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Undergraduate Researchers

Kelsey Donnellan

Kelsey Donnellan,
Biological Sciences

“From Food Deserts to Community Gardens:
Urban Adolescent Girls' Need for Fresh Produce”

Community gardens increase the availability of fresh produce in urban areas, where full-service markets are scarce. This exploratory study examined anecdotal information and quantitative data from the CDC’s NHANES. Interviews with community leaders and urban adolescent girls analyzed the challenges girls in Baltimore, MD face obtaining fresh produce. Social variables such as education, perceived distance to a grocery store, and ethnicity/race were measured. The interviews found a lack of participation in adolescents coupled with little outreach for the demographic. Addressing these gaps will require changes in the community and school by offering opportunities for gardening and cooking.



When did you join the McNair program?

I was accepted into the McNair scholars program January 2013, then became a McNair fellow for the summer of 2013. I am part of the REM 21 class, which means we are the 21st year of the program.

How did you find out about McNair?

During the fall of 2012 I saw various advertisements around campus that just said, “McNair Scholars Program.” Upon looking up the program, I realized it was just the program for me as a first generation and low income college student. The process of applying mirrors graduate school, which taught me a few important lessons.

What have you gained from being a McNair scholar?

Growing up with parents that struggled not having a college degree pushed me to work hard and earn a bachelor’s degree. The McNair scholars program opened my eyes to graduate school for the first time. College is not only about expanding one’s knowledge, but about learning the art of networking and following directions.

What is your most recent (or most interesting) independent research project?

I am currently working on a project in Baltimore City regarding community gardens and urban farms. The research is an exploratory study focusing on what factors contribute to adolescent girls’ eating habits. I conducted structured interviews with adolescent girls and community leaders, compared self-reported vegetable and fruit intake values to the Center for Disease Control and Preventions’ (CDC) recommended values, and merged statistics collected in the 2009-10 CDC’s National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey (NHANES).

How did you find your mentor for this project?

Most scholars do their research within their department, which focuses the search for a mentor. I, on the other hand, am doing research outside of my department. I looked at various faculty websites in Psychology, Biology, Chemistry, and Sociology and Anthropology. With the help of Dr. Davis, McNair’s mentor liaison, I sent emails to the faculty doing similar research asking them to by my mentor. I had an in-person meeting with three of the faculty members, and one has been my faulty mentor and one has been a source of support along the way.

Kelsey Donnelan

How did you know this was the project you wanted to do?

Spring of 2012 I studied abroad in New Delhi, India. During my time there I completed field studies on adolescent anemia, which fueled my passion for adolescent health. I knew I wanted to complete a similar project in the United States, but adolescent anemia is not as much of a problem here. Childhood obesity is of major concern the United States. As I read more research journals, the information lead me to the lack of services available for adolescent girls to prevent childhood obesity.

How much time do you put into it?

All McNair scholars must enroll in a research methodologies course with three components (lecture, library, and mentor). During the semester I spent to 10-hours per week outside of class preparing my proposal, reading journals, and increasing my methodologies foundation. Now in the summer, I spend 30- to 40-hours per week on my research project and preparing for graduate school.

What academic background did you have before you started?

Methodologies and field studies in India prepared me for some of the challenges related to field research. AFST 495, the McNair research methodologies course honed my skills for research in the United States. Various Biology and Chemistry courses prepared me for understanding the research articles, and being able to explain how nutrition plays a role in childhood obesity. English classes helped improve my writing, making me a competitive applicant for research opportunities.

How much did your mentor help you with your research?

Dr. Pinet-Peralta in the Sociology & Anthropology Department, associate director of HAPP, signed on as my mentor with the understanding we would apply to publish. Our research relationship is unique, because the project is my independent research. Dr. Pinet-Peralta has coached me through how to write literature reviews, explaining methodology, and has given me links to numerous research tools. He has not only been helpful in my project, but also in talking through graduate school.

What has been the hardest part about your research?

IRB approval, budget changes due to sequestration, and getting participants. Working with adolescent girls forced me to file for expedited review, which means they are considered a vulnerable population. The first proposal took a total of 7-weeks to get approved. Sequestration limited some of my research, which added additional time for approval of modifications. After one month into research I met with my first participant.

What was the most unexpected thing?

Research is unexpected. We spend hours putting together the ideal proposal with well-thought out methodologies, but it never works out just how you planned. There are small to large obstacles every day. My supportive mentor, the always patient McNair staff, and my previous field studies have helped guide me through the ups-and-downs of this research project.

How does your research relate to your work in other classes?

My research does not directly relate to my current classwork, but does translate into the work I plan to do in graduate school and in my career.

What is your advice to other students about getting involved in research?

Take advantage of undergraduate research opportunities at UMBC. Talk with your professors and fellow classmates about their experiences. Go to the Shiver Center and Career Services Center today to get help finding a research position or internship!

What are your career goals?

I will go on to get my PhD in either Public Health or Nutrition Biology. In Public Health I plan to focus on community health or maternal and children’s health. One day I hope to work with the United States Department of Agriculture, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, UNICEF, or a related agency. Ideally I will be able to focus on nutrition, whether preventative or couple with curative medicine.

7/16/2013