NSF REU Site: Community-Engaged Training for Advancing Health Equity

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s 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 community-engaged methods for conducting health equity research. As part of that program, participating students will receive training in multiple community-engaged research approaches, including community-based participatory research (CBPR), social network and other decentralized community methods, community-engaged research in clinical settings, and community-engaged approaches with children. Based on these trainings, participants will develop hypotheses and learn how to design and conduct health disparities related research studies in order to employ these skills where possible in their summer research projects. Instruction will take place during the first week of the program and will be led by MHDI Core Faculty. Training will be used to enrich the students' experience during the subsequent 9 weeks. During this time, students will work with faculty members, postdoctoral students, graduate students, and others on an individual research project using data that has already been collected. At the conclusion of the program, participants will present their research at the Summer Research Symposium poster session.

The Application Will Open in November!

2022-2023 Timeline

2023 Health Equity REU Projects


Sociocultural Influences on Youth’s Health and Educational Outcomes

Health and educational disparities result in serious public health problems for large and growing subgroups of families in the U.S. Dr. Wheeler’s research primarily focuses on immigrant and Latinx subgroups in the U.S., who are at risk for exposure to systemic marginalization and resulting stressors (e.g., discrimination, acculturative stress), in addition to economic hardship, poverty, school dropout, and work that requires little formal education, all of which further threaten health and well-being. There is a need to understand resilience-based mechanisms that may help promote and support positive health and developmental outcomes, which are key for developing successful programming that supports health and educational equity for marginalized populations.

This project examines the interplay between ecological stress (e.g., discrimination, economic hardship), proximal (e.g., family/peer/work), and structural (e.g., cultural, social) influences, and how they shape the health and educational outcomes of marginalized populations (i.e., immigrant, Latinx, Native American, and LGBTQ+ youth and families). Supporting this research agenda are several data sets from externally funded projects, including but not limited to: a) data from a currently funded Institute of Education sciences project focused on evaluating the efficacy of conjoint behavioral consultation for supporting Latinx elementary students’ social-behavioral health and academic achievement; b) a National Science Foundation funded study aiming to evaluate and promote elementary school children’s knowledge of and motivation to engage in engineering and to assess developmental, gender, and ethnic differences in these constructs among a diverse sample including Latinx populations; c) a Spencer Foundation supported project focused on understanding how schools can support mental health and educational outcomes for newcomer immigrant adolescents in the U.S.; and d) the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health’s (Add Health) Mexican-origin subsample (~1600 youth).

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 in the application.


Executive Control and Adolescent Health Trajectories

This project examines the interplay between specific aspects of cognitive development (particularly executive control), key health behaviors (e.g., diet, sleep, physical activity, substance use), and health outcomes (including mental and physical health) in a longitudinal study design. The project involves a community longitudinal sample that was originally recruited in preschool and followed throughout childhood and adolescence, with rich repeated measures of cognitive abilities, select health behaviors, home and neighborhood environments, mental health, and physical health. The cohort was oversampled for sociodemographic risk, creating an ideal context for exploring health disparities. A wide variety of methodologies are used in the study, including neuropsychological tasks, actigraphy (for sleep and physical activity), multiple 24-hour dietary recall, daily diaries, questionnaires, anthropometric measurement, and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Data collection is ongoing. This research is supported by multiple grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Prerequisites: Incoming students should have had at least one methods or statistics course OR prior experience in research.


Social and Cultural Determinants of Women’s Sexual Health

Dr. Lorenz has three projects that students can choose from, depending on their interests. Each project includes measures of social and cultural determinants of mental and sexual health that could support student interests in health disparities that systematically impact women and gender minority people.

Heteroflexibility, Arousal and Substance Use Habits (HASH): This is a study examining predictors of substance use in sexual minority women. RA duties include data cleaning and analysis of psychological and physiological data collected from heterosexual and bisexual women (e.g., heart rate variability, sexual arousal, behavioral testing of reward processing).

