Posted on October 11, 2022 by Amanda Cerreto

This article originally appeared in UTSA Today by Jordyn Allen.

Rhonda BeLue OCTOBER 7, 2022 — In January 2021, UTSA welcomed Rhonda BeLue , Ph.D., as the Lutcher Brown Endowed Distinguished Professor in the Department of Public Health and as 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 and to develop relationships within the San Antonio community.

"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 said.

A professional committed to equity and inclusion, BeLue's research is primarily focused on making health care and knowledge accessible to the community and on training the next generation of health care researchers and practitioners.

BeLue 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. This provides them with opportunities to gain competencies through training, collaborative scholarly products and by working with mentors or teams at safety-net or community-based organizations and to address urgent health care needs of the uninsured and other vulnerable persons.

"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 conducts applied research and community engagement activities in partnership with health care 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 that disproportionately suffered morbidity from the virus.

BeLue also uses her endowment to collaborate with people in other disciplines. In the College of Liberal and Fine Arts, for example, she is working with health communications faculty members to develop a toolkit to translate research, increase its accessibility and provide an opportunity for 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. Sometimes, researchers need pilot funds to start a smaller project before we can apply for external fundings,” BeLue explained. “The endowment helps us by providing funds to start exploratory research. It gives me opportunities for growth in multiple ways.”

With UTSA's new Tier One designation, BeLue believes the university must continue to go beyond doing research and writing scholarly journals that are only accessible to certain people. She plans to fulfill 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.

— Amanda Cerreto