique, independent research projects related to environmental and human health.

“Whether it was implementing his research project, engaging with locals or swinging on a vine, Keaton was always front and center— 100 percent involved,” said Dr. Devon Graham, president and scientific director of Project Amazonas, Inc.

Unroe’s project on environmental health looked at how deforestation is affecting the traditional medicine trade. He interviewed vendors in the “always busy” traditional medicine aisle in the bustling Belen Market in Iquitos, a city of about 500,000, and conducted similar interviews in the countryside.

For human health, he investigated the prevalence and treatment of people with mental health issues by interviewing doctors and administrators at mental health clinics. He also interviewed nurses and caregivers at a group home for women with schizophrenia and a coed group home whose residents have autism or schizophrenia.

The Cormier Honors College funded almost all of Unroe’s expenses to participate in the program. Unroe is one of four honors students in the Class of 2017 selected to receive the Cormier Citizen Scholar award, Longwood’s largest merit-based scholarship, and also full support for his study-abroad experiences. In addition, he is the recipient of the 2015-16Walter and Anne Butler Scholarship and a Hull Biology Scholarship.

“My program showed me different research techniques that I probably would never have been able to learn otherwise,” said Unroe, a biology major from Clifton Forge who is minoring in chemistry and neurostudies. “I was fortunate to have been surrounded by some of the most driven, passionate and intelligent people I have ever met.”

At Longwood, Unroe has been a research collaborator with Dr. Adam Franssen in behavioral neuroscience work focused on gaining a better understanding of how motherhood alters the brain. Their studies have been presented at several academic conferences.

“Keaton’s success stems from his passion for scientific discovery,” said Franssen, assistant professor of biology. “He has a promising career in research ahead of him.”

—Kent Booty

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