Introducing the 2023 Community-Academic Scholars
4/5/2023 8:05:31 AM
The Interdisciplinary Health Sciences Institute, in partnership with the Center for Social and Behavioral Science and with support from the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion, is proud to introduce our 2023 Community-Academic Scholars! Representing 18 majors and six minors in eight colleges and schools, the 18 scholars in this cohort encompass a diverse array of fields of study, from community health to geography to economics.
This cohort of scholars was selected from a competitive pool of applicants possessing the skills needed to work on their selected projects, their personal connections to and passion for the issues their projects address, and for the many ways they have already made an impact on campus and in the community. Many students work in labs across campus, volunteer in the community, and serve in leadership roles in student organizations.
The scholars will bring their experiences to the Summer 2023 projects with academic mentors and community partners to address diverse community needs, including addiction, postpartum pain, child homelessness, social isolation, food/nutrition insecurity, youth development and well-being, physical activity among people with disabilities, assistive robots in caregiving of older adults, cultural humility and bias, human-centered design in education, local food chains, and accessibility of local businesses. We are excited to witness their talents and experiences make a lasting impact on these issues. Sign up to receive program updates and learn more.
Meet the 2023 Community-Academic Scholars
Afnaan Afsar Ali (she/her) is a sophomore studying community health with a concentration in health planning and administration, and minoring in business. She is focused on understanding how the social determinants of health can impact the health of individuals and communities and working toward a career in public health or healthcare. At Illinois, Afnaan works in the Human Factors and Aging Laboratory. Afnaan and fellow scholar Adam Syed will work with Kinesiology and Community Health Prof. Wendy Rogers, Postdoctoral Researcher Samuel Olatunji, and ClarkLindsey Life Plan Community to conduct a needs assessment with ClarkLindsey staff and residents to identify the activities for which Stretch, an assistive robot, can support to the needs of older adults with cognitive impairment and/or mobility impairment. Learn more about the project.
Nia Aldridge (she/her) is a senior majoring in psychology with plans to pursue a PhD in clinical or school psychology to conduct research, provide counseling services, and teach abnormal psychology in higher education. Nia is passionate about helping communities of color and people with disabilities and her research interests include finding early interventions for autism and bridging mental health disparities for Black adolescents. She has worked as a summer school paraprofessional in K-12 special education and works in the Cultural Heritage and Racial Identity Lab under Prof. Carla Hunter & the Trauma Race Identity and Development Lab under Dr. Jarrett Lewis at Illinois. Nia will work with Special Education Prof. Emily Tarconish and Community Choices to conduct a qualitative study of an "accessible business" project and those involved, exploring their motivations and desired outcomes to produce a case study of how to replicate a similar project via similar academic/community partnerships. Learn more about the project.
Kiara Balleza (she/they) is a senior majoring in geography and geography and geographic information science and minoring in public health. She plans to become a nutritional epidemiologist studying the effects of food insecure populations and how certain health factors contribute to consistent occurrences of chronic disease. Kiara has joined advocate groups, such as the Chicago Food Policy Action Council, which has enabled her to fully grasp the need for improving current food systems. At Illinois, she is an intern at Students Pushing Innovation (SPIN) with Prof. Jill Naiman. Kiara will work with Nutritional Sciences Prof. Manabu Nakamura and Common Ground Food Co-Operative to explore the feasibility of creating and sustainably operating co-op type grocery stores in low-income areas of Champaign County. Learn more about the project.
Ryiah Barnes (she/they) is a junior majoring in community health with a concentration in health education and promotion with plans to pursue a career in midwifery or gynecology. Ryiah is a CNA and phlebotomy tech and works as a volunteer community-based doula with Chicago Volunteer Doulas. She believes healthcare workers should undergo bias training and that it should be a lifelong learning process when servicing diverse communities. Ryiah will work with Illinois Extension Specialist Dr. Margarita Teran-Garcia and Avicenna Health Center to refine existing cultural humility training modules to implement Illinois Extension's cultural humility and bias training to be more tailored to the current needs of the student-run clinic population and volunteer staff. Learn more about the project.
Brianna Brice (she/her) is a junior on a nursing track minoring in public health with plans to become a nurse-midwife, eventually opening a community birthing center to combat racial disparities in maternal care. She currently works as a Walgreens pharmacy technician and is involved in the volunteering club, HEARTS, and the Student Nurses Association at Illinois. Brianna will work with Sociology Prof. Ruby Mendenhall and StreamBridge to create a published picture book and community exhibit about Black girls', mothers', and other mothers' mental health (coping mechanisms) and celebrate the beauty, joy, humanity, and daily lives of Black women and girls. Learn more about the project.
