KOKOMO, Ind. — A student-led research program to influence policy-making in Howard County has earned one professor a state-level fellowship.
Angela Coppola, assistant professor of health sciences, was selected for the 2019-2020 Indiana Campus Compact Faculty Fellows program. She received a $3,800 grant for a student research project to support a proposed Howard County Health Department syringe services program.
“It’s beneficial for students to be involved in research that influences policy. That’s the way it’s supposed to be in public health,” said Coppola. “It’s a great opportunity for students to see how it works in real life, and be part of it.”
Coppola is partnering with Jennie Cauthern, public health project coordinator, to provide evidence-based research to support the program when she presents it to Howard County government officials for approval. The students, under Coppola’s guidance, can provide more manpower than she would otherwise have available.
“Working with Angela and her students, I have access to resources from the IU system, so it allows me to get more data and research that I would be able to get on my own,” said Cauthern, B.A. ’11, M.P.H. ’16. “We want to have our plan laid out and backed up with research before we go to the policy makers and stakeholders.”
Coppola and her health program planning class have teamed up with Cauthern before, including researching best practices for overdose rescue kit distribution.
“Research is a key part of planning health programming, so that’s a benefit students receive from this project,” she said. “They also gain knowledge about teamwork, and presenting research in a way it can be evidence.”
These kinds of experiences are important for the students, as future public health leaders, Coppola said. They are learning how to develop a program from the ground up, while mentored by an experienced professional in the field.
The potential syringe services program is not just an exchange— it’s a harm-reduction program that matches people with social services, resources, and referrals, “so they can make better choices until they are ready to enter recovery,” Cauthern said.
“It’s full-service, helping them make connections, and making sure they know there is someone who cares about them,” she said. “It lowers the number of people sharing syringes. The main point is to reduce the spread of diseases,” she said, adding that with the opioid drug crisis, numbers of people with blood-borne diseases like HIV and hepatitis C are increasing.
“This partnership, and this grant, will make it possible for us to do the background research, and get everything ready before we move forward with the next steps in developing the program.”
Coppola said students appreciate the opportunity to do meaningful work.
“When it’s a project for the health department, they take it so seriously,” she said. “They want it to be the best it can possibly be. That has made all of our projects successful. They say the best part about these kinds of projects is they are doing something that is going to impact public health in the community.”
Coppola and Cauthern plan to share their experiences with the Indiana Department of Health, and other county departments, and may present at professional conferences as well, to encourage others to pursue partnerships similar to their own.
“We want to share what we’ve done, so other health departments and campuses might consider working together as we have,” Coppola said. “IU Kokomo, the students, and the health department have all benefitted from us working together.
Indiana University Kokomo celebrates 75 years as north central Indiana’s choice for higher education.