UA student receives health policy fellowship

UA graduate student Desi Rodriguez-Lonebear has received the Health Policy Research Scholar Fellowship for her unique studies in indigenous demography and sociology.

Rodriguez-Lonebear is working toward her doctorate in sociology from the UA and demography from the University of Waikato in New Zealand.

“I am really thankful that UA even entertained the idea of my dual enrollment program,” Rodriguez-Lonebear said. “This type of program is done more in engineering and bio-sciences, so UA took a big risk and a leap of faith as did my program in New Zealand. But I think that together, both institutes realized that if I could pull this off, other students could as well.”

Dale Lafleur, director of institutional relations at the UA Office of Global Initiatives, first met Rodriguez-Lonebear through an email exploring a dual degree program at the UA.

“I think Desi’s project is very unique and was definitely something needed in the field of demography,” Lafleur said. “One of the things that stood out to me was that she was looking to do something different that blended two fields. She is pursuing her Ph.D. in two related but slightly different fields, which is a perfect combination for something like a dual degree.”

Rodriguez-Lonebear said that her research was sparked when she realized her unique upbringing while working toward an undergraduate and master’s degree at Stanford University.

“The fact that I came from a very poor community where opportunities were very limited, it became very clear to me that Stanford University was a more privileged place,” Rodriguez-Lonebear said. “It came to me that I was different.”

As part of her dissertation, Rodriguez-Lonebear said she plans to survey the 567 tribes in the U.S. to ask how they collect, store and manage data.

Rodriguez-Lonebear said she hopes that it will create a pathway for other students to follow.

The four-year award carries a stipend of $30,000 per year for four years, and is given by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

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Rodriguez-Lonebear said her plans for the award are to use it to bolster her own research.

“This allows me to completely dedicate myself and my time to my research,” Rodriguez-Lonebear said. “The award is really going to enable me to buy the materials, hardware, software and research assistance that I may need to finish the doctoral degree in a decent amount of time.”

Rodriguez-Lonebear said she decided to apply because she felt the planning was a building block for health policies, and in order to be effective, it is necessary to know which populations need health attention.

“I think investing in diverse doctoral students should be a priority in every institution,” Rodriguez-Lonebear said. “American Indians make up a very small percentage of doctoral students in this country—literally less than 1 percent. For me, the fellowship is important because it recognizes and validates my research on a national scale.”

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Rodriguez-Lonebear said she feels her role as an American Indian is important because there are so few pursing a doctoral degree. She said she feels the fellowship acknowledges the work and value of her research agenda.

Rodriguez-Lonebear said she feels it is significant that people know there will be many subsequent cohorts looking to fund other diverse doctoral students.

“I think that what I really hope for Desi is that her work can perhaps become a model for other countries that are trying to track their indigenous populations in a statistical way,” Lafleur said. “It could not only be a benefit for her but a benefit for the bigger picture.” 


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