Christina Roth ’11 is the Founder and CEO of the national nonprofit organization, the College Diabetes Network (CDN). This organization creates opportunities for students and young adults living with type 1 diabetes (T1D) to connect, share, and succeed in their academic and professional life. CDN includes a central online resource for young adults, friends, and family who want to learn more about how the disease can be managed effectively. Their programs seek to guide students through the many new experiences and challenges of attending college with T1D.
In 2009, during her junior year as a Psychology major at UMass Amherst, Roth became overwhelmed with her own diabetes management, finding it difficult to stay energetic and healthy enough to perform her studies. Feeling isolated and hoping to meet others who may help her develop new strategies for managing diabetes during college, she started an on-campus peer support group for students living with diabetes. She discovered there was a number of students who shared in her experience.
Roth found an ally in a nurse practitioner at the university health services, Christine Horn, who had experience treating patients with diabetes. Horn noticed that many students with diabetes were confronted with the same challenges as Roth, and were interested in connecting with each other. Roth and Horn worked together, promoting a website for the new peer support group which allowed them to reach students without violating any HIPAA-related constraints.
“Most of what we did was centered around facilitating care support and making it easier for people to connect. Diabetes is not a visible disease; two friends could just not know that each other has it. Through CDN and this concept, people could be connected and have these meaningful relationships,” says Roth. In 2010, Roth began talking with other schools with similar diabetic support groups. She decided to apply for 501(c)(3) status as a non-profit, which was approved her senior year in 2010.
During her time as an undergraduate student at UMass, Roth was involved with the Rudd Adoption Research Program. Under the guidance of Dr. Harold Grotevant, Rudd Family Foundation Chair in Psychology, she aided in transcribing adolescent data from the Minnesota Texas Adoption Research Project. She used this data for her honors thesis focusing on strengths and competencies in adopted adolescents. Roth developed a passion for positive psychology and resiliency, which relates to her current work regarding diabetes and chronic illness.
Roth delved into graduate-level subjects, being taught advanced statistical analysis by Dr. Grotevant. Roth reflects on this experience, “It gave me a lot more confidence in myself. Hal gave me opportunities to ask questions, talk through findings, and our thoughts about them. Being given the green light to think creatively and figure out how new things can be accomplished wasn’t something I had been exposed to before.”
Roth went on to present her thesis research at an international conference in Leiden, Netherlands as well as several other national conferences. In 2011, she received the UMass Amherst 21st Century Leader Award and was one of the “29 Who Shine," a statewide honor presented to her by then-governor Deval Patrick.
Roth’s experience at UMass helped her to Identify what she was passionate about. She asked questions about disciplines outside of common class topics. “It wasn’t until I found something I was passionate about that my thinking got much more complex and creative. I was able to pursue it in a way that hadn’t really occurred to me as you’re doing class assignments,” says Roth. Presently, she often utilizes what she learned from psychology including the study of interpersonal relationships, reading and analyzing peer-reviewed literature, and understanding measures, metrics, and evaluation data. These skills can be applied to many current industries, not just psychology. “Regardless if you become a psychologist or not, it’s going to serve you very well to be able to understand these things and apply them,” she adds.
Several years after Roth’s graduation from UMass, CDN had grown into a national organization. CDN expanded their vision and began creating online resources for young adults with T1D. By talking with student groups and advisors, the CDN team realized that there were many similar themes that could be addressed. The first resource entitled Off to College, was a series of booklets for high school students and their parents beginning a transition into their college years. It provided new students with helpful information on managing their T1D, addressing topics such as dealing with a varying and sometimes erratic schedule, nutrition concerns, stress and emotions, and even talking with friends and roommates about the disease.
CDN’s resources and programs helped to fill a gap in the information being provided to diabetic patients by our current health care system. They go beyond ‘doctor’s advice’, teaching students how to live with the disease 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Students in peer support Chapters can learn about coping mechanisms based on what’s challenging for them right now. Groups also discuss what new therapies and technologies exist that could make life better. They provide an outlet for students to talk about anything that is on their mind, fostering a collaborative network which helps individuals overcome their difficulties and succeed.
Roth credits the mentorship of Dr. Grotevant and the faculty in psychological and brain sciences for teaching her the skills needed to pursue similar mentor relationships within her own organization’s staff and student programs. Looking into the future, Roth has outlined a strategic plan for CDN in 2018-2020, identifying several objectives to support their ongoing progression. They include the promotion of student leadership and professional development for young adults, providing new educational resources and opportunities for community involvement, and gaining a better understanding of the barriers to care that young adults with T1D are confronted with and what solutions can be proposed.
Roth offers the following advice to students, “Take initiative, don’t just focus on your classes. One of the most amazing things that my thesis allowed me to do was to take ownership of where I wanted to learn and what I wanted to learn and figure out ‘how do I get there?’ Find something you’re passionate about and run with it.”
To learn more about CDN visit www.collegediabetesnetwork.org.
Chapter email: firstname.lastname@example.org