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Research and Mentorship for Body and Soul

March 23, 2023 - 4 minute read

Nathan Meier, an epidemiologist who teaches kinesiology at Concordia, learned the value of leading teams of undergraduate student researchers while writing his dissertation at Iowa State University — and now uses research and mentorship to set Concordia students on the early path to success.

“As a graduate student, I was constantly recruiting undergraduate students to serve in the lab as research assistants and building a team to do data collection,” Meier says.

As a professor at Concordia, Meier offers students the opportunity to conduct their own original research — which can help advance their post-college careers.

“I want researching to help students,” Meier says. “This kind of experience makes them more competitive and gives them talking points and depth in their applications.”

One of Meier’s students conducted a meta-analysis to summarize results of individual studies about a particular type of cancer treatment, then synthesized a single outcome.

“After he graduated, he jumped into a job where he did exactly that for a medical device company,” Meier says. “He was reading research, ranking it in terms of quality, and giving a summary of the results and the magnitude of the effect of the drugs. It was fantastic and about as close to job training as you can get.”

Another group of Meier’s students are presently conducting an ongoing study into the lifestyles of 100 local Parkinson’s patients, to see if participation in boxing — which involves quick movements, cognitive sequencing, movement, and social support — helps remediate symptoms of the disease. Meier believes one of the main benefits of a university education is to give students “a place to fail and not get fired.” A key component of that is performing research, which develops a wide variety of skills.

Some students do research as part of Concordia’s annual President’s Academic Showcase. Some aim for professional publication.

Jacob Auringer ’21 and another student created a research team with Meier to study “Effects of Hydration Status on Pulse Wave Velocity in Healthy Young Adults.” The goal was to help determine if dehydration skewed certain test results for arterial stiffness and cardiovascular health. The trio are in the process of getting their research published in a peer-reviewed journal.

But it’s beyond the lab where Auringer calls Meier “a mentor and older brother figure to me.”

“When I was going through a rough time in 2020, he was one of the people I could call. It was just the person he was,” says Jacob. “Research is what brought us together but not what kept us together.”

The men went on 6 a.m trail runs together, biked around Orange County, and boogie-boarded in San Clemente, among other things. While working out in the weight room one summer, they talked often about 1 Timothy 4:12 where Paul writes that physical training is good, but training for godliness is far more worthy. Today, Auringer works for Fellowship of Christian Athletes in San Jose, using sports as a platform to share the gospel with high school and college students.

“Professor Meier is not only a very intelligent, respected advisor and professor but also a very dear friend who was there for me in those hard times,” he says.

Working with students opens doors for broader mentorship, Meier says.

“I have weekly meetings and a pulse on how their life is going above and beyond their research,” he says. “One of the joys of being in that space is to have a chance to see how their family life is, how their walk with God is going, and give them a place to have questions and encouragement. Our whole kinesiology department has a passion to help students use their abilities, opportunities, and their call from God to serve people and do the work of God in the world through their vocations.”

Meier also engages students in an entirely different context: through judo. Meier, who has been in the sport for twenty years, started the campus judo club which draws a dozen athletes per week. Judo, he says, teaches virtues like courtesy, integrity, self-control, and an indomitable spirit. Meier compares its principles to the biblical fruits of the Spirit.

“You can’t do anything in judo without your partner,” he says. “If you’re going to throw your partner, he has to accept the fall, and then you have your turn. You don’t want to hurt your partner. There’s an element of community, cooperation, fairness, taking care of each other.”

Meier and his wife, Sarah, also hike avidly with other Concordia faculty and staff, including to local peaks and a recent rim-to-rim excursion through the Grand Canyon.

“I’ve always had a feeling of obligation to influence the culture of a university,” Meier says. “Having a small university like Concordia means not everything has been done already. When I have an opportunity, I try to help people participate in things that are healthy.” That includes in the research lab, on the judo mat, on the hiking trail, and in life.

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