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Faculty & Staff Honors

Columbia’s Lerner Center Innovates with New Research Grants that Encourage Interdisciplinary Collaboration

The recently launched Lerner Center for Public Health Promotion just announced its first two Public Health Promotion Innovation pilot research grants. A key component of the new Center’s mandate to translate health-related research, these grants support interdisciplinary collaboration across the university, pairing faculty from the Mailman School of Public Health with faculty from other schools at Columbia to conduct novel research that seeks to advance public health promotion for important public health issues.

[Photo: Dr. Rachel Shelton]

“What’s most encouraging about this pilot program is its interdisciplinary character and encouragement of new and innovative partnerships,” says Dr. Rachel Shelton, assistant professor of Sociomedical Sciences at the Mailman School. “Public health is, by its very nature, of greatest value when it can be immediately applied to improve population health. We selected projects with important translational implications that nonetheless address familiar, persistent problems of limited access and stigma among marginalized populations.”

The first of the newly funded pilots, “Community Stroke Education Pilot Study,” is the work of Dr. Margaret Pereyra, assistant professor of Sociomedical Sciences and Dr. Olajide Williams, associate professor of Neurology in the College of Physicians and Surgeons. With an awareness of the limited number of stroke survivors who seek critical early treatment, Drs. Pereyra and Williams have devised a storytelling intervention to improve symptom knowledge and resultant behaviors. A 12-minute film on stroke, in English and Spanish, will be tested throughout Upper Manhattan in a randomized trial designed to measure whether this intervention leads possible stroke sufferers to call 911.

The second funded project, “Ebola in the West African Diaspora in New York City: Deriving Lessons to Inform Health Promotion in the Community,” will support Dr. Maria Lahuerta, associate research scientist at ICAP, and Dr. Mamadou Diouf, Leitner Family professor of African Studies & History and director of the Institute for African Studies. This team will explore the city’s growing West African community to identify gaps in understanding about Ebola infection and work to reduce the stigma that often prevents West Africans from accessing health services. Ideally their scholarship will yield better methods of disseminating health information to this community, including knowledge about Ebola infection, tailored to its specific needs.

The Lerner Center’s Innovation grants provide one year of funding, with an expectation that results will contribute to a growing body of expertise on health promotion and health communications centered at the Mailman School.

“In the coming years, it is our hope that collaborations with the schools of journalism, business, medicine, social work, as well as other social science disciplines at Columbia will leverage expertise and facilitate innovations that translate into meaningful improvements in health promotion and population health,” said Dr. Shelton. “We had great expectations that the Lerner Center’s efforts would catalyze promising research across Columbia University,” said Dr. Shelton. “Beginning with these two pilots confirms our most ambitious hopes.”