Mississippi grad students earn prestigious honor

Published 6:00 pm Monday, February 6, 2023

A pair of recent graduates of the master’s degree program in the Department of Kinesiology at Mississippi College have each received the 2022 Robert L. Smith, M.D. Graduate School Scholarship at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson.

McKenzie Hargrove and Zak Patrick are among only six students to receive the prestigious appointment. Each majored in applied exercise physiology and served as graduate assistants in the Department of Kinesiology at MC.

“Both McKenzie and Zak are outstanding representatives of our Kinesiology Program,” said Cindy Melton, dean of the School of Education at MC. “They have invested much time and energy into their research and are set to make life-long contributions in helping create a healthier Mississippi and to furthering their own areas of expertise in exercise science.”

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As Robert L. Smith, M.D. Scholars, they will participate in a two-year research mentoring and training program at the Jackson Heart Study Graduate Training and Education Center funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Designed for doctoral and health professional students considering careers in cardiovascular health sciences, the program allows students to observe and participate in the research process alongside mentors from leading research institutions.

Hargrove, a native of Austin, Texas, and Patrick, a native of Youngstown, Ohio, were mentored at MC by Dr. Suzanne McDonough, professor in the Kinesiology Department.

“The students are participating in a comprehensive research training and mentoring program designed to investigate the environmental and genetic factors associated with cardiovascular-related risk factors experienced by African American adults in Mississippi,” McDonough said. “Formally called ‘The Jackson Heart Study,’ it is a multi-center investigation of predictors of cardiovascular disease in 5,301 African Americans living in the Jackson metropolitan area.

“The JHS is the largest single-site community based epidemiologic investigation ever undertaken in the United States and began in 1998. This scholarship provides them with significant financial support and is funded for two years for both students.”

Hargrove is a Ph.D. candidate in exercise science at Mississippi State University and a graduate assistant for Dr. JohnEric Smith, associate professor of exercise physiology and director of the Human Energetics and Thermoregulation Laboratory at MSU. She was a graduate assistant in the Department of Kinesiology at MC from 2020-22.

“McKenzie’s strengths include a scientific mind and precision writing skills,” McDonough said. “She is also a very intuitive learner and has a strong gift for teaching. Her thesis topic was ‘Effect of Fasted or High Carbohydrate Ingestion Prior to Long Distance Training in Recreationally Trained Runner.’”

Hargrove earned her B.S. in exercise science at MC and ran cross country and track for the Choctaws. Her thesis explored the relationship between blood glucose levels and the effect of long-distance runners using continuous glucose monitors. She hopes to continue research in substrate utilization and its influence on mental fatigue in athletes at MSU.

Patrick, a Ph.D. candidate in Health, Exercise Science, and Recreation Management at the University of Mississippi and a graduate assistant for Dr. Paul Loprinzi, associate professor of HESRM at UM, was a graduate assistant in the Department of Kinesiology at MC from 2019-21.

“He is a tremendous scholar and assisted in teaching exercise physiology labs and lectures,” McDonough said. “His strengths are his outstanding writing ability and commitment to excellence. His gift for dissecting scientific literature and application is stellar.

“His thesis topic was ‘Self Determination Theory as a Theoretical Framework for Coaching Philosophy.’”

His research interests include sports psychology, the interaction of exercise science and coaching philosophy, and the relationship between neurophysiology and exercise psychology. His current doctoral research is investigating hypoxia exposure and cognitive function.

Patrick said he was honored to be named a Robert L. Smith, M.D. Scholar.

“The scholarship will allow me to further expand my knowledge and experience in research and epidemiology, and it will also allow me to meet and network with a fantastic group of peers and mentors,” he said. “Being exposed to, discussing, and potentially publishing work to promote health and physical activity benefits for the African-American population in the greater Jackson area and beyond is deeply rewarding.

“I am excited to take what I learn from this experience into my future endeavors and journey to academia.”

He credited his education in the Department of Kinesiology at MC for helping prepare him to become a Robert L. Smith, M.D. Scholar.

“The support system with the Department of Kinesiology at MC, especially Dr. Suzanne McDonough, allowed me to succeed and be named the MC Kinesiology Graduate Student of the Year upon graduation,” Patrick said. “I was a student-athlete during my first year at MC and had the privilege to learn under a scientifically minded individual, Matthew Reneker, MC’s head cross-country and track and field coach. His wife, Dr. Jennifer Reneker, told me about the UMMC-GTEC opportunity and encouraged me to apply.

“If I hadn’t chosen to come to Mississippi College, I would not be where I am today.”