Student interns help research for new health focused campus



Student interns have played an important role in helping to develop Kalamazoo Valley Community College’s new health-focused campus. In May, Kalamazoo Valley Community College (Kalamazoo Valley) announced a partnership with Bronson Healthcare (Bronson), and Kalamazoo Community Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (KCMHSAS) to develop a campus focused on wellness and food sustainability.

Bronson Healthcare donated 13.3 acres of unused land for the new campus. The property, near Bronson Methodist Hospital, includes 8.4 acres along Crosstown Parkway east of the City of Kalamazoo’s Crosstown Center, 3.6 acres between Walnut and Dutton Streets, and 1.3 acres north of Crosstown Parkway and south of Dutton Street. Three facilities are planned, including a new Kalamazoo Valley location for food production and distribution, a center for allied health and culinary programs, and a new psychiatric clinic for KCMHSAS.

Even before the location was selected, four student interns were busy conducting research to assist the project organizers. Robbie DePalma created a fundraising database and researched the Federal Food Safety Modernization Act. Intern Melody Woods worked to identify existing urban gardens and map out accessibility to fresh food. Kalamazoo College senior Stesha Marcon is an intern who has been researching green care and therapeutic horticulture. In addition, intern Natasha Turcotte is working on a presentation for Bronson about the existing orchards and farms within a 50-mile radius. Her work will be used to help develop partnerships with other organizations with a commitment to healthy eating.

Kalamazoo Valley Community College President Marilyn Schlack said it made perfect sense to involve students and solicit their input about this new, innovative initiative. “We know that the health-focused campus will make a positive impact on the lives of our students, their families, and the greater Kalamazoo community for decades,” Schlack said. “We’re pleased that our students are already so supportive of the idea and that our interns have been able to gain valuable experience by assisting the steering committee with research.”

Marcon came to Kalamazoo from Albany, California. The International Studies major said her research ties in with her Environmental studies concentration. She explained that therapeutic horticulture refers to the purposeful use of plants and plant-related activities to promote health and wellness, a concept that she thoroughly supports. “It fits in with my personal interests,” Marcon said of her research. For her final project at Kalamazoo College, she plans to write a comprehensive report about the topic.

Woods has visited community gardens to help figure out how to reach the underserved with fresh, local produce. She is also communicating with area churches that operate food pantries to learn more about the community’s nutritional needs. “I love it,” Woods said of her work on the project. “I’ve been able to do something I really enjoy. I really enjoy the community, meeting new people and organizations. Everything I’ve learned, I’m trying to pass on.”

Woods graduated from Kalamazoo Valley last spring and is now a fulltime student at Western Michigan University. “I live in the neighborhood where the new campus is going to be,” she said. “We’re just really excited to have Kalamazoo Valley coming. It will be interesting to see how the dynamics change. I’m just interested to see how it plays out.”

DePalma, who graduated from Kalamazoo Valley with a degree is accounting, is now a student at WMU. He remains enthusiastic about the new campus. “I wanted to be a part of the project for the experience,” he said. In addition to the health-focused campus internship, DePalma has been an intern in the Hydraulics Systems Division at Parker Hannifin. He assisted with the new campus project by tracking expenses. “I’ve gained experience that I’ll take with me anywhere in the workforce.”

Designs will be developed over the next several months and construction of the $42 million campus is expected to begin in the spring of 2014 with initial course offerings becoming available during 2015.