Week Nine – Detroit Community-Engaged Research Program

Week Nine

I wrote my first blog post on my 4th day at Southwest Detroit Environmental Vision. Today was day 43 of 45! I can’t believe that it is already practically over when I feel like my work is just beginning. I have definitely learned a lot through this experience, and as usual I learned a lot of things I couldn’t have anticipated. I try my best to enter new experiences with no expectations, but inevitably realize that I had some. In this case I found out that I had a very narrow view of what community based research was supposed to be. Part of that probably stems from the research that I have done before, which is very clinical – obtaining consent, collecting saliva samples, providing surveys, etc. etc. I think in the back of my mind I was expecting that familiar structure of design, collect, analyze. At first I was confused about what I was supposed to be doing because I had an idea in my head of what research was and my job wasn’t fitting into that. For awhile I kept expecting a ‘project’ to suddenly materialize in which I would do some of those more traditional data collection tasks, I didn’t realize that I had already been working on an arguably more important project which is communicating findings to relevant stakeholders.

This experience was much more about leveraging the research we have and the information we know and using it to affect change. I think part of the reason that I initially resisted this is that the introvert in me freaked out a little bit because that meant I was going to have to get out there and convince strangers of why they should care about the information I had. I’m a little disappointed in myself for how long it took me to realize that. Almost all of the research I’ve been a part of so far has been about gathering the data and then thinking about what the data means. But the whole point of gathering the data and figuring out what it means is sharing that information with the people who should know. In my case, trucking companies and community members of Southwest Detroit should know about the health and environmental implications of vehicle idling. What good is me knowing that vehicle idling hugely contributes to air pollution which has tons of negative health consequences? I don’t even have a car. Meanwhile thousands and thousands of huge trucks rumble through Southwest Detroit everyday, every so often stopping on the side of the road while they wait their turn to get into a logistic center. Those are the people that need to know about the toxic air they’re breathing and how it will add up over time to impact their health and the health of the communities they are passing through. I’m happy to say I was able to share that information with a lot of businesses and stakeholders in Southwest Detroit and I wish I could stay longer to strengthen the relationships I developed in order to encourage them to continue learning and changing, although I have confidence that my coworkers will.

I’d be lying if I said that I no longer get nervous cold calling business managers or entering businesses and asking people for ten minutes of their time, but I do know that more often than not people are happy to talk with me and are interested in the information I have to share. I know that if I want to continue doing research (which I’m 90% sure that I do) that I will always want to make sure information finds its way to the right hands and this experience taught me how to do that. Practice makes perfect right?

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