College of Public Health interprofessional team uses Institute for a Sustainable Earth Inaugural Network Catalyst Grant to increase access to health services in underserved communities

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Professor in the Department of Health Administration and Policy Y. Alicia Hong, with a team of interdisciplinary research colleagues across Mason, was awarded the inaugural Network Catalyst Grants for 2023-2024. The $10,000 grant is being used to establish a sustainable community-academic-government partnership called “Empowering Communities and Building Resiliency via Active Coalition and Education” (EMBRACE). Guided by the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a set of 17 objectives to achieve and maintain the health of people across the globe, EMBRACE intends to increase access to health services in underserved communities. 

The project is built upon  Stronger Partnership, Stronger Community (Stronger2), an existing community outreach and capacity-building initiative made possible through a multi-million-dollar grant awarded to the Fairfax County Health Department from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Minority Health (OMH). Through the Stronger2 collaboration, EMBRACE has established connections with 12 community-based organizations that represent Black and Hispanic communities in the Northern Virginia area. In addition, the team has gained nine state and district government partners. 

“Researchers develop innovative public health interventions and evaluate them rigorously. However, adoption of these programs in communities, especially in underserved minority communities, has been limited. A strong need exists for disseminating evidence-based public health programs in underserved communities,” said Hong, who is serving as the lead academic partner. “We are focused on reducing disparities in prevalence and mortality of chronic conditions such as heart disease and diabetes that affect racial and ethnic minorities the most.” 

Weinstein EMBRACE

The EMBRACE Project team is comprised of Mason experts Ali Weinstein (Global and Community Health), Amira Roess (Global and Community Health), and Siddhartha Sikdar (Bioengineering), The team is utilizing the grant money to formalize EMBRACE partnerships, conduct community needs assessments, receive input from community public health programs, and secure additional funding beyond Mason to further the EMBRACE mission.  

“Mason’s faculty are uniquely positioned to lead efforts to address gaps in research. With their interdisciplinary expertise and a dedication to advancing health equity, EMBRACE will serve as a foundation for innovative and applied research, integrative learning, and sustainable community services, to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal of ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all,” Dr. Hong said. 

EMBRACE conference

After being awarded the grant, the transdisciplinary EMBRACE team officially began strategic planning in July 2023 and hosted the first EMBRACE Workshop the following month on August 29. 55 individuals participated in this event, including 15 Mason faculty and researchers. The team has since submitted two additional grant applications and intends to host more workshops before the EMBRACE project ends.  

Congratulations to Dr. Hong and the EMBRACE Team.  

ISE’s mission is to connect members of the Mason community with one another and other experts, policymakers, businesses and organizations, fostering collaborations that can more effectively address the world’s pressing sustainability and resilience challenges. Network Catalyst Grants will be awarded each year to cultivate partnership networks beyond the university, resulting in productive avenues for applied research that aligns with the UN Sustainable Development Goals. 

Learn more about the ISE Network Catalyst Grants website here.