Skip to main content
Mikayla Pivec

Science student and basketball star studies resources for homeless populations

By Mary Hare

Mikayla Pivec, basketball star and BioHealth Sciences junior

Honors BioHealth Sciences junior Mikayla Pivec might be best known for her stellar basketball career for the Oregon State Beavers (she made the headlines for leading her team to victory against La Salle recently), but that is only a part of what she has to offer. For the past year, Pivec has been working with Human Development and Family Sciences Professor Kelly Chandler, in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences, on illuminating the challenges homeless people face and understanding how best to use resources to help them.

Pivec was excited to use the SURE Science Award to advance the scope of her honors college thesis, as well as to help the homeless community to the greatest extent she can. She has already donated $1000 of the $5000 stipend she was awarded to the homeless shelters in Corvallis.

“I was so lucky to have that opportunity – it’s my way of giving back for what was given to me,” remarked Pivec.

Mikayla Pivec in her basketball jersey
BioHealth Sciences major Mikayla Pivec.

Pivec is interested in going into the medical field, possibly becoming a dermatologist. She explains that when she was younger she suffered from eczema on her hands and dark skin pigmentation on her neck. She visited a dermatologist who was able to alleviate the symptoms. “That was the spark moment when I realized, ‘hey I like science and I like helping people, and I want to help people feel better and more confident like that dermatologist did for me.”

In addition to practicing more than 20 hours a week, the OSU women’s basketball team also participates in many volunteer activities throughout the community, such as helping feed the homeless at churches throughout Corvallis. In addition, Pivec took the initiative to start volunteering on her own at the Room at the Inn, a cold-weather women’s shelter in Corvallis. “I started interacting with the women there and got really interested in their stories,” Pivec said.

She decided to do her thesis project on the challenges homeless people encounter, as well as looking at the resources they use and how they can better be adapted to serve the population. Pivec looked into what research opportunities were available at OSU, and quickly learned of the work Chandler was doing.

Since January 2018 they have been working on developing a project where they conduct qualitative interviews with 10 representatives from the homeless population about how they utilize resources such as food, housing vouchers, and the accessibility of government IDs. They plan to compare this information with data they have already collected from various representatives from local resource agencies. “We want to see where the disconnect is, and what barriers to access they might have,” she said.

The project has progressed slowly, because several permissions are needed to be obtained before they are allowed to meet with vulnerable members of the population. Because of this, Pivec’s work over the summer was mostly limited to conducting research on similar projects, examining data, as well as conducting the interviews with resource agencies. These alone have been very enlightening. “I expected them to say that the biggest issues were not getting enough funding, or the resources they might need, but in fact the biggest issue they saw is the stigma related to how people view the homeless population.”

Now that the proposal has been approved, they are posting fliers to raise awareness about the interviews which they hope to conduct over winter break.

Pivec is grateful for the many opportunities receiving the fellowship provided her. “I’m so lucky to have the SURE Science Award. It was a great opportunity. It allowed me to pursue my passion and helped set the stage for my thesis project.”

Apart from allowing her to dedicate more time to research than would have otherwise been possible, she also found the seminar to be a highly valuable learning experience. “Before the seminar, I was a little nervous. But I actually really liked it. Someone came up to me and said they had actually been homeless, and we were able to talk about some of the bigger issues around the subject.”

In the months ahead, Pivec plans to continue developing her project for her thesis. More than anything, Pivec is excited to continue her work with the homeless shelters in Corvallis.

“I like to be able to help as much as possible, and being involved in the community is really important to me. I know this community’s given a lot to me, and as a student athlete here, I have this really great platform I’ve been able to use to inspire people and make an impact.”

In the future, whether she is going pro in basketball or becoming a dermatologist — or both, Pivec is determined to keep working to make society a better place.

Also read: Science scholarship enables biology senior to expand marine science research

Nearly 40 students win 2018 SURE Science awards