This project is supported under the Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) Sites program, which is an NSF-wide program although each Directorate administers its own REU Site competition. This program supports active research participation by undergraduate students in an effort to introduce them to scientific research so as to encourage their continued engagement in the nation's scientific research and development enterprise. REU projects involve students in meaningful ways in ongoing research programs or in research projects designed especially for the purpose. The REU program is a major contributor to the NSF's goal of developing a diverse, internationally competitive, and globally-engaged science and engineering workforce. The Social, Behavioral and Economic (SBE) sciences Directorate awarded this REU Site grant to the University of Nebraska ? Lincoln (UNL) in order to stimulate participant interest in social network analysis (SNA) and behavioral health with a focus on minority health disparities. Participants undergo an extensive methodological training in SNA by the project PI while gaining exposure to a range of research topics and potential science research fields. In conjunction with the Minority Health Disparities Initiative (MHDI), they join a collaborative community of transdisciplinary researchers and community health workers from state and local agencies tackling minority health disparities in Nebraska. The expansion of existing REU to Minority Health Disparities is critical for providing students diverse experiences during the summer and expanding the number of students interested in minority health research through innovative methods like social network analysis and culturally sensitive paradigms, such as Community Based Participatory Research (CBPR). Research occurs within 8 participating laboratories that are housed in several departments across two UN campuses. The summer program includes training in professionalism and provide individual career mentoring and cohort activities. Building off of existing recruitment strategies employed by UNL?s Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program, the project recruits junior- and senior-level undergraduates from a wide-range of backgrounds, home institutions, ages, gender, and ethnicity, with emphasis on under-represented minority and female students in the Midwest. Participants are encouraged to pursue careers in behavioral health sciences and have opportunities to present the results of their research to both other REU participants and to a wider audience of health practitioners at the annual Nebraska Minority Health Summit, co-sponsored by the Minority Health Disparities Initiative.

Since the late 1990s, a combined focus on social networks and health has had a significant impact on both health research and social science. SNA has emerged as a key analytical lens for sociologists, pushing relational sociology forward at a rapid pace in the last two decades. It has also emerged as a set of general purpose tools and approaches which cross-cut a range of sciences. Without exaggeration, researchers working on networks choose freely among techniques and measures developed from fields as distant as computer security, virology, primatology, and studies of the world-wide-web. Social science, and social network analysis have much to contribute in such a transdiciplinary realm. SNA is among the oldest and most rigorous approaches to network analysis, and one with a rich empirical base. While physicists model human networks as metaphors of more basic physical material, SNA researchers have traditionally sought to draw their abstractions from the actual interaction of human beings. The potential of this approach to influence public health and related fields is already apparent. What is needed now is less borrowing, and more researchers trained across newly interwoven fields. In this program, REU participants learn basic approaches to network SNA and then employ these skills in a range of sponsoring NIH- and NSF-funded research projects at UNL and the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) that focus on minority health and health disparities. Network training takes place in a 2 week intensive network science practicum, followed by 8 weeks of participation in an MHDI-affiliated research project. These projects are united by a collective focus on fundamental questions related both to minority health and to broadening participation in minority health, and are currently funded by a range of federal and state sources. The project is co-funded by the EPSCoR program.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
SBE Office of Multidisciplinary Activities (SMA)
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Josie S. Welkom
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University of Nebraska-Lincoln
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