It takes sheer dedication, mutual respect, expertise, and a drive to nurture others to be an effective mentor.
For University of Houston’s Distinguished Professor, Dr. Lorraine Reitzel, her passion to hone the development of her students as experienced researchers in health equity comes naturally. Reitzel’s critical research through the HEALTH Center for Addictions Research and Cancer Prevention (HEALTH-RCMI) has been instrumental in the growth of the center.
This spring, Reitzel’s dedication has paid off after 9 of Reitzel’s mentees were offered 13 travel awards to present their research as first authors at two conferences: the American Academy of Behavioral Health (AAHB) and the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco (SRNT). Three of the presentations were given “high honors” at the AAHB conference and were upgraded to Ignite oral presentations; the remainder were poster presentations. Hosted in Key Largo, Florida, the AAHB conference was held on March 13-16, and the SRNT conference was held in Baltimore, Maryland on March 15-18.
The opportunity to be mentored by Reitzel and gain insight through her guidance and expertise has been invaluable for UH’s HEALTH Research Institute staff member and post-baccalaureate trainee, Brian J. Carter, who plans to apply to medical school in May. Carter decided to shift gears into the field of medicine after a decade of working as a corporate lawyer.
“I personally wanted to do something that felt meaningful to me—that had an impact in ways that spoke to my heart. I began digging into opportunities at UH.” Carter said. “I was excited about the big-picture things Dr. Reitzel was doing.”
Carter added that Reitzel had helped strengthen his confidence during moments of uncertainty and self-doubt about his career shift.
“She was patient. In those moments of self-doubt, she reminded that all my other experiences left me with skills that are still very useful,” Carter said. “Not only has she been a Godsend in terms of providing opportunities, but also bolstering my confidence.”
Reitzel’s mentees who have received travel awards for the AAHB and SRNT conference include Mr. Haleem Brown, Dr. Anastasia Rogova, Ms. Rachel Roberts, Mr. Vijay Nitturi, Ms. Jayda Martinez, Ms. Midhat Jafry, Mr. Brian J. Carter, Dr. Maggie Britton and Dr. Isabel Martinez Leal. (The complete list of the research presentations and travel awards for Reitzel’s mentees is featured below.)
“These presentations represent endless hours of the team’s work, and particularly first authors’ efforts,” Reitzel said. “I am so proud of the various projects being presented and the contributions they will make to the field.”
To nurture the skills and talents of her students, Reitzel’s signature mentorship style is collaborative and supportive. Her commitment to professional mentoring is reflected in her involvement in programs such as the American Academy of Health Behavior’s Research Scholars Mentoring Program (RSMP) which she led from 2014-2016, as well as her two active training grants from the National Institutes of Health, the UHAND partnership and the HEALTH-FAST program.
“To be an effective mentor, I believe you have to form a collaborative relationship with students,” Reitzel said. “Consequently, my mentoring philosophy entails the promotion of activities that challenge students to grow, gain knowledge or skills, and increase research competence, within the context of a relationship based on mutual respect that recognizes the value of diversity and individual differences.”
Trust and open communication are essential to a strong mentoring relationship, Reitzel acknowledged.
“I strive to contribute to student growth at all levels of educational achievement by creating “high challenge, high support” learning opportunities,” Reitzel said. “Learning is most likely to occur in the context of trust, and I try to set the conditions for this through open communication, respect, and professional modeling of these core values. I challenge my students to learn from mistakes and reach milestones of independent learning through carefully aligned and articulated metrics and timelines.”
A protégé of Dr. Reitzel’s, Vijay Nitturi is a student in University of Houston’s Psychological, Health & Learning Sciences department. Ultimately, Nitturi plans to attend medical school and get a Master’s in Public Health and is interested in exploring the field of psychiatry.
“Dr. Reitzel was helpful in a myriad of ways,” Nitturi said. “When I first came in, she first had me shadow in the meetings then she would give me more responsibility. She connected me with an opportunity at MD Anderson where I got to work with a professor of clinical research. She fostered a culture of people helping each other in the lab.”
