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San Diego State bolsters effort to research Latino health disparities

Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill Monday requiring California State University undergraduates to take an ethnic studies course to graduate.
Posted at 10:51 AM, Sep 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-29 13:51:06-04

SAN DIEGO (CNS) — San Diego State University is embarking on a $15 million effort to bolster research into Latino health disparities and strengthen the pipeline of scientists focused on the subject, officials announced Wednesday.

Funded by a five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health, SDSU Faculty Unified Toward Excellence in Research and Transformational Engagement plans to hire a cohort of 11 faculty focused on Latinx health disparities research and provide them with career development and mentoring.

"A top priority of San Diego State University's strategic plan is becoming a premier public university that takes seriously its deep roots as a Hispanic-Serving Institution," said Hala Madanat, interim vice president for research and innovation.

"This grant is a huge step forward in that goal and represents SDSU's strong commitment to supporting health disparities research."

The program is led by public health professor Mark Reed and social work professor Maria Luisa Zuniga, and supported by a team of interdisciplinary scientists and administrators.

Faculty recruitment is already underway and is focused on researchers across disciplines with expertise in such areas as addiction, cancer disparities, environmental health, and obesity.

"Latinxs are the largest minority group in the country, and they are disproportionately affected by health disparities," Reed said.

"By providing invaluable support for diverse researchers who are tackling a topic critical to our region and nation, FUERTE leverages SDSU's strengths and positions us as a major hub for health disparities research."

The award is part of the NIH Common Fund's Faculty Institutional Recruitment for Sustainable Transformation program, an effort that aims to foster sustainable institutional culture change through hiring and faculty development.

"I am incredibly proud of the work of researchers Mark Reed and Maria Luisa Zuniga, who are leading the types of community-based research that SDSU is known for," SDSU President Adela de la Torre said.

"This type of innovative work is in the DNA of our faculty researchers, who are increasingly successful at gaining these highly competitive, high-impact grants."

FUERTE's leaders aim to hire a cohort of new health disparities researchers focused on diverse communities, and will subsequently build and test a mentorship model that strengthens faculty outcomes by providing better career advancement and support.

SDSU social work professor Eileen Pitpitan will lead the evaluation of its approach and evidence-based faculty development plan.

"We are a part of an effort to not just talk about diversity and inclusion, but to actually walk the walk," Pitpitan said.

"We want to see institutional change come not just from the top-down, but also from the bottom up -- starting with the new faculty this program brings in."

Three of the 11 new faculty hires will teach and research at SDSU Imperial Valley.

Southern California's Imperial Valley is a rural, predominantly Latino community that supports a robust agriculture industry.

According to the SDSU researchers, many of the residents in Imperial Valley face environmental challenges, exposure to the effects of climate change, and hurdles to accessing health care -- the very conditions that the new cohort of health disparities researchers will be experts in addressing.

With enrollment at an all-time high, SDSU Imperial Valley is poised to support growth and serve as an economic driver and nexus of research for the region.

"FUERTE is an opportunity to significantly bolster an area of research that is so needed in Imperial Valley," Zuniga said.

"The program will help us have better connections with our SDSU Imperial Valley colleagues, increase our research collaborations, and support their growth."