University Park, IL,
15
January
2016
|
08:09 PM
America/Chicago

Making Connections to Save Lives

Summary

Rupert Evans knows how to connect with people. So when one of his connections approached him about forming a partnership that could put Governors State University at the forefront of breast cancer research in the south suburbs of Chicago, Evans knew it was a great opportunity.

Rupert Evans, Chair and Program Director of GSU’s Health Administration DepartmentRupert Evans knows how to connect with people. So when one of his connections approached him about forming a partnership that could put Governors State University at the forefront of breast cancer research in the south suburbs of Chicago, Evans knew it was a great opportunity. But there was a problem. Evans had no experience with the kind of big national grant that would be needed to make the project happen. Fortunately, he had a connection at GSU with someone who did.

Evans is the Chair and Program Director of GSU’s Department of Health Administration, and he has a knack for putting the right people in touch with each other. When Dr. Robert Winn, the Director of the UIC Cancer Center asked him to help establish a research and training partnership between the two universities, Evans knew he had to get Catherine Balthazar on board for the project to move forward.

“We have some of the poorest communities in the State of Illinois in our area. When you have poverty, you have people who have illness, injuries, and diseases that are the result of that poverty, and nobody was addressing the needs of these people.”
Rupert Evans, Chair and Program Director, GSU Dept. of Health Administration

Catherine Balthazar, Chair of the GSU Communication Disorders DepartmentBalthazar is the Chair of the Department of Communication Disorders at GSU, a seemingly unlikely place to find someone who could help with a cancer research grant. But thanks to the collaboration of the two GSU department heads, the GUIDE Project, with a four-year $1.5 million grant from the National Cancer Institute has come to fruition.

The project establishes a partnership between GSU and UICC to conduct community-based research to reduce cancer disparities in the south suburbs, a region that has surpassed the city with the highest cancer rates. This is especially true in the number of cases of minority women, and breast cancer rates in particular.

Evans said it was at a summit for public health researchers held by the University of Chicago two years ago that the need for action in the south suburbs became clear to him. He was looking at a map of the Chicago metropolitan area that illustrated different health disparities existing in the region among people of color. The map Evans was seeing made no sense to him. “It stopped at 95th Street. It was as if everything south of there didn’t exist,” he said.

The area that was left off the map is underserved and understudied; a deadly combination that Evans said could not be allowed to stand. “We have some of the poorest communities in the State of Illinois in our area. When you have poverty, you have people who have illness, injuries, and diseases that are the result of that poverty, and nobody was addressing the needs of these people,” Evans said.

The project will help to address those needs through community participative research. The researchers, many of whom will be junior GSU faculty members and students, will be partnered with the community to study the things that are wrong and then come up with corrective actions that can be done to eliminate the disparities in those communities.

For both Evans and Balthazar, it was this type of research that spoke to them. “We knew we didn’t want to be a research organization that goes out and studies people and communities, writes papers and is done with it,” Evans said. Balthazar said her involvement in the project hinged on the research helping real people in the community and whether it would set up relationships that will last beyond the end of the grant.

 

“There are disparities as to who recovers most favorably from things like breast cancer and who doesn’t. The GUIDE Project will help GSU faculty develop research and learning opportunities that can raise awareness among students of the problems faced in this region, and spark interest in learning about careers that address those problems. It’s an exciting way to generate knowledge and interest from students.”
Catherine Balthazar, Chair, GSU Dept. of Communication Disorders

One idea that is being used as the project’s pilot program is a mobile app that physicians will provide to patients during their regular visits. The app will help doctors screen women for an elevated risk of breast cancer. The patients will then be educated as to what is the appropriate follow-up for them, and even guide them to genetic counseling if warranted.

It’s this kind of hands-on involvement with patients the project will provide to the community that Balthazar is excited about. She also sees a great opportunity for GSU students and faculty to build relationships with people in the area. The research GSU students will participate in will explain the problems the community around them are facing and how they can make a difference.

 

“There are disparities as to who recovers most favorably from things like breast cancer and who doesn’t. The GUIDE Project will help GSU faculty develop research and learning opportunities that can raise awareness among students of the problems faced in this region, and spark interest in learning about careers that address those problems. It’s an exciting way to generate knowledge and interest from students.” Balthazar said.

Evans is eager to build what he calls a “pipeline” of students starting at the high school level, continuing on to GSU, into the graduate programs, then back into the communities to study. Encouraging minority undergraduate students at GSU to pursue careers in disparities research is one the goals of the project. This pipeline of students and educators will work across disciplines and across the colleges and help sustain the project through the years, he said.

The hope is that GSU will also be part of another pipeline, this one for major grants in the future. Once the doors are open, Evans said, the opportunities for the university should become more plentiful.

It’s all about making the right connections.