Meet Mayra Guerrero: NIH grant recipient

Jessica Peterson
May 11, 2017

National Institutes of Health grants are notoriously hard to win. In fiscal year 2016, the NIH received more than 54,000 grant applications, and awarded only 19 percent of those. Mayra Guerrero, a second-year community psychology master's/PhD student at DePaul, is one of the lucky recipients.  

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, one of 27 NIH institutes and centers, awarded her a $136,899 grant. By receiving the award, Guerrero has managed to achieve what so few do, and very early in her career.

The grant, a Research Supplement to Promote Diversity in Health-Related Research, also known as a Diversity Grant, is awarded to under-represented researchers in the biomedical, behavioral, clinical and social sciences research workforce. It also provides additional funding for trainees and faculty working on an existing NIH-funded project. Guerrero is working with Leonard Jason, professor of psychology and director of the Center for Community Research, under his five-year parent grant, researching emergent social environments as predictors of recovery resident outcomes.

"I came to DePaul from the City College of New York because it has one of the best community psychology programs in the U.S., and I really wanted to work with Dr. Jason," Guerrero says. "Both of us focus our research on addiction and addiction recovery, and Dr. Jason is one of the only community psychologists doing addiction research."

Guerrero's work will collect and analyze cross-sectional data representing the social networks of military veterans and non-veterans within Oxford House recovery homes. Oxford House is the largest self-help residential program for people in recovery, with more than 2,000 homes nationally serving over 25,000 people last year.

"I was drawn to community psychology because we know that individuals do not develop in isolated bubbles where they are not affected by their environment at all," Guerrero says. "Investigating the addiction recovery of veterans in Oxford Houses takes this at least one step further: we don't recover from addiction in isolated conditions where context has no role, either."

Guerrero is also interested in public policy and the effects of policies on communities and their residents. For example, many individuals in recovery have access to sober living environments like Oxford House because of a requirement of The Federal Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988. The act requires all states to establish a revolving loan fund to provide start-up funds for groups wishing to open recovery homes based on the Oxford House model.

Military veterans are another area of research interest for Guerrero, to which she has a personal connection.

"My brother is an Army veteran who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and I saw first-hand how hard it was for him to re-integrate into the civilian world," Guerrero says. "I was already interested in and doing research on military veterans at a lab as an undergraduate student, and knew I wanted to continue this line of study."

Guerrero's research is part of her master's thesis, and the grant allows her to carry out the data collection for her project. Her current study is cross-sectional, and for her dissertation, she plans to conduct a longitudinal study on the same topic. Guerrero aims to complete her doctorate by 2020 and become a professor at a research university, or work for a research firm.