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 Pending 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 one-on-one with a faculty member 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.


2022 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 Mental and 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.

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 to include: managing recruitment and scheduling, running orientation sessions for participants, picking up saliva samples from participants’ homes, and data entry. You will also have the opportunity to observe and assist with assay of hormones and immune markers in the Salivary Bioscience Core.

Heteroflexibility, Arousal and Substance Use Habits (HASH): This is a study examining sexual arousal and reward processing among heterosexual and sexual minority women. RA duties include running participants through some experimental sessions including collection of heart rate variability via electrocardiography (ECG) and sexual arousal via vaginal photoplethysmography, and behavioral testing of reward processing.

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., HASH, 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.


Evaluating Transitional Living Facilities

The purpose of this study is to understand features of sober living homes that promote recovery among women with histories of addiction and trauma. In the current OVW/DOJ-funded study, we are focusing on a unique gender-responsive and trauma-informed recovery community in Phoenix, Arizona—Support, Education, Empowerment, and Directions (SEEDs) program. Participants complete surveys within a few days of entry to the SEEDs program and then again 6 and 12 months later. Participants complete a wide range of surveys focusing on psychological, social, and physical well-being as well as substance use, victimization, and engagement with the SEEDs program.


Student Health Adjustment & Relationship Experiences (SHARE) Study

This NSF-funded study is being conducted on 20 campuses across the United States with students, faculty, staff and campus administrators. As part of this project, researchers are seeking to better understand the role of stigma in partner violence among sexual minority (LGBQ+) individuals. This research project evaluates a new sexual stigma model for intimate partner violence and examines the relation between LGBQ+ students’ experiences of stigma along with social, emotional, psychological, and behavioral factors that may increase risk for intimate partner violence. Students (both sexual minority and heterosexual students complete surveys at two time points, one in the fall semester and one in the spring semester). Faculty/staff/administrators on the same campuses complete surveys at one time point, in the fall semester. We also conduct community readiness interviews (the extent to which campuses are addressing partner violence among sexual minority collect students) and campus climate data (the extent to which campuses are inclusive of sexual and gender minority students).


Youth Voices in Prevention (Youth VIP)

The teen years are an exciting time for creativity, growth, and change. It is also a time that can be challenging. Some challenges that teens face are peer-to-peer aggression and risky situations. These things can harm teens. The good news is that we can keep these things from happening. In fact, youth are safer when they feel they matter to their community, have skills to cope with tough situations, and are involved in taking action to make a difference. In this study we examined the impact of a youth-led sexual violence prevention program where middle and high school students (both those who participated in Youth VIP and those who did not) at 5 time points over three academic years. Youth completed surveys on experiences with sexual and related forms of violence (as victims and perpetrators) as well as other concerning things like alcohol use, depression, and suicidal thoughts. We also collected data on positive things such as mattering, sense of community, and so forth. Youth also completed surveys on bystander intervention (i.e., taking action to prevent sexual violence and supporting survivors).


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