New Castle, Indiana
Psychology major with a minor in biology
Ciarra Davis came to Capital University by way of the softball field. The New Castle, Indiana, native was recruited as a student-athlete and pre-medicine major. But arm injuries and multiple surgeries changed the trajectory of her path from home plate to public health.
“When I came here, I had been recruited to play softball,” Davis said. “But what kept me here was the spirit of academia, community and student life I discovered.”
Davis tapped in to that academic spirit during her first undergraduate research project with Dr. Catherine Boulant, now a professor emerita of biology. The two worked closely on a research project that explored GLUT 4, an insulin-transporting protein that helps regulate blood sugar. It wasn’t long before Davis realized she felt at home in lab and research settings.
Later, after a good friend from softball invited her to a dessert function for Sigma Alpha Beta, a co-ed fraternity whose members focus on working for a greater good, Davis connected to the student-life community she’d been looking for.
“All of my fondest memories of Capital involve Sigma Alpha Beta and Pride,” Davis said. “I made friends for life that became family I’m proud to call my brothers and sisters.”
As she became more attuned to her social conscience, value of service and character development through her work with SAB, Davis landed a paid internship in 2014 that put her back in the lab, this time at Columbus Public Health.
It was there that Davis was exposed to the unexpected convergence of biology, research, community and social justice. Along with the study of disease, transmission, tests and vaccines came an imperative to understand the cultural context of a community, its diverse populations, and their beliefs, customs, behaviors and challenges. Under bright lights and sanitized surfaces of the public health lab, Davis saw for herself stark realities of higher transmission rates of preventable disease, chronic illness and other health risks among underserved populations. That discovery fed into her growing passion for righting social injustice.
With her tentative demeanor and unassuming approach, Davis admits a certain discomfort with the label of leader. She’s no extravert, and would sooner lead with her mind and example than with her voice. But she’ll use that, too, if the opportunity presents itself.
“There are so many people who don’t have a voice, and if I can use mine to give them a voice, it’s my responsibility to do that, even if it makes me uncomfortable,” she said. “It’s a small price to pay.”
Undergraduate research would prove to be a constant during Davis’s Capital career, as would her advocacy for underrepresented populations, especially the LGBTQ community. Her research interests evolved as her major changed to psychology (she kept her minor in biology). The roster of strong influencers and faculty mentors grew to include Dr. Kimberly Heym, Dr. Kathryn Bell and Dr. Andrea Karkowski, while her topics expanded into the psych/social realm to explore the behaviors people use to cope with, mask or overcompensate for identity issues. She hopes to have her latest presentation on cyber-bullying published this summer in Epistimi, Capital’s undergraduate research journal. A leader in Capital’s Pride organization, Davis was a key organizer of annual National Coming Out Day events, and an important voice for respect, human dignity and inclusion, and against hate.
This fall, Davis will continue her research under the guidance of another mentor, this time at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, where Davis was accepted into the master’s program. She’ll pursue her graduate degree in epidemiology, with emphasis in infectious disease, while working as a research assistant to Dr. Tonia Poteat, whose research interests explore the intersection of public health, human rights and social justice with a specific focus on LGBT health as well as HIV prevention and treatment for key populations, according to her faculty biography page. Poteat’s latest area of research is transmission rate of Hepatitis C among the transgender community.