Katerina Noori, a 2021 graduate of the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service, has joined the Northwest Regional Campus of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences as a Research Assistant.
Working in the Office of Community Health and Research, Noori is an evaluator for the Healthy Food Systems team, a group that implements programs designed to help schools and organizations create healthy eating habits and offer nutritious food options.
Noori’s work is currently focused on CHEFS – which stands for Creating Healthy Environments for Schools – a program that partners with six Northwest Arkansas school districts to improve students’ access to healthy foods. The program implements nutrition changes to the school districts’ food service programs, increasing students’ access to fruits and vegetables and lowering their consumption of sugar, saturated fat, and sodium in meals.
All schools follow nutrition mandates by the federal government through the National School Lunch Program, but CHEFS’ steps – specifically in regard to sugar regulation – go above and beyond those measures.
The program is being funded by a $1.28M grant from the Alice L. Walton Foundation.
“We are implementing an ongoing process evaluation to determine fidelity – did the program deliver what it said it would deliver? – and an outcome evaluation – did nutrition improve through lower sugar, saturated fat, and sodium intake?” Noori explained.
Additionally, Noori will help evaluate an external program with Ozark Guidance, a behavioral health nonprofit in Fayetteville. Ozark Guidance recently received a $4M expansion grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and will develop a Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic program over the next two years.
The funds will be used for outreach and new service availability for underserved communities such as the Latinx and Marshallese populations in Northwest Arkansas, and will support new evidence-based specialized services, including assertive community treatment.
For Noori, the experiences with UAMS Northwest and Ozark Guidance are the most recent in a series of impactful research and evaluation efforts they have contributed to since moving to Arkansas.
Noori, who earned an undergraduate degree from Arizona State University, developed their interest and passion for research as a student at the Clinton School. Courses like Field Research Methods and Program Evaluation helped spark an interest and advance their understanding of research. Noori’s field service projects also played an important role.
Last summer, Noori completed an International Public Service Project with Canopy NWA, developing an evaluation plan for one of the organization’s pilot programs, The Long Welcome. The program provides comprehensive services to refugees and their families for up to five years upon their arrival to the United States. The project helped Noori see and appreciate the role evaluation can have within an organization.
“Overall, the most rewarding part was seeing how the work I did fit in with Canopy's larger mission,” Noori explained following the conclusion of the project. “Evaluation is often not a priority for program directors, as doing the work and serving clients is more important. However, being able to see how a program helps clients means growth and improvement for the program, as well as the ability to apply for funding. I was very glad to be able to help create a plan for continued outcome monitoring for this new program.”
In March 2021, Noori, along with faculty members Dr. Chul Hyun Park and Dr. Robert C. Richards, Jr., delivered a presentation to the Washington State Legislature on the group's evaluation of the state’s Climate Assembly, offering a comprehensive evaluation of the process. Noori, Park, and Richards conducted an evaluation of the Washington State Climate Assembly, a collection of 80 Washington residents selected through a lottery process to learn about, discuss, deliberate, and recommend climate change solutions for consideration by their State Legislature in Olympia, Wash.
Noori’s work in the classroom and efforts with field service projects culminated with being announced as the 2021 recipient of the MPS Academic Award, presented annually to the top student from the Clinton School’s in-person degree program.
In Noori’s current role with UAMS Northwest, they said that they are able to put their experiences from the Clinton School into practice.
“This position is exciting because I am learning a lot about evaluation from a team of evaluation experts, and I get to work on many different types of projects with different community organizations,” Noori said. “I am also directly using many skills I learned in classes at the Clinton School, which is great! I often have tasks that I think, ‘Wow, I learned how to do this!’ or I sit in meetings and someone says something and I think, ‘Incredible; I know what that means!’”
The Clinton School Speaker Series not only enhances the education of Clinton School students, but also provides a venue for the public to engage in intellectual discussions on the issues of the day.