Cycle effects on mood, behaviors, and inflammation in trauma survivors (CyMBIoTS): This is a study of changes in endocrine and immune response over the menstrual cycle in people with and without history of sexual trauma. RA duties include assisting with assay of hormones and immune markers in saliva samples, data entry and statistical analysis.

Sexual Wellbeing survey (SWELL): This is a survey study of women and gender minority people’s sexual wellbeing, including exposure to sexual violence and positive aspects of sexuality (e.g., pleasure deservingness). RA duties include data entry and statistical analysis.

Prerequisites: At least one stats course would be helpful (preferred) but not required. Student workers who are working on projects with biological samples (e.g., CyMBIOTS) must be vaccinated for Hepatitis B, or willing to be vaccinated within the first week of working in the lab (we will provide no-cost vaccines as needed).


Rural Substance Use in Puerto Rico and Nebraska

In the United States, substance use and its associated health risks have traditionally been considered an urban problem. However, rural areas have seen a recent increase of HIV, hepatitis C, and deaths from overdoses. In response we have developed several research projects to examine rural substance use.

This project includes two separate rural research sites in Nebraska and Puerto Rico. In Puerto Rico, we focused on people who inject drugs who are in and out of medically assisted treatment (e.g. methadone). This project examines barriers to treatment, ego-focused social networks, and health disparities. In Nebraska, we look at statewide surveys of the general population to assess prevalence of substances, attitudes towards people who use drugs, and attitudes about public health services for people who inject drugs. Students can draw from either of these projects or look at national datasets such as the TEDS or NSUDH to develop their own projects on rural substance use.

Prerequisites: Completion of a statistics course from a social or behavioral science field.

Preferred Experience: Some experience with statistical software such as STATA, SAS, R, Python, SPSS, etc., preferred.


Promoting Resilient Youth with Strong Hearts and Minds (PRYSHM) Project

The PRYSHM Project (Promoting Resilient Youth with Strong Hearts and Minds Project) seeks to develop and evaluate an online program for LGBTQIA2S+ teens, ages 15 to 18. The program aims to help LGBTQ+ teens feel acceptance and pride in their LGBTQIA2S+ identities, and to empower them to make healthy decisions consistent with their personal values, hopes and goals for the future. The nine-session PRYSHM program is facilitated by LGBTQIA2S+ adults. The program features discussions, resources, videos, games and other engaging and interactive activities. LGBTQIA2S+ youth (N=300) are randomly assigned to a treatment or wait-list control group and complete surveys prior to and after the intervention (immediate post-test and 3-month follow-up) to measure program impact. A subsample of LGBTQIA2S+ youth will participate in exit interviews to gather in depth feedback about the program. All of the data collected with be used to revise the program and evaluate it further on a larger scale.

Prerequisites: Research experience and/or courses that covered the population of interest or minoritized populations more broadly.


Rapid City Family Project (RCFP): Tiwahe Wicagwicayapi (Lakota for Strengthening Families)

The goal of the Rapid City Family Project (RCFP) is to work closely with community members to create a program that reduces adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), including child abuse, exposure to domestic violence, exposure to community violence and other upsetting or traumatic experiences. The project is community-led, which means members of the Rapid City area community will play an active role in developing the program and making decisions about how we evaluate the program. The program consists of 7 weekly 2-hour sessions for youth aged 10-14 and their caregiver. Each of the seven sessions is named after a Lakota virtue. All sessions include Lakota language, history, and traditions. The program is taught by diverse individuals, mostly Native American adults. The program promotes family bonding and communication and the acquisition of skills to prevent ACEs. Each session begins with a traditional Lakota meal followed by mini break-out sessions for children and caregivers before families come back together at the end. Session activities include talking circles, arts and crafts, games, and cultural activities. As part of this project, children and their caregivers complete a series of surveys so that we can gauge how the program works to help families. Families who attended four or more sessions also completed an exit interview o gather in depth feedback about the program.

Prerequisites: Research experience and/or courses that covered the population of interest or minoritized populations more broadly.


