St. Olaf students invited to present research at national conference
A team of St. Olaf College students have been invited to present their research examining the effects of the pandemic on families of various racial and socioeconomic backgrounds at the National Conference for Undergraduate Research.
The students — Claire Mueller ’22, Mia Pylkkanen ’22, and Samirah Tunks ’23 — worked with Visiting Assistant Professor of Social Work and Family Studies Erica Kanewischer on the project last summer as part of the St. Olaf Collaborative Undergraduate Research and Inquiry (CURI) program and the TRIO McNair Scholars Program. This spring, they will present their research at two conferences, including the National Conference for Undergraduate Research in April.
Their work examined the experiences of families with school-aged children during the COVID-19 pandemic, with a focus on families from underrepresented backgrounds. They interviewed members of 20 families, asking questions about the challenges and stresses that arose and the changes in family dynamics, as well as questions about what went well for families. As the research progressed, the team noticed the conjunction between struggles related to the pandemic, and the racial tensions and events following the murder of George Floyd.
“There is limited research regarding the impact of these significant racial events combined with COVID-19 on minority populations. We wanted to add to the literature and give a space for underrepresented voices to be heard,” Pylkkanen says.
Through their interviews, the research team noticed five main themes: fear of the virus, the unknown, and racism and violence; changes in boundaries within families; the importance of communication; the support found in the wider community; and resilience.
“As the pandemic continues, it is important to recognize the experiences of families with school-aged children. Our work adds to the limited research on the impacts of COVID-19 on these families, but we included BIPOC families who experience a pile-up of unique stressors and whose voices are often not represented in research,” says Tunks, who is a McNair Scholar. “As a woman of color and a BIPOC student, I have a passion and commitment to assist in improving the lives of young children and their families through education and involvement. We hope that our research will aid communities in helping families cope and remain resilient during the pandemic and beyond.”
As the pandemic continues, it is important to recognize the experiences of families with school-aged children. Our work adds to the limited research on the impacts of COVID-19 on these families, but we included BIPOC families who experience a pile-up of unique stressors and whose voices are often not represented in research.Samirah Tunks ’23
Their research helps improve understanding of the kinds of assistance and support that families require from the wider community as the pandemic continues and changes. Although all their participants had some degree of community support, many could still benefit from an increase in availability of resources such as technology, food, and counseling services, Tunks says.
“Learning both about hardships and resilience has really opened my eyes, as well as I believe all of my colleagues’ eyes, to both the trauma that families have experienced but also to the incredible strength and support that families have and continue to have as we battle a new wave of the pandemic,” Mueller says.
This spring, the team will have the opportunity to present their work at the Midwestern Psychological Association Conference and the National Conference for Undergraduate Research.
I hope that sharing our research at a national conference will allow us to reach a broader audience and inspire others to research lived experiences during the pandemic.Mia Pylkkanen ’22
These conferences are opportunities to both share their own research, as well as learn about other important work in the field, learn about graduate and professional opportunities, and develop presentation skills.
“I hope that sharing our research at a national conference will allow us to reach a broader audience and inspire others to research lived experiences during the pandemic,” Pylkkanen says. “There is definitely a lack of phenomenological research in general and even less so on peoples’ experiences during the pandemic. I hope that presenting at a national conference will help people to realize the importance of this type of research.”