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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, policymakers 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.

Individuals participating in outdoor gardening.
Members of the Division of Community Engagement and Health Equity stand behind a table outdoors for a group portrait.
Two women wearing medical masks stand next to each other; the woman on the right holds a vaccine.

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 external 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 communities and identify the specific information, services and interactions that these communities need and prefer.

The division and Department of Population Health partner with Equidad ATX, Central Texas Food Bank, Central Health and others on the Live Well/Vive Bien initiative. Live Well/Vive Bien works to address social determinant health needs in medically underserved communities in Austin’s Eastern Crescent by bringing affordable and nutritious food, health care and other important services to these areas.

The initiative features a mobile health ecosystem comprised of a mobile grocery, health and financial wellness services. The Live Well/Vive Bien team facilitates community engagement and community co-design efforts by centering the voices of these communities in the design and evaluation of the initiative’s mobile health ecosystem.

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.

Carmen Valdez speaking with another woman in front of presentation materials.
Four individuals sitting around a table with extra large notepads.
A smiling woman sits in front of a bookcase.

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 »

Research Summary

Carmen Valdez, Ph.D., leads a collective of Latinx mental health and community research studies with an interdisciplinary team of graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, faculty and cross-sector community collaborators. Collectively, the studies aim to understand (a) the mental health burden experienced by Latinx children, young adults and families, (b) the family relational, community, social and sociopolitical context promoting and inhibiting Latinx individuals’ lives, and (c) strategies and interventions that are language-, culture-, and developmentally tailored to improve well-being and access to quality mental health services.

The studies draw on community-based participatory methods to forge partnerships with community organizations, government agencies and other key stakeholders (families and advocates) in identifying the issues that matter most to the Latinx community in Central Texas and beyond.

Current Studies & Programs

Latinx Young Adult Mental Health & Wellness

The Mental Health and Wellness Study examines the mental health and well-being of Latinx young adults in Central Texas and the day-to-day experiences that contribute to their mental health and well-being. This project also examines strategies for recruiting Latinx young adults in mental health research and engaging them in mental health services.

Frontline Partnerships for Sustainable Climate Action

A Planet Texas 2050 flagship project, Frontline Partnerships for Sustainable Climate Action is a collaboration with municipal and nonprofit organizations in urban and rural communities in Texas to learn how youth from hard-hit communities experience environmental hazards, as well as the solutions they envision toward environmental justice. The project draws on photovoice and coalition building.

Lives of Immigrant Families Study

The Lives of Immigrant Families Study is a longitudinal case study of Mexican families that uses repeated interviews with parents, youths and other community stakeholders to understand ways in which families navigate and endure immigration policy and enforcement.

Fortalezas Familiares (Family Strengths) Program

Fortalezas Familiares is a clinical intervention developed for Latinx women with depression, their partners, extended family members and their children ages 9-17. It is a 12-week program aimed to (a) co-learn with family members about depression and the context of their lives, (b) build parenting competence and confidence, (c) promote child coping and competence to assert their needs within the family and with peers, (d) discover personal and family opportunities for joy, hope and resistance within a restrictive social context and (e) enhance family unity via positive activities, stable routines and shared goals and communication.

Community Interventions & Social Care to Support Latinx Families

The Mental Health Promotion Model seeks to provide screening and referral to appropriate mental health services for Latinx community members who are not already connected to mental health services during the pandemic. The Mental Health Promotion Model involves a collaboration with the Migrant Clinicians Network, researchers from Santa Clara University and the Latino Research Institute at The University of Texas at Austin.

Additionally, the Promotores Outreach, Training and Engagement (PromOTE) Hub aims to increase the workforce of community health workers in Central Texas. Carmen Valdez, Ph.D., examines the effects of community health workers and the implementation of community health worker interventions in different settings on population health outcomes.

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, researchers, industry and technology companies, and policymakers at the state and local levels.

A woman talks with a man by a staircase, with other people in the foreground and background.
Two women stand next to each other outdoors by a body of water.
Members of the Division of Community Engagement and Health Equity facilitate an activity around a conference table.

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.

CBPR Collaborative

The Division’s CBPR Collaborative provides a venue for researchers and practitioners interested in community engaged scholarship and practice to receive feedback on grant proposals and manuscripts with a community-based participatory research focus. Researchers and practitioners can also present on community engaged research and projects and discuss collaborations for new and existing projects.

Materials are reviewed ahead of time by a lead facilitator. The CBPR Collaborative also assists with mock grant reviews. To learn more about the collaborative, email Christina Jarvis.

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