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Arnold School of Public Health


HPEB doctoral student Alycia Boutté receives Research Supplement to Promote Diversity in Health-Related Research from NIH

April 7, 2017 | Erin Bluvas, bluvase@sc.edu 

Alycia Boutté, a second-year doctoral student in the Department of Health Promotion, Education, and Behavior (HPEB), has been awarded a Research Supplement to Promote Diversity in Health-Related Research from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. The two-year grant builds on an existing Arnold School project, the NIH-funded R01 Health in Pregnancy and Postpartum (HIPP) Study, which is led by co-principal investigators Sara Wilcox (Exercise Science) and Jihong Liu (Epidemiology and Biostatistics) and co-investigator Brie Turner-McGrievy (HPEB)

The HIPP study is a large-scale randomized controlled trial that targets excessive gestational weight gain during pregnancy and weight loss during the postpartum period. Already a Graduate Trainee on the project, Boutté’s NIH supplement will allow her to provide a more comprehensive understanding of the HIPP study’s main outcomes by analyzing psychosocial (e.g., stress, depression) and geospatial (i.e., the built environment, such as access to healthy/affordable food) influences on diet quality using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) analysis.

Alycia is working at the intersection of mental health and public health and addressing an important population that has been understudied. 

-Brie Turner-McGrievy, HPEB Assistant Professor

“My current research focus combines psychosocial influences and the nutritional built environment’s impact on diet quality in pregnancy,” says Boutté. “I’m interested in investigating racial and ethnic disparities among these relationships, and I’m excited that receiving the supplement award will allow me to research this for my dissertation.”

“Alycia is working at the intersection of mental health and public health and addressing an important population that has been understudied,” adds Turner-McGrievy. “Finding ways to help women consume healthier diets during pregnancy not only benefits the woman, but can also have potentially long-lasting positive effects for her baby as well.”

Boutté’s present research perspective began with the New Orleans area native’s undergraduate program at Xavier University of Louisiana, where she received the Rousseve Scholarship  and Dr. Dereck J. Rovaris, Sr. Award, was recognized by Who’s Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges, and graduated Summa Cum Laude. While studying psychology, she became fascinated with understanding factors that influence human behavior related to health and well-being.

Pursuing a career in public health was an ideal fit with my background since it allowed me to combine my interests in health behavior with the opportunity to contribute to broad-reaching, population-level impact.

-Alycia Boutté, HPEB Ph.D. Student

Next, Boutté earned a Master of Public Health from the University of Texas Health Science Center, where she refined her interests through research projects such as a community-based childhood obesity project with Hispanic families. It was through this experience that Boutté observed additional factors (e.g., income, access to healthy/affordable foods) that influenced families’ success in becoming healthier.

“The area of health promotion is a great intersection of understanding the multiple levels of factors that influence health behaviors while working towards prevention of chronic diseases and alleviating health disparities in racial and ethnic communities,” says Boutté. “Pursuing a career in public health was an ideal fit with my background since it allowed me to combine my interests in health behavior with the opportunity to contribute to broad-reaching, population-level impact.”

When choosing her doctoral program, UofSC stood out due to the impactful research conducted in the HPEB department and the multiple research centers at the Arnold School of Public Health. Another draw? Hitting it off with her future advisor, Turner-McGrievy.

“There was an excellent match of research interests with Dr. Turner-McGrievy, who researches innovative methods to improve nutrition through weight loss interventions. She began mentoring me even before I became an official student at USC,” says Boutté. “In discussing the program, Dr. Turner-McGrievy connected me to several of her doctoral students so I could hear about their experiences, which were all very positive.”

There was an excellent match of research interests with Dr. Turner-McGrievy, who researches innovative methods to improve nutrition through weight loss interventions. She began mentoring me even before I became an official student at USC.

-Alycia Boutté, HPEB Ph.D. Student

Once she arrived at UofSC, Boutté says that Turner-McGrievy began introducing her to excellent research opportunities and helping her strengthen her professional writing and professional development skills. Boutté also found mentors in Wilcox and Liu through the HIPP study along with Assistant Professors Jan Eberth (Epidemiology and Biostatistics) and Andrew Kaczynski (HPEB).

“Something I love about public health is its interdisciplinary nature, and my advice would be to take advantage of opportunities that have the potential to span multiple disciplines,” Boutté says. “Not only can it help expand your thinking around health issues, you will likely be exposed to different techniques that you can incorporate into your research and make new contributions.”

Outside her program of study, Boutté serves as the Student Liaison for the Society of Behavioral Medicine’s Ethnic Minority and Multicultural Health Special Interest Group and volunteers with Girls on the Run Columbia. She is also a member of the Provost’s Advisory Council for Women’s Issues, the Black Graduate Students Association, and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.

It’s critical to ensure a diverse public health workforce to provide cultural context and shape research questions relevant to underserved communities, promote research addressing health disparities, increase the number of leaders and policy makers who support diversity in the workforce, and ensure the cultural relevance of future interventions.

-Alycia Boutté, HPEB Ph.D. Student

All of these experiences have led Boutté to develop her own unique approach to advancing public health. And it’s one that aligns perfectly with her recent award.

“The underrepresentation of minorities in public health has implications for worsening health disparities,” explains Boutté. “It’s critical to ensure a diverse public health workforce to provide cultural context and shape research questions relevant to underserved communities, promote research addressing health disparities, increase the number of leaders and policy makers who support diversity in the workforce, and ensure the cultural relevance of future interventions.”


Related:

Brie Turner-McGrievy wins Early Career Investigator and Early Career Mentorship Awards from the Society of Behavioral Medicine