Building the College Diabetes Network One Chapter at a Time

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Christina Roth founded the College Diabetes Network when she realized the value of a diabetes community when in college herself

All August, the Joslin Blog is highlighting stories about heading back to school with diabetes. This story was originally posted on June 19, 2014.

Making the transition from high school to college is not an easy process, but if you have diabetes, this transition includes a whole other set of challenges.

“College is the perfect storm of everything [happening all at once],” said Christina Roth, CEO and founder of the College Diabetes Network. “For most people, it’s the first time they are managing their diabetes on their own. There is very little control, whether its control over their personal routine day-to-day or just their life in general.”

Some of the everyday challenges of managing diabetes in college include: an unpredictable class schedule, navigating dining hall food options and financial concerns.  While it can be difficult to manage all of these changes, it can be even harder if you have to do it alone.

These aforementioned challenges as well as the lack of resources and a support community on college campuses inspired Christina Roth to found the College Diabetes Network (CDN), a national non-profit organization that works with young adults on college campuses across the country to create peer networks and provide support and access to resources.

“It wasn’t even until I got to college that I knew there was a [diabetes] community and recognized the value in it and thought of myself as someone who was a part of it,” commented Roth.

The first chapter of CDN began at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2009, where Roth attended college. This group served as a community and forum for Roth and her peers to simply talk with one another.

This small group eventually grew into a larger community and a network of resources across college campuses for like-minded students. CDN made it easier for campuses to create chapters and to keep those chapters thriving by providing each chapter with the necessary tools and information.

“All the information we had available to us was either outdated or specifically written for an adult or a child, so we worked with experts and compiled resources from different places to provide information that is relevant to the lives of college students,” explained Roth.

These resources offer information about life on campus, from eating in the dining hall to talking to your roommate about diabetes or even where to purchase diabetes supplies. CDN has also published materials about the transition process from high school to college that is tailored for young adults and their families.

Recently, CDN expanded their resources to include information for parents and clinicians, whether it is making it easier for clinicians to provide patients with the right resources and or helping parents to feel more comfortable about sending their child off to college. CDN continues to work with various experts to ensure that they can provide college students with relevant information.

Although CDN’s growth was slow at first, it quickly picked up speed when Roth began directing her full attention towards nurturing and growing CDN.

“After graduating [in 2011], I was actually working fulltime at Joslin Diabetes Center [as a research assistant in the pediatrics department] and running CDN on the side, when it quickly became clear that it  was ‘now or never’  to get CDN off the ground. It was at that time, with the support of our families and our board, that CDN’s Program Director and I left our jobs to volunteer fulltime to get CDN off the ground,” she said.

Even after Roth’s departure from Joslin, there still remains a strong bond between Joslin and CDN as Joslin’s CEO and President, John Brooks serves as the chairman of the Board of Directors for CDN.

Currently, CDN has over 50 chapters and a presence at over 200 college campuses across the U.S.  In 2012, CDN received its first funding, which enabled the organization to hire staff and more efficiently accomplish their goals to grow the organization.  In 2013, CDN received its first grant funding from the Helmsley Charitable Trust and Medtronic Foundation, as well as launched its Corporate Membership program. Through these supporters and other initiatives, CDN has gone from a small grassroots organization to a full-time national organization.

As the only organization that caters exclusively to the unique needs of young adults with diabetes, CDN discovered they are the voice for an underserved niche within the diabetes community, and they have become a hub of resources for students as well as for parents, clinicians, campus providers and administrators. This position within the diabetes community prompted CDN to employ an “ecosystem” approach to programming, which is where CDN unites these various stakeholders with one another.

“We have a unique opportunity, but also an obligation to use what we know to connect these different stakeholders and really provide a true solution to young adults and a truly improved experience,” added Roth.

Moving forward, Roth is dedicated to ensuring that CDN is the driving force in creating meaningful change in the lives of young adults’ diabetes through raising awareness and ensuring that their voices are heard and answered.

For more information about CDN, visit their website or blog. A relaunched version of CDN’s website will be available in July.

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