On Oct. 26, the Macon-Bibb Commission Committee came together to discuss a resolution calling for an "Equitable, Diverse and Inclusive World Class Community."
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On Oct. 30th, Mercer undergraduate students traveled to Wofford College to attend the Southern Conference (SoCon) Undergraduate Research Forum, presenting their research topics ranging from various disciplines, such as biochemistry, engineering, mathematics, music and art.
A public debate on vaccination mandates hosted by Theta Alpha Kappa and the Global Health Association was held Oct. 26 in Willet Auditorium. The disputation was held in recognition of Reformation Week, a week meant to celebrate the beginning of the Protestant reformation on Oct. 31, 1517.
Hispanic Heritage Month takes place yearly from mid-September to mid-October, and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives has continued to encourage students to participate throughout the month. Hispanic students and non-Hispanic students alike come together to observe the month as well as the culture.
As COVID-19 vaccines continue rolling out around the United States with the Food and Drug Association’s approval, Pfizer has submitted data to the FDA hoping to start allowing children aged 5-11 to start receiving their own vaccinations. These vaccinations could come as early as late October and definitely before the end of 2021.
Donda, Donda, Donda, Donda, Donda, Donda, Donda...
As the spring semester comes to an end, prospective and returning Mercer students have already started to think about the costs for the upcoming term. One major expense some Mercerians have begun to consider is the cost of their textbooks and learning resources. According to the College Board, some students can spend on average $1,200 on textbooks and learning resources each year, or $600 a semester, and prices for textbooks and learning resources are likely to increase each year. Blessed Jordan, senior neuroscience pre-med student, spent around $300-$400 on textbooks each semester her freshman and sophomore years and only recently adjusted her budget to $100-$200 each semester in her junior and senior years. Jordan said the budget didn’t decrease because her textbooks were less expensive; she used different sources to purchase her learning materials. “Freshman year was the worst because the books were so expensive, and I didn’t know of other resources I could use to get textbooks,” Jordan said. “I remember I had just paid tuition, which was already hefty, and the STEM textbook prices are ridiculously high, so it was a lot of money coming out of pocket at one time.” Jordan wasn’t the only student struggling to buy textbooks for classes their first year. Elijah Moore, a senior law and public policy student, said he also had trouble budgeting for his textbooks. “Last year my car broke down and I was doing my best to budget, but textbooks are unpredictable from semester to semester,” Moore said. “While $300 might not seem like much, independent students like me see that as two months’ worth of food bills.” Before each upcoming semester, many students find the textbooks they need from the Barnes and Noble website on the MyMercer page, yet still find the process of figuring out which textbooks to use somewhat confusing. Jordan has had her own problems in the past figuring out which learning resources she needs to get the best grades possible for her classes. “Some courses will tell me to buy the access code and the textbook, but when I go to class, the professor will tell me I don’t need the access code or the book in some circumstances,” Jordan said. “Generally, it’s a tough time getting my money back after I’ve already purchased something from the bookstore or online, so over the years I decided to start waiting for classes to begin before I started purchasing books.” Moore also said he found it confusing. “What’s frustrating is that some teachers list a required textbook but then never use it or use only a few pages of it during the semester,” Moore said. “And you can’t wait until a few weeks into the class to see the syllabus or get a feel of whether or not you will use it because not all teachers hand out a class schedule with their syllabi and some teachers want to use the textbook the first week of school. “ Sanaa Yusuf, junior neuroscience pre-med student, said they felt like some of their professors were helpful with their learning material issues, but there were times where they over-purchased textbooks. “In my experience, professors who believe knowledge should be free or at least accessible work well with students and provide a copy or will somehow provide access to a book,” Yusuf said. “For online programs, there is no remorse, and professors expect that we are willing and able to pay for these resources even when we barely use them.” Mercer has taken action to improve prices with the new Bear Book Bundle to reduce costs for students by 35-50% and deliver materials by the first day of class, hoping to ease some students' stress in purchasing their textbooks in the upcoming semester.
