The Office of Community Engagement: Building bridges between researchers and the community

Rania Awaad, MD, is the Director of the Stanford Muslims and Mental Health Lab, where she mentors on research on Muslim mental health.

Photo:  Kris Newby

The Office of Community Engagement is the bridge between Stanford researchers and our partners out in the local community and beyond. They work with Stanford researchers to design community-engaged research that is responsive to our partners priorities and aimed at promoting health equity. The team facilitates this by cultivating long-term relationships and partnerships with a variety of community-based organizations, community health centers, policymakers, and other key stakeholders.  

“By engaging our community partners in the whole process from identification of the problem, to designing the study, to disseminating the results, we increase the likelihood that our research will have a sustainable impact on the health of our community,” said Lisa Goldman Rosas, PhD, MPH, the office’s new faculty director, a faculty member in the Department of Epidemiology and Population Health.

With the help of renewed funding from Stanford’s Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) program, Community Engagement is now able to assist more researchers and community partners across the spectrum of research activities — from planning and grant writing; to designing enrollment and retention strategies; to translating findings into community programs and policies. They have a new technical assistance program that researchers and trainees can access for help with developing community, patient, and stakeholder engagement plans for new and ongoing research projects. These plans can include mixed-method approaches for translating findings into practice and policy changes; community and patient engagement sections for large grants; development of community advisory boards; and testing of novel engagement methods for diverse disease topics.

One example of their technical assistance is their collaboration with the Stanford Cancer Institute’s “Wipe Out Melanoma - California” initiative. For this, Community Engagement assisted the lead investigator, Susan Swetter, MD, a dermatology professor and the director of Stanford’s Melanoma Program, with the development of an online patient data registry and the design of community-based prevention strategies aimed at reaching Latinos and Whites of lower socioeconomic status. (These populations often have delayed diagnoses, resulting in harder-to-cure cases.) The Office of Community Engagement also provided advice on their user-friendly, engaging website, which educates the community on prevention and informs interested people about upcoming melanoma clinical trials.

“Our ‘Wipe Out Melanoma – California’ team has immensely benefitted from collaborations with Lisa Goldman Rosas of the Office of Community Engagement, as we aim to reduce the burden of fatal melanomas in high risk populations across the state,” said Swetter.

Other collaborations included a retrospective, population-based study that investigated the preterm birth rates of women with autoimmune diseases, where the Office of Community Engagement collaborated on designing a patient and stakeholder engagement section of the grant.

On an ongoing basis, the Office of Community Engagement develops partnerships with a broad range of community organizations and key stakeholders. They also conduct original research to examine novel methods of community engagement for research focused on health equity. For example, they lead the consortium and implementation core for SPHERE (Stanford Precision Health for Ethnic and Racial Equity), conduct grassroots engagement with the residents of Vallejo to identify research priorities for their community, and develop patient-engagement strategies to improve awareness of breast cancer and clinical trials among African American women.

To educate and promote community engagement at Stanford, the Office organizes workshops, a Community Partner Appreciation Day, and an annual Community Health Symposium, which will be held on February 13, 2020. The office also runs a pilot grant program aimed at testing novel concepts and methodologies in disparities research and promoting engagement with consortium partners and community-based organizations.

To partner with the Office of Community Engagement on your next project, or to learn more about their events and pilot grants, visit