Q&A with Professor Dr. Guido Urizar

Story by Zackary Mejia

Since his time as a student researcher, Long Beach State professor Dr. Guido Urizar has seen major problems in the way researchers interact with the communities that assist them: Many universities and research centers study a community and leave without sharing their findings or seeing the community volunteers as anything more than subjects to be studied.

Urizar set out to change that dynamic when he started teaching at Long Beach State in 2006. He established the PRO-Health program, a research partnership between his students and the Long Beach community that studies stress-related diseases in the underrepresented minority residents of Long Beach and provides those who participate in the research with free classes to combat stress-induced illnesses. This mutually beneficial program aids the underprivileged community members of Long Beach while also providing opportunities for Urizar’s students to gain experience developing and leading programs of their own.

In addition, Urizar serves as a director for the Alliance for Health Opportunities Research Advancement (AHORA) program. Originally a research study looking at faculty and doctoral graduate students in the health psychology department, the program now provides a support system for minority students seeking a doctorate degree. He also helped establish the Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity (BUILD) program on campus, which provides training and support to undergraduates looking to pursue careers in health-related research.

We caught up with Urizar to discuss his work on campus and beyond.

Q: How is the relationship between your researchers and the community members who participate in your studies?

A: One of the things I noticed in my training in health psychology is a lot of researchers aren’t good at doing work in the community. We gather data from the community members and they never hear from us again. They don’t know what happens with that information; it doesn’t really go back to the community to benefit them in any way. This is why I formed PRO-Health. I wanted to do something specifically related to community outreach and to have members of that community as research partners.

Q: A number of your projects were groundbreaking works in health psychology. Looking at your website, a large number of programs are oriented around the health of mothers before and after giving birth. The Healthy Moms, Healthy Babies project, in particular, had unprecedented results. Can you talk about that?

A: This was my first project at Long Beach. We worked with the Department of Health and Human Services, which had a black infant health program. The major health issue there is that a lot of African American infants are born premature. People have been trying to find out why. Studies have linked the issue to mechanisms leading to stress. Whether that’s stress during pregnancy or stress due to racial discrimination, we are actively working with the department and mothers to try to figure it out. What we did for that study was stress out pregnant women from different ethnic groups in a laboratory experiment. We wanted to see how they reacted and recovered from an acute stressor. We measured this by looking at a stress hormone called cortisol.

Q: What were the results of the AHORA program in relation to its assessment of CSULB’s support for underrepresented students in health research?

A:   [Through the program], we assessed the needs of our campus by checking for issues relating to hiring diverse faculty and how the students feel about the diversity of the campus. We interviewed current and former students, faculty, staff and academic advisors. We found that there are a lot of big issues we need to address. We have a lack of diversity at the faculty and administration level. Students see it, they know it and this data supports that. The neat thing about this project was that it allowed us to get the larger BUILD grant, the largest grant this campus has ever received.

Q: BUILD and other support programs support and push students to pursue master and doctoral programs. Can you talk about the process and reach of the program?

A:  This research training program funds sophomores, juniors and seniors to do research. We’re aiming to support students that are underrepresented in research areas. We successfully pushed this program to not just cover one department; we have staff from the departments of liberal arts, health and human services, engineering, natural sciences and mathematics involved with running the program. We’ve had almost 300 students go through the program and two graduating classes that have gone on to Ph.D. programs. That is really the aim of the program, to get a more diverse representation of students getting their doctorate degrees so they can become faculty members or researchers and diversify the ideas out there in terms of the type of research we should be doing in health.

Q: What are you working on right now?

A:A lot of our work is interdisciplinary, so we do collaborations with other departments and even universities. Right now I’m working with a faculty member from the health science department, Amber Johnson. She is interested in looking at the effects of racism and shame in African-American women. Similar to the Healthy Moms, Healthy Babies project, we want to put them through this protocol where we stress them out and see how racism and shame may produce different patterns of response toward stress depending on how much racism they experienced in the past.

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