The University of Nebraska-Lincoln Minority Health Disparities Initiative (MHDI) administers the Minority Health Disparities REU, which is an interdisciplinary program aimed at conducting cutting edge social and behavioral research into understanding and reducing health disparities and in diversifying minority health researchers.
This project takes place under support of a Summer REU grant from the National Science Foundation for research in social network analysis (SNA) and minority health. As part of that program, participating mentees/students will learn basic approaches to network science/SNA in order to employ these skills where possible in their summer research projects. SNA instruction will take place during a 2-week intensive class led by Kirk Dombrowski (Professor of Sociology, UNL), scheduled for the first two weeks of the program. Training will be used to enrich the students experience in their partner laboratories during the subsequent 8 weeks. The primary student outcome of this part of the summer research experience will be an introductory facility in social network terminology, visualization, and exploration.
Participating students work with faculty mentors in a variety of social and behavioral science disciplines to support health research. All projects are on-going, but the work specific to the summer research program will be completed within the 10-week timeframe. At the conclusion of the program, participants will present their research at the Summer Research Symposium poster session.
Competitive stipend: $5,000
Double-occupancy room and meal plan
Travel expenses to and from Lincoln
Campus parking and/or bus pass
Full access to the Campus Recreation Center and campus library system
Development of a novel Community Health Assessment Tool
This project involves development of a community health assessment tool based on social networking science. This novel approach will be sensitive enough to measure the impact of when an intervention, such as a community health worker, is working at the intersections between the formal and informal community health care networks.
The health of a community is not an easy thing to measure. The health of individuals is not only dictated by the lifestyle choices they make, but in many ways impacted by their opportunities (or lack thereof), the environment in which they live, as well as social and cultural norms and values. All of these things are affected by ‘invisible' social, political, and economic forces. This project involves development of a community health assessment tool based on social networking science. This novel approach will be sensitive enough to measure the impact of when an intervention, such as a community health worker, is working at the intersections between the formal and informal community health care networks. This is important because health care access and positive health behaviors are less likely to occur in those affected by poverty, such as ethnic minorities, immigrant and refugee populations, and the aging population.
Network Risk of HIV & HCV Infection in Rural Puerto Rico
Prerequisites: This project requires basic research methodology experience – in particular social statistics, familiarity with Excel, and locating scholarly journals through library databases.
This project investigates the social network contexts of HIV and HCV infection drawing on data from four rural communities in Puerto Rico collected in 2014-5. The emphasis of this project will be on the use of block modeling and network statistical analysis to isolate indicators of high risk that result from dyadic relationships among injectors and the injection “roles” that result from these interactions.In the process, the student will help document HIV and HCV prevalence and incidence for injecting drug users in the region, which in turn will be used by the research team to develop a framework for interventions aimed at these unique problems.
The most recent HIV surveillance data from the Centers for Disease Control indicates that Puerto Rico hosts one of the highest incidences of HIV infection in the United States. In 2010, the territory reported 28.2 new HIV infections per 100,000 residents, a rate over 1.5 times that of the US average and the third highest among all 56 US states and dependent territories. Yet among 103 major metropolitan areas, San Juan was ranked only 20th in terms of new diagnoses of HIV in the same year. In Puerto Rico, rural rather than urban communities, contribute disproportionately to the overall HIV rate. Further, over 20 percent of new diagnoses in Puerto Rico listed injection drug use as their cause, compared to 8.3 percent in the continental US. Clearly, these discrepancies point to a very different epidemic than what we are used to seeing on the US mainland, where HIV infection remains largely an urban problem. The extent and underlying behavioral and network structural causes of this rural epidemic remain largely unknown. This project investigates the social network contexts of HIV and HCV infection drawing on data from four rural communities in Puerto Rico collected in 2014-5. The emphasis of this project will be on the use of block modeling and network statistical analysis to isolate indicators of high risk that result from dyadic relationships among injectors and the injection “roles” that result from these interactions. In the process, the student will help document HIV and HCV prevalence and incidence for injecting drug users in the region, which in turn will be used by the research team to develop a framework for interventions aimed at these unique problems.
Prerequisites: This project requires basic research methodology experience – in particular social statistics, and locating scholarly journals through library databases.
This project investigates eight social network domains of the residents of the Northern community of Nain, Labrador. Socio-demographic and network data were collected between January and June, 2010 from interviews with 330 adult residents. The emphasis of this project will be on the use of network descriptive techniques and statistical analysis to study the relationships between these network domains.
A community emerges from the social relationships that bind its members to one another. These relationships are constructed and maintained through specific actions that constitute network domains. Family ties are an example of one network domain. Most network studies focus on measuring the structure of a single network domain which limits our understanding of how relations cumulate into community structure. This study improves upon this by collecting data from the same set of actors across multiple network domains. The eight network domains under study in this project are Country Food Assistance, Non-Country Food Assistance, Jobs, Housing, Household Wellness & Domestic Violence, Traditional Inuit Knowledge, Family and Alcohol Co-Use. The primary purpose of this study is to investigate the structure of each domain and whether and how individuals’ positions in one domain relate to their position in the others. Understanding the dependencies across the various network domains will allow us to achieve a more nuanced understanding of how the multiplexity of social networks creates ambiguity – protecting individuals from isolation and exposing them to risk simultaneously. We can then examine how this ambiguity relates to substantive outcomes such as domestic violence, alcohol abuse and suicide within the community.
