For Immediate Release: Houston, TX, February 5, 2024
When Dr. Ezemenari Obasi first envisioned a groundbreaking national research center at the University of Houston, he wanted the center to be a “game-changer” which would have a transformative impact on underserved communities.
“At the end of the day, we must look toward what kind impact your work is having,” Obasi said. “It’s about knowing how you can draw a line between what you are doing and the benefit to the communities you are trying to serve. I think that would also shift the narrative.”
In 2020, Obasi’s dream was realized when he was awarded $11.8 million from the National Institute of Minority Health and Health Disparities to create an innovative national research center, HEALTH Center for Addictions Research and Cancer Prevention.
Taking a bold step to his next chapter of health equity leadership, University of Houston’s Associate Vice President of Research, Obasi has announced a new role serving as Vice President of Research at Wayne State University--an institution which touts a tradition of academic and research excellence. Wayne State University has been ranked in the top 1.4% of universities worldwide Center for World University Rankings.
Obasi is the founder and director of two national research centers based at the University of Houston, HEALTH Research Institute(HRI) and HEALTH Center for Addictions Research and Cancer Prevention (HEALTH-RCMI). He has also served as a Hugh Roy and Lillie Cranz Cullen Distinguished University Chair and Professor in the Department of Psychological, Health and Learning Sciences.
Both research centers will remain at the University of Houston following Obasi’s departure, and a search is underway for the next directors of HRI and HEALTH-RCMI. Obasi’s legacy is defined by a dedication to “bringing the community to the table,” in the participatory process of change.
“The significant piece of the process is making sure that the community that we’re trying to have an impact on is actively involved in the research process from the beginning,” Obasi said. “It is important that they can see what went into it and can see the decision points. The community can inform what needs to happen, and they can inform us how we roll it out. Now, they’re a partner in the process.”
Charting an impressive career path as a health equity pioneer, Obasi received his doctorate in psychology from The Ohio State University. The next step on his learning journey was Harvard Medical School, where he completed his pre-doctoral internship at the McLean Hospital. Obasi earned his bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of California, Irvine.
When Obasi describes one of his most shining moments and accomplishments, he shares his experience building an initiative that deeply resonated with his community engagement goals, entitled, TOUCH Treating Obesity. Partnering with United Health Foundation, Obasi was awarded a grant for $2 million to combat obesity and Type II Diabetes in Houston’s Third Ward and East End.
“Probably the project I’ve been most proud of is Project TOUCH,” Obasi said. After having conversations in Third Ward and East End, the people were prioritizing obesity and Type II diabetes. We took the challenge on and received $2 million from United Health Foundation for a free Diabetes prevention program. Ultimately, we heard testimonials where people were describing having reasons to live again, excited to embark on the next phase of their life and seeing a greater sense of life satisfaction.”
Looking ahead to Obasi’s next chapter as Vice President of Research at Wayne State University, his dedication to innovative research is indelibly grounded in the philosophy of community collaboration.
“We are community members first, and scientists last,” Obasi said. “I think when we come in from a perspective of being an expert in science, often people cannot connect with that, but if we can connect with the lived experiences that people have, then it is a person-to-person conversation. I want to continue to do good work that is meaningful to the communities that we are trying to have a positive impact on.”
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