What are the benefits to universities and communities from a program like this?
I think a lot of people want to get into research, but not a lot of people spend the time on the development of partnerships. Training is a great way to start a partnership. Institutions are notoriously known for being “takers” in relationships, particularly with communities, so it's often not the case that we start a relationship by giving anything.
But with this program, community members come to our campus and our state-of-the-art facilities. We treat them like we would treat any other NYU student. They're getting world-class instruction from great faculty members.
I think the best thing that comes out of this—and it's not even my intention—is building a great relationship between the community and the academic institution. It's like fixing a strained relationship. Many of these communities have a not-so-great experience with institutions, so it’s important to let them see what institutions can offer their communities, and how to engage and access researchers.
I don't want to diminish the research that comes out of a professor's brain. But the fellows are thinking about immediate, real problems that they're experiencing in their work day to day. They may be experiencing something and think, “If I had some research or some data, we could fix this issue, or I can advocate to get this issue fixed.”
Tell us about your first cohort of New York City fellows.
This cohort includes community health workers, board members of community-based organizations, a doula working in the Bronx to improve maternal and infant outcomes, and even the Queens Deputy Borough President. In Queens, they’re thinking about doing some work in the Queensbridge housing project, the largest housing project in the country, so the fact that the person who is going to lead that is going to get trained first and have these tools and resources is so important for that community.