Find Your Passion: Reaching Research Readers

By Kristi Payne
June 25, 2014

Jonathan BelanichA May 2014 graduate, Belanich says he selected UA because of research opportunities for freshmen (Bryan Hester).

As editor-in-chief of The University of Alabama’s student-driven Journal of Science and Health at UA, Jonathan Belanich found a passion for promoting undergraduate student research.

The magazine, called JOSHUA and established in 2003, brings UA’s undergraduate research increased attention. Belanich takes that seriously.

“Research is necessary for scientific progress, but, unless it is published, it is just data in a log book somewhere,” Belanich says. “There is a lot of good research being conducted on campus, and it should be published to show just what we have been doing.”

Belanich, a May 2014 graduate who majored in biology and anthropology, credits UA’s research programs with solidifying his decision to make the 1,200-mile move to the Capstone from his hometown of Lindenhurst, N.Y., after graduating from high school.

“I chose UA because of the amount of research being conducted and the ability for freshmen to participate in it,” he says.

Undergraduate research was a major draw for a student who developed a passion for science as a young child and hasn’t stopped immersing himself in new research opportunities.

“I was always interested in the world around me and what was happening in our bodies,” he says. “Having a lot of questions prompted both reading and looking for answers.”

Jonathan BelanichAs editor of a student-driven research journal, a New York native takes seriously the promotion of science (Bryan Hester).

He first visited UA as a high-school recruit. His skill and enthusiasm caught the attention of Dr. Guy Caldwell, professor of biological sciences at UA and faculty adviser of JOSHUA. Caldwell says he knew when he met Belanich that he had the makings of a prolific researcher and that UA would be the perfect place for him to flourish as a scientist.

“(Belanich) is a rare combination of passion and competence who strikes me as a person who gets things done, but enjoys the process,” Caldwell said.

Once on campus, Belanich took advantage of those freshman research opportunities. Within a year of arriving, he submitted his first article to JOSHUA and was published in the eighth edition. That piece focused on his research of the metabolic rate and digestive energetics of Chilean Rose-haired tarantulas, a project for which he was hand-picked by Dr. Stephen Secor, associate professor of biological sciences. Belanich had already worked with pythons in Secor’s lab, so he was not intimidated by the prospect of studying the malefic arachnids in depth.

“It was interesting because (they) have such different mechanisms for eating than other animals of their size,” says Belanich, who continued developing and expanding his arachnid research throughout his time at UA.

Jonathan Belanich
Belanich gets an assist on a lab report from a Chilean rosehair tarantula
(Bryan Hester).

Secor says the information gleaned from the research has proven invaluable to the study of arachnid energetics. He credits Belanich’s relentless, round-the-clock data collection, trial development and data analysis for the ongoing success of the project.

JOSHUA was the perfect place to publish such a study. Throughout its 11 years of publication, the journal has featured a number of surprisingly diverse articles, such as a piece that applied evolutionary theory to hip hop culture and an award-winning philosophy paper on the ethics of human cloning.
Caldwell recruited Belanich to serve as a student editor for the journal’s ninth edition and invited him to be the editor-in-chief for the 10th volume.

“It is his personal exuberance for science and the manner by which he engages people that told me he would be an ideal representative for the journal,” Caldwell says.

As an undergraduate at Washington and Lee University, Caldwell had co-founded a journal of students’ research and scientific reviews and saw an opportunity to reproduce the concept at UA.

The National Biological Honor Society, TriBeta, for which Caldwell advised, served as a springboard to establish the journal. Initial funding came from multiple sources, including the Howard Hughes Medical Institute undergraduate program at UA and Caldwell’s own National Science Foundation CAREER award. The UA administration, the Office of Admissions and Honors College have funded JOSHUA since the initial grants ended.

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute selected the journal as one of only three undergraduate journals nationwide to highlight in its quarterly bulletin. Thanks to features such as that one, as well as the international audience of the publication’s online version, JOSHUA's staff members now routinely receive publishing requests from students and faculty at other universities.

Caldwell says the success and longevity of the publication rests squarely on the shoulders of students like Belanich.

Jonathan BelanichA UA biology professor says Belanich becomes animated when describing how tarantulas, like this one, eat (Bryan Hester).

“JOSHUA’s content is completely written, edited and peer-reviewed by undergraduate staff members at UA,” he says. While articles must be endorsed by a faculty sponsor, the work represented in the journal is almost exclusively that of students.”

As for Belanich, he regularly added new species to his data collection, and he has presented talks at scientific meetings.

“It’s a pleasure to watch Jonathan describe his work to others because he becomes quite animated and loves to describe how the tarantulas and scorpions eat,” says Secor.

Belanich also worked with Dr. Christopher Lynn in the Human Behavioral Ecology Research Group on a cultural knowledge and mating success study. He says he feels more than ready to take the next step in his research career.

“I feel that my positive experiences with research at UA have fully prepared me to successfully pursue higher studies.”

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Kristi Payne is a junior from Pinson majoring in interdisciplinary studies with New College Life Track. She is a student writer for UA Media Relations.

This story is part of the Find Your Passion feature section of the UA home page. For more stories, please visit Find Your Passion or Crimson Spotlight. To learn more about how you can find your passion at The University of Alabama, please visit UA Undergraduate Admissions.