Research team explores public health in the Somali community

Fathi Ahmed ’17 and Public Health Professor Carie Cox presented their research at the Minnesota State Capitol as part of the 2017 Minnesota Private College Scholars Showcase. Photo by Lynda Szymanski

Fathi Ahmed ’17 and Public Health Professor Carie Cox presented their research at the Minnesota State Capitol as part of the 2017 Minnesota Private College Scholars Showcase. Photo by Lynda Szymanski.

This year with funding from St. Kate’s Assistantship Mentoring Program (AMP), Public Health Professor Carie Cox and Fathi Ahmed ’17 are continuing research on child spacing (the time between having children) in the Twin Cities Somali-American community. AMP is a student employment program through St. Kate's Center for Community Work and Learning designed to support student and faculty/staff partnerships on teaching, research and projects.

In partnership with the non-profit health organization, WellShare International, Cox and Ahmed's research focuses on how couples in the Somali community are communicating and making decisions about child spacing and the use of contraception and what community-based programs can do to support couples in achieving their fertility desires. The project was also supported by the University's Summer Scholars program.

"This is a really important topic in my community because we know the tremendous benefits of family planning in general, but we just don't have any research to our knowledge about family planning in the Somali community and we need the research in order to know how to best serve Somali couples desiring to space their children," says Ahmed. Given research on this subject is limited, Cox and Ahmed’s work is exploratory and uses interviews to ask open-ended, qualitative questions of participants. They hope to present their findings at two conferences this spring, and plan to submit a manuscript for peer-reviewed publication. Findings will be used by WellShare International to create an educational video for the Somali community.

As a public health major, Ahmed is very interested in research. She approached Cox in 2015 about assisting with this project. Ahmed shared that the experience has “reinforced [her] interest in public health, global health, women’s health and…reducing health disparities in communities of color.” They have been working on this project since August 2015 and have received AMP funding for Fall 2015, Fall 2016 and Spring 2017 to support Ahmed’s involvement in the research. Through this project, Ahmed has gained experience with conducting research and assisted with grant writing, the IRB submission, development of the interview guide, translation, transcription, and data analysis.

Both Cox and Ahmed have found the experience to be incredibly rewarding. For Cox, working with a student has brought a new perspective to the research project: “The most enjoyable part for me is observing Fathi's incredible growth in her critical thinking skills around the research and her confidence in contributing to the research project." She also has appreciated attending the end of semester AMP symposia, where students present highlights from their experiences with AMP research, teaching and projects.

Ahmed feels she has contributed much to the project and became more confident in her research abilities. "An amazing part of being in AMP is that I get to work with Dr. Cox. I get to learn from her expertise and...contribute to the public health of my community,” Ahmed stated. The collaboration has already opened up employment opportunities for Ahmed and will benefit her as she applies to graduate school.

Cox and Ahmed's partnership and research represents the kind of collaboration AMP strives for, where students can explore their interests, apply their academic learning outside of the classroom, and receive mentoring from St. Kate’s faculty and staff. “[Through AMP] I have the opportunity to do research with somebody I look up to,” says Ahmed, “someone who is already there in public health where I want to be. Being mentored by Dr. Cox has been amazing — to see how local public health is practiced in the real world.”

Applications for fall positions are due Tuesday, April 18.

St. Kate's Assistantship Mentoring Program

By Kourtney Johnson '17, communications intern for Community Work and Learning