First Recipients of SHIP Award Selected

Posted: June 1, 2021

Herron VennerThis year’s Team Research Symposium brought nearly 200 people across campus together, and one very special event brought in the largest audience throughout the week in order to celebrate the launch of a new award – and its first recipients.

Thanks to a generous gift by Drs. Robert Duncan and Annette Sobel, the Science for Health of Indigenous Populations (SHIP) award addresses the significant health disparities faced by Indigenous populations here in New Mexico by recognizing emerging leaders who are actively conducting research to address the underlying social inequities that this population faces. Jalene Herron and her mentor, Kamilla Venner, PhD, were selected as the first recipients of this award because of their dedication to analyzing the importance of culturally relevant treatment options as a pathway to recovery for substance use disorders.

As a proud member of the Native Village of Bethel in Alaska, Jalene’s experiences growing up with her Yup’ik culture heavily influence the work she is doing now to address substance use disorders in Indigenous populations. Her connection to home and to her family have been carried with her throughout her educational experience which has taken her to Washington state as well as New Mexico.

Jalene’s mentor, Dr. Venner, nominated her for the SHIP award, saying “Jalene is the ideal candidate for this award. First, she is Indigenous. She has worked for the national congress of American Indians to influence policy for American Indian/Alaska Native health, and she has focused her research on improving substance use outcomes for American Indian/Alaskan Natives…Her research has remained focused on improving indigenous health and bringing in cultural lenses to improve our science.”

“Culture as treatment” guided Jalene’s selected project, which looked at how cultural identity and involvement act as a protective factor against alcohol use disorder. Through a seven-month intervention that used contingency management – or a reward structure based on the achievement of target behaviors – Jalene used a method that is traditionally successful in addressing treatment options for recreational drug use but has not been applied as much in alcohol use disorder.

Participants were selected based on whether or not they had engaged in heavy episodic drinking over the past 30 days (four+ drinks for women or five+ drinks for men). Roughly half were assigned to the contingency management intervention and the remaining acted as the control group.

Through the results, enculturation was found to be an important protective factor against heavy drinking. It was also found that contingency management was an effective intervention in reducing alcohol use amongst rural reservation-dwelling American Indian adults. Ultimately, these findings will help tribal communities deliver culturally informed and relevant treatment options for reducing alcohol use.

The SHIP award recognized Jalene’s work with a $10,000 gift and her mentor, Dr. Venner, will also receive $5,000 in research support. This annual award will continue to recognize important projects like Jalene’s throughout UNM in order to bring attention to the promotion and understanding of Indigenous health.

Jalene expressed her gratitude to Drs. Duncan and Sobel during the SHIP symposium on April 22nd by saying, “I want to thank Drs. Sobel and Duncan for creating this award, for acknowledging that UNM resides on the land of the Pueblo of Sandia, and that we should be honoring Native people in our research here at UNM.”

Dr. Venner also expressed her appreciation by saying, “I’m very grateful to the donors also for dedicating this award to Indigenous health. It really aids in promoting the value of this research in academia, and helps promote it as well as young scholars.”

To view Jalene’s presentation at the Team Research Symposium, click here.

To learn more about the SHIP award, click here.