Faculty members receive seed funding for gender related research projects

Tuesday, January 26, 2016 - 1:10pm

Six University faculty members received Faculty Seed Grants from the Institute for Research on Women and Gender this month for their research projects focused on women, gender and sexuality. The grants ranged from $500 to $10,000.

The Faculty Seed Grant program was established by IRWG in 1996 to support both disciplinary and interdisciplinary projects relating to women, gender and sexuality, according to the institute’s website.

This year’s recipients ranged from projects on individuals with disabilities, to ones on social mobility and HIV testing.

Susan Ernst, director of University Health Services gynecology department and assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology, earned a grant for a proposal pertaining to medical care in Ethopia.

Ernst runs a gynecology clinic at the University for adolescents and women with disabilities, and has been working to offer similar services at the St. Paul’s Hospital and Millennium Medical Center in Ethiopia.

Ernst said the Ethiopian Center for Disability and Development and the Ethiopian Women Disabilities National Organization both acknowledged there were barriers preventing adolescents and women with disabilities from receiving reproductive health services. Because of this, she began working on a proposal with the aim of creating focus groups with these demographics to gather information about the obstacles to receiving medical care.

Ernst plans to survey the administrators, faculty and nurses at the hospital about their difficulties in providing care for their patients, such as the physical barriers patients with severe disabilities face from hospitals not being properly equipped to assist them.

“Our ultimate goal is to try to improve those services that are not only offered at St. Paul’s, but throughout other reproductive health care clinics in Ethiopia,” Ernst said. “In the United States we have code and all of the buildings have to be built to code for patients with disabilities, but there, some of the clinics may not have a ramp to get up into the clinic area, or even if the patients can get up into the clinic area, the doorways might not be accessible for somebody in a wheelchair.”

Ernst said she appreciates the award because it has allowed her to collaborate with individuals from Ethiopia, the University of Michigan and University of Central Florida.

“This money allows the research team to not only go back to Ethiopia and do this work, but to actually hire women with disabilities in Ethiopia to help us as study coordinators and to pay the adolescents and women with disabilities to be a part of our focus group and just to work in a collaborative manner to address this problem,” Ernst said.

Other recipients included Nancy Fleischer, an assistant professor of epidemiology and Elizabeth King, assistant professor in health behavior and health education.

Fleischer said her project is focused on the role of social mobility in racial and ethnic disparities and infant health. With the grant, Fleischer said she will be constructing a multi-generational data set to link birth certificate data across multiple generations to understand cross-generational social mobility and to see if that is related to adverse birth outcomes such as premature birth.

As part of the grant, Fleischer said she has been able to hire a graduate student who has been doing work on Institutional Review Board applications and data request applications. She also said the award has allowed her to work with colleagues in South Carolina, as well as at Michigan State University.

“It has been helpful for making connections across campus, since I started my faculty position just in September of 2015, and don’t have the research linkages already,” Fleischer said. “I am very grateful to have received it and I look forward to doing the work.”

King said she’s planning on working with collaborators in Russia to do a qualitative research study on why women who test positive for HIV during pregnancy do or do not stay in HIV care.

“This Seed Grant is allowing us to do this project, which hopefully will be the foundation for designing an intervention to improve women’s outcomes related to getting enrolled in, and staying on, HIV treatment services,” King said. “We’re hoping to use our findings from this project to design a program to help women.”

Other beneficiaries include Shobita Parthasarathy, associate professor of public policy, Musicology prof. Louise Stein and Ruth Tsoffar, associate professor of women’s studies and comparative literature.

Stein is planning to utilize the funding she received from the IRWG to pay for travel to Italy. Her research focuses on famous 17th century alto castrato singer Giovanni.

She said this is an important component to traditional Italian gender roles because Grossi seems to represent the emergence of a new kind of masculinity. In particular, Stein said she’s interested in understanding how Grossi succeeded in the competitive operatic marketplace, as well as how he executed different kinds of masculinity on stage.

“(The grant) will provide me the funding to be able to travel to the libraries and archives in Italy that have the materials I need,” she said. “I also appreciate this because gender study is a new area for me ... I look forward to also collaborating, getting advice from scholars here at U of M.”

Applications for the grants, which are annual, opened in the fall. They were scored based on multiple criteria regarding the project, including its quality and importance, its relation to IRWG’s central focus on women, gender and sexuality, and its inclusion of issues regarding race, sexual orientation or culture. The significance of the project to its field as well as the contribution to the University was also taken into account.