Emma Darbro (she/her) is a sophomore studying brain and cognitive science with a double minor in gender and women’s studies and public health. She is passionate about reproductive justice and aspires to pursue a career in inclusive reproductive healthcare. At Illinois, Emma serves as a Sexual Violence Prevention Outreach Intern at the Women's Resources Center, where she also facilitates the First-Year Campus Acquaintance Rape Education (FYCARE) workshop. She is the President of Planned Parenthood Generation Action, a Sexual Health Peer Educator at McKinley Health Center, and volunteers on the Rape, Advocacy, Counseling, and Educations Services (RACES) Hotline. Emma and fellow 2023 scholar Stella Emezue will work with School of Social Work Prof. Karen Tabb Dina and Champaign-Urbana Public Health District to identify major risk factors associated with depressive disorders for women in order to improve maternal health through early identification of risk factors during pregnancy and the postpartum period. Learn more about the project.
Stella Emezue (she/her) is a junior majoring in interdisciplinary health sciences with plans to become an OBGYN and open clinics in underserved communities. Stella has worked as a hospitality aid in a nursing home and short-term rehab center for older adults since 2020 and volunteered for a Medical Conference in which Nigerian American doctors from the US distribute medical supplies and offer medical exams. Stella and fellow 2023 scholar Emma Darbro will work with School of Social Work Prof. Karen Tabb Dina and Champaign-Urbana Public Health District to identify major risk factors associated with depressive disorders for women in order to improve maternal health through early identification of risk factors during pregnancy and the postpartum period. Learn more about the project.
Isabelle Gawedzki (they/them) is a sophomore majoring in integrative biology. They have been involved with outreach through Northwestern University in Chicago during high school in activities to improve conditions for underserved populations. At Illinois, Isabelle is a member of Minorities in Health Sciences and the Pre-Dental Club. They are passionate about exploring the intersection of science and community aid to better our world. Isabelle will work with fellow scholar Kaylee Janakos, Kinesiology and Community Health Prof. Hyojung Kang, and Chestnut Health Systems to recruit young adults who have used substances to participate in a study to determine whether smartphone applications can help support them to make positive choices surrounding their use and/or supporting their recovery before, during, or after receiving treatment. Learn more about the project.
Norman A. Hernandez II (he/him) is a junior majoring in kinesiology and minoring in public health with plans for a career in public health. He is an undergraduate research assistant at Illinois and works at a physical therapy clinic where he has observed equity and accessibility differences among a variety of demographic groups. Norman will work with Kinesiology & Community Health Prof. Andiara Schwingel and Illinois Community Health Workers Association to understand the journey of Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) patients and their caregivers, and to examine how community health workers (CHW) could be part of the CKD care model. Learn more about the project.
Kaylee Janakos (she/her) is a junior majoring in information sciences with a double minor in psychology and health technology. She plans to work with non-profit organizations or social justice initiatives and hopes to work in the data realm, engaging with technology to advance those missions. At Illinois, Kaylee works as a research assistant under Kinesiology and Community Health Prof. Hyojung Kang studying the social determinants of a fentanyl overdose in the Chicagoland area and serves as a data steward at the Education Justice Project. Kaylee will work with fellow scholar Isabelle Gawedzki, Prof. Kang, and Chestnut Health Systems to recruit young adults who have used substances to participate in a study to determine whether smartphone applications can help support them to make positive choices surrounding their use and/or supporting their recovery before, during, or after receiving treatment. Learn more about the project.
Wondrous Jenkins (she/her/they) is a sophomore majoring in information sciences and data science. She has volunteered each year since high school, and at Illinois, volunteers as a Harm Reduction Peer and at the Women’s Resource Center. Wondrous will work with Curriculum and Instruction Prof. Mike Tissenbaum, The Well Experience, and Driven to Reach Excellence & Academic Achievement for Males (DREAAM) to develop a technological toolkit and design framework that will connect geographically distributed middle and high school learners interested in making and fabrication to like-minded colleagues, technical assistance, and mentorship. Learn more about the project.
Alena (Allie) Kormos (she/her) is a senior majoring in community health with a passion to increase equitable health services and educational opportunities for fellow immigrants, children, and low-SES families, as well as improving maternal-infant health outcomes. After seven years in the US Navy as a Hospital Corpsman providing humanitarian aid, she is pursuing graduate-level community health studies at Illinois. Allie will work with Kinesiology & Community Health Prof. Sandraluz Lara-Cinisomo and the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District to determine how postpartum depression and postpartum pain affect women's emotional well-being, self-care, infant care, and mother-infant bonding in order to expand the current literature, influence the direction of future research, and help inform community-based interventions in Champaign County. Learn more about the project.
