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Research focuses on strategies for addressing health and educational needs of low-income single mothers

Government and law major Amanda Pisetzner ’10 (Puyallup, Wash.) and Rachel Gallagher ’07 presented research on health and educational needs of single mothers at the Association for Research on Mothering (ARM) Conference in October in Toronto, Canada.

The presentation, “Maternal Health and Access to Higher Education: Strategies for Addressing the Needs of Low Income Single Mothers,” was part of Pisetzner’s EXCEL research that she performed this summer with Debbie Byrd, associate professor of English and coordinator of Women’s Studies.

ARM’s annual conference is attended by scholars and activists from Canada, Great Britain, Australia, and the United States.

Pisetzner worked with Byrd this summer to assess the impact of service learning courses – combining academic course work with closely related community service activities – on learning outcomes of students. Pisetzner also helped Byrd organize qualitative data she had collected from students in her Women’s Studies service-learning seminar, Single Motherhood in the Contemporary U.S. The course pairs lectures, readings, and statistical data about various areas of single motherhood, like welfare reform and domestic violence, with volunteering at the Third Street Alliance Women’s shelter or the Sixth and Ferry complexes in Easton.

Pisetzner says the goals for their research, at first, were only to evaluate the effectiveness of service learning. But as they continued to build relationships and work hands-on with people through volunteering, their goals took on a greater purpose.

“Because [Professor Byrd’s Single Motherhood course] is a service learning course,” Pisetzner explains, “we definitely wanted to harness service opportunities around Easton. Our research, in fact, helped design components for this semester’s course. In a sense, our goals required far more research than initially anticipated. What started out as goals for researching service learning, expanded into goals of how to better serve single moms in Easton and their children.”

Gallagher, who graduated with an A.B. with a self-created major in equality and justice, wrote her honors thesis on the more interpersonal needs of single mothers, primarily addressing the link between maternal health and a mother’s ability to pursue higher education.

Gallagher’s initial research entailed volunteering with the Family Development Research Program (FDRP) at Easton High School, a recently disbanded program for low income, single, teenage mothers. The program focused on maintaining the health of both mother and baby and positioning these mothers to continue their education. The mothers were paired with a registered nurse, social worker, high school guidance counselor and students in Byrd’s service learning course who mentored the mother through the remainder of the pregnancy and through child’s fifth year.

The service component of these courses, Pisetzner says, is helpful to students’ learning because it generates a more realistic perspective of the topic they study in the classroom.

“Service learning makes both classroom and volunteering activities more meaningful for students,” explains Pisetzner. “The facts help you grasp where these women are coming from and their stories give more substance to the class work.”

As of now, Pisetzner plans to pursue post graduate studies and she says that this experience has provided her with some direction in that respect.

“It definitely contributed to the ‘helping people’ portion of my future plans,” she explains. “No matter what I do, I think service will be a part of it. Easton is very different from my hometown of Puyallup, Wash., and having lived here this summer, worked with Professor Byrd and the community, I was made aware of issues and struggles that may not be as prevalent where I am from. It might not affect my career plans, but I definitely think it will have an impact in how I view people, situations, and service.”

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