Thought-provoking lectures. Relationship-building conversations. Awe-inspiring performances. “Country Roads”-singing celebrations. All of these important moments are part of the West Virginia University experience. But for some members of the Mountaineer community, participating in this transformative journey can be challenging.
In addition to making sure they have their laptops for class, coordinated bedding for their dorm room and gold and blue gear for game day, students with mobility disability have another list of needs when navigating a college campus. To provide visibility and independence for these students at WVU, School of Public Health student Kyli Smith is applying her classroom lessons to help reshape parts of campus in an effort to allow all Mountaineers to enjoy it as much as she does.
The task Smith was assigned in her Public Health Policy course taught by Assistant Professor Lindsay Allen, PhD, was to write a policy brief about something she’d like to see changed on campus. Smith had heard anecdotes during her time at WVU of others’ struggling to navigate or utilize campus to its fullest.
“I took the personal stories, researched what WVU currently does to help individuals with a disability on campus, and planned what else could be done,” she said of starting the process. “From friends and family to students, staff and guests, I’ve heard of instances in which individuals were unable to attend events, find accessible features and more due to lack of information or efforts to make events and spaces accessible.”
Lessons learned during her Public Health Policy course weren’t the only skills Smith used when drafting the policy brief. Combining knowledge from previous courses in the B.S. in Public Health program, she was able to develop a thoughtful, effective brief for consideration.
“I used knowledge on marginalized populations and advocated for policy change based on distribution and determinants of health from the Public Health Policy course,” she said. “I utilized information on how access to education can affect health from Social Determinants of Health and Introduction to Social and Behavioral Health. Lastly, I applied techniques and skills on creating effective and informative public health content from Writing for Public Health Audiences.”
Smith said studying public health has always been about finding new ways to make life more accessible, accommodating and available for everyone without health “getting in the way,” but she didn’t expect to be making an impact so soon.
“I wrote the policy brief thinking my professor and I were the only ones ever going to read it, but Dr. Allen saw potential in it that I never did,” she said. “Originally, I thought it was way above a student’s ability or authority to effectively make a change.”
“Kyli’s story is a perfect example of the way students in our program can drive health improvements even before graduation,” said Allen.
I encourage my students to view all their new knowledge as a menu of opportunity – it highlights all the different aspects of healthcare that they can work to improve on, even as an undergrad. Any student can improve public health, especially with the resources of WVU behind them.
With the support of Allen and Director of Undergraduate Studies, Academic & Student Affairs Audra Hamrick, Smith turned her policy brief into a capstone project for her final semester. She was then connected with WVU Center for Excellence in Disabilities Director Lesley Cottrell, PhD, to help make her project a reality.
“They all motivated me to see the potential for this project and the future of campus accessibility,” she said. “I hope that this goal to increase accessibility continues after this semester and more public health students can get involved.”
Because the capstone experience for Public Health students takes place during the final semester of their undergraduate studies, Smith needed to select portions of her brief to focus on due to time constraints. Her areas of focus: develop an undergraduate educational module about accessibility and inclusion, similar to WVU’s current AlcoholEdu module, and create a collection of campus maps highlighting accessibility features.
By providing these resources, students will be educated on the unique experiences of those with mobility disability and provide the accessibility and inclusivity that is crucial to their long-term health.
“Kyli has chosen a capstone project that will directly impact students at West Virginia University,” said Cottrell. “The module will offer insight to all students to increase their awareness of varying abilities each of us showcase, the services provided based on those needs, and where to find resources. It is important that our students become advocates and self-advocates to support one another and meet our milestones together. Kyli’s capstone will produce resources we can use as individuals and/or groups to make this happen.”
Smith says she hopes the project will continue once she graduates.
“I hope to see this as a starting line to a longer race of accessibility, inclusion and independence for all Mountaineers.”
Pictured at top: WVU senior Kyli Smith visits campus to work on her accessibility capstone project.
CONTACT: Nikky Luna, Director of Marketing and Communications
WVU School of Public Health