Chaz Cotton ’23

Tyler Street Lab, Pittsfield, MA

This summer I worked a hybrid internship doing research remotely and presenting to kids in local communities in Western Massachusetts. As the goal of my internship was to provide education on mental and physical health for adolescents I focused a lot of my time reading about studies that implemented different strategies to improve mental and physical fitness in youth. Initially, I structured my research in a way so that I could have a solid understanding of the psychological benefits of mindfulness-based interventions. I found that mental and physical health can be a troublesome area for all children. However, I found that difficulties in both of these areas are compounded by several socioeconomic stressors that impact Black and brown children. Upon doing more research I also found that Black and brown children are one-third as likely to receive the needed mental health support as their white peers.

I began to focus my research on strategies used by schools that saw great decreases in levels of anxiety, depression and PTSD. I also searched for studies where the interventions implemented resulted in improvements in coping mechanisms, emotional awareness and overall academic performance. I found several studies that used mindfulness-based interventions in schools in which the majority of the demographic matched that of the kids I would be working with. The studies focused on different mindfulness techniques used to help deal with stressors. I then learned more about those techniques so I would be able to teach them to the kids.

I also aimed to learn more about how mental health can be improved and impacted by participation in exercise or physical activity. I found several studies that prove the connection with several different hypotheses. By citing this evidence, I aimed to show that in addition to the mindfulness techniques shown, exercise can also improve mental health. I compiled the research I did remotely into two presentations.

Once I got back to campus I gave both presentations to kids who live in the Mohawk Forest Apartment Complex. We practiced mindfulness techniques like square breathing. In the presentation regarding physical health, I specified that exercise can simply be any physical activity that is enjoyable, and upon their request we played basketball together. The following week I worked with the children of the Tyler Street Lab in Pittsfield. I gave my presentation about mental health, and we then practiced some guided meditation and journaling. The following day the same kids came to Williams, where I gave them a tour of campus and a sample home workout that could be done with no equipment. Finally, I went back to the Tyler Street Lab to give my second presentation about mental and physical health.

This experience has shown me that my passion is helping people with their health, both mentally and physically. I would like to sincerely thank the Kraft Family and the ’68 Center for this opportunity to explore my curiosity, as I hope to continue doing more health-related research after graduating.