Monthly Archives: July 2014

Our Stellar Students: Caitlin Simpson, Human Development and Family Studies

It took a few years of exploration to get here but I think it’s safe to say that I found my home here at Penn State in the College of Health and Human Development—specifically as a Human Development and Family Studies major. With my focus on Early Childhood Development I hope to use my degree to better understand the behavior of children and to create positive environments for future learning. I initially went to culinary school straight out of high school, so my dream is to combine my knowledge of childhood development with my cooking background to create a culinary class for kids. I’m originally from State College (townie pride!) and in my free time you can generally find me hiking, reading, or cooking while listening to some Sinatra.

This summer I embarked on a trip of a lifetime: a 6-week backpacking/volunteer trip to Peru! I just returned this week and I can honestly say that it has been one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had.

I traveled with Operation Groundswell, an organization that focuses on sustainable volunteering. Their website says it best: “Operation Groundswell is a non-profit organization that offers travel and community service experiences around the world. We aim to build a community of “backpacktivists” that are socially, environmentally and politically aware of their impact in the communities they travel to and live in.”

My trip was called Peru Mind and Body, and keeping along with the theme, our projects revolved around health and wellness. Our first project was located in the Sacred Valley near Cusco on a small sustainable farm owned by the Ccapa family.

Our home for the week

Our home for the week

The Ccapa family is trying to get back to their roots and practice sustainable farming that is closer to ancient Incan tradition. Along with fruits and vegetables, the Ccapa family harvests and distills traditional herbs that are used in oils for healing purposes. Throughout our week on the farm we made adobe bricks using a handmade mold, built a foundation for a storefront, and weeded herb gardens.

making adobe to be formed into bricks

making adobe to be formed into bricks

The Ccapa’s made sure we felt like part of the family, and the hospitality they showed us (including delicacies such as fried squash fritters and cuy or guinea pig) was truly touching and made a lasting impact on the group for the rest of the trip.

the group and the Ccapa family

the group and the Ccapa family

Our second project took place in a tiny village near the Four Lakes region called Chosecani. The town had never received visitors before, and we were welcomed to the community with a parade and formal ceremony! We spent the week with several families in home stays while working on renovating the town’s maternity health care center. The building was in abysmal shape when we got there (for example barrels of tar were being stored inside) and to know that children were still using the center made our work feel even more urgent and rewarding.

before and after the renovation

before the renovation

Before and after the renovation

After the renovation


Caitlin Simpson_6

painting kid-height murals inside the health center

We sanded, painted, stained, and cleaned 8 hours a day until the center looked like a completely different place. Although there was still a lot more the group would have liked to accomplish, we made the center safe for others to use, and pleasant to look at to boot!

Our Stellar Students: Rhoda Moise, Biobehavioral Health

As a junior majoring in Biobehavioral Health with a double minor in Biology and Health Policy and Administration, I possess a passion for health promotion from proteins to people. As a HealthWorks Peer Health Educator, I volunteer with the University Health Services in order to advocate for health amongst the Penn State community. I also serve as the Treasurer of the Penn State section of the National Council of Negro Women Inc., where I seeks to lead, develop, and advocate for women through philanthropy, prosperity, and the promotion of educational values. I give back to my community through serving as a tutor for the Student Support Services Program, helping to provide student with the tools for academic success. I underscore and advance my mission to promote scholarship through my position as a Scholar Advancement Team member of the Schreyer Honors College where I strive to diversify the faces in the SHC.

I aspire to obtain a PhD in population health in order to conduct research that combats health disparities related to chronic disease. My research interests include health disparities affecting the underrepresented populations and the African Diaspora; attitudes, behaviors, and determinants regarding diabetes among minority and low-income populations; community/family interventions or Community Based Participatory Research (CBPR) to improve diet quality and behavior in culturally sensitive ways, and quantitative and qualitative methodology. Last summer I completed a nine week research project under the mentorship of Dr. Emilie P. Smith, as a facet of the McNair Scholars Program which grooms undergraduates for graduate education.

This summer, I have the privilege of conducting diabetes research under the mentorship of Dr. Rhonda BeLue.

Through culturally grounded narrative interviews, this research explores what exercise means to Senegalese individuals in order to help manage diabetic interventions. This approach will also contribute to the field of health promotion by advancing a theoretical framework for delivering culturally competent health in West African cultures. More specifically, the purpose of my project is to identify culturally-grounded diabetes management narratives focused on exercise among diabetic patients in MBour, Senegal. Given the increasing burden of diabetes and chronic disease in SSA, my work has the potential to improve diabetes management and resulting diabetes death and disability. For example, we came across a 67 year old male with an amputated toe as a result of his poor diabetes management.

While exhausting, my work here is extremely exhilarating and fulfilling. The interviews were home visits which lasted about an hour long; moreover, we completed about four interviews a day, totaling at 41 before the data entry process. While my work may not be able to directly change issues such as accessibility/affordability, the conversation generated through these interviews is a start.

This fieldwork also helps frame my ultimate aspirations to improve chronic disease care and management in Haiti. Professionally, this experience will help inform my personal efforts to optimize diabetes management and prevention measures in Haiti. As a first generation Haitian-American, I am extremely invested in combating diabetes disparities since the disease is no stranger to my very own family, both my paternal and maternal sides. Martin Luther King Junior once said, “of all inequality, injustice in the healthcare is the most shocking and inhumane.” His words stand as the driving force behind my personal and professional aspirations. My academic endeavors and campus involvement demonstrate my passion and commitment to positively affecting public policy and potential health outcomes.

(Sweetest nine month old baby girl found comfort in my arms… I presume, who wouldn’t? She was being pampered as I fanned her! <3)

(Large mango tree in the yard of an elderly woman we interviewed; moreover, she had her granddaughter pick some fresh mangoes off the tree for us! Delectable treat after a long interview in the sweltering Senegalese shade!)

(Not all residents of Mbour have poor diabetes management. 8 month old Mohammed, the grandson of a mid-fifty year old man we interviewed, reached for my packaged water. Of course I had to share with my Young King. The mid aged gentleman told us of the impact the research Dr. BeLue has been doing… As a result of the information he learned in the past year, he exercises every single day and has drastically improved his diet!)