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Vulnerable Populations

Through high-level research, the School of Social Work is addressing a number of critical areas, both in the state of Alabama and nationwide, from rural health disparities and dementia care, to substance use disorder and human trafficking. Our alumni and donors power our research and service efforts, growing the reach of both faculty and students as they engage communities and serve vulnerable groups.

The continued generosity of our alumni and donors currently supports a pair of endowed faculty chairs, whose work is foundational to the school and incredibly impactful for the population of Alabama, both in scale and scope of research and outreach.

Dr. Hee Yun Lee, associate dean for research, has held the Endowed Academic Chair in Social Work (Health) since 2018. Her research focuses on a number of areas, including health disparities, rural health and behavior change. Lee is currently leading research and community education in two critically important areas: mental health training for police and development of interventions for opioid abuse prevention, treatment and recovery, the latter of which is powered by a $1 million federal grant.

Both projects rely heavily on interdisciplinary teams of UA researchers from the Culverhouse College of Business, Capstone School of Nursing, School of Engineering and the Center for Advanced Public Safety, among others, and the teams’ ability to cultivate community connections including state governments, local clinics and social service organizations necessary to implement their projects with fidelity.

“Our teams are tackling vitally important issues in the state and improving the quality of lives of Alabamians,” Lee says. “We can’t achieve this without having a true pulse of rural communities and without strategic partnerships from agencies, those in government and the citizens we’re serving.”

Dr. David L. Albright, Hill Crest Foundation Endowed Chair in Mental Health Research, is also improving the lives of Alabamians by leveraging strong community partnerships. His tenure has led to the creation of vitAL Alabama, a state-focused research and service initiative on health and wellness, and the Office for Military Families and Veterans, a coordinating entity for research, policy and practice implementation guidance in support of the military families and veterans in the southeastern United States. Albright serves as principal investigator for vitAL and director for the Office for Military Families and Veterans.

Through large-scale federal and state grants and contracts, vitAL is tackling opioid addiction and overdose deaths, as well as lowering the rate of infant mortality in Alabama.

“The generous support of the Hill Crest Foundation enables my commitment to helping people live healthier lives,” Albright said. “This is best illustrated through our creation and leadership of the VitAL initiative. Its mission is to improve wellness in Alabama through engagement, collaboration, research and education. The VitAL team currently works with community and organizational stakeholders within and across all of Alabama’s 67 counties.”

As more vulnerable populations emerge and the complexities of needs are identified, the school is uniquely positioned to take on the challenges of finding and implementing solutions to strengthen communities. The work of Drs. Lee and Albright illustrate the importance of endowed research positions, and how creating another endowed chair can extend the school’s reach to marginalized communities, low-income families and other vulnerable groups.

While Lee and Albright’s projects are meeting critical needs for the State of Alabama and advancing scholarships in the field, it’s important to note their contributions as endowed faculty are replicable, particularly in “promoting social justice and social change in Alabama – and in a powerful way,” Albright said.

Additional support from our alumni and donors can help add a third endowed chair and a lecture series dedicated to serving vulnerable populations.