As a Master’s of Public Health (MPH) student at UNC-Chapel Hill, I had the great pleasure of being able to work with the Center, a team of my peers, and UNC faculty advisors to evaluate some of the Center’s school-based prevention programs. Instead of a thesis, the MPH program requires students to do year-long Capstone projects with local organizations, and five of us chose to work with the Center.
I was excited to be able to do my Capstone project on sexual violence prevention because I’d been interested in the field for a long time, but I hadn’t had the opportunity to work with a rape crisis center before. I was also really excited about the project itself: we evaluated the fourth and fifth grade Safe Touch programs, which focus on bystander intervention and cyber- and sexual bullying, as well as the seventh grade Start Strong program, which focuses on addressing gender stereotypes, differentiating between flirting and sexual harassment, and bystander intervention.
The process was very collaborative: The Center guided the evaluation goals and questions, coordinated with community partners, and implemented the evaluation tools. The Capstone team developed the overall evaluation plan and tools, analyzed the results, and wrote evaluation reports.
Assessing Safe Touch and Start Strong was important for the Center for a lot of reasons. In addition to showing funders, volunteers, and community partners that these programs are working, the evaluations helped the Center identify how to make their programs even better in the future. The process of creating the evaluation helped Center staff get more practice in the evidence-based public health approach to preventing sexual violence. Finally, the Center can use these tools again in the future to build long-term, robust evaluations of their programs that they could eventually publish as research. There is a real need for more research about community programs that work to prevent sexual violence.
The project was really important for me, too, and I am very grateful to have had this experience. I learned to take the “gold standards” for evaluation that we were learning in the classroom and apply them in real world settings, with logistical challenges and goals that sometimes differ from those of academics. The project also taught me about the history of the rape crisis movement as well as its feminist, social justice approach. I also learned how to work public health into the movement harmoniously.
Additionally, I’m excited to share that this experience helped me land a job at the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault (CALCASA) immediately after I graduated. At CALCASA, I provide training and technical assistance to rape crisis centers across the state, with a special focus on prevention and evaluation. I know that my involvement with this Capstone project shaped my career path in a big way, and I hope it will continue to have a positive impact by informing my work in California.
Deena Fulton is a recent graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill’s MPH program. Last year, she worked with the Center for her Capstone project, evaluating a number of our educational programs.
Update: CALCASA posted a podcast on their blog, with staff members Laurie Graham, Rachel Valentine, and Alexis Kralic joining Deena to discuss their prevention evaluation partnership on this project. They describe the partnership and discuss what it was like working together and how they were able to reconcile differing perspectives and generate very useful products and outcomes.