Mentorship and collaboration: research making a difference in the lives of Ohio families

Front: Sara Stemen, Doctoral Associate, Maura Durcan, Speech Pathology & Audiology, '19; Middle: Haley Wisbey, Public Health '19, Elena McDonald, Statistics, '19, Katie Magyar, Gerontology & Public Health, '19; Back: Izzy Herb, Speech Pathology and Audiology '20 and Leah Janssen, Doctoral Associate.

This summer Sara Stemen and Leah Janssen, PhD students in Social Gerontology, mentored five undergraduate students working on a statewide nursing home and residential care facility family satisfaction survey that provides data for Ohio's Long-term Care Consumer Guide. (See box below.) Under the guidance of seasoned principal investigator, Jane Straker, and supported by Scripps Gerontology Center staff members Becky Thompson and Tonya Barger, the graduate students served as mentors and research supervisors for the undergrads. The team scanned completed surveys, answered 1000s of e-mails and phone calls from families and facility administrators, assisted with recording comments and stories from families, and participated in project meetings.

The team tackled the project with the knowledge that they were managing information that impacts lives. Janssen shared, "Part of the lesson is that we are paying attention and we’re listening and giving people an opportunity to use their voice, whether it’s checking the box, or writing something or filling it out online or calling us with questions - it’s that we’re paying attention and that we are being intentional with each step of the way." Stemen shared, “This research is very personal. It would be easy to look at this process as just a paper survey being distributed, that people are filling out – but people’s lives are impacted at a very fundamental level by this research - whether they are the individuals completing the survey to have their voices heard or they are a family member looking at the results to learn about long-term care options available in Ohio for a loved one. Good research tells a story and that's exactly what we have the opportunity to do at Scripps Gerontology Center - we work tirelessly to listen and help people tell their story. And if we're lucky we can play a part in helping improve the stories of the next generation of storytellers."

Managing the many moving parts of the project provided the graduate students with skills in large-scale research, collaboration, and mentorship they will take into their careers.

Janssen shared, “I’ve had some experience with longitudinal surveys, but not quite to this volume. I think I would guess that we are close to 30,000 surveys received, so far. It has been a really good experience working on this scale of a project - just seeing all the pieces along the way. It took the entire team to track the many different moving parts.”

Collaboration provided the framework for the team Stemen explains, “everybody had their role, Jane as primary investigator being there to support us and then Leah and I being there to help the students and trying to help them navigate the situations that they ran into. But it was so comforting to have the Scripps staff there, because they have the experience I did not have coming into this. I never felt like I was alone on anything, and when you’re a supervisor, sometimes you can feel like you’re on an island - but it was just this very cohesive team.”

Learning how to communicate with different audiences was a benefit of mentoring a cross-disciplinary team. “So even though this is Scripps Gerontology Center’s project, most of our students weren’t Gerontology majors. To be able to identify new ways to communicate my gerontological knowledge and assist the undergraduate students with making connections to their respective disciplines and our work on the survey team was huge for me as an educator. It was so rewarding to have those discussions and see us all work together to apply what we were learning as a team. I am definitely a more confident teacher and mentor as a result of my work on this project and all that the students taught me through sharing this experience” shared Stemen.


The undergraduate team members shared what this project meant to them.

Katie Magyar, dual majors, Gerontology & Public Health - This project has not only given me incredible work experience but has made me feel closer to my field of study. It guided me into realizing that I want to pursue a Masters in Gerontology and go on to be a nursing home administrator.

Haley Wisbey, Public Health major - Being involved with this project has led me to feel more prepared to pursue a higher level of education and has helped me to develop myself as a professional. I’ve learned more about what data collection for research purposes looks like, and have been encouraged that families and residents will feel supported and receive a higher quality of care as a result of what we are doing in our day-to-day work.

Izzy Herb, Speech Pathology & Audiology major - I learned valuable lessons in the field of Gerontology, whether it be through the practical experience of establishing relationships with the many facets of the project, or considering popular topics in Gerontology during bi-weekly meetings. As a Speech Pathology and Audiology major, I will be able to use what I have learned to further my understanding of the populations I will be working with.

Maura Duncan, Speech Pathology & Audiology major - I feel that now I now have a better idea of what it is like to work with a research team and am sure to use the skills I have gained in the future. I will not forget the incredible people I was able to work with and the tools I have acquired during this summer opportunity.

Ohio Revised Code 173.47 requires the collection of family and resident nursing home satisfaction data in alternating years, for the purposes of publishing the Ohio Long-Term Care Consumer Guide. In 2018 Scripps Gerontology Center is conducting the 9th biennial Ohio Nursing Home Family Satisfaction Survey and the second Residential Care Facility Family Satisfaction Survey under a contract with the Ohio Department of Aging.

This project provides family satisfaction information for approximately 960 nursing homes and 700 residential care facilities in Ohio. This important information is collected via a survey of residents' family members. They are given the opportunity to share their opinions about the care and services where their family member or friend resides. The information from these surveys is grouped by facility and reported on Ohio's Long-term Care Consumer Guide. Each facility also receives a report of their results to assist them in improving their care and services.