From the 2022–23 Donor and Volunteer Tribute summer edition of St. Catherine University Magazine.
LEAD & INFLUENCE: The Campaign for the Next Level of Excellence: Our Faculty
Grant funds allow St. Catherine University faculty members to pursue exciting research projects, while providing our students with invaluable hands-on experience and opportunities for research and collaboration across disciplines. These grants augment student opportunities and resources that prepare them for success in their careers, including interprofessional education (IPE) in the Henrietta Schmoll School of Health Sciences. Through IPE, students gain exposure to other healthcare professions via state-of-the-art coursework, simulation activities, collaborative research, and hands-on opportunities, developing the skills to provide excellent, holistic patient care.
One such research project, made possible by a $50,000 grant from the Delta Dental Foundation, partners St. Kate’s with Ready, Set, Smile, an organization providing dental treatments and oral health education to children right inside their Twin Cities schools.
This IPE project began in 2019, with occupational therapy students building on the in-classroom work of Ready, Set, Smile to include outreach to the children’s families. The students designed educational materials promoting oral health and dental hygiene routines, and sent them home to families in packets that included toothpaste, toothbrushes, floss, and a two-minute tooth-brushing timer.
The partnership may not seem like an obvious fit, as dental care is traditionally kept separate from the rest of healthcare. “There’s this huge silo,” says associate professor Stephanie de Sam Lazaro, OTD, MA, OTR/L, the project’s principal investigator. “And part of the reason Ready, Set, Smile found St. Kate’s to be such a great partner is that we have so many different allied health disciplines, and they are so passionate about breaking down that medical/dental divide.”
To that end, in the past few years, the Delta Dental funding has allowed the project to expand to include faculty and students in public health, nutrition, and social work. “I am always looking for experiential learning like this to link and reinforce the classroom experience,” says Kathy Thames, MS, RDN, assistant professor of nutrition and dietetics, who has incorporated the project into her curriculum.
The grant has also provided opportunities for students to be paid research assistants and receive stipends for travel. The three research assistants for this project are Hannah Bahma ’24, a nutrition and dietetics undergrad, and occupational therapy graduate students Jo Nguyen OTD’25 and Athena Yang MAOT’23. They are excited about the opportunities the project has opened up, including collaboration with Katies in other healthcare fields, direct interaction with children in their classrooms, and opportunities to publish their research and present at conferences.
Now that they have a full year of clinic data, the research team is better able to assess how the project is going. This includes measuring how informed families are about oral health, as well as measuring rates of decay in the teeth of the children served. But the faculty are also measuring the component most essential to their work as educators: are their students increasing their knowledge about oral health, and will the knowledge gained be applicable in their future careers? So far, for the three research assistants, it’s a resounding “yes.”
“Being with Ready, Set, Smile has allowed me to diversify my skills,” Yang says. “[The project] has made me realize the impact occupational therapists have on addressing oral health in the community setting by implementing and promoting habits and routines into families’ lives to prevent oral disease.