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Oppong coaches students to become top-notch researchers

Joseph Oppong with Jody Huddleston(Editor's Note: This is one of several articles about faculty mentors and how they contribute to the success of students.)

As an undergraduate, Jody Huddleston found something strange in the HIV research she was conducting for Joseph Oppong’s medical geography class.

When she took her questions to Oppong, above, professor of geography, he says he thought to himself, “This is someone to work with.”

His instincts were right. Huddleston, who was in the Honors College and was a McNair Scholar, found out she was seeing “late testers” -  individuals who had little time between their HIV diagnosis and the onset of AIDS. With Oppong’s help, she set up a project to map this specific group across the state, determining characteristics and areas with high rates of late testers.

Her work earned her a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship - $42,000 a year for three years -  which she is using as a doctoral student at UNT.

Huddleston, above left, began the work in Oppong’s class. By the time she received her bachelor’s degree, Huddleston gave oral presentations at three national conferences and was accepted into the doctoral program in environmental sciences.

For her dissertation, Huddleston wants to research a disease – such as the West Nile Virus - that has a definite relationship to the natural environment.

Oppong has been a key asset in guiding her toward her work. At weekly meetings, researchers present that week’s work and how it fits with their research.

“Through the process of making you answer this question, he is usually able to tease out of you what it is he wants you to understand about how this fits in with your research,” Huddleston said.

Oppong said he enjoys watching students defend their research. For example, he saw senior history major, Jonathan Rodriguez, defend his research at the Association of American Geographers in February in New York City. Rodriguez was questioned by an author whose book on geographic information systems and public health he had cited.

“It was fun to watch a student be challenged and defend himself,” Oppong says. “He was ready.”

Huddleston appreciates the help she received from Oppong because he pushed her to succeed.

“You want someone who is involved with what you are doing and is helping you set goals and meet them,” she says.

And Oppong makes sure they have some fun as well. He hosts a graduate appreciation lunch for his students at Bruce Hall and potluck dinners at his house. They become a family, and it’s even more satisfying when that family member wins an award.

“It’s like being a parent,” Oppong says. “And your child has accomplished something great.”

-         Jessica DeLeón, University Relations, Communications and Marketing

(Photo by Gary Payne)

Posted on: Tue 10 July 2012

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