Sam Fox School Students Create Health Research Campaign

Students created dynamic materials to encourage underrepresented populations to participate in vital health research.

Posted by Liz Kramer November 30, 2018


Health research is a challenging topic to communicate. The content can be dense, and because of the culture of distrust in the community that has built up over many years, individuals are often resistant to the idea of health research.

In fall 2017, a team of students in assistant professor Penina Acayo Laker’s Design for Social Impact course worked with the Center for Community Health Partnership & Research (CCHPR). CCHPR works to foster communication between communities and academics in the St. Louis region. Their Research Engagement to Advance Community Health (REACH) initiative takes staff members into communities throughout St. Louis to provide education about health research.

The CCHPR acts as a facilitator, fostering bi-directional communication between St. Louis communities and researchers so that efforts focus on community-driven health needs and priorities. Through their public outreach in St. Louis, the CCHPR communicates the value of medical and health research to communities. The CCHPR team wanted research to be relatable and understandable to everyone, especially those underrepresented in clinical trials. Without adequate representation, it’s not clear if the findings from clinical trials can be applied to minority populations.

CCHPR, and others working to increase awareness and participation in health research, note that many people are apprehensive about participating health research studies. Myths and misconceptions, such as a desire to hide information or that all studies involve harmful drugs, may suppress participation.

Kym Radford, Outreach Coordinator for CCHPR, hears comments from community members assuming that all studies involve staying in the hospital or lots of pills. Through the REACH program and other outreach, CCHPR seeks to educate the public about the benefits of medical research, by demonstrating the positive impact it can have in in communities and the medical field as a whole.

With this knowledge, students set out to design materials for the REACH initiative, including those for tabling and outreach, that would be attention-grabbing, positive, and de-stigmatizing. The campaign, titled What’s Your Reach?, included a colorful set of posters, cards, fans, pens, stickers, and other materials to engage people in a dialogue about what health research might mean. The group created true or false flashcards to correct common misconceptions about health research in an approachable way. For example, one card stated “True or false: Researchers are only looking for sick people.” On the back, the card explains the claim is false, because many studies are looking for healthy people to participate.

The student team for this project included four communication design students: Sabrina​​ Roberts,​​ Katie​​ Ehrlich,​​ Kristen ​​DeMondo,​​ and Kevin​​ Schneider. Ehrlich and Schneider continued work with CCHPR to complete the materials for production. Schneider said, “With this project we got hands-on experience working with a real client, conducting community field research, pitching our concepts, and working with vendors for final production. This made the project far more challenging than a typical studio assignment, but also an incredible learning opportunity. It’s so rewarding to see our work out in the community helping bolster involvement in medical research.” Erlich also noted the complexity of medical research, saying “Most people find the topic of medical research confusing, complicated, and intimidating. We concentrated on presenting CCHPR as something approachable, understandable, and comfortable to St. Louis citizens of all ages, races, and education levels.”

The materials produced by the students have been in use by the CCHPR team since March 2018. Since the change, Radford says she’s heard people comment on how much they liked the colors and how easy the pamphlets were to read.

The table and materials were on display at Beyond Housing’s Vetter Place Apartments for their Resident Appreciation Day in July. Property manager Jasmine Cobb, who has been involved in a study with Washington University in St. Louis, liked the focus on education. She felt Radford “really wanted to educate them” and that it made her and the other residents feel comfortable.

Acayo Laker cited the quality of the partnership with program administrator Hilary Broughton as an asset in the project, saying “We were asked not only to make existing visuals more aesthetically pleasing, but as equal partners to identify strategies to better communicate the value of health research to a diverse audience. Investment in the design process during the earlier phases of the project helped shape the overall course experience and made for a successful collaboration.”

Find out more about CCHPR and their efforts here.