Since its creation over five years ago, the College of Charleston’s Women’s Health Research Team has made great strides in student involvement, academic research, and community engagement.

Communication professor Beth Sundstrom, co-founder of the Women’s Heath Research Team. (Photos provided)

Founded in 2013 by Associate Professor of Communication and Public Health Beth Sundstrom and former CofC Assistant Professor of Health and Human Performance Andrea DeMaria (now at Purdue University), the Women’s Health Research Team (WHRT) was established in response to student requests for research opportunities related to women’s health.

“We brainstormed a research project together and developed our first women’s health research study,” says Sundstrom, who serves as the director of WHRT. “Since that time, the team has grown to include over 25 faculty, graduate students and undergraduate student researchers.”

The team recruits students to participate in all aspects of research, including data collection and analysis, research design, literature review, writing and manuscript preparation.

But even undergraduate students who do not directly participate in WHRT have still been exposed to the team’s work. As part of the First Year Experience, CofC faculty have incorporated components from the “You Have Options: A Contraceptive Choice Campaign” and the “It’s Your Place: A Bystander Intervention Campaign” into their curriculum.

To further its mission to better understand reproductive and sexual health issues and behaviors among women, the team has been awarded numerous research grants. Since 2016, the team’s grant awards have exceeded $300,000 and have helped support research projects, events and publications dealing with topics such as mental health, bystander intervention, substance abuse, contraceptive options, pregnancy and reproductive health.

“These current and former College of Charleston students have co-authored over 50 national and international conference articles and 28 peer-reviewed journal articles,” adds Sundstrom.

Members of the WHRT present research on women’s reproductive health histories.

And the benefits of participating in WHRT extend well beyond graduation. Alumni of the WHRT have gone on to enroll in graduate programs at prestigious schools such as Columbia University and have landed jobs at organizations such as the Public Health Management Corporation, a nonprofit public health institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

The WHRT also partners with local organizations such as the S.C. Coalition for Healthy Families/Women’s Rights Empowerment Network to address community health issues. And the group is involved with numerous community initiatives, including efforts to improve telehealth offerings in rural communities and advocacy efforts to protect women’s health through issue education and translating research for lay audiences.

The team and its members have also been recognized with several awards and media coverage. The team’s research on telehealth in rural South Carolina was featured on SCetv, and team member Leslie Hart, an assistant professor of public health, was featured on BBC America’s Planet Earth: Blue Planet.

While Sundstrom will be abroad this coming academic year, conducting reproductive justice research in Ireland as part of a Fulbright U.S. Scholar Grant, she says the team will continue its important work on behalf of women and adolescent girls – on campus, in the Charleston area and throughout the world.

Featured image: Beth Sundstrom, associate professor of communication and public health and director of the WHRT, works with members of the team on a project.

Maggie Vickrey is a rising junior from Chicago studying communication and sociology at the College of Charleston.