Former BEAT Institute participant helping to improve health of her community

The 2012 Built Environment Assessment Training (BEAT) Institute is happening now in Boston, Mass.

The goals of the Institute are to: prepare investigators and practitioners to use both observational and self-report measures of nutrition and activity environments and related behavioral assessments through lectures, fieldwork, hands-on skills, group work and individual consultation; and increase the number of professionals qualified to conduct built environment assessments for nutrition and physical activity.

We sat down with a BEAT Institute graduate to learn more about the “built environment” education she received. Erika S. Trapl, Ph.D., participated in the BEAT Institute in summer 2010. She is assistant professor of the Department of Epidemiology & Biostatistics at Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) in Cleveland, Ohio. She is also associate director of the Prevention Research Center for Healthy Neighborhoods (PRCHN), which is funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

About how many others did you train with at the Institute? Was the structure of the training what you expected?
Trapl: There were probably around 25-30 of us in Philadelphia for the 2010 Institute. It was a great group of people from all levels of their career (e.g., post-docs, faculty). A lot of information was shared with us ahead of time about the structure. As participants, we knew which instructors would be leading certain sessions, and we had pre-training homework to provide everyone with a common foundation. We were also able to tailor the week’s agenda to our specific interests with the selection of labs and audit tool trainings. The ratio of BEAT instructors and participants was great.

Why did you apply? What were you hoping to get out of the weeklong training?
Trapl: I had recently started my CWRU faculty position, and a colleague recommended it as an ideal way in which to build my knowledge in this area of research – understanding and conducting built environment assessments for nutrition and physical activity – and get extensive exposure. This skill set also fit with the work I was doing (or was hoping to do!) within the PRCHN, and this broad-based expertise in built environment assessment did not exist at CWRU.

What did you get out of the Institute that surprised you?
Trapl: I was impressed with how collegial all of BEAT’s instructors were. We had a reception at [BEAT Institute director] Dr. [Karen] Glanz’s home, which allowed us time to network and discuss issues outside of the courses. They really cared about what all of us were doing and even now, I’m comfortable getting in touch. BEAT provided me a real national network of colleagues and collaborators.

How is what you learned influencing your research/career?
Trapl: The skill set has allowed me to carve out a way to build environmental research questions into ongoing and active research studies that are happening here at the PRCHN and within my community aslarger public health initiatives. CWRU is one of four sites for the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute-sponsored Childhood Obesity Prevention and Treatment Research (COPTR) program, a seven-year obesity prevention and treatment research study of children. Cleveland’s project, IMPACT, is a multi-level, family- and community-based adolescent obesity treatment trial. Due to my BEAT training, I was able to add to IMPACT’s environmental measurement component to be more comprehensive and allow for a better understanding of the home, school, and community environment of our participants. We’ve been able to use that data collection methodology city-wide, informing other studies and local policies, and effectively, the health of our community.

Can you cite a particularly memorable BEAT Institute course?
Trapl: One of the things I remember and was excited about was Dr. Amy Hillier’s BEAT Institute session on GIS and the built environment. She was so passionate and great at teaching something that a lot of people would consider complex or tedious. I returned to CWRU and identified some GIS coursework there to further build my capacity for bringing all of these various components together, to understand, for instance, how a child might exist within multiple layers of the same environment and how to use GIS to examine that. Dr. Hillier provided me the foundation to do that.

The 2012 Beat Institute is underway now, but check out its homepage to learn more about applying next year.

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