Feature Stories 2024: Olivia Munyambu '24: Researching the mental health of UMassD students of the African diaspora

Honors Nursing major
Feature Stories 2024: Olivia Munyambu '24: Researching the mental health of UMassD students of the African diaspora
Olivia Munyambu '24: Researching the mental health of UMassD students of the African diaspora

Honors nursing major's research exposes healthcare disparities in the U.S.

Olivia Munyambu '24 said she took a leap of faith when she decided to attend UMass Dartmouth. 

Her intuition has served her well. In addition to graduating as a Commonwealth Scholar next month, Honors nursing major Munyambu has been named to the Chancellor's List multiple times and received the STEMMing While Black Academic Achievement Award and an Office of Undergraduate Research (OUR) grant. She entered college with 30 Advanced Placement/dual enrollment credits. 

In choosing a nursing career, Munyambu was mainly influenced by her aunt, a visiting nurse who treated patients in their homes. When her grandmother died due to complications related to heart failure, Munyambu observed that access to healthcare depended on what you can afford, and she wanted to learn more about disparities in healthcare in the United States. 

For her Honors College APEX Project, "Addressing Mental Health Amongst Undergraduate Students of the African Diaspora on the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Campus," Munyambu, whose family is from Kenya, examined the ways students of African descent manage their mental health. This topic, she found, is not widely discussed within Black communities. 

Research on UMassD students of the African diaspora

Why did you choose this research project?  

"A common theme I've noticed through an examination of the literature, in addition to my own experiences firsthand, is that mental health is not a widely discussed topic within Black communities. I wanted to examine ways in which students of the African diaspora are managing their mental health and how they are coping with stressors in day-to-day life (academic, social/campus, and institutionalized).  

"I also sought to examine how life experiences, including encounters with racism, have impacted one's life outlook, interactions with others, and one's response to their environment. I utilized aspects of Indigenous Wholistic theory, which views participants as a whole and extends beyond their immediate needs, and Afrofuturism, where Black people take charge of our futures by identifying changes they want to see and initiating them. 

"Black student participants expressed that they do not interact with white students in the same manner that they would with each other. Additional findings include a sense of 'being too small' as a single individual to create meaningful change to the systematic and institutionalized racism that persists in society. Black men appeared to have a more difficult time managing societal pressure of being both Black and a man than Black women."

Has your research project affected your educational experience or career goals? 

"Conducting this research as a Black student required me to further examine just how much racism has penetrated everyday life and how it has also impacted the health of Black people.  

"Regardless of which healthcare topic I chose to explore for an assignment, whether it be obesity rates, maternal mortality rates, access to quality healthcare, a disparity exists that is unfavorable to Black patients. According to the Centers for Disease Control, Black individuals in the U.S are more likely to suffer from complications related to obesity, hypertension, asthma, diabetes, and heart disease when compared to their white counterparts. 

"The research and assignments that I completed have made me passionate to continue exposing longstanding healthcare disparities in this country. I plan to advocate for Black peoples by continuing to bring to light the deep roots of racism through research and advancing my education." 

UMass Dartmouth experience 

Why did you choose to attend UMassD? 

"I knew I wanted to pursue nursing, so I decided to apply to UMassD. My Christian faith has become a major part of my life throughout my time in college and was a compelling factor in choosing this school. I am glad I came here. I met a lot of people and made lifelong friends."

Small class sizes and the financial support she received are also reasons why Munyambu chose to join the Corsairs. 

What do you think makes UMassD special? 

"Supportive faculty who are always available to answer questions. Professors Melissa Desroches (Nursing) and Viviane Saleh-Hanna (Black Studies), assisted me greatly with designing the research study, how it would be conducted, and provided direction throughout the project. Associate Professor Jennifer Viveiros (Nursing) encouraged me to keep going at times when I felt overwhelmed."

What did you enjoy about the Honors College?  

"I like the camaraderie of the small classes and being able to interact with professors easily. Being able to enroll in classes early is a nice benefit. Hearing perspectives from different academic backgrounds was refreshing."

College of Nursing & Health Sciences (CNHS) experience 

What has been your experience working with and learning from faculty in CNHS? 

"Faculty always make themselves available to answer any questions I have and to meet during office hours. The faculty are very knowledgeable, approachable, and provide good feedback. Clinical instructors have also been great in supporting students within the clinical field."

Future plans 

After taking her nursing boards in July, Munyambu plans to return to Worcester to work in a hospital there. She would like to specialize in maternal/infant health, earn a master's degree in nursing, and become a midwife. 

"I'd like to advise on health promotion for pregnant women. The presence of the complications I mentioned above prior to pregnancy greatly increases the likelihood of developing pregnancy-related complications. These challenges can be mitigated and decreased amongst Black mothers through health promotion initiatives, including advocacy on the public policy level against systemic racism in addition to community outreach and educational programs."