The title of "doctor" is not conferred without a great deal of time and hard work, as our most recent successful doctoral candidate Erika Collazo proved when she returned to Bloomington to defend her dissertation on Friday, January 23, 2015. Since leaving Indiana University last August, Erika joined the faculty of James Madison University as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Health Sciences and has been actively involved in a wide range of exciting new teaching, research, and service activities on the ground in Virginia. She was also taking her time to carefully finalize the unique and important task she had started the year before when she launched her dissertation research, one of the first studies to date focusing on sexual health among injecting drug using women in Puerto Rico.
Erika came to Indiana University and the Center for Sexual Health Promotion from the University of Puerto Rico, where she worked with our colleague Dr. Carlos Rodríguez-Díaz while completing her MPH. A native of Puerto Rico, she was resolute on taking on the significant challenge of focusing her dissertation on injecting drug using women in this context given the relatively high rates of intravenous drug use in Puerto Rico (indeed, some of the highest in the world) and the scarcity of public health research or interventions that are targeted toward women. Using a community-based participatory research approach, Erika partnered with a number of local agencies on the island - particularly Inicitiva Comunitaria de Investigacio, Coalicion de Servicios de Mujer VIH, and a network of methadone clinics - and worked tirelessly to recruit and engage a sample of over 100 injecting drug using women in a mixed methods research study aimed at understanding sexual health, healthcare services utilization, sexual aggression and violenece, and HIV risk behaviors among this vulnerable population. An overview of Erika's project, and the first two proposed manuscripts from her study, may be found here.
Dr. Collazo has done a truly exceptional job with her dissertation, whose results were well worth the wait and will inform future research, education, and policy efforts in Puerto Rico and beyond. We are proud of all of our doctoral students and graduates over the years - and we look forward to continuing to actively mentor, train, and engage the next generation of sexual health research scientists in our ongoing work at the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana University and around the globe for many years to come.
Update! Drs. Collazo and Dodge will be sharing the preliminary findings from Erika's dissertation research with Inicitiva Comunitaria de Investigacio and other community partners in San Juan, Puerto Rico, during March 11-13, 2015! We will provide information from this series of meetings, along with developments on publications and other subsequent activities.
Erika's doctoral research committee included (left to right): Drs. Lucia Guerra-Reyes, Debby Herbenick, Brian Dodge (Chair), and Rasul Mowatt. In addition, Dr. Michael Reece was instrumental in Erika's academic preparation during her time at the center.