Community-Based Research Fellowship Project Profiles

Photo: Keith Caldwell, Saskia Berrios-Thomas, Yodit Betru

By Holly Hickling

Each fall and spring semester, the UHC offers Community-Based Research Fellowships to about eight undergraduate students to study a social issue. This semester, students are doing amazing work from supporting student mothers to changing the City of Pittsburgh’s budgeting process. Read the profiles below to learn more about all the amazing work being done by our students. More information about the CBR Fellowship can be found here:


Community Outreach Within the Latino Population in Pittsburgh

Rachel Krofcheck

Faculty Mentor:  Patricia Documet, Public Health

Community Partner:  Casa San Jose

Rachel Krofcheck, a senior double majoring in Spanish and English Literature, is conducting research to help Casa San Jose better reach the Latino community in Pittsburgh. Through anonymous surveys given to Latino immigrants living in Dormont, the research seeks to determine what methods of communication they would most desire from Casa San Jose, a local organization offering a variety of social services to the Latino community in Pittsburgh. The study is pertinent to Casa San Jose becoming more effective in communication and dissemination of information between their office and the Latino community that they serve. The overall purpose of this study is to help Casa San Jose create an improved communication policy that will increase their outreach and solidify contact with current clients.


The Transformative Power of Art

Sofia Sandoval

Faculty Mentor:  Delanie Jenkins, Studio Arts

Community Partner:  Manchester Craftsman’s Guild

Studio Arts and Natural Sciences double major Sofia Sandoval is implementing research that qualitatively addresses the question, “How can art be transformative for a group of at risk youth participating in an after school arts program?” By analyzing the ways in which art has enabled positive transformations through the programs of Manchester Craftsman’s Guild, Sofia will present the findings both in a written paper and an installation within an exhibition space, including student and personal artwork illustrating transformation. The study seeks to incentivize the use of an arts program for marginalized youth.


Redesigning Community Budget Hearings in Pittsburgh: From Demands to Deliberation

Marko Gudic

Faculty Mentor:  David Miller, Graduate School of Public and International Affairs

Community Partner:  Program for Deliberative Democracy

In preparation for completing his BPhil Thesis on the same topic next year, Marko, a double major in Economics and Politics and Philosophy, is conducting research on Participatory Budgeting (PB) and Deliberative Democracy in Pittsburgh this semester. Starting with a comparative analysis of other city budgeting practices, he will position the deliberative model designed for Pittsburgh along a spectrum regarding citizens’ degree of decision-making power and the nature of public participation. He is collecting baseline data on participation and the quality of public input from past community budget hearings in Pittsburgh. An impact evaluation on the redesigned process will then reveal whether any improvements have been made, including attitudinal changes and learning outcomes. The research results will be used to inform the improvement of the process going forward as it expands.


Demographics of Change: Using Frazier Farms as a Hub to Increase Gardening and Improve Food Systems

Sage Lincoln

Faculty Mentor:  Ward Allebach, Geology

Community Partner:  Frasier Farms

Sage is a sophomore pursuing a triple major in Environmental Studies, Urban Studies, and Ecology and Evolution. Her research focuses on gardening in South Oakland and consists of two components. The first uses surveys and interviews to determine food access, gardening habits, and barriers to gardening that exist in the community. The second utilizes this information to design a program to help residents overcome barriers that are preventing them from gardening.


Providing At-Risk Youth the Tools to Build Bridges for Their Future

Shruti Revankar

Faculty Mentor:  Debra Artim, Neuroscience

Community Partner: Amachi Pittsburgh

Junior Neuroscience major Shruti is conducting research with an organization that serves children with a parent who has been incarcerated. The first part of her project is focused on determining the mental health burdens faced by the youth in the program as well as their unmet needs. This analysis revealed prevalent issues and how and why they manifest. After this analysis, by speaking with professionals in social work as well as psychiatry, instructive materials will be developed for the mentors so that they can better understand the mentees with whom they are working. In addition to this, the goal is to introduce new activities that are therapeutic and target children who are experiencing mental health problems in addition to  having a parent who is incarcerated. Shruti is also recruiting community leaders to speak at Amachi Youth Ambassador meetings in order to mobilize these youth even further.


South Oakland Neighborhood Group Community Hydroponics Faculty

Troy Salvatore

Mentor:  David Sanchez, Civil Engineering

Community Partner:  South Oakland Neighborhood Group

Troy, a junior studying Civil and Environmental Engineering, designed this project to focus on the feasibility of involving residents of South Oakland in the design process of a user-friendly hydroponics system. The long-term goal is to develop a compact affordable system that can provide healthy food to anyone anywhere. An engineering team he has been working with developed a system for small residential spaces that utilizes monitoring and reporting equipment for light intensity, water level, humidity, and pH, while manually testing for pH and inputting nutrients. Through monitoring and resident feedback, recommendations will be made for increasing the scale of this project.


Exploring the Effects of Parental Education on Childhood Sexual Abuse Prevention

Saskia Berrios-Thomas

Faculty Mentor:  Keith Caldwell, Social Work; Yodit Betru, Social Work

Community Partner:  Julie Evans, Director of Prevention and Crisis Services, Pittsburgh Action Against Rape

Saskia is a sophomore Social Work major. Her research explores the effects of an existing parental education program on child sexual abuse prevention. She has implemented a quantitative survey and qualitative interviews to evaluate the program’s effectiveness and determine whether the program has an impact on the parents’ pre-existing knowledge. The purpose of the project is to determine what parents knew before the program, what new information they learned during the program, and how they implemented that knowledge into their parenting styles. The goal is to increase parents’ knowledge of the prevalence of child sexual abuse, as well as their knowledge of prevention strategies, including talking to their children, learning early warning signs, and keeping their children safe. The results of this study will help Pittsburgh Action Against Rape improve and expand the parental prevention programs for future use.

Increased Support for Single Student Mothers

Emily Blume

Faculty Mentor:  Jeanette South-Paul, Family Medicine UPMC

Community Partner: Angel's Place

Emily is a Senior English Literature major. The goal of her Community-Based Research project is to craft a concrete and well-defined grant proposal for a scholarship fund for student mothers pursuing an elite college education afforded by a state-related university. Her project is working to extend the current services at Angels’ Place beyond secondary education, and in doing so is helping to solve an immediate, practical problem that mothers at Angels' Place face. With stronger financial assistance, these single student mothers are more likely to pursue a degree in higher education, and will ultimately become better equipped to join the workforce and provide for themselves and their child.