CHER receives grant to develop culturally centered graduate certificate for health professionals focused on substance use disorders in underserved communities

NAU campus

Northern Arizona University’s Center for Health Equity Research (CHER) recently received an almost $1.4 million grant to create a graduate certificate training program for practicing clinicians and doctoral students in health professions.

The certificate, Culturally-Centered Addictions Research Training (C-CART), will address substance use disorders, specifically in underserved Native American, Hispanic and rural populations.

The innovative graduate certification program, funded through the National Institute on Drug Abuse, fills a critical need for culturally relevant training in health professions, and complements NAU’s doctoral programs in health care and behavioral health fields. Julie A. Baldwin, Regents’ professor and CHER director, and Ramona Mellott, dean of the NAU College of Education and professor in the Department of Educational Psychology are the principal investigators of the project.

“Racial and ethnic minorities and rural residents often have high rates of substance use disorders and experience greater rates of poor health outcomes and premature mortality due in part to difficulty accessing evidence-based comprehensive and culturally relevant care,” Mellott said. “This program will prepare our students to conduct culturally-centered research on substance use disorders in practice settings.”

NAU faculty in the program include instructors and academic mentors Shane Haberstroh, professor, Department of Educational Psychology; Heather Williamson, associate professor, Department of Occupational Therapy and CHER; Juliette Roddy, NARBHA Institute James Wurgler MD chair of Criminal Justice and Behavioral Health; Chesleigh Keene, assistant professor, Department of Educational Psychology; Amit Kumar, assistant professor, Department of Physical Therapy and Athletic Training; Emery Eaves, associate professor, Department of Anthropology; Oaklee Rogers, chair and associate professor, Department of Occupational Therapy; and Regents’ professor Robert T. Trotter, Department of Anthropology. The program has a national advisory board with leading experts in the field.

The program will target students from doctoral programs in occupational therapy, physical therapy, clinical psychology, counseling/school psychology and interdisciplinary health from departments throughout the university, as well as practicing professionals from the community.

“Evidence-based, integrated interventions informed by the research of culturally centered, interprofessional teams have the potential to play a critical role in improving behavioral health services for American Indian, Hispanic and rural populations,” Baldwin said. “Culturally-centered addictions research training can increase the number of well-qualified researchers and improve care coordination and continuity of care by promoting interprofessional research teams and networks of both clinical and nonclinical providers.”

Baldwin has successfully directed other federally funded projects focused on drug use and substance use disorders, including a graduate certificate program called the Institute for Translational Research Education in Adolescent Drug Abuse, a partnership between NAU and the University of South Florida, established seven years ago.

The need for such a program

In 2015, NAU’s Department of Educational Psychology conducted a statewide survey of 15 clinical directors in Arizona behavioral health agencies to determine the need for an addictions research graduate certificate program. The results indicated nearly unanimous support for such a program.

“With the COVID-19 pandemic, the need to address barriers to culturally relevant training among health care professionals is more urgent now than ever,” Mellott said.

Students in the program will develop skills through coursework and research experience working in interprofessional teams with academic and community mentors, and exploring culturally-centered, evidence-based practices through working with local community partners. Numerous community agencies in the state of Arizona are participating.

Students and agency mentors will co-design research activities that have direct relevance to the agencies and the clients whom they serve, using participatory decision-making––an approach that supports meaningful translation of research projects into positive outcomes.

“There are important considerations for designing and conducting research that will have a real impact on communities and will be useful for treatment providers,” Keene said. “The C-CART program will train researchers who will dissolve discipline boundaries and forge interdisciplinary advancement in substance abuse research and clinical practice.”

Applications for the program will open next month. If interested, contact CHER senior research coordinator Carly Camplain at

NAU Communications