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Division of Community Engagement & Health Equity

Catalyzing Better Health Outcomes for Central Texas Communities

The Division of Community Engagement and Health Equity in Dell Medical School’s Department of Population Health provides community expertise and collaborates with a broad range of individuals and organizations to address the social drivers of health through education, community engagement, research and innovation.

The division’s mission is to leverage collaborations with community members, organizations, government entities, businesses, policy makers and The University of Texas at Austin to promote equity and quality of life, improve health outcomes and tackle social determinants of health.

Led by Carmen Valdez, Ph.D., the Division of Community Engagement and Health Equity is made up of a diverse group of staff, faculty and researchers from various backgrounds, representing fields such as public health, nursing, anthropology, social work and more.

Community Initiatives

The Division of Community Engagement and Health Equity collaborates with partners to improve the health of a geographic area and its residents through programs such as Community-Driven Initiatives, the PromOTE platform and more.

Within the Division of Community Engagement and Health Equity is the Community-Driven Initiatives program and its periodic Call for Ideas opportunity to collaborate with the medical school. The program seeks to support and implement health solutions proposed by and for residents of Austin and Central Texas, harnessing lived experiences and fresh perspectives to improve health locally through new ways of thinking.

The division and the Department of Population Health collaborate with the Community Strategy Team — an advisory team of grassroots leaders, connectors and advocates — to reimagine and advance strategies that meet the health needs of underserved people in Austin and Central Texas.

Community engagement studios are structured forums designed to gain valuable patient and community insight on a research project. Unlike traditional focus groups that often take place at a single point in time with predefined questions and expectations, community engagement studios involve regular meetings and are led by research objectives and the active participation of community experts. The division uses community engagement studios to understand the health priorities of underrepresented communities and identify the specific information, services and interactions that these communities need and prefer.

The Promotores Outreach, Training and Engagement Hub, co-led by the Division of Global Health, aims to center the work of community health workers and promotores de salud through training, research, clinical integration and networking to serve communities with the greatest needs in Central Texas and beyond. The PromOTE Hub includes collaborations with community organizations, UT faculty and staff, advisors and other community health worker champions.

Through the Hub, community health workers and faculty conduct outreach, patient navigation, social needs assessments, health education and solidarity work. Community health workers serve in various settings, including hospitals, federally qualified health centers, mobile health centers and several community settings.

Currently, the hub uses the PromOTE platform (via FindHelp) to help people locate social services, get matched with individual needs and coordinate with other community organizations. The hub is also authorized by the Texas Department of State and Health Services to provide certified continuing education for community health workers across the state. READ MORE ABOUT COMMUNITY HEALTH WORKERS »

Community-Based Participatory Research

Community-based participatory research is a collaborative approach to research that equitably involves all partners in the research process and recognizes the unique strengths that each individual brings. The division’s research efforts follow this model with the aim of combining knowledge and action for social change to improve community health and eliminate health disparities.

Division Research Labs

Led by Marrisa Burgermaster, Ph.D., the Burgermaster Lab uses patient-generated data to help people prevent and manage diet-related chronic disease, with a special focus on groups for whom technologies are not made. LEARN MORE »

Led by Virginia A. Brown, Ph.D., the DISRUPT Lab seeks to find new and innovative ways to protect the autonomy of persons living with serious mental illness during a mental health crisis. It is a space to discover new approaches, implement community interventions, support transformative education, research across disciplines, uplift all voices, and practice and theorize.

The lab approaches its work by co-creating with community stakeholders throughout the entire research process, from identifying key areas of investigation to disseminating findings for both academic and community use, in what is referred to as “collaborative sense making.” EMAIL TO LEARN MORE »

Led by Phillip Schnarrs, Ph.D., the Pride Health Lab works to transform health and health care for LGBTQ+ Texans through engagement, collaboration and people-centered research. LEARN MORE »

Community Engagement Opportunities

Personalized Consultation & Collaboration

The Division of Community Engagement and Health Equity is committed to improving the health of Central Texans through strategic partnerships with community members, community-based organizations, governmental entities, industry and technology companies, and policymakers at the state and local levels.

Through academic-community partnerships, the division works to develop more robust community needs assessments, person-centered health interventions and data for social and policy change. Potential partners are invited to connect with the division to learn how it can collaborate and incorporate community involvement and expertise into projects or programs.

Educational Events

The division hosts a number of events open to members of Dell Med and the public that foster an interest and understanding of academic-community partnerships, as well as their role in advancing local health and health equity. VIEW UPCOMING EVENTS »

Originally launched in 2021 and held over five sessions, the division’s seminar series fosters an understanding of community-based participatory research and an interest in incorporating community engagement principles and practices into research projects and academic-community partnerships. Members of the community have the opportunity to engage with division faculty and staff on specific event topics.

The division’s speaker series addresses issues relating to population health, health equity and how to leverage community partnerships to address health equity. The series aims to enhance the coordination between community-based researchers and caregivers to promote culturally tailored, community-engaged approaches in partnership with all communities.

Community Health in Action