Kent State professor receives top research award, strain similar to COVID-19


Tara Smith, professor of epidemiology at Kent State.

Haley Kisling Reporter

Professor Tara Smith of the College of Public Health was awarded the Outstanding Research and Scholarship Award for epidemiology studies.


It’s the top research award at Kent State and is “for people who are excelling in their area of scholarship,” said Doug Delahanty, the interim vice president for Research and Sponsored Programs.

The ORSAs are only received by three people a year. Each year people are asked to nominate individuals they believe are qualified then the University Research Council reviews and ranks them to come to final recommendations as to who the winners will be. 

The award is based on reputation outside of the university. 


Delahanty said that receiving this award acknowledges Smith’s life works. 

Smith has published papers about COVID-19 epidemiology and has translated the findings to help others understand the virus. She has also served on many university level committees to respond to the pandemic.

Epidemiology is the study of the distribution and determinants of health related concerns in specific populations. 


“My goal is to try to figure out what it is about the makeup of strains and what allows it to be transmitted,” Smith said.


Although her research mainly focuses on agricultural settings, it can be related to the coronavirus. 


She has conducted this research for about 15 years, which focuses on a bacteria called Staphylococcus aureus. She has looked at how this bacterium spreads from animals to humans, person to person and how the environment can play a role in the spread. 


While working at the University of Iowa’s College of Public Health, Smith said that her research began when she saw that Denmark and the Netherlands released news about this bacteria being increased due livestock being common.


It was the “perfect setup for this study,” she said, because Iowa is the number one pork producing state in the U.S. 


Like the test for the COVID-19 disease, the Staphylococcus aureus bacteria test consists of taking nasal swab samples from people and pigs to see if they carry the bacteria. Smith used antibiotics to treat the infection to try to prevent the spread of the disease.


Staphylococcus aureus originated in animals and can affect humans. Similar to COVID-19, it can be spread by touching surfaces such as tabletops or doorknobs. 


Smith said the bacteria cannot be transmitted to other humans.


She now continues to study how the coronavirus is spread through people and animals, what the role of the environment is and why there is vaccine hesitancy. 


A second professor, Jonathan Maletic from the Department of Computer Science, won the Outstanding Research and Scholarship Award as well, but for software development. 


Haley Kisling is a reporter. Contact her at [email protected].