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Research projects addressing diverse community needs

IHSI's Community-Academic Scholars Initiative matches undergraduates with faculty mentors and community partners to address issues affecting our community. This year’s program includes 14 powerful projects, involving 16 students and 16 faculty from across the University of Illinois that address a range of topics including the impacts of COVID-19, poverty and social inequality, nutrition, physical activity, social-emotional learning, LGBTQ health, technology and aging, racial disparities, Veterans’ issues, and the role that forest preserves play in community and individual health.

Voting for Local Parks, Recreation and Conservation: An Investigation of the Elements of the Champaign County Forest Preserve Tax Referendum

Community-Academic Scholar Izabelle Jaquet will work with recreation, sport and tourism professor Suiwen (Sharon) Zou and the Champaign County Forest Preserve District to examine CCFPD's 2020 referendum campaign to identify elements of the campaign that secure support from voters. Specifically, the project aims to understand what factors or types/elements of messages contribute to the campaign's success. The study will conduct in-depth interviews with the campaign committees, CCFPD staff, interest groups involved in the campaign, and Champaign County residents, supplemented by a content analysis of campaign materials/social media posts. Insights gained through this project can be invaluable for similar ballot initiatives for park conservation and outdoor recreation.

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Identifying the Changing Responsibilities and Support Needs of Aging Caregivers of Veterans with Traumatic Brain Injury

Community-Academic Scholar Paola Ahumada will work with kinesiology and community health professor Sandraluz Lara-Cinisomo and Chez Veterans Center and the Caregiver Advisory for Research Engagement (CARE) Team to complete web-based group interviews with older spousal/partner caregivers of veterans with mild, moderate, and severe TBI to 1) understand changes in responsibilities and capabilities of older caregivers of veterans with traumatic brain injury and 2) identify support and services older caregivers of veterans with traumatic brain injury need over time for sustained wellbeing while aging.

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Benefits of social engagement using video technology for older adults with and without mild cognitive impairment

Community-Academic Scholar Sharbel Yako will work with speech and hearing science professor Raksha Mudar and CJE SeniorLife to test the benefits of technology-based social engagement using a video-technology platform called OneClick in older adults with and without mild cognitive impairment. This project includes a randomized controlled trial (RCT) and a program evaluation in a community-based setting carried out in collaboration with Home and Community-Based Organizations (HCBOs).

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Improving Health and Access for Disadvantaged Communities to Champaign County Forest Preserves

Community-Academic Scholar Hannah Caraway will work with law professor Warren Lavey and the Champaign County Forest Preserve District (or the nonprofit Forest Preserve Friends Foundation) to develop recommendations for improving the health of disadvantaged people in the county through greater access to CCFPD’s natural and other resources. Hannah will investigate how improved transportation, greater/more targeted marketing of services, greater outreach, or other options might help the CCFPD serve the physical and mental health needs of this population.

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Keeping Families Together: Pet Retention

Community-Academic Scholar Rebecca Latham will work with animal sciences professor Amy Fischer and the CARE (Companion Animal Resource and Education) Center to clarify and strengthen the network of agencies providing pet retention services, in order to keep more families together. The first objective is to better understand specific needs of pet-owning families who are struggling financially. The second objective is to increase communication and build a coalition among relevant stakeholders, so that all have comprehensive knowledge of the collective services available in Champaign County. This will put everyone in a better position to help clients and will also reduce redundancy and build efficiency.

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Addressing Social Inequity in Early Intervention Services for Young Children with Disabilities

Community-Academic Scholars Michelle Garcia and Jacqueline Nunez will work with special education professor Meghan Burke, Family Matters Parent Training and Information Center, and the Early Intervention Clearinghouse to conduct qualitative and quantitative research about the technology loan program to determine if the program closes inequities in the delivery of early-interventions services via telehealth.

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Leveraging on SEL to Promote Equity and Excellence: A Needs Assessment Study with Mahomet-Seymour Youths and Families

Community-Academic Scholar Allison Nofziger will work with social work professor Kevin Tan, the Mahomet Area Youth Club, the Mahomet-Seymour School District, and Roots to Branches to conduct a needs assessment study focusing on social-emotional learning (SEL) with Mahomet-Seymour youths and families. This study will focus on the SEL needs of youths and families of the low-resource and BIPOC communities as it relates to promoting equity and excellence. It aims to uncover service gaps that can be addressed by MAYC and the school district. This project will strengthen our university’s partnership with MAYC and the district for the betterment of the Mahomet-Seymour communities.

