Student Research Project to Assess Local Health Challenges

Students conduct health survey at Southside Mall

A new project developed by SUNY Oneonta's Psychology and Sociology departments is giving six students an applied-learning experience in the fields of health care and human service while also looking to alleviate some serious community problems.

Student researchers Joshua Garufi and Taryn More of Oneonta, Kathryn Kilichowski of Middle Village, Judson Parisi of Delmar, and Stacy Pinto and Peter Richardson of Oceanside are working this year with several local health and social service agencies to examine the well-being of area residents and identify areas that need improvement.

To learn more about the area and its residents, students are conducting survey research at the Southside Mall in Oneonta. This research is focused on knowledge, attitudes and behaviors of residents of Chenango, Delaware, Herkimer, Otsego and Schoharie counties. Specifically, it will assess residents' risk of alcohol/illegal drug abuse and mental illness and identify challenges to health wellness in rural areas. Respondents who complete a survey at the Southside Mall will receive a $5 gift card.

The project is being led by Sociology Professor Alex Thomas, Sociology Associate Professor Gregory Fulkerson, and Psychology Assistant Professor James Zians.

Funding for the research is being provided by LEAF Inc. (the Leatherstocking Education on Alcoholism/Addictions Foundation) and by a grant from the SUNY Oneonta Faculty Center for STEM-related applied learning.

In its annual Community Health Assessments, the Otsego County Department of Health routinely names promoting mental health and preventing substance abuse as two of its top priorities, with an emphasis on affordability, since many residents are living at or near poverty level.

"It is so important to include our students in this project and have them gather data from members of our community," said Julie Dostal, executive director of LEAF, "so we can better define the problems and also refine the resources we are offering."

The project will culminate with students developing a county-wide map of substance abuse treatment and mental health services and resources. Students will also assist local agencies with program evaluations and run an analysis to identify gaps within the county's continuum of care.

Each of the six student researchers will receive a $600 stipend for the project.