CLEAR Initiative Opens Doors for Aging and Chronic Disease Research

Taylor Jansen, a recent graduate of the University of Illinois, and her interdisciplinary research team conducted a project focused on aging and chronic disease management in the summer of 2017. Now a published journal author, Jansen thanks the CLEAR Initiative for kick-starting her research experience as an undergraduate. 

An award to conduct research at the Beckman Institute gave a University of Illinois alumna a solid undergraduate foundation to pursue a research career, and also allowed for new insights on how chronic disease management and geographic information systems are related.

Trebesch

Taylor Jansen, who majored in psychology and minored in aging at the University of Illinois, and graduated in 2018, recently published research on diabetes disparities in Illinois in the Center for Disease Control’s journal “Preventing Chronic Disease.”

Jansen conducted the research in the summer of 2017 as an undergraduate. Her interdisciplinary research team received the Cognition, Lifespan Engagement, Aging and Resilience Award (CLEAR), supported by funding from the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation.

“The CLEAR Award gave me the opportunity to have a complete research experience, including data entry, data cleaning, literature reviews, learning statistical and GIS software, data analysis, and interpreting my results,” she said. “This experience taught me that I was prepared to enter a PhD program right out of undergrad. I was confident in my research abilities and was able to centralize my interests more effectively.”

The project’s goal was to add GIS analysis to the Illinois Pathways to Health program, a state-wide initiative to disseminate health education programs to older adults about managing their chronic diseases. Professors Andiara Schwingel, Laura Payne, Julie Bobitt, and Jake Sosnoff, all of the College of Applied Health Sciences, led the work.

Jansen’s role: To learn GIS software, then lead GIS-based analyses to understand how participants from rural and urban settings are being reached (or not) by the Illinois Pathways to Health Program. In addition to being first author for the publication in “Preventing Chronic Disease,” Jansen is also co-authoring a manuscript for the same journal that evaluates the geographic influences on participation in disease self-management programs.

“Because of the CLEAR award, I was funded to further my research and add to an on-going lab project,” Jansen said. “I presented the findings from my GIS analysis at several on-campus symposiums and at the Gerontology Society of America 2018 Annual Scientific Meeting.”

Not only did the award help Jansen learn about conducting research and encourage her to continue – it has also helped her and her collaborators better understand health disparities from a geographic perspective.

“I cannot express my gratitude enough that the CLEAR Initiative and the Beckman Institute selected our project which was centered on aging, yet focused on chronic disease management and rural and urban influences,” she said. “This project furthered the evidence of health disparities present in rural areas and the need for policy makers to increase evidence-based programs in underserved areas.”

Schwingel said the award advanced her group’s research using GIS, and also helped her and her colleagues develop a model for mentoring student researchers.

“We are currently implementing START, a program to promote aging research among undergraduate students from diverse backgrounds,” Schwingel said. “This program is funded by a campus award, and this year we plan to apply for external funding to be able to grow the program.”