Monday, January 12, 2009
Group 19 (Stakeholders in Newark) also took the prize for being the first to submit their group project, sending off their work to be evaluated and disseminated mid-afternoon on Sunday.
Sunday, January 11, 2009
(Both Groups 24 and 25 faced relatively early deadlines for their work, so I have included in this week’s post a final reflection from a few group members.)
It turns out the walls of the “Princeton bubble” are thinner than I expected. When I sat down to speak with members of Group 24, the “Survey Analysis Group” and Group 25, the “Original Survey Group,” the first thing most students wanted to talk about was how excited they are to be involved in a project that has the potential to make a positive difference in the community outside of Princeton. Sophomore Christine Bokman spoke highly of the passion she observed in fellow group members, “I never realized how many other Princeton students feel like I do about the importance of community service. I’ve met so many people who care about what I do, and I can’t wait to work on public outreach with them even after this particular project is finished. For many students, the “food desert” project presented just the opportunity they had been looking for to work for a cause that matters.
Junior Ben Harms of Group 25A was very pleased with what he learned about writing survey questions, and said that even though he found writing the survey questions “challenging,” it was also “very satisfying to contribute to the project and to the community in such a direct way.” Harms recalls that it was challenging to “phrase questions in a way that didn’t incorporate scientific words like cholesterol. We had to learn to write the questions in a way that people at an eighth grade reading level would understand.”
Junior Paul Nehring of Group 25B remarked, “Thanks to this project, I have become a much better consumer as far as data goes. When I hear about statistical results from a survey I am now much more informed about whether I should trust the survey based on how they constructed the survey frame. Instead of just believing what I hear on the news I now feel prepared to think about these numbers critically.” Nehring also feels “much more comfortable with surveys. I think I could design and send out my own survey if I wanted to—with statistically sound results!”
The one thing that some students complained about was feeling disconnected from what other students in the class have done to contribute to the overall project…sometimes even the members of their own group. While the feedback was mostly positive, some members of Group 24 felt separated from the actual project, and wondered whether their research had any impact on the community. Freshman Leslie Bargmann admitted, “I can’t say I really know what the other members of my group are focusing on or why what they are doing is important for the overall project. I wish I would have been able to be more hands on…I would have liked to visit the communities we were studying.”
On the whole, the members of Groups 24 and 25 were satisfied with what they took away from this project, both academically and personally. Many students seem to agree with Junior Farrell Harding, who said, “This class has inspired me to get move involved in community service. I’m really glad I had this experience.” Caught up in the daily grind of classes and assignments, it is easy to forget that there is a big wide world away from the Princeton campus. While it is crucial to focus our attention on being dutiful students and preparing ourselves academically to engage in that world, it is equally important that we remember how important it is to focus on others instead of only focusing on ourselves.
After a week of e-mailing with preceptor Kevin Collins, Group 24 reports feeling much more confident about their understanding of the assignment. Kevin decided to split the group into two parts, with one half analyzing the question, “How does income affect dietary trends?”, and the other looking into “How do dietary patterns affect obesity?”
Reflecting on the data she examined, Freshman Leslie Bargmann was surprised to find that while obesity rates are higher among African Americans than among Caucasians, African Americans consume more fruits and vegetables. From his study of existing surveys, Sophomore Joshua Oppenheimer said he “was able to see the project in a broader context. Looking at surveys from the past gave me an idea of what kind of results our survey might generate.”
Group 25A worked together to finish writing the survey questions. After brainstorming on how to add more bulk to the original twelve questions, the group members gathered together in Sophomore Fallon Atta-Mensah’s room to compile what they had come with on their own. Christine Bokman, also a sophomore, feels as though the survey is going to produce just the kind of results that the CBLI project originally wanted. “We asked a lot of questions about basic nutrition,” Bokman said, “I’m confident we are producing what Professor Harris-Lacewell wanted.”
Group 25 C formatted the survey; while the original survey was only twelve questions, the final version was twelve pages! Many group members were surprised that the survey had to be so long. Junior Farrell Harding wonders whether people who got the survey in the mail would be willing to sit down and answer so many questions. “I guess we’ll just have to wait and see,” Harding remarked.
This week both Groups 24 and 25 made significant progress in their efforts to create a survey and to get an idea of what kinds of results our group should expect to see when the survey starts coming back. Members of Group 24 began individual research on existing research about if dietary patterns affect health. Sophomore John Oppenheimer was relieved to get some clarity on his assignment, saying “I think I finally understand what I should be doing.” “Our group was pretty lost,” freshman Leslie Bargmann remembers with a smile
Group 25 A had submitted three research questions at the beginning of the project and thought that those put together would act as the entire survey. After talking to preceptor Kevin Collins, though, they realized that they would need quite a few more in order to form a comprehensive questionnaire to capture the information they needed. They plan to spend this week coming up with more questions.
