Arts & Humanities

USU Student Researchers and Faculty Mentor Present Research Findings

Grant Holyoak, a sociology undergraduate student, and his wife, Morgann Holyoak, an elementary education undergraduate student, wanted to better understand health conditions for immigrant children in Utah. They worked on a research project with faculty mentor Dr. Courney Flint in USU's sociology program.

A study conducted by a Utah State University husband and wife duo and their faculty mentor hopes to shed light on the health vulnerabilities of immigrant children in Utah.

Grant Holyoak, a sociology undergraduate student, and his wife, Morgann Holyoak, an elementary education undergraduate student, wanted to better understand health conditions for immigrant children in Utah. In interviews with 16 key service providers across the state, the two sought to assess gender differences in the health vulnerabilities of young immigrants and differences between children of refugee families and those of undocumented immigrants.

Recently, immigrant and refugee wellbeing has been a pertinent topic of discussion in the world and particularly in the Beehive State, according to faculty mentor Courtney Flint, an associate professor of natural resource sociology in USU Department of Sociology, Social Work and Anthropology. Several high-profile Utahns, including the state’s governor, Gary Herbert, and the church of the state’s religious majority, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, have come out in vocal support of welcoming refugees to Utah.

Grant said the study gave the researchers a much better understanding of the differences between undocumented immigrant children and refugee children. Although, the study didn’t find any major differences in gender-based health vulnerabilities.

The study found that interview participants highlighted problems of obesity and pesticide exposure for children of undocumented immigrant families and problems of underweight conditions and parasite issues among refugee children. Shared issues for immigrant children in general included dental health issues, lack of fluoridated water, low-income housing and lead exposure, transition-related symptoms and mental health issues.

The study showed that children of undocumented immigrant parents face health access problems of fear, unrecognized eligibility, and lack of insurance. Refugee children on the other hand, were said to experience unfamiliarity with medical systems and grocery stores as well as language and literacy barriers and transportation problems. Shared health access issues include inconvenient clinic hours, lack of awareness of existing programs and lack of Medicaid expansion in Utah.

Morgann said despite the vulnerabilities, positive change for immigrant children in Utah is coming.

“There is good news,” she said. “Efforts are in place already to help break the cycle of these health problems for immigrant children.”

According to Morgann, partnerships and referral systems are connecting families with health services and mobile medical clinics are also increasing access. Cultural education programs and strategic advertising in places frequented by immigrant families are also helping.  Interview participants noted key efforts that would be helpful in reducing current and future health vulnerabilities for immigrant children. These included increasing the use of mobile medical units, expanding Medicaid, creating immigrant “care campuses” for integrated services and increased education for both immigrant families as well as service providers.

The research efforts are part of a research and training program called Break the Cycle. The efforts are led by the Institute for the Study of Disadvantage and Disability in Atlanta, Georgia, in partnership with Emory University. The program is in its 11th year and is designed to support student research to discover ways to break the cycle of environmental health disparities for children.

Flint said she learned of this research opportunity in her role on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Board of Scientific Counselors.

“It’s a great opportunity for USU students to connect with a national and international group of students and mentors all interested in research to better the lives of young people,” she said.

Grant and Flint attended a Break the Cycle Conference in Atlanta, Georgia, held April 17-19.

Grant presented the group’s research findings on immigrant children’s health and Flint presented on the importance of engaging youth in studying and building community wellbeing.

For more information, contact Flint via email

Related links:

Contact: Dr. Courney Flint, (435) 797-8635,

Writer: Jackson Murphy,

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