Zara Lateef (she/her) is a James Scholar and sophomore majoring in computer science + chemistry with plans to become a doctor advocating for community health and social justice and researching medical advancements. At Illinois, Zara is a co-chair on the Student Advisory Council for the Division of Disability Resources and Educational Services, writes for NeuroTech magazine, and volunteers at Carle Hospital. Zara will work with Kinesiology & Community Health Prof. Laura Rice and the Champaign Park District to enhance the education and capacity of multiple physical activity stakeholders while attending to the needs and preferences of people with disabilities, involving continuous advancement by the disability-inclusive provider and facilitate widespread dissemination to park districts in Central IL and beyond. Learn more about the project.
Julian Martinez (he/him) is a sophomore majoring in natural resources and environmental sciences. Julian is interested in sustainability and conservation and seeks ways to enact these efforts into his life and community to better the world. He has worked for Urban Growers Collective in Chicago and is familiar with and passionate about the initiative to strengthen the locally grown food presence in the commercial scene. Julian will work with Recreation, Sport and Tourism Prof. Sharon Suiwen Zou and the Illinois Extension Community and Economic Development Unit to conduct a nationwide study to assess consumers' awareness, preferences, attitudes, expectations, and willingness-to-pay related to local food dining consumption . Learn more about the project.
Ariana Mizan (she/her/hers) is a Chancellor’s Scholar and sophomore majoring in strategy, innovation, and entrepreneurship with a passion for purposeful innovation and youth empowerment. As part of CI MED’s Health Make-A-Thon 2020 Cohort, she has been developing prototypes of a smart security pill cap to help alleviate the growing opioid crisis. At Illinois, Ariana has been involved in the Disruption Lab Product Management Incubator, is a member of the University Senate Committee for Public Engagement and the Provost Undergraduate Advisory Board, and writes for the Undergraduate Law Review. Ariana will work with Siebel Center for Design Head of Assessment and Research Saad Shehab and the Urbana Park District to explore and implement ways to integrate human-centered design (HCD) in existing educational programs that are led by community-based organizations such as park districts. Learn more about the project.
Illakkia Ranjani (she/her) is a junior double majoring in econometrics and quantitative economics and world literature with plans to pursue a career in community and economic development. At Illinois, she has served as an undergraduate research assistant under Prof. Mark Borgschulte, is working with the HOYCE Center to create a mental health database, and serves as an education and registration assistant at Spurlock Museum of World Cultures. Illakkia will work with School of Social Work Prof. Christopher Larrison and the Regional Office of Education Nine (ROE9) to evaluate a proof-of-concept guaranteed income project, the Champaign County Guaranteed Income Pilot (CCGIP) that aims to improve housing status, stability, family functioning, and well-being for families with children experiencing homelessness. Learn more about the project.
Adam Syed (he/him) is a sophomore majoring in food science and human nutrition with a concentration in and minoring in Spanish with a passion for building opportunities and uplifting communities. He founded and ran the ASIAN club as a haven for diversity throughout his years in a predominantly white high school, developed a nutrition program alongside the Cunningham Children’s Home, and is a Certified Nursing Assistant. At Illinois, he is community chair of Nutrition in Health, a member of the Illini Medical Screening Society, and founder/president of the Cheese Club and Healthcare Bookclub. Adam and fellow scholar Afnaan Afsar Ali will work with Kinesiology and Community Health Prof. Wendy Rogers, Postdoctoral Researcher Samuel Olatunji, and ClarkLindsey Life Plan Community staff to conduct a needs assessment with ClarkLindsey staff and residents to identify the activities for which Stretch, an assistive robot, can support to the needs of older adults with cognitive impairment and/or mobility impairment. Learn more about the project.
Leyna Tran (she/her) is a sophomore majoring in speech and hearing science with plans for a career in policy analysis or population data. She volunteers at the HOYCE Center, and is an undergraduate research assistant in the Child Speech Research Lab and a transcriber in the Learning and Language Lab at Illinois. Leyna will work with Speech and Hearing Science Prof. Raksha Mudar and CRIS Healthy Aging to examine the real-world efficacy of a video-technology platform called OneClick to carry out day-to-day social engagement activities typically hosted by Home and Community Based Organizations for older adults at risk of social isolation to prevent negative health and quality of life outcomes. Learn more about the project.