UH Hilo anthropology students and faculty present their research at conference in Santa Fe

Students Zach Hankin and Erin Dewing traveled and presented one stress study each along with lead authors Lynn Morrison, professor of anthropology, and Lynne Wolforth, a lecturer in anthropology.

Collage of photos: Logo with hot air balloon and butterfly, Santa Fe 2024, Enchantment and Transformation. Logo for the Society for Applied Anthropology, A Worldwide Organization for the Applied Social Sciences. Pictures of the UH Hilo delegation: Lynn Morrison with several dogs, Zach Hankin, Erin Dewing and Lynne Wolforth.

By Emily Thornton.

A group of students and faculty from the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo traveled to Santa Fe, New Mexico, to present their research at the annual conference of the Society for Applied Anthropology, March 26-30, 2024.

Anthropology majors Zach Hankin and Erin Dewing traveled and presented one study each along with lead authors Lynn Morrison, professor of anthropology, and Lynne Wolforth, a lecturer in anthropology. Both studies looked at stress levels: one in the staff and dogs at local animal shelters, and the other on stress levels in people who experienced the 2018 Kīlauea eruption.

Both students are originally from California and moved to Hawaiʻi Island three years ago. Both have put down roots and become Hawaiʻi residents.

“This was [the students] first conference presentation,” says Morrison. “They did a fabulous job. They did a lot of networking.”

The theme for the 84th annual meeting of the Society for Applied Anthropology was “Enchantment and Transformation.” The meeting’s purpose was to give students from many different organizations the opportunity to discuss their work in a setting filled with scholars, scientists, and other students, and encourages people to contribute ideas, methods, and findings.

Measuring stress levels of staff and dogs at animal shelters

Hankin, who is focusing on biological anthropology in his studies and who currently works at Hilo Medical Center as a certified nurse aide, presented a paper called “It’s Not ʻEnchantment’ for the Dogs or Shelter Workers: Dog Culture and Occupational Stress in Hawaii and the Need for ʻTransformation.’” Morrison, who specializes in the study of biomedical and physical anthropology, women’s health, and exploring human-animal interaction, was lead author of this study.

Morrison and Hankin both worked on this project that examined the difference in dog culture at two different shelters on Hawaiʻi Island — one in East Hawaiʻi and one in Kona — to examine stress levels in the shelter staff and the dogs. The stress levels were measured by cortisol levels.

Lynn Morrison watches Zach Hankin as he talks and points to his poster presentation.
Lynn Morrison, at left, watches as her student researcher Zach Hankin talks about his poster presentation with conference attendees. (Courtesy photo: Department of Anthropology/UH Hilo)

The researchers discovered through the data gathered by interviews and physical testing of shelter workers, as well as the cortisol results from the dogs, that there are significant differences between the two sites (East Hawaiʻi and Kona shelters), indicating differing cultural contexts for dogs. The data also shows neglected dogs suffer from chronic stress.

Hankin’s presentation showed an introduction, methods, results, and future directions.

“Zach talked himself hoarse during our poster presentation,” says Morrison. “He was very confident and had a good command of the shelter dog and occupational stress research.”

Measuring people’s stress levels associated with Kīlauea eruption

In her anthropology studies, Dewing is focusing on the medical anthropology track and is double majoring in administration of justice. She is also pursuing a minor in biology (cell, molecular and biomedical track).

At the conference, Dewing along with her mentors Wolforth and Morrison presented the latter’s data on “Stress Associated with the Kilauea Eruption, What Can Blood Pressure Tell Us?”

The data for this study was collected several years ago by Morrison, the results of which connected the 2018 Kīlauea eruption to chronic stress outcomes that individuals experienced in the areas that were affected by the eruption.

While Morrison was the principal investigator of that study, Wolforth was the primary author on the presentation at the conference. “Her role was doing the statistical analysis of the blood pressure data,” says Morrison. They have not yet started on a publication but anticipate doing so right after classes end this semester.

Three women seated, listening to proceedings.
From left, Lynn Morrison, Erin Dewing, and Lynne Wolforth during their presentation at the 2024 annual meeting of the Society for Applied Anthropology held in Santa Fe, NM, in March. (Courtesy photo from the Department of Anthropology/UH Hilo)

“Erin did a brilliant job of co-presenting Lynne’s oral presentation on the Kīlauea data,” says Morrison. “Lynne had a strong section on results and discussion and pulled the presentation together. The session was really well attended and we were peppered with questions with excellent input from Lynne and Erin.”

Morrison says in an email there were lots of disaster anthropologists including expert Susanna Hoffman (University of California, Berkeley) at the conference, “a good niche for us to be involved in!”

Potential internships

When asked about how this meeting contributed to Hankin and Dewing’s education at UH Hilo, Morrison says, “They came back with not only potential internships but information from graduate programs. It allowed them to see cutting edge research.”

Hankin was offered an internship at The Northeast Center for Occupational Health and Safety that conducts research that helps improve health and safety for agricultural workers.

Dewing applied for a possible internship at Texas State University. This would be a summer internship in a program at the Forensic Anthropology Center at Texas State.

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Story by Emily Thornton, an English major at UH Hilo. Susan Enright, editor of UH Hilo Stories, contributed.

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