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2023 Community Engagement Fellowships

Examining Diabetes Distress in the Dominican Republic

Student: Quetzabel Benavides and Tatiana Aguilar

Area of study: Health Behavior

Community partner: Chronic Care International

Faculty advisor: Deshira D. Wallace

This project is part of an ongoing collaboration with the Institute for Latin American Concern (ILAC) and Chronic Care International (CCI). ILAC is a Dominican NGO with health and education programs in rural communities across the DR. CCI is a U.S. based nonprofit that collaborated with ILAC in 2010 to launch T2D and hypertension management programs in two ILAC supported clinics. The management programs provide free health education on diabetes management delivered by eight cooperadores (community health workers), routine medical screenings, and diabetes medication to over 900 people with T2D. The purpose of this project is to explore the clinics’ capacity to address the mental health facet of diabetes self-management for individuals living with diabetes in rural communities of the Dominican Republic.

The overall goal is to examine the prevalence of several psychosocial factors that affect T2D management to support capacity building among providers and improve patients’ health outcomes. The primary objective for this phase of the project is to establish baseline data on three categories of psychosocial factors. First, we will assess diabetes distress using our revised 19-item diabetes distress scale (DDS-19) for the Dominican Republic context. Second, we will assess depressive symptoms, generalized stress and anxiety using the PHQ-9, PSS-10, and STAI scales, respectively. Third, we will assess other structural determinants by measuring food insecurity and behavioral indicators. The secondary objective is to administer the survey instrument to approximately 500-600 patients at two diabetes clinics. The final objective is to create a preliminary surveillance system to understand how patients living with T2D are affected by the aforementioned psychosocial factors. The research team will provide community partners and providers with ongoing reports of the collected data to inform future program development related to the diabetes program that can improve patient care.

“Where did all the water come from?”: Causes and consequences of extreme flooding in Alberta, Canada

Sherpa Community Engagement Fellowship

Student: Julianne Davis

Area of study: Earth, Marine and Environmental Sciences

Community partner: Barbara Grandjambe and Robert Grandjambe, Mikisew Cree First Nation

Faculty advisor: Tamlin Pavelsky

Spring flooding is an annual occurrence in Ft. Chipewyan, Canada, as snow melt and ice jams raise water levels. However, 2020 was different: the spring floodwaters were higher and did not recede with summer. This project, initiated by questions from residents of Ft. Chipewyan, seeks to discover what made the 2020 flood so damaging. In partnership with members of the Mikisew Cree First Nation, we are using community descriptions of the flood and damages as well as publicly available data from satellites, river flow monitoring stations and climate reanalysis models to identify and understand the unique characteristics of this extreme event. We will compare the 2020 flood against an earlier large flood in 1997, described by our community partners as the most similar flood in memory. By comparing environmental data over time and space, our goal is to distinguish local- and watershed-scale flood contributions with the hope of identifying key hydrological and climatological factors that might predict extreme flood events. As we interpret these data and findings with residents of Ft. Chipewyan, we will also assess how the data fit with local knowledge and identify effective ways to share what we learn to ensure the information is available, relevant, and helpful to the community.


Black Americans’ experiences and needs recovering from psychosis and substance abuse disorders

Student: Maku Orleans-Pobee

Area of study: Clinical Psychology

Community partner: Thava Mahadevan, Center for Excellence in Community Mental Health

Faculty advisor: Andrea Hussong

Recovery from psychosis and substance use disorders is a complex and individualized process of pursuing improvement across various domains of wellbeing. Given the individualized nature of recovery from these disorders, identifying the needs of those in recovery is a challenging task. However, research shows that race and ethnicity are among the dimensions of a person’s individual identity that impact how they define and pursue recovery from these disorders. The present study aims to qualitatively examine how Black individuals experience dual diagnoses of psychosis and substance use, and how these experiences relate to their needs for recovery. Through the lens of an intersectional framework highlighting race, psychosis diagnosis, and substance use diagnosis as possible intersecting identities that may hold varying degrees of salience, this study will first explore the identities through which these individuals view themselves and interact with their environments. Within this context, this study will identify challenges and known risk factors for poor psychosocial outcomes in this population, as well as strengths and protective factors against poor psychosocial outcomes experienced by this population. Lastly, as these challenges and strengths may inform recovery needs, the present study will examine the needs of those in the recovery process, both in and out of formal treatment settings. Drawing from community-based participatory research models, we will collaborate with key stakeholders (e.g., patients, clinic staff) to identify tangible ways this project can contribute to the community.

