Researchers are often looking for ways to connect with the community to gain new insights on their research, make an impact, and recruit study participants. When IHSI began working with University of Illinois Extension last year, Kelsey Hassevoort, a research development specialist for brain health at IHSI, and Chelsey Byers, an extension health educator serving the residents of Champaign, Ford, Iroquois, and Vermillion counties, saw an opportunity for Illinois brain health researchers to connect with the community in an interesting new way. They decided to explore how Illinois investigators might contribute to brain health programming being offered to Illinois Extension’s established audience.
To test this idea, Kelsey started looking for graduate students to create educational programming in partnership with Chelsey. Corinne Cannavale, a graduate student in Illinois’ Neuroscience Program, responded with a proposed six-part educational series, “Nutrition, Wellness, and the Brain,” that would address brain health across the lifespan.
Corinne’s motivation to develop this series came from her lab work with human subjects. When research participants returned for new studies, they would commonly ask how they could learn more about the research in which they had previously participated. “I never felt like I had a great answer for them,” she recalls. By developing the educational series, Corinne had content she could share with her research participants and with others seeking research-based recommendations.
Over 250 community members signed up for “Nutrition, Wellness, and the Brain.” Chelsey has been thrilled with the response. “With each program, we have had increased participation. We are bringing the research happening on campus to people throughout the state of Illinois and beyond.” To build on that momentum, Chelsey, Corinne, and Kelsey have collaborated again to develop the Summer Self-Care Series. Starting June 9, 2020, this nine-part series extends beyond the domain of brain health to offer a broad range of timely, evidence-based health content to the community.
The organizers are also thrilled to extend the opportunity to present this series to seven additional graduate students from across the University of Illinois. Corinne hopes these students find the experience as meaningful as she has. The experience, which she described as her favorite part of graduate school so far, has inspired her to continue to work with science communication and outreach throughout her career. “I feel that as scientists, it is important that our science is available not only to the scientific community but also to the public, who are often barred access to journal articles either through paywalls or by the fact that journal articles are not accessibly written for those outside the scientific community.”
Kelsey sees this collaboration with Illinois Extension as a concrete way for researchers to make an impact in the community. “There is incredible health sciences expertise on our campus. Creating opportunities for health researchers to share the insights they’ve gained with members of the community is a meaningful way to fulfill our university’s mission as a land-grant institution.”
More about the researchers involved in the summer series
Corinne Cannavale (Neuroscience Program) will present two seminars as part of the series on evaluating scientific claims and how sleep can benefit cognitive function.
Ru Liu (Division of Nutritional Sciences) will help participants evaluate the risks and benefits of discussing three current diet trends: gluten-free, ketogenic, and intermittent fasting.
Katherine Hatcher (Neuroscience Program) will discuss the science behind menopause, lifestyle factors that may exacerbate symptoms, and research-based strategies to help women improve their health and wellness during menopause.
Noah Hutchinson (Division of Nutritional Sciences) will discuss the effects of exercise on immune function.
Jonathan Cerna (Division of Nutritional Sciences) will share evidence-based strategies for behavior change and apply it to two commonly frustrating areas: diet and exercise.
Michael Key (Neuroscience Program) will discuss the role of genetics/epigenetics in the relationship between nutrition and cognitive aging.
Emily Erlenbach (Department of Kinesiology) will help participants understand how they can use exercise to improve mood and produce lasting changes to their mental health.
Leila Shinn (Division of Nutritional Sciences) will introduce participants to the role that gut microbiome plays in health and how diet can impact our microbiome.
Saniya Lee Ghanoui (Department of History) will draw from the history of the Black Death, Spanish Flu, and COVID-19 to explain the causes and spread of pandemics and the impacts they have on vulnerable populations.
If you are interested in getting involved in community engagement activities like this, please contact Kelsey Hassevoort.