Faculty Spotlight: Marie-Claude Couture

Marie-Claude Couture is an Associate Professor and Chair of Health Professions in the School of Nursing and Health Professions. Dr. Couture was recently awarded two large NIH grants to support her research on infectious disease prevention, substance use and violence and victimization. In collaboration with fellow USF faculty, Dr. Erin Grinshteyn, Dr. Couture was awarded a R15 in 2022 to support their project, “Determining the causal pathways of social and environmental predictors of high-risk alcohol drinking among college students.” These awards are highly competitive, with a success rate between 4-17% and are used to promote research opportunities at educational institutions that have not been previously major recipients of NIH support.The award provides $432,136 from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism to the team over three years to support their research on the determinants of high-risk alcohol consumption among college students. 

In our conversation, we talk with Dr. Couture about the research she plans to lead with support from this R15 award and her plans for future research at USF. 

How long have you been at USF and what brought you here?

I arrived in 2013, coming from University of California, San Francisco as a postdoctoral fellow in HIV prevention research and global health. At the time, the Masters of Public Health (MPH) program was just launching, and I wanted the chance to teach more and help build this program from the ground up.

Prior to joining USF, I was an online instructor for a continuing education program at the Public Health Agency of Canada while completing my PhD at Université de Montréal. I taught a range of online epidemiology courses for healthcare professionals. There was a real need for this type of training during this time, due to the emerging SARS epidemic, which really affected Toronto, Canada in 2003. We had 361 cases in the city with a 9% death rate. It was clear at the start that many healthcare professionals were not well prepared to respond to this health emergency, and so there was a real need to teach epidemiology and basic public health courses for all healthcare professionals. 

In addition to wanting more opportunities to teach, I was drawn to USF due to the attention the university pays to social justice. My HIV prevention research in global health often involves addressing health disparities and working with underserved communities, and this was important for continuing my research program.

Can you tell us about your research program and how it has evolved recently?

My research focuses on the intersection of substance use, violence and infectious disease transmission. Originally, my research career started with HIV prevention among marginalized and underserved populations, including drug users and sex workers. Since drug and alcohol use are major drivers of sexually transmitted infections, like HIV, my work naturally included these risk factors. As my HIV prevention work continued, I began detecting major overlaps with violence and victimization, particularly among sex workers. These issues intersect and represent my major interests and current research work.

I have always been interested in infectious diseases. I started in microbiology, with a Bachelor in Microbiology from Universite Laval, then continued with a Master in Biochemistry focusing on molecular biology from McGill University. When an opportunity presented itself to pursue my PhD in epidemiology at the University of Montreal with a team working in global health and HIV prevention, it seemed to really fit. I had the opportunity to conduct research and perform data collection in the field for my research projects with female sex workers and other vulnerable populations, including Cambodia, Thailand, Haiti, Ghana, Zambia, and Côte d’Ivoire. I have a lot of great stories from some of these crazy data collection experiences – come talk to me sometime about it!

Going forward, I plan to continue to look at the effect of victimization and violence on substance use and mental health which brought me to my current R15 work.

Can you tell us about your recent R15? What is an R15 and what work will you be doing with this award?

This grant is based on preliminary results that we got from a CRASE Interdisciplinary Action Group (IAG). In 2017, the IAG gave us a $300 award to address health post-Trump administration on mental health and substance use in college students. The title of the project was, “title was “Trumping fear: The impact of the new administration on fear and mental health sequelae among college students.”  In collaboration with Drs. Erin Grinshteyn and Dellanira Garcia from the School of Nursing and Health Professions, we looked at different forms of fear (victimization, discrimination, deportation) during the Trump administration and their effects on mental health and substance use. From this small IAG award, we published 5 peer-reviewed articles and had 13 presentations at conferences. We also used the findings as preliminary results to secure our R15 from the National Institutes of Health NIH.

An R15 is a grant awarded by the NIH to support non-research universities and to mentor graduate students in research. Our NIH R15 is titled “Determining the causal pathways of social and environmental predictors of high-risk alcohol drinking among college students” and is  $432,136 for 3 years. Dr. Erin Grinshteyn is a Co-PI on the project with me and this is a partnership with the GIS Spatial Analysis Lab in the College of Arts & Sciences.

Through this work, we hope to identify where, when, how, and with whom college students experience violence and victimization and how that impacts high risk alcohol drinking. Measuring behaviors and experiences is difficult, because they are subject to recall bias and other errors. One of the novel aspects of this project is that we are using ecological momentary assessment to follow students for 30 days and collect data on victimization and violence and alcohol use in real-time using a mobile app. Using the mobile app, we will also collect geospatial data to track where they are (e.g., what we call their “activity space”) and to identify their location when violence or victimization experiences and alcohol use happen. The GIS Spatial Analysis Lab will use the GPS coordinates from the app along with google street view to examine the environment and apply a scale to determine physical disorder, crimes, and other neighborhood-level disadvantages. This way we can connect neighborhood-level information on crime and physical disorder with substance use behavior and violence or victimization – thereby addressing structural and environmental issues through geographic information. 

