St. Olaf College | News

Student research helps organization earn grant

Research that Stephanie Villarreal ’13 (left) and Katie Westwood ’13 conducted as part of the St. Olaf Collaborative Undergraduate Research and Inquiry (CURI) program helped a local organization earn a grant.

Research by St. Olaf College students and faculty helped the Northfield Healthy Communities Initiative earn a $50,000 grant from the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota Foundation to support wellness and community in Rice County.

The grant will benefit Growing Up Healthy, a program that Stephanie Villarreal ’13 and Katie Westwood ’13 studied as part of St. Olaf’s Collaborative Undergraduate Research and Inquiry (CURI) program. CURI provides opportunities for St. Olaf students of all academic disciplines to gain an in-depth understanding of a particular subject by working closely with a faculty member in a research framework.

Villarreal and Westwood, led by former St. Olaf faculty member Devyani Chandran, focused on the development of social capital programming served by Growing Up Healthy in the Northfield area. Specifically, they looked at how programs offered by Growing Up Healthy helped members achieve bonding or group unity and facilitated connections between the Latino population in Northfield and the larger community.

“We found that programs were very effective in promoting bonding and had a little more work to do in helping the community build bridges,” says Chandran, now an instructor at Western Washington University.

Following the results of their research, the team published a paper detailing their findings. The paper was then used as a resource by Growing Up Healthy to demonstrate the organization’s efforts in evaluating the programs it offers.

“To my understanding, this research was instrumental in helping them get their current grant,” says Chandran.

The opportunity to see change within the community as a result of their research is a point of pride and achievement for the team.

“I am really happy that Growing Up Healthy was able to receive funding,” says Villarreal, who is currently doing service work at MercyHome for Boys and Girls in Chicago. “Not only does it offer an opportunity for Northfield to get to know the Latino population, it also gives everyone a chance to be part of a community.”

The grant funds will be used for social capital development work in low-income neighborhoods in Rice County. The program is part of the foundation’s efforts to ensure that all Minnesotans have an equal opportunity to live a healthy life.

“It’s great to know that the research we conducted helped lead to a tangible result for the organization, and by extension, for the community,” says Westwood, now employed as a social service worker at the nonprofit Christopher House in Chicago.

“My summer of research was an unforgettable experience that sparked a lifelong interest in social work and related research, precisely because of the direct support it can be for a community.”