Eleven University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign undergraduate students representing units across campus were selected as the summer 2020 cohort of Community-Academic Scholars, an initiative organized by the Interdisciplinary Health Sciences Institute (IHSI) in partnership with the Beckman Institute, the Center for Social & Behavioral Science, the Chez Veterans Center, the College of Education, and the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion. During this 10-week summer program, each student worked closely with a faculty mentor and a community mentor on issues concerning brain health, poverty and social inequality, and health equity.  

Community-Academic Scholars work to improve the health and well-being of others in a supportive educational environment. In addition to receiving mentorship from faculty and community mentors, scholars attend weekly discussions and receive practical guidance on conducting and communicating about their research.  Each project aims to directly benefit the community members served by the partner organization.

This year’s cohort had the added challenge of trying to carry out research projects while navigating the impacts of COVID-19. Most of the projects involved scholars working directly with participants. Where possible, the scholars connected with study participants remotely. Some projects were reimagined to address the challenges facing our community right now. In all cases, the students and their mentors responded with creativity and flexibility in finding ways to conduct research that can still have a positive impact in our community.

2020 Community-Academic Scholars Celebration

The 2020 Community-Academic Scholars Celebration was held Wednesday, August, 5. During the celebration, we shared video presentations from each of the scholars and recognized the work they did with their academic and community mentors to make a positive impact on Champaign-Urbana this summer. 

View the celebration recording 

Meet the 2020 Community-Academic Scholars

Scholars for Health Equity

Breanna MagpantayBreanna Magpantay, a senior in the School of Social Work who is also pursuing a minor in political science, worked with Margarita Teran-Garcia, a research assistant professor in the College of ACES and the Carle Illinois College of Medicine, and Valerie Koress, Community Nutrition Program Coordinator with the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District, to better understand how health disparities impact obesity rates in African American and Latinx communities and to develop culturally appropriate educational materials that address how to live a healthy lifestyle on a budget. 
Roxane PatinoRoxanne Patino, a junior with a double major in community health and human development and family studies, worked with Kevin Tan and Kate Wegmann, assistant professors in the School of Social Work, and Beth Hand, a licensed clinical social worker at the Urbana Neighborhood Connections Center (UNCC), to develop and deliver remote social and emotional learning programs for K-12 students and to document UNCC staff experiences with student remote learning over the summer and their perceptions of how COVID-19 has impacted students’ social and emotional development. 
Prim PoshyanondaPrim Poshyanonda, a junior majoring in psychology, worked with Dan Morrow, a professor of psychology, and James F. Graumlich, a physician with OSF Healthcare System and Heartland Health Services, to develop and assess the effectiveness of narratives to improve health literacy and motivate older adults living with diabetes to engage in self-care tasks. 
Maddie WelshMaddie Welsh, a junior in the School of Social Work who is also pursuing a minor Criminology, Law, and Society, worked with Rachel Garthe, an assistant professor of social work, and Dr. Jennea Klingenberg, Lead Clinical Professional at Urbana Middle School, to identify culturally and developmentally appropriate interventions or prevention programs for students experiencing behavioral and/or mental health issues, including African American, Hispanic/Latinx, and Dual Language students, and to examine the relationship between attendance and the need for such interventions.


Scholars for Brain Health

Alyssa MartinAlyssa Martin, a senior studying integrative biology, worked with Naiman Khan, an assistant professor in the Neuroscience Program, the Department of Kinesiology and Community Health, and the Division of Nutritional Sciences, on a comprehensive literature review of school-based physical activity, nutrition, and social-emotional programming to inform future programming at Champaign Unit 4 School District.  
Maya MaleckiMaya Malecki, a junior studying community health with a concentration in health planning and administration worked with Wendy Rogers, a professor of kinesiology and community health, and Amy Brown, CEO of CRIS Healthy Aging, to virtually instruct older adults on the use of digital home assistants and investigate the impact that digital home assistants can have on social engagement for older adults living in Champaign and Vermillion counties.
Michelle NutlisMichelle Nutlis, a senior studying psychology worked with Sandraluz Lara-Cinisomo, an assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology & Community Health, to conduct a literature review, engage in conceptual work on focus group interview development, and process and analyze brain imaging data collected from a brain imaging study exploring associations between postpartum depression and pain perception.   
Liz SpurlockLiz Spurlock, a senior pursuing a double major in Psychology and Molecular & Cellular Biology, worked with Reginald Alston, a professor in the Department of Kinesiology & Community Health, Jeni Hunniecutt, a visiting research specialist at the Chez Veterans Center, and Kirk Hauser, facilitator of the local Veterans Breakfast Club, to virtually conduct a needs assessment as part of a larger effort to develop a strategic plan for how to successfully engage with Veterans in the Champaign-Urbana community on the topic of Veteran brain health. 



Scholars for Solving Poverty 

Keziah BuabengKeziah Buabeng, a senior pursuing her degree in agricultural and consumer economics with a concentration in policy, international trade and development and a minor in communication, worked with Ken Salo, a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning, and Cunningham Township Supervisor Danielle Chynoweth, on efforts to address increased numbers of community members who are experiencing food insecurity due to COVID-19.  
Erinn DadyErinn Dady, a junior studying earth, society, and environmental sustainability, worked with Kevin Tan, an assistant professor of social work, Esther Ngumbi, an assistant professor of entomology, and Tracy Dace, Founder & Executive Director of Driven to Reach Excellence and Academic Achievement for Males (DREAAM), to assess the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on students’ educational, social, and emotional needs so that DREAAM can best support families in their program and in the community at large. She will also work on STEAM curriculum for DREAAM to use in future programming.  
Sarah JonesSarah Jones, a junior majoring in speech and hearing science, worked with Raksha Mudar, an associate professor of speech and hearing science, and Margaret Danilovich, Senior Director, CJE SeniorLife, to introduce a video technology platform to economically disadvantaged older adults and to assess its effectiveness in delivering web-based social engagement. 


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For more information, visit go.illinois.edu/communityscholars or contact healthinstitute@illinois.edu.