After a restful weekend (Saturday 20th and Sunday 21st May), writing reflecting and exploring (so easy to do in such a beautiful environment) we feel physically, spiritually and mentally refreshed and ready for the week. We only have one more day in Lansing before flying out to San Francisco, California so I'm keen to make it count. We'll be visiting Michigan State University again today to see how they impact Michigan through research.
The Bigger Picture
As an Infant Mental Health specialist I am very focused on keeping the baby in mind. Sometimes I focus so much on the baby that I forget the bigger picture ... that it takes a village to raise this child. In today's visit I am reminded of the wider systems that support the healthy development of the baby. If the system is impaired then the baby suffers.
On my journey across the USA I have seen and heard of communities trapped in poverty; where the water supply has been contaminated (as in Flint, Michigan); of food deserts because grocery stores have moved to the suburbs (Detroit); of contaminated milk due to lack of knowledge in farming... all these issues have an impact on the infant. Michigan State University targets these issues through research.
Today my mind is about to be stretched in order to understand the significance of Engagement Scholarship - which is scholarship-driven community engagement. In layman's language this means that researchers and academics do not sit in their ivory towers but actively engage the community with research and together mobilise research knowledge to make a difference.
It's Monday 22nd May and we are due to visit Hiram Fitzgerald, Associate Provost for University Outreach and Engagement and University Distinguished Professor, Department of Psychology, Michigan State University. We had exchanged emails before the visit and I have a sense that Hiram has given careful thought to our meeting because he sent a few key papers for me to read so we could hit the ground running with our discussions.
Interestingly enough, one of my clinical supervisors, Robin Balbernie, had also visited Hiram on a similar travel fellowship, sponsored by the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust back in 1998 (woah... that's 19 years ago); so I'm really curious to see how things have changed since then.
As Kofi and I enter the Kellogg Hotel and Conference Centre we feel that we're in the wrong place. Surely, this smart hotel can't be part of the university. Three very immaculate and polite receptionists confirm that we are indeed in the right place and direct us to Hiram's office.
Joyce (Hiram's secretary) welcomes us and ensures that we have drinks before taking us to meet our host. The first thing I notice when we enter the spacious, impressive office, is Robin's Commemorative Churchill Crown, beautifully displayed among other memorabilia. The Churchill Crown is a gift that Churchill Fellows normally present to hosts as a way of saying thank you.
I asked cheekily if that was put there because of me or was that its normal place. Hiram assures me that this was indeed the normal place.
In Robin's day the Crown was presented in a gold frame, which looked so grand among Hiram's display, that I must confess to entertaining fleeting feelings of envy that my offering (left), though beautiful, would not look as grand when placed alongside Robin's. Oh well... the gold framed Crowns had been discontinued ... such is life and progress. I vowed that I would proudly present my gift and my postcard of London at the end of the session and bow to the seniority and well earned privilege of my supervisor.
The Prenatal Stress Study
Before we get started Hiram invites Alytia Levendosky, PhD, to join us briefly to share a very significant study on the impact of stress during pregnancy.
We already know that stress during pregnancy has a negative impact on the infant's brain and behavioural development. However, Alytia's study explores whether there are sensitive periods in pregnancy when stress is particularly harmful.
Her study uses intimate partner violence, one of the most common stressors for pregnant women and their developing child, to determine precisely when during pregnancy (early, mid, late) stress exposure has the greatest impact on infants and whether or not the maternal stress response system changes these effects.
Alytia and her team are recruiting women early in pregnancy (less than 20 weeks gestation) and ages 18—34 who currently or recently experienced intimate partner violence. Participants make four visits to the research office; three during pregnancy, and one 6 months after baby is born. At these visits, the research team collect saliva samples, do a survey and conduct a brief public speaking task. Participants are also asked to complete 2 days of home saliva sampling after each interview and a brief questionnaire each week of pregnancy. Strict standards of confidentiality are observed to protect the women involved.
This is asking quite a lot from these women who are already stressed, however, they are paid generously for their involvement.
I will continue to be in touch with Alytia to share her findings.
Hiram's Contribution to Infant Mental Health ... and more ...
As Alytia leaves us we return to our agenda with Dr Hiram Fitzgerald. To give you an idea of Hiram's link with the field of Infant Mental Health I will quote from the Michigan State University website.
Fitzgerald is past president and executive director of both the Michigan Association for Infant Mental Health and the International Association for Infant Mental Health, and for 16 years (1992-2008) served as executive director of the World Association for Infant Mental Health. He has been associated with the Michigan Longitudinal Study of Family Risk for Alcoholism over the Life Course for 25 years, is a member of the Steering Committee of the Early Head Start National Evaluation Research Consortium, chairs the MSU Wiba Anung EHS/HS research team monitoring work force development and early childhood education in partnership with the Intertribal Council of Michigan, is a member of the Native Children’s Research Exchange, and is a member of a variety of interdisciplinary research teams focusing on evaluation of community-based early preventive-intervention programs in Michigan.
Fitzgerald’s major areas of funded research include the study of infant and family development in community contexts, the impact of fathers on early child development, implementation of systemic community models of organizational process and change, the etiology of alcoholism, the digital divide and youth use of technologies, and broad issues related to engagement scholarship. He holds a Ph.D. in experimental child psychology from the University of Denver.
Read more here: https://provost.msu.edu/provosts/outreach.html
A Gold Mine
For the first part of the conversation I simply listened while Hiram and Kofi talked about
community engagement. This area is also Kofi's passion. He later referred to Hiram as a gold mine; an apt description due to the breadth and depth of his knowledge and experience. Even more importantly, we were overwhelmed at Hiram's generosity and willingness to share his time and resources, over and above what was requested.
We have already touched on the subject of Engagement Scholarship, which is a phrase coined by Hiram, but 'What is the link with the baby?'
In the African culture (and others perhaps) it is the belief that a child does not grow up only in a single home or belong to one parent but regardless of a child's biological parent(s) his upbringing is the responsibility of the community. It seems to me that when we start to address the concerns of the baby we will end up making changes in the village; which is what Hiram has done throughout his career.
Hiram and his department is seeking to change communities by building engagement into the core academic mission of Michigan State University. The outworking of this mission is evident in the wide range of research on matters of infancy and other issues, that is being undertaken within the three main Michigan universities, and now in several countries of the world.
If you would like to receive more information on any of the issues mentioned I will be very happy to share the resources that I have received from Hiram. I also have some papers on Hiram's other areas of expertise mentioned above.
Out to Dinner with Hiram and Dolores Fitzgerald
At the end of our talk together Hiram takes us to meet his wife Dolores, and treat us to a lovely meal. The conversation has continued by email and I have accumulated quite a library of resources, which I would be happy to share.
We left Hiram and Dolores feeling really full (in more ways than one) and enriched by our time together.
Tomorrow we fly to San Francisco to meet with Kadija Johnson and Maria St John, at the University of California, San Francisco.