Delaware State University receives historic funding for health equity research
DOVER, Del. – It’s a great day to be a hornet; Delaware State University (DSU) is receiving at $18.36 million research grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
The grant is the largest DSU has ever received, and will help establish an Interdisciplinary Health Equity Research (HER) Center on campus.
“Particularly on health disparities, it really helps give us an opportunity to bring all of our intellectual capital to the problems that disproportionately impact people of color around health disparities,” said DSU President, Dr. Tony Allen. “You cannot approach those kinds of concepts with one particular piece of science.”
It’s a major milestone that Dr. Allen says marks how the far the Historically Black College and University (HBCU) has come, and how far it will go in the future.
“In 2016, our research portfolio was about $23 million. This last year in 2022, it’s now $45 million,” said Dr. Allen. “We believe that we have a special niche in the Delaware community, specifically, and in the HBCU community, at large.”
Over five years, the HER Center will host a team of researchers of all different backgrounds. The goal is to study health disparities in Kent and Sussex Counties, and how marginalized and minority communities are impacted by them.
“What we are going to do is, first increase and enhance our research infrastructure. That means recruiting more faculty, faculty are more invested in research, and the institution as a whole goes in the direction of research,” said Professor of the Department of Public & Allied Health Sciences and Principal Investigator, Dr. Sangeeta Gupta. “Since we are an HBCU, we are invested in community, and disparities affect our minority communities much more.”
Everyone from social workers, to psychologists, to biologists will play a part in finding health solutions for the community. Right now, DSU is looking to hire eight people who will help in the research.
“What we’re really excited about is just how much it’s going to grow. The people that are working on these problems, targeting southern Delaware in Kent and Sussex Counties, is really what we’re trying to focus on in the research,” said DSU Vice President of Research, Dr. Melissa Harrington.
It’s a unique team that study leads say put them ahead in the NIH grant application process. DSU’s proposal had been turned down five times before that.
“It’s a partnership, and the things that our researchers here know at the university translate into better interventions in the community that actually improve peoples’ lives,” said Dr. Harrington. “A lot of the money to support research has not been identified yet who it will be given to. We’re going to instituting a program of pilot awards to support new investigators, to help get their research started.”
Another angle that gave DSU’s proposal a leg up, says Dr. Gupta, is its focus on embedding researchers in the community, covering all different aspects. “We said that there would be community first in all research. Usually, that’s not the norm. But, we said that this was what we were going to work towards,” she said.
Educating Students, Serving Community
It’s that community engagement that Dr. Harrington says launched the work ahead, and will continue to propel the team forward over the next five years. “The community engagement core brings in folks in psychology, and sociology because they’re the ones that really understand how to interact with communities,” she said.
Dr. Allen says that mindset falls perfectly in line with the model that DSU operates on: educating students, who in turn serve their community.
“It’s not just Delaware State University. It’s Delaware’s, with an apostrophe and ‘s’, State University, which gives us a special responsibility to bring all of our faculty, staff, and students to the communities we call home,” said Dr. Allen.