Dr. Irán Barrera, associate professor in the Department of Social Work Education, was chosen among researchers and community leaders from across the country to collaborate and advance a Culture of Health, a framework that places well-being at the center of every aspect of life.

Through his work with Interdisciplinary Research Leaders, Barrera will work to identify significant health risks of those living in disadvantaged communities in Fresno County, with hopes that the findings will shape policy to enhance population health in the Valley.

Led by the University of Minnesota, Interdisciplinary Research Leaders will bring together teams comprised of two researchers and one community leader. Together, they will develop advanced leadership skills and identify a clear focus on health and equity, enabling them to break down silos, address health disparities and build healthier communities.

“This program is unique and the first of its kind,” Barrera said. “To be selected means that the work I have done surrounding mental health care disparities, is being recognized nationally and for that, I am excited. I look forward to the challenges and great learning opportunities offered by this innovative national leadership program.”

Utilizing a team approach, Barrera will work with Sabrina Kelley, resident services manager at the Fresno Housing Authority, and Yumiko Aratani, director of the Health and Mental Health Unit at the National Center for Children in Poverty, to investigate the prevalence of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) among parents with young children living in public housing communities in Fresno.

They will also examine the impact of an evidence-based parenting program and preventive early intervention mental health support on young children, and examine how the intervention’s impact varies by the severity of parental ACEs.

Barrera and his team are one of only 15 three-person teams selected nationally.

“Through this program, we hope to identify soci-behavioral risk factors, specifically in the San Joaquin Valley, that contribute to illness, particularly mental distress,” Barrera said.

While participating in the program, all team members will continue working full-time, while applying new knowledge and leadership skills in their communities and within their respective fields.

“This program gives our fellows the tools to make their work even more relevant and potent – and to bring new leadership skills and perspective back to their communities as well,” said Dr. J Michael Oakes, director of Interdisciplinary Research Leaders and professor of Sociology at the University of Minnesota. “We were overwhelmed by the commitment, diverse perspectives and innovative ideas in our applicant pool and are very excited to work with this first group to put research into action and create a lasting, on-the-ground impact.”

Additional partners providing training and coaching to fellows include: AcademyHealth, Allina Health, ISAIAH and Local Initiatives Support Corporation.

Barrera is also director of the federally funded HRSA Grant, Consejo, which trains Fresno State social work students  to serve Spanish-speaking children, adolescents, transitional aged youth (ages 16-25) and their families in areas where Latinos are a majority of the population.


Interdisciplinary Research Leaders is one of four new leadership development programs launched this year by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and represent a four-year, multimillion dollar investment. Learn more at the link.