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Developing the next generation of researchers
Once an undergraduate student working on Family Resiliency Center research projects and now a STRONG Kids Family Specialist, Kelly Uchima, is a perfect example of the FRC’s commitment to developing the next generation of researchers. Uchima, a May 2015 graduate, started working with the STRONG Kids research project her junior year, and now works full-time on the project. Majoring in Agricultural Consumer Economics with her concentration in Public Policy and Law, Uchima began as an undergraduate research assistant before working under Dr. Brent McBride, head of the Childhood Development Lab at the University, during her senior year. “I started doing lots of research, which I ended up really liking, even though it wasn’t necessarily my major; which led to STRONG Kids offering me the position as a Family Specialist.”
In her current role, Uchima takes in home data collections where she studies social, environmental, and genetic factors that affect kids from birth until the age of three. Being a Family Specialist, Uchima is responsible for being the direct contact with the families she works with. She travels across central Illinois to start the initial data collection during home visits, and on top of that, she is in charge of working with the families during the introduction of solid food to the babies around the age of six months. “Working in face-to-face contact with the families is pretty cool. I’ll be doing a one-week visit, then a six-week and a three-months, it blows my mind how fast the children grow. That is definitely one of the most rewarding parts.”
Working with STRONG Kids and being a Family Specialist is not like most jobs. “My favorite aspect (of being a Family Specialist) is how unconventional it is. I work for a prestigious university doing research, but don’t have to sit behind a desk. Every day is a new experience which is always entertaining.” The staff that head the program, like Jen Themanson, are also seen as a huge benefit for Uchima, “It is really hard to find a job where you feel like your boss really trusts you and your abilities and actually wants you to take on more responsibilities,” Uchima went on to say.
As an undergraduate, Kelly was very active volunteering at Habitat for Humanity, working for the Asian American Cultural Center, and the Illini Union Board. Currently, she’s is looking into different graduate programs where she plans to study Marketing Research. She plans on taking the experience with STRONG Kids and applying it while working for larger businesses and companies. “I feel that any time you learn a new skill and can flexible, it definitely helps you to succeed at whatever your next goal in life may be.” Although unsure of what the future will bring, Kelly loves the research she’s currently involved in and can’t wait for what’s to come.