Honors student travels to Mexico for thesis research on cleft palates

Communication studies major and James Edward Oglethorpe Scholar Andi Kezh ’23 is preparing to present her Honors thesis at Oglethorpe University’s upcoming Liberal Arts and Sciences Symposium. As part of her research, Kezh recently traveled to Mexico City, Mexico — a trip fully funded by scholarships and the university’s Honors program.

Kezh’s research investigates sociocultural beliefs about the causes of cleft lip/palate, a birth condition resulting from the incomplete formation of tissue during pregnancy. According to Kezh, some cultures attribute the condition to other causes: folklore, mythology, religion and environmental influences. These beliefs can often lead to stigmatization of the condition and those born with it.

Honors student Andi Kezh works with a young cleft-affected patient

Honors student Andi Kezh works with a young cleft-affected patient

To further investigate these beliefs, Kezh went to Mexico City, where she interviewed those with the condition, their friends and families. The young researcher partnered with Smile Train, the world’s largest cleft-focused charity organization, for her study. While abroad, Kezh visited young cleft patients at a Smile Train pediatric hospital and interviewed their parents.

Her research found that while most people she interviewed had an accurate understanding of the causes of cleft lip/palate, cultural misconceptions are still pervasive in the region and can be a barrier to proper treatment. Kezh’s findings underscore the importance of cultural understanding in healthcare. Without proper understanding of a region’s culture, healthcare providers can face difficulties administering treatment and educating a population.

The research study was a deeply personal one for Kezh.

“I was born with a cleft lip and palate, and I have had over 14 surgeries in my life to repair my Cleft and the complications that come with my condition,” says Kezh, “I have always felt different, but I have learned to accept and flourish in my identity as a cleft-affected person. It is my greatest passion to advocate for and tell the stories of marginalized groups like those with facial differences because they deserve acceptance and the ability to thrive.”

Kezh conducted this research as part of Oglethorpe University’s Honors program, which helped fund her research trip. With guidance from faculty, Honors students develop independent projects while learning how their interests relate to relevant disciplinary discourse, other academic disciplines and the world beyond academia. The thesis presentation is the culmination of an Honors student’s work.

“The beauty of Oglethorpe’s Honors program is that it allows you to discover new academic avenues you would not otherwise get to peruse in your college courses,” advocates Kezh, who is the first OU student to travel internationally for Honors research. “My thesis has prepared me with newfound skills in research methodology, collaboration with health nonprofits like Smile Train, and professional network building in the medical field.”

Kezh’s Honors project also helped her decide on her next career move.

“This project has inspired me to apply to graduate school to study for a master’s in health communications, which allows me to meld my interests in communication and media studies with health advocacy and policy. I aspire to become a health communication professional working within the global health sector,” says Kezh.

Oglethorpe Honors student Andi Kezh with Smile Train pediatric hospital patients and their families.

Oglethorpe Honors student Andi Kezh with Smile Train pediatric hospital patients and their families.


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