We’re excited to give USF graduate students the opportunity to gain research experience through this R15. We plan to involve students in the data collection and analyses for this project, who will help us implement some of our surveys. 

What are your plans for the future?

Get more grants! Do more research! In the future, I’d really like to find more opportunities to collaborate with faculty across the university –  both within our school and across other schools. I would like to share our expertise on geospatial ecological momentary assessment with other faculty interested to use this methodology for their projects. I value interdisciplinary collaboration and would like to find other topics and research areas to collaborate.

I’d also like to continue to progress my research program on substance abuse and mental health and bring in some aspects of COVID-19. Stemming from our R15-funded work, I’d also like to work toward securing future funding to continue to learn from our geospatial ecological momentary assessment findings and to develop interventions to address substance use among college students.


Faculty Spotlight: Richard Greggory Johnson III

Richard Greggory Johnson III, professor of Public Administration and Policy in the School of Management, and chair of the Institutional Review Board (IRB) at USF, recently co-edited a book titled Lessons in Social Equity: A Case Study Book, Birkdale Publishers, 2022. In conjunction with the book’s publication, Prof. Johnson planned and chaired the 21st Annual Social Equity Leadership Conference (SELC) that was hosted by USF and the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA). The conference was attended by over 1500 participants, and was organized by a team of over 25 people who worked hard to deliver a program that inspired, informed, and introduced various elements of social equity in public administration and public policy to attendees from numerous fields.

In our conversation, Prof. Johnson talked about his co-edited volume, the 21st Annual SELC conference, and his research interests. 

Can you tell us about your recently published, co-edited volume?

The book is the first of its kind on social equity with case studies on how to teach classes on social equity in the field of public administration. The research, broadly speaking, is in the area of human rights, and takes into account issues of race, class, gender, ethnicity and disability. I have been interested in researching these areas for some time now; for instance, the question of “allyship,” and how this concept relates to social equity. The book also takes a global approach to social equity with case studies from places like India where we see many human rights infractions. In the book, we also examine the issue of women in the military and how equity plays out in that case; or, the question of how men are sexually abused in the military, which is a serious matter we don’t hear a great deal about. Other questions of pay scales and social equity, intersectionality, and gender inequality are also covered in the book. At the core of social equity is the idea of human rights, and that’s what we need to pay attention to.

Can you tell us about the conference you organized?

The 21st Annual Social Equity Leadership Conference (SELC) that was hosted by USF and the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA), was a great success. In short, it was a fabulous conference. Given COVID-19 restrictions, it was a virtual conference with about 1500 people attending online, and 300 speakers. As conference chair, I made the decision early on that we would not be charging registration fees and this was a first for this conference. It will also go down in history as the second SELC conference hosted by a Catholic university, and on the West Coast for the second time. Years ago, we did not have social equity scholars and now we do have them; and, this is changing hiring practices in many different fields, including in academia where social equity is now being included in hiring practices. 

How did you get into the field of public administration and public policy? And, how did you choose to become a social equity scholar? 

My parents were civil rights workers. They were involved with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the National Urban League. I got a chance to witness firsthand their activities in social movements. I attended an HBCU and that really helped me get to where I am. That said, I got into the fields of public administration and public policy by accident. My undergraduate education was in urban planning, and I had plans to go to law school or pursue a master’s in public administration. At the time, traditional programs in public administration had no focus on social equity and did not pay it much attention. Nonetheless, it was at the University of Vermont where I took up a tenure-track position that I became more aware of social equity and what it meant. I realized that this is what I have been interested in all along, and I had the good fortune that I could now research this area in greater depth. Over the past 20 years, from about 2003 until now, I have been researching areas of equal pay and how this relates to race, ethnicity, and gender in the field of public administration. I am now working on issues of disability in public administration. It has been a fruitful journey. 

How did you come to USF?

I was a tenured associate professor at the University of Vermont. I had a home and a great life there. One of my colleagues, a USF professor who is now retired, approached me at a conference and asked if I would be interested in joining USF – because I would be in San Francisco. I took my colleague up on his offer—it was a free trip to San Francisco and an opportunity to get out of Vermont in the winter—and came to interview at USF. I got an offer to teach, and here I am 12 years later. 

Research plans for the future?

I always have some book or article in my head. Currently, I am particularly interested in disability awareness and disability rights in the workplace under the umbrella of social equity. I am also drawn to researching intersex individuals in the workplace. There’s not much known on the subject because not so long-ago parents and/or physicians made individuals decide one way or the other, and what we are finding out is that as a child grows up it is quite likely that their gender is something else. I would like my research and work to have an impact globally. I see myself as a citizen of the world, I love to travel, and I am working on further internationalization of the masters in public administration (MPA) degree at USF. This relates to my research interest in cultural competence and intersectionality as they relate to the field of public administration.