Two Yale graduate students named Robert Wood Johnson Health Policy Scholars

Jessica Cerdeña and Demar Lewis were recently inducted into the national leadership development program.

Two Yale graduate students — Jessica Cerdeña and Demar Lewis — were recently inducted into the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Health Policy Research Scholars program.

Health Policy Research Scholars (HPRS) is a national leadership development program for second-year, full-time doctoral students in any discipline whose research, connections, and leadership will help build healthier and more equitable communities.

Jessica Cerdeña
Jessica Cerdeña

Cerdeña is a M.D./Ph.D. student in biocultural/medical anthropology and medicine. She studies intergenerational trauma in Latin American migrant communities in New Haven. By integrating epigenetic and ethnographic methods, she aims to better understand how trauma — specifically migration-related trauma — is embodied across generations. More broadly, Cerdeña is interested in the biological underpinnings of health disparities and the role of migration as a social determinant of health. She applies her anthropological training to assess how structural factors influence the health outcomes of marginalized patients. She was inducted into the HPRS program in 2017.

Of the program, Cerdeña says: “HPRS has become another family for me. Not only do my fellow scholars share many of my personal experiences as an Italian-Chilean woman in graduate school, they also represent an interdisciplinary network of future leaders in population health and health policy. I am excited to apply my HPRS training to translate my research into multisectoral solutions to the challenges my patients and community face every day.”

Demar Lewis
Demar Lewis

Lewis is a second year Ph.D. student studying African American studies and sociology. His research focuses on exposing the resilience of trauma, “crime scripts,” and social inequities in American communities that have experienced historical racial or state-sanctioned violence. Lewis’ master’s thesis leverages a mixed-methods approach to the empirical study of lynching as a national phenomenon with political motivations beyond the scope of racial prejudice. Additionally, his research examines how communities navigate traumas and health disparities associated with officer-involved killings and frequent contact with the criminal justice system. He was inducted into the Health Policy Research Scholars program in 2018.

I am extremely honored and excited to join the HPRS family,” says Lewis. “Although my journey in the program is just beginning, it has already exposed me to useful interdisciplinary frameworks that are relevant for addressing complex dimensions of my research agenda. I look forward to continuing to build relationships across the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s leadership network and to collaborating with communities to produce research that addresses persisting health disparities.”

Among the benefits that the scholars receive are an annual stipend of up to $30,000 for four years; a four- to five-year leadership development program; training in health policy and population health; dissertation support and mentoring; and the opportunity to compete for an additional dissertation grant of up to $10,000.

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