Real challenges in healthcare meet real solutions – The Morning Sun


There is a sure way to learn to solve problems and evaluate solutions: do it for real.

Just ask the group of Central Michigan University students involved in a pioneering one-year program called Emerging Leaders in Health Disparities.

The project relies on ‘solution pools’, teams of students, faculty and community partners who come together to learn more about local and global health disparities, develop solutions to address them through education. creative thinking and technology, then evaluate how the solutions work.

“This is a think tank that focuses on solving real mental health issues in Michigan,” said Psychology faculty member Larissa Niec Davila. “Everything is new. “

Psychology faculty member Niec Davila and Sarah Domoff created the two-part special topics course, PSY 501, supported by a CMU grant President’s and provost’s fund for program innovation and excellence.

Niec Davila said it was the first such program in the country – and a hit with the 10 undergraduates and two graduate students who started piloting it in the spring semester.

“We had 100% participation,” she said. “Every student has attended every class. “

Pool resources
Participants in the Solution Pool come from different disciplines and majors: psychology, health professions, pre-medicine, public health, social work, exercise science and more. The first community partners are Community Mental Health for Central Michigan and a coalition led by the Delta Schoolcraft Intermediate School District in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

During this first year, the teams tackle three public health challenges:

  • Substance abuse, especially among girls, in the UP The team’s solutions focus on communication between schools and parents and on promoting positive social opportunities for children.
  • Children’s low physical activity levels and a 64% childhood obesity rate in UP solutions include tools to track and graph amounts of physical activity and provide rewards to the community.
  • Underutilization of mental health support services in Clare and Gladwin counties in central Michigan. The team is working on upgrading the CMHCM website and social media presence.

Students spent the spring semester learning about problems and developing solutions using the Creative problem-solving model. One of their ideas, to meet the two challenges of the UP, is an innovative project of “photovoice”. This fall, K-12 students and teachers will express their ideas about active and healthy lifestyles through photographs and voice recordings that will be collected online and in a visual exhibit.

The aim is to enable decision-makers and health-related organizations to see what the community thinks about healthy lifestyles, and therefore to provide funds and resources to promote active and healthy living in these communities.

In April, the students unveiled all of their solutions – along with public service video announcements – to community partners in a presentation also attended by CMU college deans, Provost Mary C. Schutten and the President Bob Davies.

This summer, six of the students are turning plans into action through scholarships. In the fall semester, the teams will begin to analyze the results.

Niec Davila and Domoff designed the program for 20 to 40 students per year. They invite students to enroll in the next cohort, which will take on new challenges starting in the fall of 2022.

“More than prepared”
Three students from the Emerging Leaders in Health Disparities program share their thoughts:

Bianca Buza

  • Birthplace: Madison Heights, Michigan.
  • Status: Graduated May 2021 with Bachelor of Science in Psychology and Early Childhood Development and Learning. She will return in fall 2021 to complete the Emerging Leaders project.
  • Objectives: Career as a licensed clinical child psychologist working with children struggling with behavioral issues related to family trauma, abuse and family conflict.
    In his words: “Through this program and the work we have done to solve community problems, I have learned to conduct careful research, apply it to real world problems and share this information so that I can others can be inspired by it. I feel more than prepared to describe my knowledge as a researcher to employers and interviewers in graduate programs.

Danielle King

  • Birthplace: Flint Township, Michigan.
  • Status: Senior student in health administration.
  • Objectives: to work in the field of public health and public policies, in particular on policies that help people with marginalized identities to obtain equitable health care.
    In his words: “This program allowed me to learn to work in an interdisciplinary team. I think it is essential to work with people from different backgrounds to harness the strengths of individuals towards a common goal. Additionally, this program has shown me the immense amount of research and planning required to implement solutions. I learned the importance of building relationships with communities to avoid harm, which will help me if I am successful in influencing policies. “

Emma Skogseth

  • Birthplace: Greenville, Michigan.
  • Status: Senior double major in psychology and child development.
  • Objectives: Participate in an interdisciplinary doctoral program with educational, developmental and psychological perspectives. Collaborate with professionals from other disciplines on community projects, create and advocate for public policies that address educational disparities, and become a psychology professor.
    In his words: “I was able to come together with other students from multiple disciplines on a real world project, examine health disparities through the lens of the community, and prepare for the rigors of graduate school.


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