Doctoral student wins Wenner-Gren Foundation award

head shot of Kofi Mensah

David “Kofi” Mensah, a student in Northern Arizona University’s interdisciplinary health (IH) doctoral program and a research assistant in the Center for Health Equity Research, won the Wadsworth International Fellowship award through the Wenner-Gren Foundation. 

The fellowship provides funds to support Mensah’s living expenses for four years while he is earning his doctoral degree. 

Mensah, an international student from Ghana, is exploring his research interests in a medical anthropological approach to mental health care and drug addiction with a theoretical emphasis on stigma and care through his doctoral degree. 

“Kofi has been a great team member on my projects,” said Emery Eaves, associate professor in the Department of Anthropology and one of Mensah’s mentors. “His enthusiasm for improving mental health care and reducing stigma has translated into an interest in substance use treatment. His research in Ghana has the potential to improve mental health care and change the way both health care providers and patients are treated in Ghana’s post-colonial medical system.” 

After earning his bachelor’s degree in anthropology from the University of Cape Coast, Ghana, Mensah earned a master’s degree in medical anthropology from NAU before joining the IH doctoral program. 

“I had a friend here at NAU doing his master’s degree in criminology, so I decided to apply to the anthropology program here and got in touch with Dr. Michelle Parsons, who has been my academic advisor since then,” Mensah said. 

Mensah also is a scholar for the Culturally-Centered Addictions Research Training (C-CART)—a training program with fewer than a dozen national and international scholars selected to participate. In Fall 2021, Mensah said that he discovered C-CART from a general email to all IH doctoral students, and he decided to apply. 

“I was interested because I was working as a graduate research assistant with Dr. Eaves on a project with CHER around telemedicine and opioid use during the pandemic, which led me to develop an interest in drug addiction research,” Mensah said. “I thought of this program as a perfect fit for my career training.” 

In the summer of 2021, CHER, in partnership with NAU’s College of Education, received a grant to create C-CART, a graduate training program for practicing clinicians and doctoral students in health professions. C-CART addresses substance use disorders, specifically in underserved Native American, Hispanic and rural populations. 

Regents’ professor Julie A. Baldwin, CHER director, and Ramona Mellott, dean of NAU’s College of Education and professor in the Department of Educational Psychology, are the multiple principal investigators of the project. 

“We are so pleased to have Kofi Mensah as part of our inaugural cohort for the C-CART program,” Mellott said. “Kofi is part of an interprofessional team focused on obtaining research skills that include culturally centered practices related to substance use disorders which can be applied in interprofessional practice and diverse settings. His focus on medical anthropological research brings a valuable dimension to the team.”  

Mensah said his doctoral thesis research focuses on a medical anthropological approach to mental healthcare and drug addiction with a theoretical emphasis on stigma and care. 

“During these research projects, I found that there’s stigma, especially structural stigma, around mental health and drug addiction care and treatment,” he said. “My Ph.D. dissertation seeks to look at the interpersonal and structural stigma processes that hinder mental health care in Ghana through an in-depth hospital ethnography at the Ankaful Psychiatric Hospital.” 

Through Mensah’s C-CART research, he also is examining medical treatment strategies for pregnant women diagnosed with chronic pain syndrome in northern Arizona who are enrolled in Medicaid. 

In addition to Parsons and Eaves, Mensah has found an adopted family in his home-away-from-home through the Chi Alpha Christian campus ministry Northland Christian Assembly Church. 

NAU Communications