Faculty selected for top HIV intervention research program at Columbia University, sponsored by the National Institutes of Health

Nov. 10, 2014

The Indiana University School of Public Health-Bloomington is continuing its historical role as a highly-regarded hub for social and behavioral science research on human sexuality and HIV/AIDS. Dr. LaDonna BlueEye and Dr. Brian Dodge, both of the Department of Applied Health Science, have been selected as fellow and mentor in the HIV Intervention Science Training Program for Underrepresented New Investigators (HISTP) at Columbia University. The HISTP is a highly prestigious National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded training program that aims to promote the growth of scientists from underrepresented groups conducting HIV dissemination and implementation research.

Dr. BlueEye, an enrolled member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, is in a unique position to bridge HIV research with her native culture. “In order to reach the American Indian (AI) population, the messages must resonate culturally while disseminating sound scientific knowledge” a task that is often not done very well she said. “Much of the public health materials available fall into what I call the ‘add a feather syndrome’ in which stereotypical native imagery is added to materials written for mainstream society. The addition of imagery such as feathers, drums or borders taken from clip art programs is not nearly enough.” One of her first goals is to create a national advisory council comprised of AI LGBT members to provide guidance on messages that will ultimately be disseminated in their communities. “We live by word-of-mouth, jokingly called the ‘moccasin telegraph’ and this communication is invaluable,” she said.

“I feel honored to be a part of this prestigious fellowship. The fact that I can stay here in my home community, travel to New York and participate in monthly videoconference is a powerful. I am fortunate that I have access to technology that supports my continued education. American Indians are left behind in the electronic age (the digital divide). My own tribe, one of the largest in the U. S. just started using voice mail this year.”

“As a new assistant professor, Dr. BlueEye has certainly hit the ball out of the park on her selection to participate in this program,” noted Dr. Dodge, himself a former postdoctoral research fellow at the HIV Center for Clinical & Behavioral Studies at Columbia University Medical Center. “I could not be more proud of her accomplishment and look forward to working together on this exciting initiative, which will be a learning experience for both fellow and mentor.” Dodge is associate director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion, which is part of the School of Public Health-Bloomington.

 Dr. BlueEye lives every day with a strong desire to decrease health disparities in her native community, a toll she has witnessed first-hand. During her doctoral studies, one family member was murdered, another sent to prison for that murder. A different family member, the mother of three children under six years old, was sent to prison for 15 years as a result of addiction. Her first cousin, or brother in American Indian culture, died from an aneurysm when he ran out of blood pressure medicine. And in the months before she graduated, she lost her mother to cancer. "The saddest part about the hardships I've endured during my education is that it is absolutely not unique to me," BlueEye notes. "These events are the norm for our American Indian population. Every native person I know is touched by one or more of these same issues. Day today life is difficult, getting an education is like running a marathon for years and years."

The HISTP is based on an innovative set of multidisciplinary mentored training activities, aimed at facilitating the development of a new generation of faculty from underrepresented groups who will conduct dissemination and implementation research to ensure that effective and culturally-congruent HIV prevention and treatment interventions reach underserved HIV vulnerable populations. The fellowship includes two years of support via innovative dual mentorship structure (at both Columbia University and the fellow’s home institution, monthly training seminars and workshops, support to attend conferences, biannual week-long intensive training institutes for fellows and mentors, grant writing assistance including peer review and production support, and access to the HISTP’s library of NIH-funded grants, protocols, instruments, articles, and presentations.

Dr. BlueEye adds, “In order to truly reach my community, we need input from community members linked with sound methodology. In the old days, tribes had a scout who would go out alone and find a good place for the tribe to be. The scout might be gone for months or years and when they found a place with plenty of water, game and fertile soil they would return to the tribe and lead them to a place of abundance. An elder once told me that navigating the academic system is one way be a modern day scout,” she said.

In addition to programmatic activities, Dr. BlueEye will receive a $20,000 pilot research grant from NIH, for which she has proposed an exploratory study of American Indian bisexual men. Dr. Dodge, who is a nationally recognized expert on bisexuality, will serve as her local mentor throughout the duration of the fellowship. In addition to having an impact on a dramatically understudied and underserved population, both Dodge and BlueEye are grateful for the opportunity to represent Indiana University in the Ivy League.

“Dr. Dodge has been a great mentor already. We were able to work together and take my cultural knowledge and ideas, rework the concept into an application that resulted in the award from NIH, the most prestigious health research funding agency in the U.S. I could not have done this without his support. I am also grateful to Indiana University for the institutional support I have received since I first arrived.”

Dodge concurs, “Drs. BlueEye’s participation in this fellowship is a continuing mark of distinction for Indiana University as a global leader in sexual health research. We are proud to have faculty whose productivity and promise continues to keep Indiana University at the forefront of research and educational initiatives that are having an impact on health disparities and making a difference in the lives of others.”