Fresh Perspectives

Students in a health-studies senior seminar pose for a group photo moments before delivering a public presentation of their research.

Students in a health-studies seminar presented original research for local nonprofits. Photo courtesy of Meta Bowman, academic department coordinator.

Students research local nonprofits, share results

by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson

Weeks of anticipation paid off Friday, Dec. 12, as community leaders assembled in the Stafford Auditorium to learn the results of new student research. It was time for the seventh-annual health-studies (HEST) senior-seminar presentation, an event that sheds scholarly light on community programs, as students perform research that local organizations do not have the time or resources to undertake.

The Carlisle YWCA’s Sonya Browne and the Employment Skills Center’s (ESC) Joseph Kloza joined representatives from Partnership for Better Health at the presentation to get an overview of the students’ findings in advance of their written report. “I’m eager to learn what the students discovered,” said Browne, whose program, Gather the Women (GTW), helps low-income women set and reach financial and personal goals. “This is a great way for us to make sure that [our programs’ participants] are getting the skills and support they need.”

All systems go

The students had met separately with Browne and Kloza at the start of the fall semester to determine the study’s goals. After reviewing related existing research, they developed interviews focusing on the programs’ effectiveness, according to past participants, conducted phone interviews and analyzed the responses. 

"We wanted to determine what went well, and what needed to be improved [in the GTW program]," said environmental-science major Timothy O’Reilly ’15, "and we found that, overwhelmingly, the women rated the program highly and reported progress in meeting their goals." The periodic-review format and communication-skills instruction received especially high marks. As a result, the students did not recommend any changes to the GTW program.

Browne, who leads the communication-skills classes at the YWCA, was particularly pleased to learn of program graduates’ responses to that aspect of her programming. “That class was recently put to the side, but based on these numbers, we’ll be able to ask for funding [to continue] that class,” she said.

More work ahead

“Our goal [while researching the ESC’s Nurse-Aide Training program] was to help them extend their knowledge about employment outcomes,” said Abby Flinchbaugh '15, a chemistry major. The students decided to survey those who had completed the program two or more years ago, and out of the 115 potential interview subjects identified by Kloza, only 15 agreed to the interview.

The vast majority of respondents were certified nurse aides, said Krista Dionne '15, a neuroscience major, noting that the more specialized on-the-job training they had, the higher their reported job satisfaction. Participants also expressed a desire for additional soft-skills training. The students identified areas of additional training that the ESC could offer its future nurse aides and also suggested that the program improve recruitment efforts through social-media campaigns. They also were quick to caution that the small response rate indicates an opportunity for further research.

“As a result of your work, we’ve already added third-party-research consent forms to our applications,” Kloza told the students. His hope is that a greater percentage of past program participants may take part in the next student survey.

‘On the right track’

Led by Associate Professor of Psychology Andy Skelton, the HEST seminar was one of several community-based research opportunities for students. In a law & policy senior seminar led by Professor of Political Science Jim Hoefler, for example, students created training or promotional videos for nonprofit organizations and publicly screened the final projects for the organization’s leaders.

“It’s great to build strong connections in the community and to know that we actually can have an impact on these organizations,” said Gabrielle Frenkel ’16 (neuroscience), a member of the HEST senior seminar. “And it gives us an opportunity to look at medicine and health from a more personal and humane perspective. It's not just about science and math. It's about relationships.”

“And for me, this hands-on work affirmed that this work is my passion, and that I’m on the right track with my career,”  added psychology major Nina Tirado ’15.

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Published December 18, 2014