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Using Digital Home Assistant Technologies and Instructional Support to Promote Social Engagement and Independence for Older Adults

Community-Academic Scholar Husna Hassaini will work with kinesiology and community health professor Wendy Rogers and CRIS Healthy Aging Center on a continuing project to  expose older adults to Amazon Echo devices using a systematic method to foster technology adoption allowing social engagement and reducing isolation. This project will build upon the work completed by the 2020 Community-Academic Scholar and serve as a demonstration project for the use of these devices among older adults to positively impact social engagement as well as general wellbeing.

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MOVE MS and Beyond: Fostering physical activity through community programs

Community-Academic Scholar Emily Albert-Stauning will work with kinesiology and community health professor Laura Rice and the Urbana Park District to design, develop, implement, and sustain a Multiple Sclerosis-specific physical activity program. This project builds on the ongoing implementation of the community program MOVE MS in central Illinois and will address challenges identified during program implementation.

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Addressing COVID-19 Health and Educational Disparities in Champaign and Urbana using Culturally Responsive and Sustaining Engagement

Community-Academic Scholar Royal Shrestha will work with educational psychology professors Melissa Goodnight and Cherie Avent, and the Champaign Urbana Public Health Department (CUPHD) to address COVID-19 racial health disparities in Champaign and Urbana in African American faith-based communities and explore the impact COVID-19 has had on wellbeing and education. The research team will approach this work from a culturally sustaining and culturally responsive framework for research and evaluation. They will facilitate data collection through engagement with local African American churches organizing around COVID-19 prevention.

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LGBTQ Community in Champaign County: Connectedness, Engagement, and Health

Community-Academic Scholars Caterina Kim and Emily Pasetes will work with human development and family studies professor Courtney Cuthbertson and Uniting Pride of Champaign County to gain a better understanding of the unique aspects, concerns, and priorities of LGBTQ community in Champaign County in order to find programming and communication strategies that will help Uniting Pride to be more inclusive across the LGBTQ population in Champaign County, and contribute to LGBTQ health.

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Sustainable weight loss study being conducted at a local, community, nonprofit health care center involving online education, mobile application diet tracking, and individual counseling

Community-Academic Scholar Muskaan Sawhney will work with food science and human nutrition professor Manabu Nakamura and Avicenna Community Health Center (ACHC) to deliver a sustainable, cost-effective, and community-based dietary-focused weight loss management program to local, low-income patients who are overweight or obese. Muskaan will assist in participant screening, consent, and enrollment; data collection and analysis via surveys; direct communication with the patient population; and patient progress evaluation.

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Optimal Mechanisms of Service Delivery and Utilization for Service Suppliers and Rural-Veteran Consumers

Community-Academic Scholar Sophia Sato will work with kinesiology and community health professor Chung-Yi Chiu and Illinois Joining Forces to help reduce the existing barriers to healthcare utilization among rural veterans. To achieve this goal, they will investigate experiences and challenges in different types of rural veteran healthcare consumers when they search and access their needed services. They will also examine various characteristics of individual providers and organizations that serve rural veterans to understand their needs and challenges in engaging their veteran clients.

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STEM IL Nobel Project DREAM and Wealth Incubators

Community-Academic Scholar Graciella Abbey will work with sociology, African American studies, urban and regional planning, and social work professor Ruby Mendenhall, and Unity in Action Magazine on the Nobel Project, a unique ecosystem that will nurture future computer scientists in industry and the academy. The Nobel project will use a radical model of intergenerational outreach and education to create DREAM and wealth incubators where all members of the community see, understand, and feel that they can contribute to computer science and health innovation. Graciella will help to produce a documentary about the project and will engage in qualitative research to understand how the program fosters a computer science and medicine identity among participants, how the program creates access to these fields, and in what ways the entire community is engaged in supporting their youth to pursue careers in computer science.

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