Three research questions will be addressed: 1) How do Black individuals think about their identity, particularly with respect to race, psychosis, and substance use? 2) What are the barriers and facilitators to recovery that Black individuals with co-occurring psychosis and substance use disorders experience?; and 3) What needs are present in this population and how can recovery be improved? Addressing these questions will improve our understanding of the lived experiences of Black individuals recovering from co-occurring psychosis and substance use disorders, allowing future research and applied efforts to better understand, promote, and support recovery in this population.


A qualitative exploration of how low-income communities utilize dollar stores as food retailers

Student: Alexandria (Allie) Reimold

Area of study: Health Behavior

Community partner: Jordyn Appel-Hughes, Feast Down East

Faculty advisor: Shelley Golden

This project seeks to understand how limited-resource communities in New Hanover County (NHC) use dollar stores as food retailers by conducting 30- to 45-minute semi-structured, in-depth interviews with individuals who shop at dollar stores for food items in NHC. Through these interviews I hope to glean information related to general perceptions about dollar stores, why individuals choose to shop at dollar stores, what items they purchase there, and why they purchase those specific food items once inside. The overarching goal of this project is to inform Feast Down East (FDE) programs and practices in the local food environment along with the growing literature on dollar stores as food retailers. The specific goals of this project are to partner with FDE to: 1) Recruit and conduct semi-structured, in-depth interviews with up to 25 Mobile Market patrons who live in affordable housing complexes within one mile of a dollar store; 2) Analyze interview transcripts for emergent themes; 3) Identify how FDE may be able to address and/or work with local dollar stores to improve the local food environment; and 4) Condense all findings into a report and presentation for FDE, as well as a peer-reviewed publication in the scientific literature.


Youth Changemakers in Partnerships: Addressing Racial Injustice, Cultivating Purpose and Community

Student: Emily Seiger

Area of study: Nutrition

Community partner: Jennifer Castillo and Youth Interns, The Resiliency Collaborative

Faculty advisor: Alexandra Lightfoot

Youth have essential first hand knowledge about the needs of youth in their community, but their wisdom is rarely elevated due to power dynamics, imposed timelines, budgets, and lack of community connections that exclude them from decision-making and design of projects to address their needs. The Resiliency Collaborative’s high school interns, BIPOC students between the ages of 14-18 that live and/or learn in Southeast Raleigh, identified community concerns they were passionate about that they had the capacity to partner within their community to address. Making use of their past semester learnings, personal and community resources, and an asset mapping activity, youth identified community and personal passions around the areas of immigration/issues of documentation and wellbeing, BIPOC youth mental health and healing liberation, and BIPOC student voice and representation in K12 educational systems.

Each student action team developed goals for their projects, including:

Immigration: “As advocates with immigrant/undocumented people (IUP), we aim to unite and collaborate with allies in our community to improve conditions for IUP youth, and inform them of their resources and allies.” In an initial brainstorming session, the team also discussed hosting information meetings and creating informational pamphlets ensuring their peers know about existing resources.

Mental Health: Youth co-developed the HOPE Seekers Mental Health Curriculum with UNC’s School of Public Health graduate students and are now sharing this teen peer to peer program to assist with systemic gaps elucidated by the pandemic. In addition to continuing HOPE Seekers workshops,  “We hope to spread awareness and advocate for mental health for BIPOC students by having info booths and workshops available to our community.” In an initial brainstorming session, the team discussed supporting an event for youth to get suicide prevention certified from the QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer) institute as a few of them have already completed this training through their collaborative work with CHILL.

Education: “Help address the lack of attention paid to young BIPOC students and the lack of representation of BIPOC in school materials by supporting their reading comprehension using resources tailored to their interests.” In an initial brainstorming session the team discussed hosting a book drive/book club and creating an interactive website to provide BIPOC students with books that interest them and characters that represent them.

Using a layered community engagement strategy, we partner with youth to foster learning communities that amplify and bolster initiatives that youth identify as areas of concern/growth that better center their lived experiences.


