Campus Connections: The College Diabetes Network Supports Students with Type 1 Diabetes

When University of Massachusetts junior Christina Roth started a student group for others living with type 1 diabetes in 2009, she had no idea that her organization would quickly become the number one resource for young adults like her and would expand to college campuses all over the United States in eight short years. But that is exactly what has happened!

With eight full-time staff members, seasonal interns, boards and committees, as well as over 120 student leaders on campuses across the country, College Diabetes Network (CDN) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that provides peer-based programs to connect and empower students and young professionals to thrive with diabetes.

As Insulet is a supporter of CDN*, we wanted to introduce CDN on Podder Talk™, just in time for the start of the new school year! We sat down with Christina Roth to learn more about CDN and the services it provides from its Boston headquarters and campuses nationwide.

How did CDN get started?

CDN got started in 2009 at UMass Amherst, when I had the idea to start a student group for young adults living with type 1 diabetes (T1D) on campus. I created a website over winter break that year, and it quickly became the number one resource on Google for “College” and “Diabetes.” Students from across the country contacted me to learn how they could start similar groups on their campuses. It was apparent that there was a huge gap in resources for young adults with diabetes, and I applied for 501©3 status in 2010.

After graduating from college in 2011, I worked as a research assistant at the Joslin Diabetes Center, and CDN became my “5pm-10pm volunteer job.” In 2012, my fellow volunteer, Jo, and I both quit our jobs and gave ourselves six months to get CDN off the ground. We succeeded, and CDN has grown in size and scope each year since!

Who is your main constituency/audience?

While CDN’s primary focus is supporting young adults with type 1 diabetes (T1D), we also recognize the importance of supporting those around these young adults, too. CDN has programs and resources for T1D young adults as they transition into independence from high school, into college, and beyond. We also work with those who support these young adults, including parents and caregivers, clinicians, campus administration, roommates, and friends.

What are the different programs and services you offer to the T1D community?  Describe some of the unique challenges that young adults face and how your organization fills those gaps.

Being a young adult with T1D isn’t easy. Transitioning into college and adjusting to young adult life while also managing diabetes can be a challenge for many. CDN’s programs help provide the support, information, and resources young adults need by leveraging the power of peer support.

CDN offers a wide range of programs to support the needs of young adults with T1D, as well as those that support them. CDN’s centerpiece program is our Chapter Network, which currently includes over 110 affiliated student-led groups on college campuses across the country. Our Chapters provide local, in person support for young adults with and affected by diabetes. In addition to our Chapter Network, we also aim to help young adults have better access to opportunities to become the next generation of leaders in the diabetes sector, including professional conference attendance, internship matching, and our annual student leadership retreat.

CDN’s Off to College program helps to support young adults with T1D in their transition from home to college, and reaching independence in their management of diabetes. CDN has free “Off to College” booklets for both students and their parents, as well as resources for clinical providers to help them navigate the transition into independence with their young adult patients.

CDN recognizes the transition from college life to “the real world” can be just as challenging as the transition into college, so we are in the process of launching our new “Off to Work” program to help young professionals with diabetes transition successfully into the workforce. Other new programs coming out this year include our Newly Diagnosed Young Adult program, which addresses the unique needs of newly diagnosed young adults between the ages of 17-25, as well as our Campus Toolkit program, which is currently being piloted at 25 campuses for the 2017-18 school year to help campuses better support the needs of students with diabetes. Finally, keep an eye out for the CDN “Mental Health and Body Image Facebook Live Event,” which will be hosted this fall and discuss the issues many young adults with diabetes face surrounding depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and more.

What are CDN’s top three priorities?

  1. Expanding our network – We are close to having a CDN Chapter in every state! We would like to have a Chapter accessible to all T1D college students in the United States, be that a Chapter on their campus or one within driving distance.
  2. Off to College Program – The transition from home to college can be challenging for students with diabetes, as well as their families. CDN has compiled booklets with information for students and parents to help make that transition a little easier. Check out a preview of the Student Booklet and the Parent Booklet. If you want to request your own copies, click here!
  3. Newly Diagnosed Materials for Young Adults – This fall, CDN will be launching resources for people diagnosed with T1D between the ages of 17 and 25. This growing segment has unique considerations related to managing T1D, from social pressures to first jobs and everything in-between. Keep an eye on CDN’s Facebook page for information about these new resources.

What makes CDN unique?

CDN has fundamentally changed how the T1D community thinks about and supports young adults with diabetes. The organization is the gold standard in supporting this underserved population, and is widely recognized as the leaders in this space with a track record for successfully addressing gaps and creating change.

What makes CDN successful?

CDN makes sure to include students’ opinions and feedback on all new projects – from inception to implementation, CDN ensures that all programs are relevant and useful for the population we serve! Also, our staff are passionate about empowering young adults living with T1D. Most of them have T1D and know first-hand the trials and tribulations that come along with college life and managing a chronic illness. They are dedicated to making that process a little easier for the next generation.

How can people with diabetes or connected to the diabetes community connect with your organization or learn more?

Anyone can learn more by visiting our website and signing up for our newsletter and student membership. This is the best way to stay up-to-date about all of CDN’s great programs and resources.

If you are a student interested in starting or getting involved in a Chapter on your campus, contact us at [email protected]

*Insulet Corporation is silver-level corporate member of CDN, which helps CDN to continue to expand their programs without adding fees for resources or participation.