Community-engaged research day fosters collaborative partnerships

Faculty, community leaders meet to discuss challenges facing Harrisburg community
People sit at a table talking

Natrina Cox, center, engages with her table about the topic of parents’ mental health during the Community-Engaged Research Day on June 6, 2019. 

Credit: Penn State

Community leaders and scientists shared breakfast and sought solutions to problems like opioids, obesity and depression June 6 at the Community-Engaged Research Day.

The Community-Engaged Research Core of Penn State Clinical and Translational Science Institute hosted the event where investigators from Penn State College of Medicine, University Park, Harrisburg and Scranton gathered with community-based organization representatives to discuss Harrisburg’s challenges and how research can help.

“Community involvement in all phases of research can help to ensure that new treatments and health discoveries are more effective and meaningful for the people they are intended to reach,” said Andrea Murray, project manager and community engagement coordinator at the institute.  

Identifying roadblocks

At the heart of the event were lively, facilitated discussions at tables where researchers and community leaders were paired together based on their interests. Topics of discussion included childhood obesity, substance abuse, food access and the mental health of parents and students.  

The groups cited a lack of education and access to resources as common roadblocks for the success of community initiatives. Natrina Cox, a resident services coordinator at Preservation Management Inc., has witnessed first-hand how barriers like mental health stigma and dissatisfaction with available services affect the lives of those she works with.

“Poverty is an issue that is close to my heart as a social worker,” said Cox. “I want to do something about it. We are the answer.”

Taking the next steps

After making new connections and identifying areas of need, the attendees learned about the next steps to get started with the research process.

Investigators and community leaders can fill out proposals for planning grants that will allow them to further discuss mutual interest, develop research questions, identify leaders, conduct literature reviews and collect pilot data.

The Penn State Clinical and Translational Science Institute website provides information about community-engaged research and other services offered by the institute.