University's Latino health center gets $1.75M grant

LONG BEACH - The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded a five-year, $1.75 million grant to the National Council of La Raza/Cal State Long Beach Center for Latino Community Health, Evaluation and Leadership Training for a project aimed at increasing the number of highly qualified Latino graduates prepared to engage in graduate degrees in health disparities research in both biomedical and health science-related disciplines.The grant was awarded under the purview of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health disparities (NIMHD) Science Education Initiative. The project, called "Hispanic Health Opportunities Learning Alliance" (H2OLA), will provide health disparities research training and tutoring in science and public health disciplines to first-generation educated Latino students in their sophomore and junior years at CSULB with a focus on widening the pool of minority applicants with the academic potential to compete for admission to advanced degrees. "Latino students, particularly those in the sciences, begin their studies wanting to be physicians but do not have the grade point averages they need to compete for the research positions and experiences that facilitate their admission to graduate school," said Britt Rios-Ellis, co-principal investigator (co-PI) for the project and director of the NCLR/CSULB Center for Latino Community Health. "This project will offer them mentorship and tutoring provided by high performing Latino peers with the goal of improved academic performance. "I am really excited to be working with Dr. Eric Marinez, one of the few Latinos scientists on our campus," added Rios-Ellis, a CSULB professor of health science. "His insight and ability to serve as a Latino role model will help our students realize their vast potential." Latino mentees and mentors alike will be exposed to graduate-level training, Latino-focused researchers in health equity, and a myriad of career and graduate school options in health disparities research. H2OLA will be open to students across the natural and health sciences reaching out to pre-health majors who otherwise may not be eligible to participate in existing research opportunities. The project will run through July 2016. "We are excited about the opportunities this will provide our students since the aim is to increase Latino student success. H2OLA will help us improve our outreach and early intervention efforts targeting Latinos and complement existing minority programs in the colleges with early intervention and targeted tutoring key to its mission," noted Marinez, also co-PI for the project and an associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry at CSULB. "I have really enjoyed working with our student population and am encouraged by the scope of this project. I am certain it will make a difference in the lives of students who might not otherwise realize their potential." H2OLA will provide 140 Latino undergraduate students and 30 minority graduate students with educational, mentoring, and career development opportunities designed to facilitate careers in health equity research through the delivery of: 1) targeted undergraduate tutoring in diverse science courses for Latino pre-health and health science students; 2) workshops in health disparities research methods; 3) health disparities seminars highlighting population-specific issues; and, 4) an annual health disparities conference. Additionally, the six first-generation educated Latino graduate mentors will be provided full tuition, paid part-time graduate fellowships for their mentoring, as well as travel to conferences and prospective graduate schools. Four undergraduate students will also be selected to receive travel stipends to conferences and meetings, and both mentors and mentees alike will be encouraged to submit abstracts for conference presentation to increase their competitiveness and improve their trajectory toward graduate study and professional success. Project leaders expect to increase the pool of underrepresented, first-generation educated Latino students in the pipeline for readiness for graduate or professional level degrees and careers addressing health disparities by creating an annual corps of six (30 throughout the five years) master's level, first-generation educated Latino students who can provide targeted tutoring and mentoring in chemistry, biology and other courses. Increasing the number of Latino students graduating with pre-professional science and health science degrees prepared to enter master's and terminal degree programs will facilitate careers in health disparities research, a critical national need. The project also is expected to increase the awareness of and capacity to conduct health disparities research at CSULB and in the diverse local community through targeted events and conferences, including an annual Latino health equities conference, the first to be held in May 2012. "When collecting the formative data needed to prepare us for this project, we learned of the many struggles Latino students face, particularly in the sciences. While academic aspirations were very high, they acknowledged that they often did not have the time needed to perform as well as they could due to economic difficulties coupled with work demands, other obligations, and few Latino role models," Marinez pointed out. "It is our hope that this project will help Latinos receive the support they need from successful first generation-educated peers who have overcome similar barriers and can help navigate campus resources." Added Rios-Ellis, "We also hope that the specialized trainings in science education and professional development and the annual conference in Latino health disparities will furnish both the practical skills and discipline-specific knowledge critical to success in the scientific and public health realms." Graduate mentors will be trained in tutoring, mentoring, and building linkages with student services programs at CSULB as well as other appropriate graduate programs. The graduate mentor core will then work with undergraduate mentees to enhance undergraduate readiness for graduate or professional level degrees and research opportunities to address health disparities. Additionally, annual training will be conducted to enhance Latino student recruitment and advising among biomedical and health sciences faculty, lecturers, teaching assistants and advisement staff each year. The trainings are designed to further expose faculty and staff to student research opportunities as well as facilitate a better understanding of the academic success barriers and facilitators Latino students experience at CSULB. For more information about the project, contact the NCLR/CSULB Center for Latino Community Health at (562) 985-5312.

********** Published: December 29, 2011 - Volume 10 - Issue 37