Washington and Lee University’s Community-Academic Research Alliance (CARA) hosted its first annual celebration in May, which showcased the work that student researchers completed for area non-profits over the past academic year. These projects, which community agencies proposed, aim to build the capacity of area non-profits and inform existing programming.
“Community-based research forges strong bonds between the University and the community,” said Jeri Schaff, the regional director of the Valley Program for Aging Services (VPAS), a local non-profit that serves the area’s senior population.
“As this year’s projects demonstrate, able and interested students, working in partnership with nonprofit organizations, provide the information needed to measurably improve our neighbors’ quality of life,” Schaff said.
Hank Dobin, dean of the College, and Harlan Beckley, director of the Shepherd Program, welcomed the audience and highlighted the importance of this work for the University and its students. Several students presented their projects to the gathering of community members, faculty and students.
“This event was a great opportunity to highlight the work that students are doing to create positive social change in our local community,” said Melissa Medeiros, the CARA coordinator. “It was also a chance to underscore the educational opportunities that these projects create for our students.”
Shiri Yadlin ’12, who co-authored a study on affordable housing in the local community, says her project tied together her major in politics and minor in poverty studies.
“This project was a great culmination of my Shepherd Program education: it brought in interests I had gained from my internship, applied concepts I had discussed in my courses and utilized my politics background,” Yadlin said.
"As a result of completing this project I have a much deeper interest in policy and am considering more heavily a future in social policy research and creation.”
Community-based research projects also offer local non-profits — who are often strapped for resources and time — an opportunity for capacity-building and best practices research. Washington and Lee’s Student Consulting completed a market research and business plan for VPAS, exploring the feasibility of an in-house personal care aid business.
“They provided us with information, insight and research that we would have found impossible to do on our own,” Schaff said. “Their work will have an immediate, long-lasting and profound impact on our frailest, most vulnerable neighbors.”
Some community agencies are already seeing the impact of the students’ work. Danielle Breidung ’13 examined barriers that local Latino populations face in accessing services from the Rockbridge Area Relief Association (RARA) and other area food pantries. Breidung’s study sought to look at why members of the Latino population are not utilizing agencies like RARA, despite an increase in this population locally over the last decade. Breidung conducted focus groups with Latino community members, analyzed data and was able to provide RARA with several recommendations on how to better meet this population’s needs.
RARA Board member Cathy Shaner Carlock says that RARA has started to see more Latino families utilize its services after it put some of Danielle’s recommendations into effect this past month.
“We are glad Danielle is a rising senior so we can work with her throughout the next school year to determine how we might implement some of her study’s recommendations,” Carlock said.
Community-Based Research projects completed over the past year include:
- A study of affordable rental housing in the Rockbridge area, completed by Yadlin and Joe Landry ’13.
- A market study and business plan of a personal aid program for the Valley Program for Aging Services, completed by Doug Poetzsch ’13, Mac Davis ’12, and Dillon Myers ’14 from Washington and Lee Student Consulting.
- A study of maternal health services in the Rockbridge area for the Mobilizing for Action through Planning and Partnership (MAPP) project, completed and presented by Kelli Jarrell ’12. Also, Antoinette Kitch ’12, Susie Giampalmo ’12 and Chris Blackwell ’12 completed projects for MAPP in the areas of nutrition, health care needs of special populations and mental health and addiction, respectively. Ann Morris ’13 completed a project looking at healthcare access in rural communities.
- A study that explored barriers to food for Latino populations for the Rockbridge Area Relief Association, completed by Breidung.
- A survey of the Rockbridge Area Free Clinic population, which identifies barriers to access and health needs. This project was completed by Sociology 374, a survey research class, and was presented by Miranda Galvin ’12.
- The work of Community Financial Freedom (CFF), a student-founded organization that aims to increase financial knowledge and availability of credit for low-income community members. This project was presented by Christy Cui ’14.
- A study that explores the needs of low-income populations, barriers that exist in service delivery and how non-profits can better collaborate to meet these needs, completed by Megan Tomlinson ’12 and Olivia Kantwill ’13.
About CARA: The Community-Academic Research Alliance (CARA) supports research partnerships between Washington and Lee University and non-profits in the Rockbridge area to address pressing community challenges. These partnerships aim simultaneously to mobilize the community for responsible social change, lay the foundation for a healthy community and advance the education of Washington and Lee students.
For more information and to view the completed projects, visit http://cbr.blogs.wlu.edu/status/completed/