New Faculty Spotlight: Beatriz Oralia Reyes

Beatriz O. Reyes is a new professor in the Department of Global Health who will be teaching Community-Based Participatory Research in the Winter 2017 and 301: Intro to International Health in the Spring 2017. She is a member of the Native American Indigenous Studies Steering Group and researcher at the Foundations of Health Research Center at Northwestern.

Reyes, who is Tepehuán and a citizen of the Navajo Nation, earned her bachelor’s degree in Zoology from the University of Oklahoma. As a recipient of the Gates Millennium Scholarship and a first-generation student, Reyes initially thought being a medical doctor best suited her interests. Growing up, her experience with the U.S. health system—in particular the Indian Health Services—was less than ideal. She dreaded becoming sick because she would have to wait at the hospital for hours to be seen, which also meant her mom would have to take time off work. For her, health care was an inefficient system, and only at college did she realize that this was not an experience shared with many of her peers.

While she enjoyed studying Zoology at OU, it was connecting science to sociology and history that sent her on a path to realizing she was more interested in health policy and health disparities. As an indigenous person, she was cognizant of the ways policy shapes society’s view of her existence and the ways her experiences in the world are shaped by policy-makers. Everything from the types of foods you have access to, what land you live on, everything about your identity is shaped by these systems. Further, Dr. Heather Ketchum’s courses on Parasitology and Entomology highlighted for Reyes how human health is heavily impacted by the life cycle of insects and parasites. Reyes realized she had multiple interests but still struggled to determine where they intersected.

Reyes’s multiple experiences as an intern in the federal government provided her with a roadmap to public health. She was accepted into the Washington Internship for Native Students, a summer internship where students work for an agency in the federal government and take two classes at American University, one course being Federal Indian Law.

After this experience, she enrolled at East Carolina University to earn a master’s degree in public health. This was the first time she was exposed to public and community health, and was drawn in by its complexity. Her research project looked at the policy and implementation of recommendations for Division 1 NCAA athletes with sickle cell trait. While it was an interesting project, she wanted to further gain experience and knowledge in qualitative research methods and community-based participatory research. She then decided to pursue a doctorate in Health Policy and Social Justice at the Dornsife School of Public Health at Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her doctorate research focused on evaluating a faith-based 16-week prediabetes prevention program. This larger study was conducted by her advisor, Dr. Nicole A. Vaughn and was an adaptation of the National Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP). Reyes’s dissertation study was a qualitative analysis of the ways lay health educators adapted and utilized program materials to fit the needs and concerns of their specific communities.

Reyes hopes to provide Northwestern undergraduates with an introduction to the benefits and challenges of collaborations between researchers and communities, in her Winter 2017 course on Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR). She told me, “The thing about CBPR is that it’s not a method, it is a paradigm, it’s an approach to research.” It begins with asking yourself questions like: where does the community fit into developing the research question, decision-making process and resulting intervention? Does the community find value in the research and intervention? Is there joint ownership of the data, its presentation, and implementation? While there is no standard way to do CBPR, it is so important to remove the barriers that prevent researchers from working with communities, and one of the most powerful ways of doing this is by coming together with a shared vision of improving health in a socially just manner with the intent to eliminate health disparities.

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