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Program History » NIMH funding 1996-2008

Innovations under NIMH funding
15th Anniversary Conference


A major initiative in mental health services research, the Center for Research on the Organization and Financing of Care for the Severely Mentally Ill, was located at IHHCPAR from 1988 to 2004. Funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the Center included several faculty and post-doctoral students who provided opportunities for involving undergraduates in research focused on improving the health care and quality of life for individuals with severe mental illnesses. Since 1980, IHHCPAR has been home to the Mental Health Services and Systems Research Postdoctoral Training Program, also funded by NIMH. IHHCPARís history of mental health services research and training provided a major impetus for seeking NIMH funding for the Project L/EARN undergraduate research training program.

Dr. Peter Guarnaccia

In 1996, Dr. Peter Guarnaccia, a medical anthropologist at the Institute, took over faculty directorship of Project L/EARN. One of his major goals was to expand and stabilize funding for Project L/EARN. Through participation on a NIMH review committee, he learned of the Mental Health Education grant program and began the process of developing a proposal for Project L/EARN.

Deedee Davis

A year later, Project L/EARN received a five-year grant from NIMH, with Dr. Guarnaccia as Faculty Director and Deedee Davis as Program Director. The mission of the program continued to be to increase the number of under-represented students in the fields of health, mental health, and health policy research, thereby expanding the breadth of health research to include a broader range of ethnic and cultural issues, concerns and perspectives. NIMH provided funding for 10 interns per summer, including a summer stipend, room and board, tuition and fees for three academic credits, as well as books and supplies.

Innovations under NIMH funding

With NIMH funding Project L/EARN began to recruit students from other universities across the nation in 1996. Through 2008, students have participated from more than a dozen other colleges and universities including the Universities of Puerto Rico, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Berkeley, Notre Dame, New York University, UCLA, Vanderbilt, Morehouse College, Morgan State, Chaminade, Auburn, Xavier, Hampton, Florida State, the College of Saint Elizabeth, and California State University.

Another innovation was the addition of funding to support internsí continued research participation during the academic year following the summer training program. These academic year stipends allowed interns to continue to work closely with their mentors on their research while building upon skills learned during the summer training including literature searches, statistical analysis, and the formal presentation of research results. These ongoing faculty/student collaborations have resulted in hundreds of joint conference presentations and publications between Project L/EARN alumni and mentors. The collaborations also offered the opportunity for continued conversations between interns and mentors about the studentsí graduate school plans and career goals, and for interns to gain an insiderís view of the life of a health researcher.

A unique aspect of Project L/EARN is that the instructional staff is composed of program alumni who become course instructors and teaching assistants, providing teaching experience for the alumni, and role models for the current interns. Several L/EARN alumni have become graduate research assistants, teaching assistants, or post-doctoral fellowships at IHHCPAR.

To help familiarize interns to the culture of research, in 2003 Project L/EARN added a trip to a professional health research conferences as part of the summer training program. At these conferences, interns attended research presentations, poster sessions, and professional development workshops under the guidance of Project L/EARN directors and instructional staff. Conferences attended have included the AcademyHealth Annual Research Conference; the Council of State and Local Epidemiologists Conference; and the Family Research Consortium Summer Institute.

In response to feedback from interns, mentors, and instructors, starting in 2004 a series of writing workshops were added to the curriculum. Dr. Guarnaccia taught how to plan and write each section of a research paper, and Dr. Jane Miller taught various aspects of how to write about multivariate analysis and how to give professional conference presentations.

15th Anniversary Conference

Project L/EARN commemorated a milestone in its history in 2005 with a 15th anniversary celebration that included a conference that brought back program alumni at all stages of training and early careers. Presentations included those by interns who had just completed their Project L/EARN summer training, recent college graduates, masters, doctoral, and post-doctoral trainees, and those who had begun their careers. Session themes included public health, mental health, and public policy and practice. Keynote addresses were delivered by Dr. Delores Parron and Dr. Sherman Ragland from the National Institutes of Health and Mental Health. Dr. Diane Alington was given an award in recognition of her instrumental role in founding and developing the program.

The next stage - RWJF funding
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