Research is More Than Just Numbers


We all face questions and challenges everyday, and we are constantly trying to investigate and find the answers to those puzzling questions. We look for information to help us deliver insights, form ideas, and facilitate changes. Rarely do the answers come from numbers alone, but the answers can come through a variety of sources—discussions, interviews, interactions, and anything and everything in between.

This summer I set out to find the answer to a question I often ponder through the help of some Public Health faculty members and the CELT-SI Engaged Learning Award. I became interested in assessing the affects of traumatic events on the mental health of people in the New Orleans community, particularly the Vietnamese community in New Orleans East. There isn’t a huge population of Vietnamese-Americans in New Orleans as compared to places like Houston or San Jose, but the community here has faced obstacles unimaginable by concentrations of Vietnamese-Americans across the country. Faced with long-lasting impacts of the mental and emotional shocks of the Vietnam War and migration to the US, only to then suffer from recent traumas such as Hurricane Katrina and the BP Oil Spill, concerns and stress have led to unstable mental health. I became interested in seeing how all this contributed to the overall mental health status of the population. A fact that piqued my interest is that, despite all the difficulties this group faced, there is still a sense of resilience and efforts to begin anew. Just as they restarted after migrating to America after the Vietnam War, they did again after Hurricane Katrina and the BP Oil Spill.

As a Vietnamese-American, I was interested in hearing their stories. I wanted to know how these traumatic events altered their lives and what mental challenges they faced through the process of having to reestablish themselves so many times. Mental health isn’t something that is discussed in the Vietnamese community, as it is still a taboo topic. This is why I wanted to learn more about it in order to find ways to help the community address the issue. I had the data, but I didn’t have the knowledge and skills to assess the data.

How was I going to analyze all the interviews and discussions with members of the community? How could I express their stories in a more effective and impactful way? How could I find connections within stories? This is where the CELT-SI Engaged Learning Award came to the rescue. Through the award, I was able to attend an extensive training workshop for the NVivo software in Chicago to help me find the answers to the questions that plagued me. With the funding, I was able to travel to and explore a city foreign to me while learning vital information. It was a memorable experience!

Now, I am equipped with the skills to compliment the information I obtained as a Public Health student these past few years. I hope to one day use the information I gathered not only to understand the community more, but also to help.