SPUR 2022: Healthy Homes—Assessing and Improving Indoor Air Quality

NOTE: This project is funded by a grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (PIs: Sara Grineski and Tim Collins). In addition to being part of SPUR, it is also part of the HAPPIEST program. Applicants must be University of Utah students who identify in one or more of the following ways (defined by the National Institutes of Health): Blacks or African Americans, Hispanics or Latinxs, American Indians or Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, and other Pacific Islanders. Two students will be selected to work on this project together.

Background

I have been involved in exposure assessment and specifically, environmental influences on the development of health and disease among families for more than a decade. I have ongoing projects where we utilize a variety of air quality monitoring platforms to assess indoor and outdoor air quality at the dwelling unit(home) level of families. Primary pollutants of interest are Particulate Matter of 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5) and Radon. We’re currently adding ozone sensors to the suite of monitoring capabilities we offer. The end goal of my research activities is to relate environmental influences to health and disease—identifying any protective factors that may be present and certainly increasing our understanding of the contributions that pollutants and exposures have on the development of adverse health outcomes. Specifically, the student will contribute to an air quality evaluation of a Healthy Homes intervention program administered by Salt Lake County. This will involve the coordination of activities to obtain outdoor and indoor air quality measurements for a period of at least two weeks prior to the program’s interventions (aimed at improving the air quality in the home) and a post-intervention assessment. The evaluation will capture PM2.5 measures just outside the home, in the most used room of the home, and the primary participant’s bedroom. At the same time, Radon will be measured in the home per standard assessment protocol. Participants in the program are socioeconomically challenged community members with a health malady that may benefit from an improvement in air quality and other home-derived environmental exposures.

Student Role

I would expect the student to:

  • Gain an understanding of the overall project and its aims.
  • Appreciate the special nature of human participant research and the privileged position researchers are in when working with research participants and their sensitive information and data.
  • Recognize the role of the different stakeholders actively involved in and participating in the execution of the project.
  • Observe and then experience community-based participatory research engaging underserved communities.
  • Actively contribute to many facets of the research project including environmental sensor maintenance and calibration (laboratory-based).
  • Coordinate home visits and sensor deployment in homes.
  • Engage in on-site data collection.
  • Manage and clean data.
  • Analyze data and write summary reports.

Students will undergo formal and informal training to equip them with the skills necessary to be successful in their research role. In addition, due to the mature and ongoing nature of this existing project, with experienced and trained project staff on hand, student contributors will have the opportunity to observe and then actively take on the facets of research noted as their training and mastery of the subject matter deem appropriate.

Student Learning Outcomes & Benefits

By working with myself and research staff, at the conclusion of this mentorship experience, students should have a detailed perspective of the many activities a research coordinator engages in for the execution of community-based participatory research. Similarly, the mentee should have an appreciation for the projects efforts as they relate to the scientific aims driving the research activities. Mentees considering graduate school training and/or careers in environmental measurement, public health and/or research will have obtained some detailed experiences and observations to help inform their career development decisions. A successful mentee will depart the project with appropriate training and certification pertinent to human research; they will have an understanding of air quality pollution parameters, how to measure it and the associations with adverse health; skills in research coordination, participant interaction, data quality management/assurance, elementary data analysis and summary report writing. Besides observing and then subsequently participating in a variety of research activities, motivated mentees that master specific skill sets will get the opportunity to train others—a full-circle demonstration of their mastery of subject matter.

Scott Collingwood
Research Assistant Professor

Pediatrics
School of Medicine

A motivated student will have the opportunity for numerous research experiences when engaged with my project and staff. As an academic researcher that came to the university environment from business/industry, I appreciate a self-starter and problem solver. I aim to provide the vision and mission of the project in addition to the specific project related training to execute activities with the high degree of scientific and ethical rigor required of human and community-based participatory research. During training, there will the freedom to troubleshoot, problem solve, make mistakes and learn the activities needed to contribute and move our research forward. Mentees will have the opportunity to take these new skills and practice them, with support, in an actual research environment. Many activities are strictly spelled out in a definitive protocol and must be followed to the letter. Other activities are less stringent, not defined and our team would welcome a new perspective, input and innovation a fresh set of eyes may provide. A self-starter with the ability to communicate professionally and in order to get additional assistance/resources needed or coordinate the activities of others as it relates to their contributions will be necessary. The mentee will be exposed to all aspect of project operations—including stakeholder meetings with community members, in-home visits for data collection, laboratory operations for visit prep and post-visit activities etc., In between active training and project activities, the mentee will have a clear understanding of expectations, priorities and deliverables but will be left to them to manage time appropriately to achieve the interim milestones needed.