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UAlbany gets $10M grant for health disparities research

UAlbany gets $10M grant for health disparities research

The University at Albany aims to diversify its graduate faculty and student population and focus inc
UAlbany gets $10M grant for health disparities research
University at Albany President Robert Jones speaks at a news conference Wednesday announcing a $10 million National Institutes for Health endowment grant to the school to foster health disparities research.
Photographer: Marc Schultz

The University at Albany aims to diversify its graduate faculty and student population and focus increased attention on health disparities research with the help of a $10 million federal grant.

The grant from the National Institutes for Health, which university officials announced today, would be invested in the school endowment and create fellowships to fully fund the graduate studies of minority and other underrepresented students once it begins generating revenue.

The fellows, who could be pursuing doctoral degrees in a variety of areas, would receive specialized training in health disparities — health problems that disproportionately affect minority and underserved communities — and rotate through internships with nonprofits, government health agencies and more.

The school hopes that by increasing the diversity of graduate students researching health disparity problems, academics and health care providers can begin to make headway in understanding the best ways to reduce health differences among diverse communities.

“We need those people; we need them in the battle,” said Laurence Schell, a UAlbany anthropology and epidemiology professor and director of the school’s Center for the Elimination of Minority Health Disparities. “There are a lot of intelligent and creative people who aren’t going on to address health disparities, and we want to rectify that.”

While nearly 40 percent of UAlbany’s undergraduate student population are minorities, just 17 percent of its graduate students are. The school hopes to remedy that discrepancy and grow the total number of students and faculty focused on research into health disparities.

Since many minority communities are reluctant to participate in academic research, Schell said, strong understanding of the causes and remedies of health disparities remain allusive. By bringing researchers into the field with personal connections to minority communities, research can better drive at the core issues of the problem.

UAlbany President Robert Jones said today the grant would “allow us to fill the pipeline with a diverse group of researchers dedicated to closing these gaps” as well as strengthen partnerships and engagement with providers working in the health care trenches.

The school plans refocus its energy on a pair of community task forces — in Amsterdam and Albany — focused on connecting university expertise to health providers and specialists working on the ground.

Lauren Dasen, a counseling psychology doctoral student and the community liaison for the Amsterdam program, said the task force is working with community leaders and providers to connect their needs to actual research being conducted by UAlbany faculty. The program also helps the communities with data analysis, development of informative material and grant applications.

“We are trying to make sure that the research that faculty members conduct is addressing and meeting the needs that the community has identified itself,” Dasen said.

In Amsterdam, large Hispanic populations make it necessary to improve providers’ “cultural competency” and ability to provide bilingual services, she said. Dasen does counseling work with Spanish-speaking adults at St. Mary’s Hospital in Amsterdam.

As the university looks to expand on its health disparities work, it also plans to recruit a chairman to lead the school research, training and outreach efforts; develop a master’s degree program in health disparities; and expand its overall cross-discipline curriculum focused on the issue.

The university will be eligible to apply for another $10 million in five years if its meets the goals of the grant.

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