Hey there, my name is Renuka Koilpillai and I am currently a junior hailing all the way from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. I double major in Psychology and Sociology along with minor in Public Policy. I have always been interested in integrated psychology into the fields of social health research or policy and the Gil internship has given me the chance to do just that. I am interning at the Center for Health Equity Research (CHER), which is part of the Department of Social Medicine in the School of Medicine. CHER is led by Giselle Corbie-Smith and a number of other experienced researchers from diverse educational backgrounds. I have the pleasure of working with Nicole Robinson-Ezekwe who just finished her MPH from UNC’s Gillings School of Public Health this past year.
Specifically, Nicole and I working on creating a new environmental assessment tool called the Rocky Mount SEARCH (Social and Environmental Assessment to Rate Community Health). The purpose of the tool is to collect data regarding neighbourhood, food, and the environment as it relates to the health of the community for Rocky Mountain, North Carolina. Ultimately the tool will act as a repository of data that CHER can use on a number of its other more specific research projects regarding the determinants of health.
When I first joined CHER back in August, the Rocky Mount SEARCH was just barely starting. The idea and concept had been put into place a long with a preliminary scan of the literature. From then to now the project has come such a long way that I am fortunate to see it grow into a real life field tool. That being said, there were many steps in between that I was fortunate enough to be a part of including doing in-depth literature reviews, synthesizing of information, tool and app development description, and committee meetings. These meetings have been my favourite part of the process. The committee consists of a number of different researchers working on various fields of public health. At these meetings there is always great discussion that connects the theoretical concepts of public health with the logistics of creating a research tool and collecting data. Each week the tool development grows more and more. By the end of the semester, and sadly my time at CHER, we would have fully designed the tool and be ready to move into the app development phase, which will be used by Rocky Mount locals to collect the data.
Above all else, this experience has given me so many additional experiences such as learning about what other CHER researchers are working and seeing how the Public Health sector actually translates research into intervention, and I hope that I have given CHER what they have given me! Finally, the actual internship class has taught me so much about professionalism especially the great resources Career Services has. It’s been great to be surrounded by other driven psychology students and amazing mentors like Dr. Buzinski and Rachael Hall who have been resourceful and supportive. Thank You!
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