Cordeiro and Peterman receive Distinguished Research Partnership Award

November 7, 2013

From left: Lorraine Cordeiro, Jerusha Nelson Peterman

The Cambodian Mutual Assistance Association of Greater Lowell, Inc. (CMAA) recently honored Assistant Professors of Nutrition Lorraine Cordeiro and Jerusha Nelson Peterman with the agency’s first Distinguished Research Partnership Award. The two UMass Amherst professors are implementing a community-engaged study examining food insecurity, nutrition education needs, and health risks among Cambodian women in Massachusetts. This innovative study, which recognizes the significant health disparities faced by Cambodians and seeks to understand the root causes of these disparities, is supported by the Center for Agriculture at UMass Amherst with funding from the USDA.

“Cordeiro and Peterman were once CMAA staff members. They never forgot us and have returned to contribute their scientific knowledge and skills in an effort to build the capacity of our community to understand the health issues that affect our longevity and well-being” said Rasy An, Executive Director of the CMAA.

Shanshan Chen, a doctoral candidate on the research team is hoping to base her dissertation research on data from the Cambodian Women Project and has already presented one abstract at a national scientific conference. Chantha (UMass Amherst ’95) and Raymond Bin (UMass Lowell ’96) hosted Shanshan for several weeks in Lowell and oriented her to Cambodian culture and diet. UMass Amherst undergraduate students Emily Boudreau, Kannika Chap, Nicholas Otis, Alexandra Purdue-Smithe and Jillian Saffe are research assistants on the team. Emily Boudreau and Jillian Saffe are from the Greater Lowell area.

Emily Boudreau, a resident of Tewksbury, is currently interning with the CMAA. “I am sincerely grateful for the opportunity to work with Drs. Cordeiro and Peterman. They have enabled me to learn much about the Cambodian culture, a community I was not familiar with previously even though it was so close to home. I have also learned a great deal about how refugee/immigrant experiences can affect nutrition and health, and they have inspired me to work to incorporate this information into nutrition education. I greatly enjoy working with this welcoming community and hope to continue to do so for some time.”

Jillian Saffe, a resident of Dracut, said “Food insecurity is very serious in that it can lead to many different nutritional outcomes. I am privileged to be able to assist Drs. Cordeiro and Peterman on this project to help Cambodian women both nutritionally and economically”.

Students Nicholas Otis and Alexandra Purdue-Smithe found that their recent interactions with participants allowed them to understand health disparities within the context of the community.

Said Purdue-Smith, “Interviewing study participants and listening to focus groups has given me a great deal of insight into the nature of the nutritional problems faced by the Cambodian population and has allowed me to think critically about how food environment affects overall health. Working with Drs. Cordeiro and Peterman and the women at CMAA has been an extremely rewarding and valuable learning experience in the methods of community-based research. As we move forward in the study, I hope that we are able to develop effective and innovative ways to address the nutrition and health disparities faced by this population based on the data we have collected. ”

“Relationships with community members must be established quickly in research, but no relationship is too small or insignificant in an at-risk population such as this,” Nick Otis notes. “Research is only valuable if it enables the community that it’s involving. Drs. Cordeiro and Peterman are truly committed to the work they do with Cambodian women; our entire team understands the value of each interaction and relationships that we establish.”

Cordeiro and Peterman have made a concerted effort to engage Cambodian-American students enrolled at UMass Amherst by hiring them as research assistants or involving them in independent studies. Thus far, five Cambodian American women have been hired as research assistants; two of whom graduated with their bachelor’s degrees in 2013.