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Culturally-Based Native Health Program holding lab for area students

Western Carolina University’s Culturally-Based Native Health Program will host a spring learning lab Monday, Feb. 25, for area high school students to have a first-hand experience with forensic science and technology.

The topic will be issues related to working with the deceased from a native culture perspective. Sessions will be held at on-campus research facilities and WCU’s Health and Human Sciences Building.

The keynote speaker will be Dr. Jerri McLemore, a professor of pathology at Wake Forest University and medical examiner for Western North Carolina, who is also from the Creek Nation of Oklahoma. Christine Bailey, an anthropology instructor at WCU, will address research conducted at the Forensic Osteology Research Station, while Doug Keskula, dean of WCU’s College of Health and Human Sciences, will demonstrate a recently acquired digital anatomy table and provide information regarding use of the university’s forensics equipment.

Dr. Jerri McLemore

The event is part of WCU’s ongoing partnership with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Wake Forest University’s School of Medicine and the local nonprofit Center for Native Health to promote Native American health initiatives and encourage students to pursue health care careers. The program has two components ― a graduate and undergraduate health certificate through WCU, and a Native American youth health careers summer camp at Wake Forest University. Six local high schools ― Andrews, Cherokee, Murphy, Robbinsville, Smoky Mountain and Swain ― participate in the program.

Lisa Lefler, director of the Culturally-Based Native Health Program and an associate professor of anthropology and Cherokee Studies at WCU, is the organizer for the event. The learning lab and other program activities provides students with opportunities to learn about the many and varied health careers available to them, she said.

“They get hands-on experiences and learn about topics not usually available in high school settings,” Lefler said. “We examine an integration of Cherokee and Southern Appalachian culture into concepts of health and well-being, such as medicinal plant usage, the importance of place to healing, and the impact of community norms and traditional values, just to name a few topics.”

Lefler said the event is free to students and teachers, and is one of a series paid for by federal and foundation grants through Wake Forest University’s School of Medicine. For more information, contact her at 828-227-2164 or

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