Sexual Assault Among Sexual Minority Men

Sexual Assault Among Sexual Minority Men is a research project to better understand sexual assault experiences among sexual minority men in the U.S., including cis and trans men and transmasculine people, to inform affirming prevention and response efforts. Almost half of sexual minority men experience adult sexual assault victimization in their lifetime, and as many as 30% of sexual minority men report lifetime adult sexual assault perpetration. Although rates of victimization and perpetration among sexual minority men are alarmingly high, even when measured over short periods of time, little research has examined risk and protective factors for adult sexual assault victimization or perpetration. This five-year project, which will be named by an advisory board, focuses on identifying those factors and is funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health. The research will focus on young adult sexual minority (e.g., gay, bisexual, queer) men, including trans men and individuals identifying as transmasculine, ages 18 to 30, from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds. Researchers will recruit 3,600 sexual minority men from a geographically and racially diverse sample via online platforms and community-based agencies across the U.S. Participants will be asked to complete five online surveys over the course of two years.

Prerequisites: Research experience and/or courses that covered the population of interest or minoritized populations more broadly.


Culturally-Grounded Sexual Violence Prevention for Native Youth

This project will establish and evaluate an Indigenous-led sexual violence prevention center on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. The expected impact is to reduce sexual violence among Indigenous persons throughout the U.S., and to provide all Indigenous K-12 youth with the opportunity to receive a culturally adapted version of IMpower by 2050. The collaborative effort is funded by a $3.2 million University of Nebraska–Lincoln Grand Challenges Catalyst Competition grant.

Prerequisites: Research experience and/or courses that covered the population of interest or minoritized populations more broadly.


Prevention Sex Trafficking Among Racially/Ethnically Diverse High School Students

The purpose of this project is to prevent sex trafficking among racially and ethnically diverse high school students in Des Moines, Iowa. Researchers and community partners will collaborate with Des Moines Public Schools to deliver the READY to Stand Curriculum™ to high school students and school personnel and evaluate its effectiveness. Multiple evaluation methods will be used to measure program impact.

Prerequisites: Research experience and/or courses that covered the population of interest or minoritized populations more broadly.


Inequities in Chronic Disease, Mental Health, and Service Access

These data come from 12 years of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). Dr. Andrews has compiled several NHANES datasets to examine inequities across chronic diseases such as diabetes, cholesterol, and other cardiovascular disease. The compiled dataset also contains information about depression, alcohol use, substance use, and health insurance. An example project from prior undergraduate theses examined how rates of routine healthcare utilization changed for Latinx populations following the implementation of the ACA by comparing utilization across data collection periods. The project also examined how improvements in care access changed for US-born vs. immigrant Latinxs and how much of these differences were accounted for by increases in insurance, a primary outcome of the ACA. Other projects could be built to mirror or extend on this effort. Entirely new avenues of exploration are also welcome. This project takes place in the department of Psychology; however, the project is interdisciplinary and will accept students from other disciplines.


COVID-19 as a traumatic event among Latinxs in Nebraska

This study currently has approximately 150 participants with multiple waves of data collection (most participants did not complete all waves). The study examines exposure to COVID-19, loss of loved ones due to the disease, traumatic event exposure, a novel assessment of whether COVID-19 is traumatic, social support, vaccination status, vaccination hesitancy, barriers to vaccination, and mental health symptoms. This project takes place in the department of Psychology; however, the project is interdisciplinary and will accept students from other disciplines.


Disaster-focused mobile mental health

This study tested a mobile mental health intervention with victims of the 2017 hurricane outbreak. It utilized a large-scale randomized control trial design to test the effectiveness and use of the application. The app was designed to treatment depression, PTSD, sleep difficulties, and anxiety. The app represents a collaborative effort across multiple universities and potential projects would need approval from other members of the research team, but multiple avenues of data analyses are possible. As one example, a student project could examine how predictors of app utilization may vary across race/ethnicity and location/hurricane. This would directly inform strategies for increasing app utilization and effectiveness. This project takes place in the department of Psychology; however, the project is interdisciplinary and will accept students from other disciplines.

NSF AWARD #2150042

NSF REU Site: Community-Engaged Training for Advancing Health Equity