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Students in the Field: Oregon Tech Professors and Students Assist in Initiatives to Improve Health in Klamath County

Nov 09, 2018
Students in Geomatics and Population Health Management fuse their study techniques with community health in Klamath County

Community involvement is at an all-time high at Oregon Institute of Technology, “Oregon Tech,” in its Geomatics and Population Health Management programs, as professors and students engage with Klamath County organizations and businesses in real-world projects that benefit the community.

Geomatics professor, John Ritter, Ph.D., has been involved in a variety of health-related projects with Sky Lakes Medical Center and the Healthy Klamath Coalition over the years. Most notably, Dr. Ritter has worked in conjunction with Katherine Pope, program director at Sky Lakes Wellness Center, and the late Stephanie Van Dyke, M.D., former medical director of Sky Lakes to bring the science of Geomatics into the field of health. The Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mapping project began as a partnership with Sky Lakes Wellness Center two years ago as an applied research project to determine if disease incidents could be related to local walkability and/or demographics, and to see if spatial analyses could help in directing resources for intervention efforts. The initial phase of the project was conducted by Brandon Coble, a GIS student in the program, in fulfillment of his senior project.

Wood Award Klamath Team smallSince Coble’s graduation from Geomatics, students in the program continue to fuse their study of land surveying techniques and computer technology with community health in Klamath County. These partnerships have helped lead to the recent awarding of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Culture of Health Prize for Klamath County, which recognizes American communities that have improved residents' health or access to health care. Healthy Klamath, spearheaded by Erin Schulten and Jennifer Little, referenced projects by Oregon Tech Geomatics and Environmental Sciences students including the following:

  • William Natividad, Environmental Sciences: Non-motorized transport safety in Klamath Falls to evaluate and monitor changes. Participants were asked to rate the safety of active transport routes on a scale of 1-7 for perceived traffic and material conditions as well as chances of a hostile social/criminal encounter. The study is ongoing and this map will soon serve as a tool that will deliver integrated survey information, police logs and crowd-sourced citizen reports to city policy makers in charge of urban improvement and renewal initiatives.
  • Michael Ness, Geomatics: A study showing parks within a 10-minute walk of Klamath Falls. 
  • Saul Preciado, Geomatics: Incidence of blight within Mills Neighborhood.
  • Walker Woodman, Environmental Sciences: Record of blight on Oregon Avenue along a proposed bike path.

Of the 200 entities across the nation who applied, only four awards were given by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which is the largest philanthropic health organization in the United States.

Dr. Ritter shared, “It’s not just about the amount of the award [$25,000], but about the fact that Klamath Falls was successful in receiving it. This award is the Oscars for people in the world of public health and this solidified that Klamath County is a mover and shaker in the rural health arena.”

The Culture of Health award is presented to communities that have taken innovative approaches to improving the health of their community, focusing specifically on population health. Members of the Oregon Tech Population Health Management (PHM) program (the first such Bachelor of Science degree in the nation) are also utilizing the community of Klamath Falls to aid their students’ studies. Since 2015, PHM students have been involved in over 25 community and population health improvement projects focusing on the Klamath Basin. These projects have been focused on topics such as:

  • Tobacco consumption (Tobacco Retail License Project, Tobacco Impact Assessment);
  • Food availability (Good Food, Good Medicine Project in Chiloquin, KFOM Food Hub Feasibility project, 2018 Klamath and Lake County Food Assessment);
  • Educational Improvement (Klamath Promise efforts, and The Friends of the Children organization);
  • Childhood nutrition and physical activity (Park and Play program, Plate Waste Study, Walk or Bike to School events, Klamath City School Physical Activity Mentorship programs);
  • Youth substance abuse prevention;
  • Emergency preparedness (Prepare Redmond);
  • Quality improvement in health care (Medical Appointment No-Show Study of Medicaid recipients).

While the Population Health Management teams were not directly involved in the Healthy Coalition team that applied for the Culture of Health prize, many of the above projects were mentioned within the application. Other winners of the Culture of Health prize include Cicero, Illinois, and Eatonville, Florida, in the suburban category and San Antonio, Texas, in the urban category.

Population Health Continues Community Investment

Already a well-known degree program among health organizations in Klamath Falls, Population Health Management students continued their community-focus in October with what they termed, “Trail Count.” Led by Population Health Management faculty and students, a range of Oregon Tech students from Geomatics, Environmental Sciences, Pre-Medical Imaging Technology, Applied Psychology, Communication and Biology-Health Sciences collected trail use data at seven sites throughout Klamath Falls during three days. The data collection was obtained on behalf of Healthy Klamath, Blue Zones and Sky Lakes who have for the last several years collected this data.

Sites used for the study include OC&E Trail at Summer’s Lane, Washburn Way and Crater Lake Parkway (A Canal Trail), Eldorado Park, Wing Watcher’s Trail, Link River Trail, Biehn Street & Oregon Avenue, and North 10th Street & Main Street. The data collected will help policy makers and community organizations better understand how pedestrians and non-motorized vehicle users are utilizing the existing transportation paths in Klamath Falls.

Oregon Tech faculty including Kyle Chapman, Ph.D., Sophie Nathenson, Ph.D., Casey Bennett and John Ritter, Ph.D., in partnership with Blue Zone's Merritt Driscoll and Sky Lake's Jennifer Little are leading the on-going project.

Dr. Chapman is an avid supporter of the need for Population Health Management students to use their studies and instruction to better the Klamath community. “Trail Count was the perfect opportunity for PHM students to gain some in-the-field experience in research methods and community engagement,” he said. “Our students are trained to gather and analyze a wide range of data types and then use that data to inform decisions of stakeholders and policymakers. Because PHM students are training in traditional research methodologies and are given the opportunity to work closely with community organization, they really are in the perfect position to play leadership roles in gathering information about our community with the hopes of improving the lives of residents.”

The goal of Trail Count is to contribute to a nationwide data collection effort to assess how often people are using non-vehicle transportation, how active some towns and cities are, and helps define where a specific region stands in relation to other communities.

“The data will be collected over a long period of time to analyze how the projects we are working on or involved in impact the health of the community,” said Dr. Chapman.

The Population Health Management program curriculum is interdisciplinary with a primary base in sociology, and students also benefit from training in ethics, geomatics, health informatics, health sciences, management, marketing and psychology. The cornerstone of the program includes applied courses in which students concurrently learn skills in the classroom while directly applying these skills in a community based project. Learn more about this and many more Oregon Tech programs by visiting www.oit.edu.

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