We recently talked with Zechariah "Zech" Davis (pronounced "Zach") from Madison, MS, who is currently enrolled as a junior at Tougaloo College in Jackson, MS. Zech just began his year as a Tougaloo Scholar trainee with the ASA-Bugher Center for Brain Health in Hemorrhagic Stroke within the McCance Center for Brain Health at Mass General.

The Bugher Center seeks to reduce disparities and improve prevention, treatment, and health outcomes related to intracerebral hemorrhage (ICH), and the leadership team includes Tougaloo College’s Dr. Wendy White, principal investigator at Jackson Heart Study Undergraduate Training and Education Center.

As an undergraduate, Zech has already had significant experience doing clinical research, and brings passion to the field that comes from his family experiences with cardiovascular disease, as he explains below.

Akshata Sonni PhD, Scientific Program Director at the McCance Center, says “The Tougaloo Scholar Program is excited to welcome Zech, who brings a unique perspective on social inequities as they relate to health and a dedication to preventative care for the heart and brain. We look forward to having Zech’s voice at the table!”

Welcome Zech! Can you tell us a little about why are you interested in this area of study?

To begin with, I was a member of the Jackson Heart Study, which is where I got an interest in, then an opportunity to pursue studying stroke. As Jackson Heart Study Scholars, we’re educated in cardiovascular disease, with an emphasis on signs, symptoms, and health disparities surrounding the African-American community.

I had my first opportunity to do a full-scale research project this past summer with the Fielding School of Public Health at UCLA. We studied organic food consumption as it leads to cardiovascular disease. In the program side, my group dealt with climate refugee displacement (internal and external), and throughout the eight-week program we studied public health topics like food desserts and health inequities.

I like seeing things through to the end. Recognizing that that’s life – you don’t get to just jump right to the end.

Zech Davis
Tougaloo Scholar, Bugher Center

Tell us more about the Jackson Heart Study?

Well, there are two aspects – the study, and breaking off from that the undergraduate training program, with the objective to, in their words, “Attract minority students to and prepare them for careers in health sciences.” One of the locations for the undergrad training program is Tougaloo, where I’m a student. Actually, the focus is preparing us for future careers in medicine, law, public health and other areas – not just STEM careers.

The study itself is a longitudinal study that began in 2001, and continues today, collecting cardiovascular data from African-Americans in the Jackson metro area, and the study then gave birth to the undergraduate program.

Zech smiling with a lizard in his arms
Zech holding a baby alligator during a program hosted by the Tougaloo Pre-health club.

How did you get interested in medicine?

Of course, I’m interested in and good at science, which is the typical answer, but that’s only part of it. Within my own family, on both my mother and father’s side, a lot of people have suffered from cardiovascular issues. I haven’t met a lot of people on my mother’s side simply because they suffered severe cardiovascular events, and never made it through. I look at my dad’s side of the family, and I can see the difference in how they eat, the kind of work they did that required them to move a lot more, and that kind of thing. It was a realization, partly when I started playing sports – it was so easy to stay active and moving, and if it’s so easy why can’t this just be the “normal.”

What sports did you play?

I started with baseball and T-ball, and eventually played baseball and soccer as I got older. I played football for a bit, but I stopped – being too much of a science kid I realized what could happen. My main sport was soccer.

Tell us a little about your program with Mass General Hospital?

I’m excited to be able to work with [McCance Center Managing Co-Director and Co-Founder] Dr. Jonathan Rosand, and I’m just getting started. At this point, I’m getting acquainted with the reviews of previous studies and future work looking at hemorrhagic stroke.

What are you going to be doing this year at Mass General Hospital (as part of this virtual program)?

Well, I’m working now to get up to speed on the hemorrhagic stroke research in progress, and what this team has discovered, and as I get going I hope to go deeper into the field of stroke as it relates to cardiology. I hope to get a deeper understanding of cardiovascular events and how they can be prevented. (Note: Unchecked high blood pressure (BP) is a major contributor to recurrent stroke after a hemorrhage so controlling BP is an important mechanism to prevent future stroke and reduce overall risk. BP control has variable levels of success across communities, and it is important to take into account the social determinants of health in order to be able to implement widescale BP control for stroke prevention).

Have you started thinking about medical school?

Definitely. I plan on pursuing a career in medicine as well as obtaining a master’s in public health (MPH). With an MD as well as an MPH, I hope to have the necessary skillset to carry out biomedical research regarding health disparities surrounding my community while practicing medicine.

In the last year, with COVID conditions, I may have discovered that I’m a homebody. But I would still like to go to Dartmouth – they have a program with Tougaloo, and I hope to get on their radar early. I’m also interested in the University of Mississippi Medical School.

Beyond medicine – what else are you interested in?

These days I like to talk about my hobbies. I’ve gotten more into doing DIY projects – I built two desks, and a PC from scratch – the case, the motherboard, the whole thing. For me it’s therapeutic – even if it takes a few days, I like seeing things through to the end. Recognizing that that’s life – you don’t get to just jump right to the end – you take things piece by piece. DIY is definitely my favorite hobby – doesn’t matter what it is, if you can build it, I like to try.