Closing the Gap Between Research and Practice

Stephanie Seller, MPH ’15, Sociomedical Sciences, Certificate in Health Promotion Research and Practice



For my practicum this summer, I interned with Columbia’s Community Engagement Core Resource, where I worked on a community-based research project with Community Health Academy of the Heights (CHAH) and Community League of the Heights (CLOTH). There, I evaluated a community fitness program – Zumba and yoga classes – offered at CHAH by CLOTH, and I worked with CHAH/CLOTH every step of the evaluation process. I was excited to straddle the line between academia and a community-based organization, so I jumped when I saw the position listed.

Community Health Academy of the Heights building.

Community Health Academy of the Heights building.

I gave myself a week to gain a better understanding of CLOTH, CHAH, and the fitness programs they offer. I spoke with my supervisor at CHAH/CLOTH and attended the Zumba and yoga classes to learn more. Then, I designed a logic model, which helped me to design my research questions. At this point, I realized that the aims of the fitness programming were more complex than I’d expected, and realized that my evaluation would necessitate connecting with various stakeholders. I felt a little overwhelmed at all I had to do, but I also felt confident in my understanding of the task at hand, and in my ability to complete it.

My supervisors and I determined that I would conduct a process evaluation, which studies the implementation of a program and the way the context affects it. We decided to utilize quantitative and qualitative methods to collect data from four different groups of research participants – Zumba and yoga class attendees, staff members, class instructors, and CHAH/CLOTH administrators. I developed all of the research materials, received IRB approval, collected the data, analyzed it, and produced my final report for CHAH and CLOTH. For a while, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get everything done in time, since the summer was flying by. Luckily, everything fell into place; after long work days and a flurry of data collection, entry, and analysis, I’m happy with how it all turned out. I appreciated the opportunity to gain skills in designing research materials, in community-based research, and in project management overall. My goal was to ensure that the results would be useful for CLOTH and CHAH, to better serve their needs and inform their future endeavors.

I’ve had some time to reflect on my practicum, and prior to Mailman, I’d had several years of work experience, but my past roles required me to assist rather than to manage a project on my own. This summer, I grew as a leader, as I coordinated all aspects of my project. I learned the importance of designing and conducting research studies that are appropriate to the population(s) of interest and that answer the necessary questions.

Since I’ve started my second year at Mailman, I’m looking forward to applying my skills in the classroom, as well as hearing about my classmates’ experiences. I’m also excited to continue working with CHAH and CLOTH for my thesis. This practicum reaffirmed my belief that I am interested in community-based work, and that whatever I end up doing post-graduation, I’d like it to help close the gap between research and practice.


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