Helping communities build healthy lifestyles
By Aleks Galus
While some Loyola students spent the summer catching up on TV shows they missed while studying for finals or lounging on the beach, senior Kiersten Maurer spent her days working at the Chicago Health Disparities Center. This unique opportunity allowed Maurer to perform research on access to health care and health care disparities across Chicago’s diverse communities.
Maurer met with community members from the South Side of Chicago, including the Bronzeville neighborhood, and spent a lot of time with members of the Rogers Park community. “Some of them were practically my neighbors,” she said.
It was especially eye-opening to listen to Loyola’s neighbors, frequently people of color, share their specific experiences and the challenges they have faced. For Maurer, who is majoring in psychology with minors in studio art and visual communication, this was an opportunity to incorporate her studies with her passion for mental health advocacy and social justice.
While many research studies focus on theory, Maurer saw the effects of her team’s research on the community she was working with. Her primary project, Behaviors for Healthy Lifestyles (BHL), studied obesity-related complications of mental illness in African Americans. Maurer played a role in the related intervention program intended to introduce healthy lifestyle alternatives to participants and also conducted participant screenings, interviews, and data entry.
Maurer hopes that her internship will help in her future career; she hopes to pursue either counseling psychology or social work, both of which use skills she was able to hone while participating in her internship this summer. Perhaps most significantly, Maurer was able to add her name to the author list of a manuscript that is currently under consideration with the Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal.
Her internship allowed Maurer to incorporate some of her extracurricular interests as well. She notes that intersectionality is an important area of interest for her, and she volunteers her time as a community organizer with the organization Reproductive Justice.
For Maurer, it is the combination of her academic and extracurricular interests that evokes Loyola’s mission of cura personalis—caring for the whole person. Her internship allowed her to interact with community members, learn important skills, and promote justice in underserved areas. Her time at Loyola has encouraged her to “ask questions, serve others, and seek justice,” a noble pursuit for any student.