Closing the Gap


Compassionate physician and tireless supporter of health equity for immigrant and refugee communities, University of Minnesota physician Dr. Michele Allen was recently awarded the 2014 University of Minnesota President’s Community-Engaged Scholar Award.


Sponsored by the Office for Public Engagement and the Office for the Vice Provost for Faculty and Academic Affairs, the award recognizes exemplary community-engaged scholarship and an academic career that has reflected longstanding commitment to the University’s definition of public engagement.


An assistant professor in the Medical School’s Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, Allen is an investigator in the school’s Program in Health Disparities Research (PHDR), where she focuses on culturally appropriate health promotion programs for immigrant and refugee community’s adolescent population.


An expert in community-based participatory research (CBPR)—an approach to research that equitably involves community members and researchers in all aspects of the project—Allen is credited with establishing community engagement as a principle of PHDR’s work. She successfully incorporated CBPR into three National Institutes of Health-funded projects, demonstrating to medical communities that CBPR can improve translational science, as well as benefit academic and community audiences. She also helped design PHDR’s Partnership in Research: Community and Faculty Training Curricula, which offers separate but parallel CBPR training tracks for academic researchers and community members from immigrant and refugee communities.


Partnership is a theme through all of Allen’s many associations with such organizations as Aquí Para Ti Clinic for Latino Youth, Centro, University of Minnesota Extension, Minnesota Minority Education Partnership, the Somali, Latino and Hmong (SoLaHmo) Partnership for Health and Wellness’s school-based health promotion project Project TRUST—a project she describes as “a great example of the success you can have when the community partner drives the framing and direction of the project.”


“Concern about social disparities has been a consistent theme in my life,” Allen says. A trained sociologist, Allen was inspired to pursue medicine because of the applied nature of the work. “I still view the world through the lens of sociology,” she says, which accounts for her passion for helping underserved populations through her two-day a week practice at the Community-University Health Care Center in South Minneapolis.


Allen acknowledges multi-partner, community-driven research projects can be unwieldy and challenging. “We’ve had struggles, disagreements, but ultimately these community-engaged projects have worked because everyone’s voice is part of the conversation,” she says. “Our research is better because of it.”