Now translational research is woven into our futures

 Saige Connor, PRYDE Scholar

Saige Connor, PRYDE Scholar

In the fall of 2016, seven PRYDE Scholars awkwardly sat for the first time in the quiet Beebe Hall conference room waiting anxiously to learn what we had signed up for. We had joined the PRYDE program to spend two years dedicating time to translational youth development research in the community and working closely with faculty advisors on projects with Cornell Cooperative Extension and youth programs across New York State. A 2-credit class complimented our research work, helping us develop an understanding of the purpose and use of translational research in connecting university researchers with local practitioners.

The second semester pushed us to broaden our understanding of translational research by creating our own proposals for translational research projects. We practiced writing, presenting, and refining our ideas for various audiences. We also developed a deeper understanding of the existing connections between the community and the university and how we might work to deepen these connections or create new ones.

Throughout this first year, in addition to the 2-credit class, each scholar worked alongside a research mentor on a translational research project already in motion. Each lab was at very different stages in the process of their research so each week we would compare experiences and discuss differences and similarities in our experiences. I worked with Professor Elaine Wethington on a project looking at how social media can positively impact youth development and how we might go about improving outcomes using social media. Our lab was at the very beginning stages when I joined so I was able to watch the development of ideas and direction, conduct literature reviews, and connect with interested parties about how this research might be shaped.

In the 2017-2018 school year, PRYDE Scholars were asked to put our studies into practice by working with youth practitioners to plan, develop, and execute a new translational project. In August 2017 we began our senior year, and welcomed the new junior cohort of Scholars, with a visit to the 4-H building at the NY State Fair. This was the first chance we had to really understand and see the work being done by our cooperative extension 4-H partners in person.

For the rest of the year we dove into collaborations with the leaders of those programs in four participating counties: Ontario, Seneca, Tompkins, and Warren. With tight schedules and many miles separating us from the counties, the main pathways of communication were conference calls and emails. We were diligent in planning calls and agendas in order to ensure effective use of our partners’ time. Our partners were engaged and candid, making sure we were on track with their interests and that we understood the realities of their programs.

The first few calls centered on the general needs and interests of the counties, the interests of the Scholars, and finding how these interests and needs overlapped. After some back and forth, the group determined that a program evaluation tool would be of most use to everyone. With guidance from the county collaborators we decided to focus on youth outcomes reflecting the 4-H Essential Elements of mastery, belonging, generosity, and independence. We then retreated to the library and began searching for scales and surveys to measure constructs related to the Essential Elements, such as civic responsibility, self-efficacy, purpose, goal-setting, and resilience.

Over the course of the fall semester, we worked through the logistics of running a program evaluation. We submitted a proposal to Cornell University’s institutional review board (IRB) and began prepping the survey tool and proposal for the county partners. This proposal included an outline of the project’s expected timeline for the coming semester, a literature review of the purpose of evaluation as well as the outcomes and scales chosen, and the intended benefits of the project. We worked with our 4-H partners to determine which scales were most relevant and appropriate for their county’s needs, and continued to develop the scales so that they fit specific programs while maintaining validity.

Practitioners were presented with a survey with five scales measuring levels of growth in specific outcomes including civic responsibility, self-efficacy, purpose, goal-setting, and resilience. From the list, the county practitioners we worked with this year opted to use sense of belonging, resilience, and/or self- esteem in their program evaluations. Surveys were then administered to 4-H participants before the program and at the end of the program. Between these rounds of data collection the Scholars met (virtually) again with practitioners to hear about the process and help determine solutions to make data collection smoother in the future. By early May 2018, we had all of the data entered and analyzed and we carefully combed through to ensure that everything was correct before writing it up in a comprehensive report for our 4-H partners.

We also developed an Excel-based analysis tool, which allows practitioners to input data and then automatically runs various analyses. This tool represents the ultimate goal of our project, which was to create a program evaluation tool that could be useful long after our cohort of PRYDE Scholars leaves Cornell. As such, the Scholars worked tirelessly to make the surveys, data entry, and analysis as accessible and comprehensive as possible, including the creation of a codebook that walks practitioners through the process of entering data and detailed information in our final report to help interpret the different statistical results.

We are proud to have finished this project and to be graduating and going off into the world. Our paths will take us in directions from medical school, to teaching, to research, to social work; but each of us hopes to include translational research wherever we end up. The PRYDE program teaches so much beyond the scope of a general undergraduate class. We learned to communicate across sectors and audiences, we connected with mentors both in the university and across the larger New York State community, and we collaborated on a group project that had a true purpose. We are excited to have had the opportunity to build on existing partnerships as well as form new ones, and we are certain to use these collaborative skills for years to come.

Saige ConnorComment