Group 25B spent this week working to choose the survey frame. Junior Paul Nehring, who had a little experience selecting survey frames and identifying how to reach certain groups, enjoyed the opportunity to work with other students to accomplish this task. “The guidance from Kevin and from Dr. Freeland helped us a lot,” Nehring said. “It was interesting learning more about using zip codes instead of phone numbers when you’re trying to find a random sample of lower-income families to send the surveys to.”
Until the other two groups finish their tasks, Group 25C has no survey to format. They are waiting to hear from their fellow group members before they meet again.
As a member of Group 22, the “Class Media Group,” I was given the task of tracking the procedures, progress, and findings of Group 24, “Survey Analysis Group” and 25, “Original Survey Group.” Group 24 is responsible for analyzing existing data from similar surveys conducted in the past, and Group 25 is in charge of writing the survey questions, identifying who to send the survey to, and packing the survey so it can be mailed to people in Newark, Trenton, New Brunswick, and Camden. I was asked to switch into this group from Group 23 on November 18, almost three weeks into the second half of the semester, so my blog posts are starring in the middle of the project.
Here is some background about what the groups have done so far:
Group 24 members have been communicating with preceptor Kevin Collins to understand what goes into their project, and how they are supposed to conduct a statistical data analysis of surveys that have been done in the past about topics like food deserts. Sophomore Jacob Oppenheimer told me, “I think we’re all still pretty confused at this point…we’re trying to figure out what is going on what we are supposed to be doing.” Group 24 plans to do most of their work individually, and will not be meeting much in the following weeks.
Group 25, which originally started off as Groups 13-16, was condensed after Dr. Freeland at Princeton’s Survey Research Center informed them that it was a bit too ambitious for four groups to each try and create it’s own survey, gather the data by phone, and analyze the results. Junior Ben Adams was “shocked” when Dr. Freeland predicted that it would have taken each student eighty hours of work just to gather data. With guidance from Professor Harris-Lacewell the survey groups decided to switch to a mailed survey not a phone survey, and Groups 13-16 were changed into Groups 24 and 25.
Finally, Group 25 was broken down even further so that some people would be writing survey questions (25A), others would be choosing the survey frame (25B), and the remaining members would format the survey to be sent to locals in Newark, Trenton, New Brunswick, and Camden (25C). Freshman Elle Powell remarked, “I think we’ve broken down the overall task of writing a survey into much more manageable pieces; I’m excited to get to work in a smaller group.” Next week Group 25 will meet with their subgroups because the deadline for the survey to be finished is fast approaching!
Saturday, January 10, 2009
In various interviews with group members, many have expressed how valuable this project was to them in terms of getting hands-on knowledge of the link between food, race and health in New Jersey. A common sentiment expressed in these interviews was that one person's work was not necessarily enough to capture the complexities of these issues but that the CBLI project as a whole should turn out to be a valuable resource for Catholic Health East.
Friday, December 12, 2008
Elizabeth Borges conducted an interview with Mary Gay of the Trenton Rescue Mission after being referred to her by Jeff Zeiger from the Trenton Chamber of Commerce. They spoke at length about how food availability affects the Rescue Mission, and how the absence of well-stocked grocery stores in the central Trenton area presents a significant problem for the population of the city. Mary also recommended that Elizabeth speak with Phyllis Stoolmacher at Mercer Street Friends to gain a more direct understanding of how food availability affects the urban poor, so Elizabeth will likely conduct a third interview next week.
Devon Damiano met with Elyse Pivnick at Isles at the organization’s Trenton offices, located right in the middle of Trenton and surrounded by several community gardens that Isles supports. Elyse and Devon spoke about how Isles works with the community to encourage healthy eating and to make healthy food available to the local population. One of the biggest problems affecting health in the city, Elyse told Devon, is that the economic situation in Trenton leaves commercial grocers unwilling to enter the market, both because of the actual poverty in the city and because of stereotypes about the community. After the interview, Elyse pointed Devon to the gardens in the surrounding area, and she went to see them for herself. Isles helps start these gardens by providing basic supplies like seeds and fencing, but neighborhoods are expected to tend to the gardens on themselves, taking ownership of their new food source while reaping the benefits of fresh fruit and vegetables.