A Q&A with Dr. Helene Vilme, K12 Scholar

Can you tell me about your research?

My research focuses on modifying food environments to encourage healthy dietary behaviors among students ages 18-25. Research suggest that health behavior practices adopted at this age are strongly associated with subsequent health practices later in life, making it that much more important to intervene in this period of an individual’s life. Because African Americans are more likely to develop diet-related diseases and more than 70% of the student body at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) are black American young adults, HBCUs can play an important role in encouraging healthy dietary behaviors. Therefore, for my K12, I am developing and implementing a farm-to-university program at HBCUs. Farm-to-university is a program in the United States through which schools and universities buy and feature locally produced foods on their menus.

How are you ensuring this program will positively impact the most amount of people within your research population?

I am targeting HBCUs because of their high percentage of black American young adults. Additionally, in order to get a variety of perspectives and input, I have created a community advisory board of people who represent different areas of the population this program will impact. Although the board members have different ideas, we all come together and vote. I want them involved in every aspect of the research.

What makes the K12 program unique?

The K12 is like a canvas. You get to paint it however you want, with research you’re most interested in, as long as your tools are evidence-based. The K12 gives scholars the protected time to critically think and be creative about how to solve problems that are impacting different populations.

Why are dissemination and implementation (D&I) so critical to research?

D&I research bridges the gap between science and practice. To obtain the full benefit of research, we must apply our findings in real world settings targeting populations that are in need. There is a gap between what we know works and what is being delivered in practice and community settings. D&I helps to bridge that gap.

Can you describe the relationship between K12 participants and mentors? In what ways do they support you and your research?

I have fantastic mentors. They are incredibly accessible and encourage an open door policy. If there's an issue, my mentors are willing to talk about it and help me navigate the problem at hand. Most importantly, they are committed to helping me become an independent research investigator.