During the Fall 2020 semester, the Center’s three second-year Research Assistants, Laura Villarreal, Emily Reimer and Alyse Haven sat down to reflect on their time as Center RAs and how they have adapted to working during the COVID-19 pandemic.
What is your role with the Center?
Laura: I am the Research Assistant for the Minnesota Women’s Health Report Card (MNWHRC) and the LET-MCH Qualitative Methods Mini-Lab (Mini-Lab). I am updating the MNWHRC for this next year and planning on events for the Mini-Lab alongside Dr. Zobeida Bonilla.
Emily: I am the Communications RA, so I manage the social media accounts and produce the Healthy Generations monthly newsletter. I also help with website updates and anything else my fellow RAs need assistance with!
Alyse: I am the Center Liaison RA, and I work to connect students with the resources, events, deployments and professional development opportunities that exist through the Center. I have spent a good amount of my time co-founding the Maternal and Child Interest Group and leading the MCH Peers program to increase a sense of community and partnership among our students, and my monthly deliverables are the MCH eNewsletter and Student Spotlights.
What professional and volunteer roles do you hold outside of the Center?
Laura: I also work as a Research Assistant for the Family Matters Study in the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health. I am a Student Consultant for the Family Matters Study through the Community Health Initiative (CHI) program. Additionally, I volunteer as an SPH Student Ambassador and as the Intake Advisor for the Sigma Alpha Chapter of Sigma Lambda Gamma National Sorority Inc. here at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.
Emily: Professionally, I am the TA for Issues in Environmental and Occupational Health and a Communication Consultant for the MN Poison Control System. I recently became a Robert L. Kane Endowed Chair in Long Term Care & Aging and United Way scholar and will be working with Family Means on their communication content. I also act as the Minneapolis Representative on the Parks Advisory Committee for the Ford Site in Saint Paul.
Alyse: Within the SPH, I manage the Ambassador Program, which is a group of SPH students who represent our school and programs to create connections with prospective, applicant and admitted students. I also held research assistant and staff roles through the Division of Pediatric Epidemiology and Clinical Trials and the 10K Families Study before COVID-19. Outside of SPH, I currently serve as the Governing Council Student Representative for the Minnesota Public Health Association.
How has Year 2 with the Center been different than Year 1? Has COVID-19 changed your experience?
Laura: My first year was dedicated to introductory courses and becoming familiar with my positions as an RA. Later on in the year, I focused the majority of my work around qualitative research interviewing, translating, and transcriptions. This year since I am working and going to school from home, I am focusing my work around updating the MNWHRC and creating Mini-lab educational opportunities via Zoom. In regards to school, I took most of my introductory courses online and was looking towards in-person courses this semester as I am focusing on completing my minors. COVID-19 has changed the balance I established between my work, school, and personal life; I am experiencing a mixing between all of them at this moment. I am working to adapt, re-establish my boundaries, and create balance again between school, work, and life. One thing I truly miss is studying with friends, but we have found other ways to stay connected.
Emily: For me, Year 1 was academically focused on introductory courses. As I move into Year 2, I’m taking more courses I am interested in, including my minor courses. In general, I was pretty reluctant to take on too many things during my 1st year and felt I needed to find my groove before adding more activities to my plate. So in my 2nd year I’m really allowing myself to pursue anything I have interest in. The main thing COVID has changed is where I spend the majority of my time and how I divide my time. In Fall 2019, I spent almost all of Monday-Friday on campus and confined my school time from 7:30am to 6:00pm. This made it possible for me to keep my school life and home life separate. Now with COVID, I spend almost all of my time at home and I’ve found my schoolwork more sneakingly creeping into my weekends and evenings.