High Frequency Social Stressors & Biological Markers of Health in Marginalized Populations
Prerequisites: Students with computer programming experience and interest in biometric data measurement and analysis. Interest in health physiology research is encouraged but not required.
This REU project incorporates dynamic high-frequency measurement of stressful life experiences coupled with cutting edge biometric instruments measuring moment-by-moment stress reactivity. The purpose of this project is to incorporate innovative technology with biological markers of stress to examine how stress gets under the skin to shape minority health outcomes and risk of stress related diseases. Students will help analyze data from both smart phone and wearable devices and may participate in data collection.
Health disparities continue to be a pervasive public health concern in the United States. African Americans and other minority groups exhibit higher risk for cardiovascular related diseases such as hypertension, heart disease, and diabetes. Key contributors to the ongoing inequities in minority health and disease risk include the stressful experiences of discrimination and social exclusion. The chronicity of daily stress exposure can influence important processes, such as sleep and physiological stress reactivity that can elevate risk of illness over the life course. Though there is a growing body of evidence linking discrimination and other types of stressors to illness in minority populations, how the body reacts to harmful conditions exposure moment by moment, is less clear. We employ electronic daily diaries and wearable devices that measure nervous system reactivity to map stress exposure onto physical reactivity, subsequently linking these processes to health risks.
Dr. Dan HoytSociology & Social and Behavioral Science Research Consortium
Support Networks among Homeless and Runaway Youth
Prerequisites: Basic research skills, including working with data and analyses. Good communication and writing skills.
This project examines how turnover and stability in support networks of homeless youth are related to risk and resilience over time. The primary focus of this project is the assessment of how the longitudinal patterns in support network turnover are related to risk exposure and pro-social outcomes over time. The student will also help examine potential variation in these processes related to the youth’s gender, race, and sexual orientation.
The data are from the Midwest Longitudinal Study of Homeless Adolescence (MLSHA), a three year study where homeless youth were interviewed every three months. The social networks of homeless youth have been described as increasing exposure to risk in some contexts, and alternatively serving as protective mechanisms in other circumstances. Research has increasingly pointed to informal support networks of homeless youth as an important entry point for delivering pro-social interventions aimed at getting youth off the streets. However, recent work on the MLSHA data show that these networks have very high levels of turnover, with around 70 percent of the network composition changing every three months.
Communication, Community, and Ethnic-Racial Identity: Implications for Mental Health and Well-Being
Prerequisites: Although not a requirement for involvement, please provide information on any research experience, proficiency with statistical software (e.g., SPSS), and familiarity with conducting literature reviews.
The purpose of this project is to investigate experiences of ethnic-racial minorities in various domains (e.g., family, friends, community) with an emphasis on communication processes associated with well-being and mental health. Working with a faculty mentor and advanced graduate students, the opportunities for students include locating and synthesizing literature, learning about data collection processes, and/or analyzing qualitative and quantitative data.
Specific studies may include: (a) identity development for multiethnic-racial individuals (e.g., those with parents from different ethnic-racial backgrounds), (b) relational processes that buffer potential effects of prejudice and discrimination, and/or (c) examination of family communication environments on various personal and relational outcomes.
Unique Social Stressors and Health Outcomes for Latinos
Prerequisites: This project will require experience in research methods, solid writing skills, and motivation to work with diverse populations.
Based on prior studies, Latinos have unique stressors that are linked to psychological distress and increased coping behaviors. The recruited REU participant will assist to identify the relationships between stress exposure (e.g., daily events, discrimination, and employment disparities), health behaviors (e.g., psychological dysfunction and coping skills), and mental and physical health outcomes in Latinos, based on acculturation and social support.
Past research has examined health behaviors and physiological stress responses, but minimal to no research exists integrating these processes within the context of culturally-specific stressors, such as discrimination, among Latinos. Latinos are a vulnerable population who experience significant mental and physical health problems, often underutilize treatment, and are less likely than to seek out health related information and help. The proposed research addresses underlying connections or mediators between Latino stress exposure and health consequences for Latinos. Based on prior studies, Latinos have unique stressors that are linked to psychological distress and increased coping behaviors. The recruited REU participant will assist to identify the relationships between stress exposure (e.g., daily events, discrimination, and employment disparities), health behaviors (e.g., psychological dysfunction and coping skills), and mental and physical health outcomes in Latinos, based on acculturation and social support. Understanding these relationships will provide a comprehensive conceptualization of the pathways leading to health outcomes of Latinos living in the U.S.