Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Students to showcase how they helped community-based groups research new initiatives

Student Julianne Armijo learned firsthand the struggles many elderly people face when communicating with doctors.

They might not have a relative or friend accompany them to a medical appointment. Some do not understand what they need to do to take care of themselves after appointments.

Alex Ocampo, a 2009 CBRF program fellow, organizing a customer survey at the Grandmont-Rosedale Development Corp. Farmer's Market in Detroit. (Photo by Kelly Pearson)

Through the Community Based Research Fellowship Program at U-M, last summer Armijo evaluated a new program — Patient Partners — at the Jewish Family Services of Washtenaw County to help seniors. Patient Partners allows trained volunteers to build rapport with and accompany an older adult to medical appointments, as well as provide support and written documentation of what transpired for the patient’s reference.

“I learned a lot about policy and the functioning of non-profit organizations,” she says, “as well as what I can do in order to assess a community, discover their unique needs and collaborate with them to design interventions to meet those needs.”

Armijo was one of 28 students who participated in the 10-week summer fellowship program administered by the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program. Students conduct research to further an organization’s work.

The students’ work will be showcased at a symposium with a panel discussion and poster presentation from 3:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. Friday in the Undergraduate Science Building. The event is free and open to the public.

Students spend 35 to 40 hours per week assisting more than a dozen community-based organizations and civic agencies in Wayne and Washtenaw counties launch new initiatives to better serve their constituencies.

“It’s an important way for students to make connections,” says Alba Rueda-Riedle, who directs the summer program.

Debbie Fisher, a manager of Community and Economic Development at Focus: HOPE, says student Sara Kuzminski worked on several initiatives, including organizing safety data for the neighborhood and planning a concert and movie series for the park. Focus: HOPE is the site designee of the Michigan Cool Cities Initiative, which seeks to build community prosperity through financial and human capital investments.

“She made a huge contribution to our work, and we very much appreciated her presence at Focus: HOPE,” Fisher says.

Kuzminski, a junior specializing in sociology, described the summer experience as rewarding, and she plans to work with disadvantaged community in the future. “In addition to the practical skills gained, I now understand the value of community participation and the importance of ethics based research,” she says.

There is no financial cost to the organizations, since the program receives grant funding from various sources, including the Redlich and Horowitz Community Scholars Fund, the Cool Cities Internship Pilot Program, The Jack Kent Cook Foundation, AmeriCorps, Irvin Stern Foundation and private donors.

Melissa Azul, a junior majoring in neuroscience, assisted a pilot program that served disadvantaged and disabled youth between the ages of 18-24, through the Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living. She says the experience taught her several things about herself.

“I feel like I can better see the world and all of its downfalls, but somehow I am not discouraged by it,” she says, “… (I) see opportunity because I know there are efforts being made” to improve the situation.

Doug Roehler, a first-year master’s degree student in public health, conducted a needs assessment of a boys’ home in Detroit’s inner city, as well as helped start a mentoring program.

“This experience really got me excited about research,” he says. “By participating in community-based research, you become part of the community. You are excited to spend time with your community, and are sad when it comes to an end.”

Applications for organizations and faculty interested in participating in the program next summer are due Dec. 11, and Feb. 12 for students. For more information and application materials, go to