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July 30, 2014

A Passion for Prevention

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES Last summer, Jillian Baker, Dr.PH, Ed.M, took HIV/STI prevention to another level. An assistant professor in the Master of Public Health program, Baker implemented six focus groups with African American fathers or father figures and adolescent sons to address HIV/STI prevention, pregnancy prevention, and sexual risk communication between fathers and sons. The focus groups were held at Philly Cuts Barber Shop in West Philadelphia. These are tough, but essential, topics for parents and children to address, and the barbershop is a community staple that provides a comfortable atmosphere. Focus groups were conducted simultaneously with 30 pairs of fathers and sons—with fathers in one group and sons in another to help both groups feel more comfortable to talk openly. She learned that a majority of the sons, ranging in age from 11 to 17, knew what HIV was and had heard of it, but some did not believe they would contract the disease. “That was scary for me,” Baker said. Both fathers and sons were very supportive of her research and encouraged her to continue the project. “They told me there’s nothing for fathers and sons like this, and they want to be able to do this. Many of the sons gave me hugs and asked how I got involved with what I do,” she said. “For me, it confirms that I’m doing the right thing and I need to see where this goes.” This spirit of service-oriented scholarship earned Baker a spot on Diverse: Issues in Higher Education’s list of Emerging Scholars in 2014—recognizing her for making a mark in academia through teaching, research, and service. Baker sees a real need for community interventions and prevention of prevalent STIs. “Overall, it’s been a really exciting and humbling experience,” she said. “It opened my eyes that there’s a need for this and there’s a desire to take part in this.” She’s proud to get true community input on her research from the very beginning with community advisory boards, stressing to her students how important it is to have community support for programs to succeed. She is also pleased to have the opportunity to get her students involved in the focus groups. Baker is in the last year of a two-year Diversity Investigator Supplement Award funded by the National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development. The goal of this supplement award is to foster Baker’s independent research abilities in HIV/STI prevention research. Moving into the third phase of the grant, Baker will analyze the data and surveys from her focus groups. She plans to use her results to apply for a National Institutes of Health R15 grant to develop a culturally competent, theory-based, sexual risk communication intervention program for African American father and son groups. —Liz Vargo, M.A. ’10