Rhonda BelueUTSA Professor Increases Health Care Accessibility and Equity in San Antonio
In January 2021, The University of Texas at San Antonio welcomed Rhonda BeLue, Ph.D. as the Lutcher Brown Endowed Distinguished Professor in the Department of Public Health and first associate dean for community engagement and partnerships in the College for Health, Community and Policy (HCAP). As a professional committed to equity and inclusion, BeLue was thrilled to join UTSA’s newest college to develop relationships within the San Antonio community, to which the university belongs.
“I thought that being part of HCAP and developing a new college was a great opportunity and I also liked the idea of being at a school that’s accessible to multiple families. This is a state school and that means everybody in the community has an investment in UTSA,” said BeLue.
BeLue’s research is primarily focused on making health care and knowledge accessible to the community and training the next generation of healthcare researchers and practitioners. She uses funds from her endowed position to hire undergraduate students to work on the research team in her SHARP (Safety-net Healthcare Advocacy, Research, and Policy) Lab, which provides them with opportunities to gain competencies through annual training, collaborative scholarly products, and by working with mentors or teams at safety-net or community-based organizations to address urgent health care needs.
“I really believe in training the next generation and creating future leaders, and my endowment has allowed me to do this by giving me the ability to hire students. I think this is some of my most important work,” expressed BeLue.
In addition to student training in the SHARP Lab, BeLue also conducts applied research and community engagement activities in partnership with healthcare safety-net and community-based organizations to address health disparities in historically disenfranchised communities. For example, she recently worked with community-based organizations to provide COVID-19 vaccine education and improve vaccine updates among underserved communities who disproportionately suffered morbidity from the virus.
I thought that being part of HCAP and developing a new college was a great opportunity and I also liked the idea of being at a school that’s accessible to multiple families. This is a state school and that means everybody in the community has an investment in UTSA.
BeLue also uses her endowment to collaborate with other UTSA colleges such as the College of Liberal and Fine Arts where she is working with the health communications department to make a toolkit to translate research and increase its accessibility to allow San Antonians to have input in what the university is working on. She explained that it is usually difficult to fully fund and sustain projects like this because grant funds typically support active experiments and not research translation.
“One of the things we are always concerned about in research is the continuity of funding. We can start a project but if the funding runs out, we are not able to complete it,” explained BeLue. “The endowment helps us avoid this for when grant money runs out or won’t fund a part of a project. It gives me opportunities for growth in multiple ways.”
With UTSA’s new Carnegie RI designation, BeLue believes the university must continue going beyond doing research and writing scholarly journals that are only accessible to certain people. She plans to continue fulfilling her personal mission by contributing to conversations around accessible health care for underserved populations and participating in research that is helping to improve the community-at-large for years to come.