Since the start of 2021, multiple stock markets have seen rapid increases. The NASDAQ went up 43.64% from 2020, according to the NASDAQ composite index, which compiles almost all stocks listed on the NASDAQ stock market. With this increase, a plethora of stocks have witnessed great volatility over the new year, such as GameStop, AMC, Palantir, BlackBerry, Nokia and more. Some Mercer students have taken advantage of this boom by investing in the stock market during the recent volatile exchanges, hoping to cash in on the capital opportunities. Many of them used Robinhood, a stock trading app marketed to young people. John Pittman, junior accounting major, started investing in the stock market over winter break and has invested in GameStop, AMC and BlackBerry since the beginning of January. Pittman said he started investing as a means to make some extra money, and his investments are seeing great returns. “I just wanted to have a way to make my money grow when I don’t really have time for an hourly job,” Pittman said. “I wanted to be able to take some trips in the future when I don’t have a lot of money to work with after I graduate.” Pittman, an avid user of the social news site Reddit, uses the subreddit page Wallstreetbets, where users have posted various trading strategies. One such strategy led to the recent GameStop short squeeze. Many users — and non-users — took notice, cashing in and receiving promising short-term returns. John Bonner, junior history major and stock enthusiast, said he took note of Wallstreetbets’ previous trends, noting that it has often made bizarre investment suggestions, such as Lumber Liquidators, as well as exceptional suggestions such as Tesla. Because of this, Bonner said he invested in GameStop early in November and saw great returns in a two-month period. However, by the time the GameStop stock rose 680% at the end of January, many hedge funds began to suffer, including Melvin Capital, which lost 53% of its capital betting against GameStop. “Hedge funds like Melvin Capital would do massive short bets on GameStop and would bet that the stock is gonna decline, so they would sell off shares they don't own at a lower price, meaning they make money as the stock decreases,” Bonner said. Because of this, Melvin Capital’s partner company, Citadel, delivered a $2 billion cash infusion to the company while allegedly telling another partner, the trading app Robinhood, to halt trades in multiple volatile stocks such as AMC and GameStop. Bonner said he was not a fan of Robinhood’s business strategy and is opting to use the Webull app instead to trade stocks in the future. Other students have also deviated from Robinhood because of the recent stock intervention. Senior business major and stock analyst Ryan Long said he will stop using the Robinhood app entirely and instead use the Thinkorswim app. “The app [Thinkorswim] has an overall stronger and faster trading system than Robinhood. Robinhood also only updates its stock every 30 seconds, and Thinkorswim hasn’t halted trading in GameStop or AMC,” Long said. Ryan has also taken a greater interest in cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin and Dogecoin. “Bitcoin’s a bit expensive, but will likely see an extensive rise in the future. Now Dogecoin is an interesting [cryptocurrency]. I saw Elon Musk tweeted out a picture and it soon rose up a great deal. It’s such a cheap coin, but percentage-wise, it increased quite a bit,” Long said. All three investors said that it’s always a good time to start investing in the stock market. Whether you put in a couple of bucks or thousands of dollars, one can likely expect to see a profit with time. “Time in the market beats timing the market. You can never make any money if you don’t put anything in,” Long said.
