Gaining real-world experience and giving back to Urbana-Champaign

The University of Illinois Interdisciplinary Health Sciences Institute (IHSI) accelerates health research—and LAS students have the opportunity to get involved with this research and make a difference in the community.

In the summer of 2023, a handful of LAS students participated in the IHSI's Community-Academic Scholars Initiative, which matches undergraduates with academic mentors and community partners to address issues affecting our community. We caught up with two of them to discuss their experience.

Zara Lateef

Sophomore in CS + chemistry

Zara Lateef worked with kinesiology & community health professor Laura Rice and the Champaign Park District to enhance the education and capacity of multiple physical activity stakeholders while attending to the needs and preferences of people with disabilities.

Zara LateefWhat part of your project was the most exciting to work on?

The most exciting part of the project to work on was creating Inclusive Community Exercise Training (ICET) material, because I was thrilled knowing that the training I was making would directly result in group fitness instructors being more equipped to accommodate individuals with disabilities in their fitness classes.

Why did this project interest you?

I am on the DRES (Disability Resources and Educational Services) student advisory board at UIUC, so advocating for individuals with disabilities is something that I am very passionate about, and everyone working on the project also shared that same passion.

What was the most fascinating thing you learned from this project?

The most fascinating thing I learned from this project was that few facilities provide proper formal training on disabilities, and the ICET training we made was the first formal fitness disability training for almost all of the group fitness instructors who completed the training.

How has working on this project changed your perspective?

I used to view research as people working in a lab with mice or chemicals. Now I see that there are many different types of research and that research can result in making a positive impact in your local community.

How has working on this project influenced your goals for the future?

Working on this project has further influenced me to advocate for individuals with disabilities, and it has influenced me to aspire to have a career in the future that allows me to be involved in helping my community.

Illakkia Ranjani

Junior in econometrics and world literature

Illakia Ranjani worked with School of Social Work professor Christopher Larrison and the Regional Office of Education Nine (ROE9) to evaluate the Champaign County Guaranteed Income Pilot (CCGIP), which aims to improve housing status, stability, family functioning, and well-being to improve physical health, reduce mental illness, and improve educational outcomes for children.

What part of your project was the most exciting to work on?

I was most excited to work on the sentiment analysis exploring the narratives surrounding guaranteed income. It was kind of intimidating to teach myself how to create a text corpus and how to conduct a sentiment analysis, but it was a really interesting process once I got the hang of it. I'm double majoring in econometrics and world literature, so I was really excited to explore the topic of guaranteed income through a narrative lens—its an experience that's related to what I'm studying but I haven't gotten exposure to in my classes.

Why did this project interest you?

I thought the CCGIP had the potential to really impact people's lives—guaranteed income seemed like (and is!) an incredibly direct way to address poverty.

What was the most fascinating thing you learned from this project?

I'm fascinated by the idea of deservingness with regard to cash assistance/guaranteed income recipients—how some groups of people are believed to deserve assistance more than others. I've become interested in tracing this idea of deservingness throughout American history.

How has working on this project changed your perspective?

Working on this project gave me a lot to think about with regard to poverty in America. I got to virtually attend the Basic Income Guarantee (BIG) conference and hear recipients talk about their experiences receiving guaranteed income. It was really eye opening to hear them discuss the various barriers and limitations that exist in federal assistance programs.

How has working on this project influenced your goals for the future?

Even before working on this project, I knew I wanted to have a career working to improve the economic mobility of underrepresented groups. Through the CCGIP, I have been able to learn so much about guaranteed income and other assistance programs, and I would love to explore the guaranteed income space further in my future.

Blog Source

Zara Lateef, Illakkia Ranjani, and Payton Jarzyna