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Department of Women’s and Gender Studies

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Birth equity research opportunity with Dr. Kathryn Luchok

One of most glaring inequities in our nation and state is a birth outcomes disparity. “Black, and Native American and Alaska Native (AI/AN) women are two to three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women – and this disparity increases with age," researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).

These disparities have existed for more than 200 years in the U.S. and the gap is increasing. Yet most pregnancy-related deaths are preventable. The South Carolina Birth Outcomes Initiative is a collaborative group from state government, hospitals, the insurance industry, non-profits, and researchers working on finding solutions.  Kathryn Luchok, PhD has been a long-time member. She also serves on the Birth Equity subcommittee.

She is now overseeing two undergraduate students who are doing policy work for the subcommittee—it is an excellent way for students interested in maternal health to get experience; at the same time, it serves our state. Taylor Olson, an Exercise Science major and Medical Humanities Minor is doing her Honors Thesis on a statewide inventory of community-based services and where they are placed in relation to the needs for areas that need improvement in birth outcomes. Brianna Pendergraft, a Biological Sciences and Psychology majors and Medical Humanities minor, is completing a policy brief about what types of policies would have the biggest impact on reducing birth disparities and what types of savings might be gained from investments in those policies.

A third project, a White Paper on what types of programming and services across the nation have the best evidence of reducing birth disparities is currently open for student involvement.

There is no funding currently available for Dr. Luchok's time or the time of these students, but any of these projects can also be the foundation for an SC Honors College Research award, a Magellan Undergraduate Research award, and are suitable for an Honors College Senior Thesis, or for Graduation with Leadership Distinction or Capstone credit. This would also work for WGST  299/499 projects, or for graduate students, a potential thesis or expanded into a dissertation. Dr. Luchok mentors the students through the process. She says: “I find students who have a desire to do research and policy work to gain experience, but do not always have many opportunities to do so—this is an opportunity to provide experiential learning that fosters the development of the next generation of scholars and practitioners.”

Please email Dr. Kathryn Luchok ( if you are interested in learning more about research opportunities with the South Carolina Birth Outcomes Initiative.

More information about the South Carolina Birth Outcomes Initiative is available on the South Carolina DHHS website.

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