NSF REU Site: Social Network Analysis for Solving Minority Health Disparities

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 in using novel methods to study health disparities with a focus on understanding social context. As part of that program, participating students will learn about the application of the relevant methods, such as social network analyses, community-engaged methodologies, and social context assessment tools. 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. At the conclusion of the program, participants will present their research at the Summer Research Symposium poster session.

The 2021 MHDI Summer Research Program will be held remotely.

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2021 MHDI REU Projects


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.


Immigration as a traumatic event

This study currently has approximately 80 participants and focused on examining immigration as a traumatic event among Latinx immigrants. While data collection for some components is still ongoing, analyses that focus on within individual outcomes are feasible with the current sample. The study examined changes in physiological (heartrate and skin conductance) and subjective stress (emotions) when recounting their immigration experience. Potential studies could examine how changes in emotions during this process are associated with particular mental health outcomes, trust in local authorities like police, or whether they report that immigration itself was traumatic. 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.


Socioenvironmental Influences on Health among Older Island Puerto Ricans

Research on the socioenvironmental context in Puerto Rico has been extremely limited and little is known about the pathways that link the residential environment to health among this population. This project investigates how housing, neighborhoods, and health care environments influence the health and well-being of older community-dwelling Puerto Ricans from the Puerto Rican Elderly Health Conditions Project (PREHCO) collected in 2002-03, 2006-07, and 2020-21. The student will assist me in developing a housing disorder scale constructed from the housing measures available in PREHCO; and will use descriptive and multivariate regression methods to document how housing characteristics are associated with chronic conditions, disability, and cognitive function at three time points. This project takes place in the department of Sociology; however, the project is interdisciplinary and will accept students from other disciplines.


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 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).


The Interplay between Stress and Social Settings on Latinx Youth’s Behavioral Health

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.

This project examines the interplay between ecological stress (e.g., discrimination, economic hardship) and proximal (e.g., family/peer/work) and structural (e.g., cultural, social) influences and how they shape the behavioral and physical health of Latinx youth. Working with a faculty mentor, the opportunities for students include locating and synthesizing literature, learning about intervention studies and a large national dataset, and/or analyzing quantitative data.

Health and educational disparities experienced by marginalized youth represent a serious public health problem in the United States. Latinx youth are at risk for exposure to unique cultural 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 positive health among Latinx youth, which are key for developing successful programming to reduce health disparities for ethnic minority populations. Supporting this research agenda are three data sets from externally funded projects: 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) an 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; and c) the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health’s (Add Health) Mexican-origin subsample (~1600 youth).

NSF AWARD #1757739

NSF REU Site: Social Network Analysis for Solving Minority Health Disparities