Undergraduate research award presented

Undergraduate research award presented

calendar icon29 Apr 2022    

Zachary Cheek
Zachary Cheek

Lincoln, Neb.—Glenn Korff School of Music senior Zachary Cheek received an award from the Hixson-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts, Office of Research and Economic Development and Office of Undergraduate Research in conjunction with the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s Student Research Days in April.

Cheek won $250 for his presentation titled “The Impact of Afghan Opium Cultivation on the American Opioid Epidemic.”

“These awards help us to support the undergraduate research of students in the Hixson-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts,” said Christopher Marks, interim dean of the college. “Zach’s project examining the interconnectivity of the global opioid market was well deserving of the recognition it received. We are proud of his achievement.”

Cheek is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in both economics and trombone performance.

His paper examined the world opioid market. Afghanistan produces almost all of the world’s opium. However, almost none of the opium in the U.S. originates from Afghanistan, leading many scholars to conclude that there is no implication regarding the American opioid crisis.

“I wrote a paper essentially arguing that the global opioid market is more interconnected than many believe; that when we have more opium, opioids around the world become cheaper (i.e., the law of supply), and that when they're cheaper, people consume more and overdose more (the law of demand),” Cheeck said. “I took data from the UN, DEA, FDA, CDC and Federal Reserve, statistically generating a model that proved this to be true.”

The project was his senior honors thesis, which was also funded under a year of UCARE (Undergraduate Creative Activities and Research Experience). He was able to access the Arthur Paul Afghanistan Collection at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, which is the largest collection of Afghan scholarship in the Western world. He worked with Assistant Professor of Practice in Economics Christopher Mann and Assistant Professor of Practice in Economics Uchechukwu Jarrett. 

“It's gratifying to know that this research, which took eleven months to complete, is being recognized for its potential consequences in everyday American life,” Cheek said. “It's a pretty damning thing, at first glance, to say that Afghan farmers in Bagram affect opioid overdoses in Beatrice, and especially so when less than one percent of American opium is from Afghanistan. But again, the world market is interconnected enough that the 80% of global opium from Afghanistan does indeed have consequences here in the U.S.”

Cheek said participating in Research Days was beneficial to him.

“Participating in Research Days allowed me to communicate my research succinctly, in a way I couldn't otherwise (as I hope could be expected, given the 90-page thesis),” he said. “It was great to break out of my statistics-and-theory bubble and talk about my work with biology students, or engineering faculty, or janitors in the Union just passing by.”

Cheek is the student senator for the Hixson-Lied College and serves on the student advisory board. He is also president of the Chess Club and a member of the Afghan Students Association and Muslim Students Association. 

A passionate advocate for the arts in public policy, Cheek serves as the youngest member of the Nebraska Arts Council in history.