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SOCIAL NETWORK ANALYSIS FOR SOLVING MINORITY HEALTH DISPARITIES

Abstract

This project is funded from the Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) Sites program in the SBE Directorate. It has both scientific and societal benefits, and integrates research and education. This site stimulates undergraduate students' interest in social network analysis (SNA) and behavioral health with a focus on minority health disparities. Participants undergo an extensive methodological training in SNA by the project PI while gaining exposure to a range of research topics and potential science research fields. In conjunction with the Research, Evaluation, and Analysis for Community Health (REACH) Lab and the Minority Health Disparities Initiative (MHDI), they join a collaborative community of transdisciplinary researchers tackling minority health disparities in Nebraska. The expansion the existing REU to Minority Health Disparities is critical for providing students diverse experiences during the summer and expanding the number of students interested in minority health research through innovative methods like social network analysis and culturally sensitive paradigms, such as Community Based Participatory Research (CBPR). The summer program includes training in professionalism and provides individual career mentoring and cohort activities. Building off of existing recruitment strategies employed by UNL's Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program, the project recruits undergraduates from a wide-range of backgrounds, home institutions, ages, genders, and ethnicities, with emphasis on under-represented minority students in the Midwest. Participants are encouraged to pursue careers in social and behavioral health sciences and have opportunities to present the results of their research to both other REU participants and to a wider audience of faculty and staff at the annual Summer Research Symposium that is hosted by Graduate Studies.Since the late 1990s, a combined focus on social networks and health has had a significant impact on both health research and social science. SNA has emerged as a key analytical lens for sociologists, pushing relational sociology forward at a rapid pace in the last two decades. It has also emerged as a set of general purpose tools and approaches which cross-cut a range of sciences. Without exaggeration, researchers working on networks choose freely among techniques and measures developed from fields as distant as computer security, virology, primatology, and studies of the world-wide-web. Social science and social network analysis have much to contribute in such a transdiciplinary realm. SNA is among the oldest and most rigorous approaches to network analysis, and one with a rich empirical base. While physicists model human networks as metaphors of more basic physical material, SNA researchers have traditionally sought to draw their abstractions from the actual interaction of human beings. The potential of this approach to influence public health and related fields is already apparent. What is needed now is less borrowing, and more researchers trained across newly interwoven fields. In this program, REU participants learn basic approaches to network SNA and then employ these skills in a range of sponsoring NIH- and NSF-funded research projects that focus on minority health and health disparities. Network training takes place in a 2-week intensive network science practicum, followed by 8 weeks of participation in a REACH/MHDI-affiliated research project. These projects are united by a collective focus on fundamental questions related both to minority health and to broadening participation in minority health, and are currently funded by a range of federal and state sources.This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

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Project Period

2015-2021