Introduction: Mary McMahon 2020 Summer Community Research Fellowship

Granada, Spain

Hello everyone! My name is Mary McMahon and I am a rising junior majoring in psychology and minoring in Hispanic Language and Culture. I am currently pursuing a pre-med curriculum in preparation for medical school. This past spring semester I had the unique opportunity of studying the Spanish Language in Granada, Spain before coming home early due to the coronavirus. I most certainly never thought I would have the opportunity to experience and learn a new culture by being immersed in the culture itself and absolutely did not think my experience would be cut short by a global pandemic. My time in Spain was enlightening to say the least, and I am so thankful for the time I did have abroad. Studying abroad has allowed me to see the world in a different way and I believe this opportunity is extremely important to my development as a person being from a small town in northeastern Pennsylvania.

I am from Williamsport, PA, which is also the home of Little League Baseball, otherwise you would not know this little city! 

In the past I have been involved in public health and community-based research involving Pennsylvania Youth Survey (PAYS) data, which identifies important drug and mental health issues faced by youth in Pennsylvania. I have had the privilege of presenting research at local, state, and national conferences including the Pennsylvania Public Health Annual Conference, National Shape America Conference in Nashville, Tennessee, March 2018, and the 2019 American Public Health Association Annual Meeting. Through these presentations, my colleagues and I advocated and raised awareness for addressing the needs of youth mental health, suicide rates, and substance abuse in the schools and counties I grew up in. 

More recently, over the past 2 years of my time at the University of Pittsburgh,  I have served as a mentor at the Community Engagement Center in Homewood under the guidance of Dr. Osai through the Justice Scholars Program (if you are interested in learning more about the program please see this link for information: http://pittpacs.pitt.edu/programs-and-research/justice-scholars). The objective of Justice Scholars Program is to “support the development of scholars focused on justice through social justice, writing skills, college success skills and project-based action research.” This program serves high school students enrolled in Westinghouse Academy and provides a college-oriented, enriched academic experience for students . Through the efforts of Justice Scholars, about 1 out of every 4 upperclassmen is enrolled in college credit-bearing courses. Justice Scholars students from the 2019 graduating class had a 100% college acceptance rate. This summer I am continuing to work with Dr. Osai and the Justice Scholars Research Team that operates through Homewood Community Engagement Center. Dr. Osai who directs the Justice Scholars Program, has agreed to be my faculty mentor supporting the direction of the research and playing a key role in expanding research findings to action-based outcomes. Dr. Esohe Osai is an assistant professor of practice in Applied Developmental Psychology in the School of Education at the University of Pittsburgh. Additionally, my community mentor Ms. Grace Elizabeth Oxley serves as the Program Manager for Pitt-Assisted Communities & Schools (PACS) and is responsible for implementing the strategic direction and day-to-day activities of PACS programs in feeder schools and the community. 

As part of the Justice Scholars Program evaluation interviews of students are conducted in the summer, when returning from the first year of college, typically between June and August. The interviews are collected as part of the program evaluation effort to aid in understanding the college experiences of the program alum and what can be done to better help prepare the students for college.

With the Justice Scholars Research Team including Dr. Osai, Ms. Oxley, and Ms. Haynik I am analysing interview data of students who have successfully completed the Justice Scholars Program in order to gain insight into their experiences and program development. I will also be involved in the development of curriculum for youth participatory action research (YPAR) for students in the program this fall. The college preparatory program Justice Scholars focuses on social justice and YPAR curriculum to engage students ultimately for the purpose of creating long lasting academic and social development. 

In addition, the goal of this research is to provide data that will contribute to strengthening existing programs and identify assets and needs in the Justice Scholars Program and in the community of Homewood, as well as engage stakeholders in continuing high-quality out of school time academic (OSTA) programs.

I believe this research is so important and crucial to the continued development of the Justice Scholars Program and support of youth in Homewood.  In addition, this research contributes to the body of knowledge of the long-term benefits of out of school time academic programming for marginalized youth. Being involved in community based research throughout highschool and currently, I am continuing to learn how crucial it is to to include the voices from the target population in data-driven development of existing programs and services.  

I am very passionate about pursuing a career in medicine and I also realize the direct correlation between public health and the world of medicine. I believe reducing disparities in healthcare begins with programs like the Justice Scholars. I believe this research is crucial to providing opportunities to students who have had limited opportunities, resources, and face day to day inequalities in their lives. As a medical provider, I plan to incorporate public health in my career of medicine, looking at prevention and inequalities not only in healthcare, but in education, access to resources, socially, and their intersectionality and affect on healthcare in our nation. 

More personally, I have cultivated a passion for working with youth and students and plan to continue to work with this population in my career. Growing up my family fostered children and I had the privilege of working with many of my siblings on homework, teaching them new things, and learning from their unique experiences. This opportunity has opened my eyes in countless ways to the injustices of the world experienced by many populations including foster children. This personal experience has been the backbone of my life and driven my passion for medicine. Moreover, it has instilled in me the general desire to listen to people, communities, and the population affected when attempting to understand an issue or experience. One thing I am continually learning that I believe will be helpful in my life and career goals is the importance of listening when others talk in hopes of understanding rather than responding, as simple as it seems. This is something my own pediatrician told me when I was younger and interested in pursuing a career in the medical field. Listening intently to your patients is crucial to not only improving their health but also improving their quality of life which will be my ultimate goal as a health provider.  

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