Fishers as First Responders Pilot Training

Students: Francie Sentilles and Mercy Neal

Area of study: Environmental Sciences and Engineering

Community partner: Fishing Association z-31

Faculty advisor: Amanda Northcross

Traditional fishing communities were among the hardest hit by the 2019 Northeastern Brazil Oil Spill, the largest in the country’s history. In addition to losing their livelihoods, fishers were the first responders to the spill across much of the country. They organized efforts to remove oil from beaches and other contaminated environments, often without protective equipment or training. Given ongoing concerns about environmental crises and chemical spills, our project involves developing training materials for fishers focused on environmental crisis preparation. Since 2019, our research group has worked with fishing associations to document the health impacts of the spill, and these community partners have expressed a need for disaster preparedness training and resources. The training will educate community leaders on protective measures to reduce exposure to future environmental hazards, such as use of protective equipment and strategies to enhance food security. The training will be designed within the context of the socioeconomic challenges, resource availability, and cultural needs of the target communities. We will use the fellowship funds to teach a pilot version of the training, seek feedback, and publish a training guide that can be adapted to support fishers across Northeastern Brazil.


Come into the Black and Live: Black LGBTQ Re-Archiving of National Landscapes

Student: Hannah Skjellum-Salmon

Area of study: English and Comparative Literature

Community partner: J. Clapp and Stormie Daie

Faculty advisor: Rebecka Rutledge Fisher

My project proposes a collaboration with drag artists in the Durham, North Carolina-based drag house the House of Coxx to understand how they preserve Black LGBTQ history in Durham and the Triangle area through their art and activism. Secondarily, this project make connections between the House of Coxx and other Black LGBTQ art and activism in the United States to demonstrate where the House of Coxx contributes to and forwards a broader legacy of Black LGBTQ art and activism in this country. Through interviews with drag artists such as house mother and founder Vivica C. Coxx and her drag children such as Stormie Daie, I seek to understand their motivations for becoming artists and activists in this area. As a majority-Black drag artist collective, the House of Coxx has been connected to advocacy for LGBTQ youth, has hosted and supported Black Lives Matter events with local groups such as Durham Beyond Policing, and maintains a proudly Black presence in a majority-white LGBTQ community in Durham. It is in through interviews that I further want to understand the ways that perceive the space they enter into in Durham as Black LGBTQ people, and how they see themselves potentially changing the boundaries and meanings of said spaces via their presence. Mainly, I inquire if they see their actions and visibility, whether performing art or activism, as recreating Durham spaces into spaces that are open to and hold the kinds of Black LGBTQ histories and experiences that are integral to their ethos as a drag collective. The goals of these interviews is to then not only learn with and from these artists about how they perceive their presence in Durham and the Triangle at large. In its totality, this project’s aims are to become one such archive of the House of Coxx’s histories, experiences, and lives that can then forward their own visions of promoting Black LGBTQ activism and art.


Environmental health education and well water quality testing for youth in Warren County

Sherpa Community Engagement Fellowship

Student: Andromede Uwase

Area of study: Master in Public Health, Environmental Health Concentration

Community partner: Living and Learning Youth Center in Warren County

Faculty advisors: Amanda Northcross and Mike Fisher

The primary goal of this project is to provide environmental health education on well water quality to youth in Warren County. I am a part of the ECUIPP Lab at UNC in the environmental science and engineering department. The lab has been working to develop low-cost water quality testing toolkits and resources to provide more access to communities in North Carolina and private wells.  For the fellowship projects, I will work with our community partners and ECUIPP lab team to create an innovative learning module and activities to introduce youth in warren county to water quality testing and the environmental health education field during the summer camp. After the summer camp, I will evaluate the materials and experience working on this innovative program to design materials that can be used annually and applicable to other communities to introduce to youth water quality basic education, testing, careers in environmental health, and environmental health in general. With this innovative program, we want to introduce to youth in Warren County citizen science tools, advocacy, environmental justice, and how they can help their communities to improve well water quality.  We hope to publicly share the evaluation materials of this program so that other communities can use it as a reference to promote environmental health education to youth.


Read descriptions of previous Community Engagement Fellowship projects here.