The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) is a minority-serving institution whose students reflect the character of South Texas and the changing demographics of the country. Although the University is only 30 years old, it is poised to become the next premier research institution in Texas. The faculty and administration are committed to this vision and have identified mental-health research as a critical area for further development. However, because it is a young institution faced with the demands of burgeoning enrollments, UTSA is striving to provide the type of infrastructure support that is necessary to realize its potential capacity to conduct mental-health research. The support of the STIMHR grant enabled UTSA to advance its mental-health research program and address the mental-health issues of a large, underserved, and understudied sector of South Texas.
STIMHR was the third current federally funded grant awarded to the Latino Health Research Initiative, which also secured funds for the San Antonio Health Services Research Program (SAHSRP) and the Hispanic Leadership Program in Agriculture and Natural Resources (HLPANR).
| 1. Enhanced the capability of faculty to undertake mental-health research by:
A. Facilitating collaborations inside and outside UTSA (for example, use of clinical populations at the UT Health Science Center to facilitate projects done by UTSA faculty).
B. Funding research projects that lead to extramural grant proposals.
C. Providing training and technical assistance and a speaker series to foster working relationships among both faculty and students interested in mental health research.
D. Providing a means for faculty wishing to augment their mental health research through usage of the newly opened mental-health data and research lab.
E. Providing developmental faculty research awards.
| 2. Increased the number of faculty—especially members of ethnic minority groups—conducting mental health research by:
A. Actively recruiting faculty into the program (such as making available annual faculty research awards to current and potential mental-health researchers at UTSA).
B. Supporting a stimulating hiring initiative for mental-health researchers.
- UTSA plans to hire 250 new tenured or tenure-track faculty over the next five years. This ambitious project is designed not only to address the skyrocketing enrollments, but it is also intended to help assure UTSA’s position as the next premier research university in Texas. To achieve its research mission, UTSA is utilizing a strategic hiring plan that places priorities on particular areas of research. One of the areas that has been targeted for development is mental-health research. There are several ways that STIMHR helps assure that this hiring goal will be successful.
- First, in the ongoing process of identifying and recruiting existing faculty who showed promise in the area of mental-health research, STIMHR personnel identified relevant gaps at UTSA. This information helped guide the hiring process. Second, STIMHR staff developed hiring recommendations that were informed by the larger community of mental-health researchers. The Mental Health Research Alliance (MHRA), which comprises mental-health investigators and administrators from a variety of institutions, served as a valuable consulting body for UTSA’s hiring initiative. Third, STIMHR was an effective recruiting tool because it offered considerable resources and opportunities for collaboration that attracted new faculty.
| 3. Increased the number of students—especially members of ethnic minority groups—who are involved in mental-health research by:
A. Recruiting students into the program. Recruiting activities included:
- Fostering interest through the recently established Graduate Students Research Awards Program
- Identifying graduate students in Biology, Counseling, Psychology, and Sociology through Graduate Advisors of Record and Department Chair to promulgate the program. With the consent of the departments, information about the program is provided to graduate students, in which they will be advised about the opportunities for research experiences in mental-health settings
B. Providing mentorship.
- Mentors are assigned to graduate students based on a compilation of the various mental-health research interests among UTSA faculty and at MHRA sites. STIMHR students peruse the list, which will be available in print and on the STIMHR web site, and identify two or three projects that most attract their interests. The Director then contacts the appropriate research mentor to explore the possibility of a student placement. Once a preliminary match was established, the mentor and student met to discuss the project and assess their compatibility. If either the mentor or student did not approve the match, the STIMHR Advisory Committee identied an alternative mentor. MHRA mentors who are not on the UTSA faculty could serve as thesis and dissertation advisors by appointment to the UTSA graduate faculty. The procedure for this type of adjunct appointment is already in place and involves no additional financial commitment by the participating institutions.
C. Enhancing preparation for graduate studies.
- To help assure that undergraduate students in the program pursue the advanced training necessary to become mental-health researchers, they are required to enroll in an Honors College Course entitled “The Graduate School Experience.” The purpose of the seminar is to provide students with information that will help them make a smooth adjustment to graduate school, assist them in preparing application packages that will make them attractive to graduate admissions committees, and help them identify sources of and apply for funding for graduate study. As part of the course requirements, students are asked to: (1) identify a minimum of 8 graduate programs appropriate for a student with their research interests; (2) obtain application packets for those programs; and (3) prepare a sample personal statement for those programs and appropriate fellowship opportunities, including the NSF Graduate Fellowship, the Ford Foundation Minority Fellowship, and the Jacob K. Javitz Fellowship. The seminar also exposes students to role models from the UTSA faculty (especially ones from under-represented groups) who share their own experiences in graduate school, how they identified a research area and subsequent research questions, and their own development as scholars. This exposure helps inform and motivate students to pursue advanced training, armed with the proper knowledge and strategies.
D. Providing research assistantships and opportunities for thesis/dissertation research.
- The STIMHR program funded research assistants not only to benefit the faculty investigators, but also to provide students with an important source of financial support and training in mental-health research. This type of support and training was critical to fostering students’ professional development as mental-health researchers.
| 4. Strengthened ties to mental-health researchers in San Antonio and South Texas by:
a. Facilitating research collaborations
- A focal point for research development under STIMHR was bringing together mental-health researchers from San Antonio and South Texas (for example, among UTSA faculty, UTHSCSA faculty, and community mental health professionals). Many of the training, consultation, and technical services outlined under “Goal 1” attracted mental-health researchers and provided avenues for enhancing their research capabilities as well as fostering collaborations and a sense of community.
b. Facilitating joint faculty appointments.
- The UTSA Administration is committed to working with other training and research institutions to implement joint faculty appointments to enhance its research capacity in the area of mental health. The University is also developing more flexible arrangements for joint hires that will maximize resources in innovative ways (e.g., research professorships). STIMHR helped identify new opportunities for joint appointments that advanced mental-health research at UTSA and participating institutions.
c. Developing joint graduate programs.
- Another goal of STIMHR is to foster the development of joint programs that will attract students interested in mental-health research and that will enhance the infrastructure for collaborative research projects, such as through the Joint Life Sciences Initiative. UTSA has already entered discussion with the U.T. School of Public Health, which has an MPH program, about course transfer arrangements and joint programs. The graduate programs at UTSA in Business, Communication, Sociology, Psychology, Public Administration, and Political Science provide obvious opportunities for linkages to the MPH program at the School of Public Health. As UTSA gains more doctoral programs (e.g., Psychology, Public Policy) the opportunities for joint programs and transfer credits will continue to expand and will include other mental health institutions.
As UTSA achieves these goals, it will be able to make more substantive contributions to mental-health research and, in the process, help fill the need for investigators from underrepresented groups. Moreover, because ethnic minority groups comprise 59% of the population of San Antonio, UTSA is ideally situated to examine the mental-health issues of understudied and underserved groups.
LHRI uses multidisciplinary approaches to conduct research in the areas of community development, health, literacy and the environment with an emphasis on how culture impacts and informs the dynamics within each of these areas in addition to policy development and analysis. LHRI offers a variety of services to campus and community stakeholders, including research services and faculty grant development and implementation.
For more information on the South Texas Initiative for Mental Health Research or the Latino Health Research Initiative, call (210) 458-7031.