As COVID-19 vaccines roll out around the United States, some students and faculty at Mercer have been offered the opportunity to get vaccinated against the virus. Throughout the Columbus, Macon and Savannah campuses, medical teams have received vaccinations from their regional health districts in Columbus, Memorial Health in Savannah and Coliseum and Navicent Health in Macon. So far, among Mercer students, most healthcare students working in their clinical rotations for the Department of Public Health as well as third- and fourth-year medical students have been offered vaccinations. Hopefully, first- and second-year medical students will soon follow suit. Dr. Lynn Denny, Medical Director for Student Health at Mercer University and a Mercer Medicine graduate, said the current rollout offers vaccines for healthcare workers, residents and staff for long-term care facilities and nursing homes, adults age 65 and older and their caregivers, firefighters and first responders. “Healthcare workers have been dealing with COVID now for about a year, and it is important for us to help our patients, our community and ourselves. This COVID vaccine has become an important tool for our society to become healthy again,” Denny said. “Everyone’s got an elderly relative or friend who is at an increased risk for COVID complications, and this vaccine will help them and improve our herd immunity.” Mercer nursing student Emily Landrum said she and her roommate accepted the offer to get the Pfizer vaccine in early January. They have been keeping the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated on any symptoms they’ve faced while still working on hospital floors with COVID-19 patients. “Initially, I was a little nervous to get the vaccine just because it was created so quickly and so many people have bad things to say about it, but as a young, healthy, active and working in healthcare individual, I felt as though I was in the prime category of people to receive it,” Landrum said. Landrum said she felt a couple of minor symptoms after receiving the vaccine. “It made me a little sick, but nothing too major, and I was up and going the next day back at work,” she said. “My roommate had barely any side effects. When I get the flu vaccine, I usually feel a little sick, so I was expecting it anyway.” The vaccine is composed of mRNA, which is not to be confused with the live virus. Landrum said she thinks this makes the vaccine more effective and opens up an entirely new line of study in medicine; she thinks there are more possibilities for vaccines through mRNA research, which could potentially cure other viruses and diseases such as Parkinson’s and some forms of cancer such as colorectal cancer. While some Mercerians believe getting vaccinated is necessary, others have highlighted their concerns for the vaccination rollout, worried that some healthcare workers shouldn’t be vaccinated at this time. A student who currently works in healthcare telework for the Macon Department of Public Health was told that she was eligible, but she said she felt less justified to receive the vaccine compared to patients suffering from the disease. The student, however, has felt judged for choosing not to get vaccinated and asked to remain anonymous. She said she is happy for her coworkers who chose to get the vaccine. Though other college students may be enthusiastic about the vaccine, the student said she is worried it won’t reach enough people who urgently need it. “I just feel like there are more deserving people who could use the vaccine,” the student said. It is still unclear when all students can expect to be vaccinated. “I would encourage all Mercerians to get the vaccine when the time comes, but for now please continue to wear a mask, wash your hands and stay six feet apart from anyone else,” Denny said.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic has canceled many popular events at Mercer, the university has still managed to take control of the situation by adapting to safety protocols. One event Mercer was able to continue holding was its annual Presidential Scholars Weekend Jan. 22-23. The event was hosted in the fall in previous years but was pushed back to the spring in an effort to better adapt to the pandemic. Potential Mercerians and their families attended the event in limited numbers in an effort to safely mobilize during the weekend while still having an enjoyable experience. The Mercer admissions team worked to implement safety precautions during the event such as separating the overall experience into three smaller, in-person sessions, removing the usual evening networking portion, requiring masks, enforcing proper spacing during assemblies and meals, doing temperature checks, only allowing one guest per student and administering regular cleanings after each in-person session. Assistant Vice President for Enrollment Management Kelly Lynn Holloway noted that the admissions team has been hosting events such as daily campus tours — in-person and virtual — since returning summer 2020. “We have made lots of precautions and adjustments to these events to be able to safely host them here on campus and to be able to provide our prospective students and families the opportunity to see and experience Mercer in a way that is safe,” Holloway said. Holloway said that Presidential Scholars Weekend is important for these students to gain a better understanding of the college experience, even during a widespread pandemic. “I think that an important part of the college search process is getting to talk to people and to be able to get a feel of what Mercer truly is,” Holloway said. “What we’re seeking to do is provide opportunities for prospective students to connect and provide opportunities for these kids to have conversations in a much safer way.” Holloway said she was impressed by the cooperation from all parties in planning the event as well as by the fact that all parties complied with the COVID-19 safety guidelines. The school had more interviewer volunteers this year — both alumni and faculty — than any previous year for online and in-person interviews. Deedee Cudjoe, an admissions worker and Mercer freshman, said she was impressed with the turnout and feedback, considering how strict the guidelines were this year. “When I was giving tours or walking families to where they needed to go, they were always giving me positive feedback of the event,” Cudjoe said. “It was crazy but super fun and exciting to see everyone.” Cudjoe has worked numerous events with the admissions team and said she has found that they have been very professional with adapting to the conditions set by the pandemic. She said she believes the admissions team takes the time to go the extra mile enforcing their guidelines in an effort to keep the events on campus safe while offering a fun time for prospective families. “We all emphasize making all of our events memorable for everyone involved, and the Presidential Scholars Weekend was no exception,” Cudjoe said. “We have so many events, scholarships or not, already planned for the rest of the year where prospective students have the opportunity to experience life as a Mercerian. Safety is our first priority, and we definitely know how to maintain that at our events while having fun at the same time.” Mercer’s admissions team is planning various future events for prospective students with similar safety guidelines in place to keep participants safe.