Alyse: I took the opposite approach as my co-RA, Emily, and prioritized taking on many opportunities during my first year. I took a pretty heavy course-load consisting of general introductory courses, MCH required courses, and courses for my Epidemiology minor. I took on numerous volunteer roles, and was about to take a staff position with the Division of Pediatric Epidemiology and Clinical Trials right as COVID-19 hit. I realized this was a sign I needed to slow down, as my schedule was becoming a bit too overwhelming. COVID-19 helped me to re-prioritize. I still value staying busy, so I took a summer class and a Cancer seminar through the U of MN Medical School. This fall semester, I am continuing my leadership roles with the Center and Ambassadors, am pursuing a possible research opportunity, and taking a relatively heavy course-load. I look forward to having a much lighter course-load in the spring, so I can focus on my ILE and job searching!
What has been your biggest accomplishment or favorite activity to be involved with as an RA?
Laura: I have so many favorite activities, it is difficult to choose! The most memorable activity I participated in thus far was interviewing families for the Positive Deviance research project during my first year. I connected with many Latinx families and was able to learn about nutrition and various parenting methods for the research project. Having the opportunity to connect with families and my own community is very special to me.
Emily: One of my favorite activities was putting together our COVID-19 MCH Quick-Guide. This guide was an absolute labor of love between curating content, working with contributors, formatting, and broadly sharing it across our network. At the time of creation, there was limited data for MCH populations and/or reputable information was hard for individuals to find, so it was awesome to do something that was sorely needed and timely.
Alyse: It’s been invaluable to help spearhead the MCH Peers program, which connects first year students with second year peers to help guide them through graduate school and the MCH program. I feel like I took part in something super meaningful that is helping to create a culture of support and community for our students, and I hope that as time goes on, the program continues to grow and becomes a standard model for future SPH peer programs.
What would you say is the most underutilized or undervalued resource that the MCH Center has to offer?
Laura: The MNWHRC and the Mini-lab, while fairly new, are wonderful resources that are provided by the Center. The Mini-lab provides resources for qualitative research and the MNWHRC provides sources and data about various aspects of women’s health in the state. This semester, the Mini-lab is hosting free educational events about qualitative research for all interested (RSVP HERE)! The updated MNWHRC is expected to be available early next year.
Emily: I’m not sure if this qualifies as underutilized, because I know people reference and use it, but I would say the Women’s Health Report Card. The sources and the data available in that report card are some of the best references we have for MN data. I highly recommend folks check it out just to see what information is available to the public!
Alyse: I would also have to say the Women’s Health Report Card! What is so meaningful is that it is supplemented by research conducted by our MCH students. We get to have a real impact on the ways that people understand Women’s Health in Minnesota. I also think our Student Spotlights are an amazing resource for new students to get to know the opportunities that are out there for them, such as deployments, field experiences, or future career areas. While our RAs and Center Director, Sara, certainly aren’t underutilized, I think their incredible work sometimes goes underappreciated. Thank you Laura, Emily, and most importantly Sara for the incredible dedication you have to improving the MCH experience for our students in MN and nation-wide!
Emily Reimer graduated in May 2014 from the College of Saint Benedict with a degree in Environmental Studies and a minor in Gender Studies. She spent the four years prior to graduate school in the healthcare software industry, working as a project manager for outpatient products. Throughout her career, she worked closely with population health, public health and patient engagement programs. She brings her strong understanding of healthcare systems, passion for women’s health, and interest in the environment to the MCH Program and RA role.
Laura Villarreal (she/her/ella) graduated in May 2019 from the University of Iowa with a degree in Global Health Studies, a certificate in Nonprofit Organizational Management, and a minor in Philosophy. She has spent four years working in qualitative research, and currently serves as the RA for the Center for Leadership Education in Maternal and Child Public Health and for the Family Matters Study (Department of Family Medicine and Community Health). Her interests include reproductive and sexual health, healthcare accessibility, and nutrition. As a second-year MCH student, she is enthusiastic about applying her knowledge of public health to the program and to her roles.
Alyse Haven (she/hers) graduated in December 2018 from the University of Minnesota with a major in Psychology and minors in Neuroscience and Public Health. She has served both student assistant and staff roles for the School of Public Health for over three years, and currently runs the SPH Ambassador Program. Alyse is interested in bridging the gap between epidemiologic research and health communication regarding children’s health, and also has a strong interest in bioethics.
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