Nitturi emphasized that his collaborative work with Dr. Reitzel has inspired him to focus on cancer prevention throughout his professional career.
“Dr. Reitzel’s been super supportive,” Nitturi said. “Through the research with Dr. Reitzel, I am getting to see concrete statistics of how many people quit smoking. It’s that part of it that is exciting for me. I thought that was something I would be interested in.”
Reitzel added that the opportunity to present with first-author mentees at the AAHB and SRNT conferences was intrinsically fulfilling.
“For many of us, attendance at the AAHB conference was the first time we met each other face-to-face due to the pandemic,” Reitzel said. “So, not only was it a great opportunity for networking with professionals from around the nation, it was also a great team-building exercise for our group!”
AAHB Presentations and Travel Awards
- Mr. Haleem Brown, doctoral trainee, University of Houston’s Cullen Fellowship Travel Grant and Psychological, Health, & Learning Sciences’ Travel Fellowship, Perceived Disease Risk and Cessation Intervention Preferences by Sex Amongst Homeless Adult Concurrent Tobacco Product Users and Conventional Cigarette-only Users, Total Combined Award: $1250
- Dr. Anastasia Rogova, postdoctoral fellow, GMAP Region 3 Travel Funds Award and the University of Houston Provost’s Postdoctoral Fellows Travel Award, Promoting Cancer Health Equity: A Qualitative Study of Mentee and Mentor Perspectives of a Training Program for Underrepresented Scholars in Cancer Health Disparities, Total Combined Award = $3,200
- Ms. Rachel Roberts, doctoral trainee, University of Houston’s Cullen Fellowship Travel Grant and Psychological, Health, & Learning Sciences’ Travel Fellowship, Social Cohesion/trust is Associated with Smoking Status amongst Adults Experiencing Homelessness, Total Combined Award: $1,250
- Mr. Vijay Nitturi, undergraduate trainee, GMAP Region 3 Travel Funds Award and University of Houston’s Undergraduate Research Travel Fellowship, Implementation and Outcomes of a Comprehensive Tobacco-Free Workplace Program in Opioid Treatment Centers in Texas, Total Combined Award: $2,500
- Ms. Jayda Martinez, undergraduate trainee, University of Houston’s Undergraduate Research Travel Fellowship, Support for Smoke-Free Policies within a Homeless Shelter, $500
- Ms. Midhat Jafry, undergraduate trainee, University of Houston’s Undergraduate Research Travel Fellowship, Perceived Social Support Attenuates the Association between Stress and Health-Related Quality of Life among Adults Experiencing Homelessness, $500
- Mr. Brian J. Carter, post-baccalaureate trainee, GMAP Region 3 Travel Funds Award, The effect of Black Church-going Men’s Preferred Source of Cancer Information on Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) Testing Behaviors, $2,000
- Dr. Maggie Britton, research assistant professor, GMAP Region 3 Travel Funds Award, Low-Dose CT Eligibility Screening and Referral Practices in Organizations Serving People with Substance Use Disorders, $1,500
- Dr. Isabel Martinez Leal, research assistant professor, GMAP Region 3 Travel Funds Award, Negotiating Cancer Alone: A Qualitative Study Exploring Cancer Care Disruptions among Racially and Ethnically Diverse Women Diagnosed with Breast Cancer during COVID-19, $1,500
- Mr. Vijay Nitturi, undergraduate trainee, Implementation of a Train-the-Trainer Program at Behavioral Health Treatment Centers as a Mechanism to Maintain Organizational Capacity to Address Tobacco Use Following Participation in a Comprehensive Tobacco-Free Workplace Program.
- Dr. Maggie Britton, research assistant professor, Statewide Assessment of Tobacco-Free Policies and Evidence-Based Practices in Texas Agencies Providing Substance Use Treatment.
- Dr. Carol Wang, postdoctoral fellow, Higher Smoking Level Mediates the Association between Urban Stress and Lower Readiness to Quit Smoking among Adults Experiencing Homelessness.
By Alison Medley