Even through a pandemic, medical researchers at Mercer University’s School of Medicine are conducting research on numerous topics. Many researchers have received grants over the fall semester to help further their research. Researchers in the School of Medicine are tackling issues such as health disparities, maternal mortality, mechanisms of opioid addiction and abuse, HIV/AIDS, COVID-19, cancer therapy and more. Dr. Jean Sumner, dean of Mercer University School of Medicine, noted that researchers in the Mercer’s School of Medicine have brought in $5 million for the research projects this year. “Our scientists are very accomplished and work very hard to be experts in their fields,” Sumner said. “I am very proud to work with them and excited about the work they do. They work and study for years to acquire the expertise to research complex problems.” Sumner believes that the research these scientists are doing is important for the understanding of their fields. “Scientific inquiry, done properly, is foundational to improving healthcare for everyone,” Sumner said. “One of the obligations of a medical education program is the expansion of knowledge and improving patient care and access. We are solidly committed to improving care and solving problems related to health.” With some specific studies receiving grants ranging from $500,000 to $2.6 million, many of the researchers at Mercer Medicine have already begun to utilize their grants within each of their studies working with various other researchers from all over the world. Primate feeding research Dr. Janine Chalk-Wilayto, a resident scientist and professor at Mercer Medicine, has already begun using her $550,000 grant to help in her research on studying primate feeding strategies. “This new grant aims to integrate diverse datasets, including ecological, behavioral, experimental and anatomical data, to investigate how anatomy and behavior interact to influence feeding performance during development,” Chalk-Wilayto said. Chalk-Wilayto has been doing this research since she was an undergraduate at George Washington University and has also been collecting data at various research sites all over the world. She is working with many different students and researchers while getting to know many new primate groups. “Currently, we don’t really know much about how young primates modify their behavior to eat adult foods or how those changes in behavior relate to changes in anatomy,” Chalk-Wilayto said. “As a result, we’re missing key components to understanding dietary adaptation.” With this new grant, Chalk-Wilayto and her collaborators hope to gather important new data from young and adult monkeys at field sites all over the world. They are looking to identify developments in chewing muscle behaviors in primates and possibly learning how these behaviors can affect adult primate anatomy, Chalk-Wilayto said. HIV/AIDS therapy Other researchers at Mercer have also begun to use their grants to further their research as well. Dr. Alan L. Wells, an associate professor at Mercer Medicine, has used his team’s $600,000 grant to help provide Rapid Initiation of Therapy to individuals newly diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. “It’s a very clinically-oriented grant,” Wells said. “The money from the grant will be used to keep good data on the outcomes and to document what are best for other clinical centers in bringing down HIV numbers.” Wells has been developing his research with other students and collaborators throughout middle Georgia and Savannah since 2019, working with various individuals struggling with HIV in hopes of improving treatment for AIDS. “What’s important about this grant is the partnership with the Ryan White Clinic and Mercer Medicine,” Wells said. “For many years, Mercer clinicians and physicians have been assisting the Ryan White Clinic, but now Mercer is getting into prevention and evaluation as well as HIV education and outreach.” The Ryan White Clinic has provided HIV assistance to many low-income communities in underserved populations all over the United States. They have been striving to improve design, cost, implementation and health-related outcomes of HIV treatment and have begun to work with Mercer for cost-effective solutions, Wells said. “People involved in clinical HIV medicine see a person’s whole life in front of them,” Wells said. “It’s a very layered situation. It’s not just giving a pill; it’s really treating the situation in the context of the whole person.”