Meet RWJF New Connections

Dec 14, 2012, 9:00 AM

This is part of a series introducing programs in the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Human Capital Portfolio.

Raphael Travis, DrPH, knows the power of New Connections. For Travis, New Connections’ training events—such as symposiums and coaching clinics—were an important source for professional development in a welcoming atmosphere. He says, “I heard about the actual grants during the training workshop and knew I had to apply. The ambiance was inspiring, welcoming and needed. The combination of a supportive atmosphere and intellectual depth transcended what my home University offered. I was very excited to apply.”

file Raphael Travis, DrPH

Travis, a 2008 grantee, is an assistant professor at Texas State University- San Marcos. His New Connections project uses data collected in the 1997-2002 evaluation of Health Link, a program established to help reduce substance abuse among individuals returning to their New York City community after incarceration at Riker’s Island. The study explores: how positive youth development opportunities relate to recidivism; the relationships among mental health, substance use and recidivism across time points; and the potential cultural uniqueness between African-American and Latino youth.

file Hector Rodriguez, PhD, MPH

Hector Rodriguez, PhD, MPH, knows the power of New Connections too. For Rodriguez, the program offered training and new research methods that powered his work. Rodriguez says, “New Connections is a fantastic opportunity for underrepresented junior faculty to pursue important public health and health care research, while being connected to a large network of prominent scholars.”

Rodriguez is a 2009 grantee and a faculty associate at the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research and an associate professor of health services at the UCLA School of Public Health. His research focuses on understanding organizational influences on medical care quality and public health system effectiveness, performance measurement and patients' experiences of ambulatory care.

His New Connections project examines bias with respect to race/ethnicity, age, education and primary language and its impact on physician performance scores.

file Melody Goodman, PhD

Melody Goodman, PhD, is passionate about the power of New Connections. Goodman says, “New Connections gave me the chance to make the leap from newly minted PhD to grant funded junior faculty member.  As a New Connections grantee, I was directed and guided on a professional path of excellence, scholarship and collaboration.”

Goodman, a 2007 grantee, is assistant professor at Washington University in the St. Louis School of Medicine.  She has recently taken on the role of mentoring recent New Connections grantees.

Goodman says, “The grant allowed me to conduct my own research and develop manuscripts, all wonderful outcomes.  Yet the most intangible outcome of my experience is the most precious— the feeling and energy captured in a room filled with Black, Hispanic, and Native American PhDs.  That force, those feelings, and the fostered collaborations that emerged from those meetings can be described as the power of New Connections.”

The power of New Connections comes through community. In six short years the program has built a network of 1,200+ scholars from diverse backgrounds. Connecting junior and mid-career research professionals with more seasoned scholars, New Connections encourages grantees, alumni and even unsuccessful applicants to join the network.

Seeking out and nurturing talented individuals from underrepresented communities, who are often isolated in early and mid-career, the program brings them into a network that includes senior RWJF researchers, evaluators and consultants.

Each grant is tied to an RWJF portfolio or program area, advancing the Foundation’s research on coverage, vulnerable populations, public health, quality/equality, human capital, pioneer or childhood obesity.  New Connections scholars are producing innovative research on a wide array of health policy issues.

Defining diversity broadly, the program seeks out scholars from ethnic or racial groups that are underrepresented; from low-income communities or those who are the first in their family to receive a college degree.

New Connections has built a supportive network that sustains scholars, researchers and community leaders from the pipeline through tenure-track.

The power of New Connections is fueling a new generation of experts who will lead the national policy debate on America’s health challenges.

Read a blog post by Melody Goodman.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.