Parker Students Join Public Health Research Team

By Director of Civic Engagement Shanti Elliott

Nine Parker students have been engaged this year in a public health research project, guided by Northwestern University graduate students working with Parker parent Dr. Ruchi Gupta and sponsored by Upper School Science teachers Bridget Lesinski and Leslie Webster. The students—Wilson Cedillo ’20, Anjali Chandel ’20, Nicole Feitler ’20, Rohan Jain ’20, Avani Kalra ’20, Octavio Lopez ’18, Isabel Olesinski ’20, Beatrice Turner ’19 and Caroline Viravec ’19—all have a special interest in careers in medicine. They have been meeting weekly with the Northwestern students on a joint project focused on community-engaged health research called SOAAR: Science and Outcomes of Asthma and food Allergy Research. The students conducted surveys and in-depth interviews at Parker and in other Chicago communities, analyzed data and are now working on PSAs (Public Service Announcements) to educate other young people on important health issues.

In addition to in-school research and PSA projects, the students visited a health fair at Nicholson STEM Academy in Englewood on April 19, sharing public health resources and interviewing community members about community health concerns. Viravec expressed appreciation for the generosity of those attending the health fair who shared their experiences: “People really opened up to us, even though we had just met them.” In their blog post, Learning Is a Two-Way Street, the Northwestern students noted, “Through these conversations, the [Parker] students learned about existing community-based factors and resources that improve and worsen these health conditions. Some of the conditions that parents and students often reported were obesity, allergies and asthma, so we were glad to share our resources with them.”

On Tuesday, May 16, the group took another field trip, this time to Lurie Children’s Hospital, to learn from public health researchers about the framework and the practice of public health. For both this trip and the previous one, members of the Young Women in Science group and Lesinski joined Webster and the SOAAR group of Parker students and Northwestern graduate students. The students toured the hospital and hear from researchers and public health professionals about the importance of moving from an individualized understanding of health to a systems approach. They explained that many doctors and nurses “want to go upstream,” not just treat patients, but focus on what is causing health epidemics such as gun violence. They started projects like Strengthening Chicago’s Youth (SCY) and the Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children (CLOCC) to address environmental factors that contribute to public health issues. Segregation, the researchers emphasized, is the primary health hazard in Chicago.

The Parker students appreciate how the public health framework helps them understand systemic injustice. Jain pointed to disparities he has learned about through this project: “We found that Parker students’ health concerns were mostly about food allergies and mental health. And in Englewood, there was more asthma and diabetes. There’s more research going toward health issues that affect higher-income communities, and that needs to change.” Read more from Jain on this experience here.

Students are working on a final project focusing on creating more awareness of a particular public health concern. Obesity, asthma and diabetes are some of the topics that students are working on.

Big thanks to the wonderful Northwestern graduate student team, Dr. Gupta, Ms. Webster, Ms. Lesinski, Northwestern Memorial Hospital and Lurie Children’s Hospital for creating this powerful educational opportunity for our students!


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