Start Center - Strategic Analysis, Research & Training Center
Department of Epidemiology - University of Washington

Expanded Role at UW’s START Center

Expanded Role at UW’s START Center

When Dr. Lisa Manhart stepped down from the University of Washington’s START Center last July, Dr. Stephen Hawes  expanded his role as Associate Director of the Center. With its new website recently launched, we sat down with Dr. Hawes to learn more about START’s expanding impact.

How did you become involved with START Center?
START initially was a small program and quite successful in its early days.  Due to its success, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation was interested in expanding the number of projects, and Lisa Manhart [former co-director of START] contacted me and brought me on board. I worked with the program over the next couple of years as a faculty mentor. In 2014, START was awarded a planning grant by the Foundation to expand into a Center, develop a more formal business plan, expand to new global clients, and implement a domestic program. As the program grew into a Center, my role evolved and I was named associate director of the global program; I served in that role for the next year. We did some restructuring last August when Lisa decided to step down and now I’m the Associate Director of the Center. Judd Walson, adjunct faculty in the Department of Epidemiology, remains as START Center Director.  One of my major ongoing roles has focused on the training and development experiences of our student RAs and the faculty mentors.

What projects have you most enjoyed working on?
There have been a number of them!  One has to do with paper health register systems in the developing world.  Although in much of the developed world there’s been a transition to electronic record keeping in most regions, in low-resource areas of the world, these don’t always exist.  It’s a real challenge making sure that health workers in these facilities don’t spend too much time keeping track of records which are used for medical decision-making as well as by other stakeholders such as ministries of health. Unfortunately, there can be a great deal of duplication of efforts with paper registers. For the project, we had three students – two from Epidemiology and one from Global Health – conduct key informant interviews with stakeholders in 5 case-study countries which demonstrated unique applications of a paper health register. The team looked into the published literature, training documentation, and grey literature, conducted multiple presentations at the Gates Foundation, and ultimately authored a paper on these registers. The study was published today in the Journal of Global Health. The country-specific case reports can also be found online.

You work closely as a mentor with graduate students, providing hands-on career training. What has that experience been like?
It’s great; working as a mentor with graduate students is what really attracted me to the program. The START projects provide real hands-on experience that for students is quite relevant to the next steps in their careers. It provides experience with project management that they may not get from other research assistantships. Students are the face of the program, do the work, manage the projects, and present the findings. Their teams are usually comprised of two or three students, typically with a veteran START student who manages the project. The student project manager develops the project timeline, ensuring that each step is completed by the team, and communicates directly with the program officers of the Foundation or with other clients. The teams develop a number of work skills which they might not get exposure to in their coursework. In addition, they’re making really important professional connections. It’s immensely rewarding to see our graduates gain these skills and experiences during their time in our program.

What’s your vision for the future of START?
We have been expanding, so one of our challenges is to establish what is an appropriate size for us in terms of numbers of students, mentors, and projects. We typically have 8-10 projects ongoing at any one time, so managing the work flow and capacity is a challenge! START Managing Director Emily Allen and Global Program Director Ann Duerr meet regularly with the Foundation to discuss our capacity to take on new projects in the pipeline. Our goal is to give our students diversity in the types of projects they work on, with respect to the health areas, specific mentors, or teams at the Foundation. With the transition of the START program into a Center, we have begun working with clients other than the Gates Foundation and with additional departments at the UW. This adds to the diversity of the student and faculty experiences, but also adds to the complexity of how we manage ourselves. It’s been extremely exciting as we have begun collaborating with new colleagues at the University and in the broader health community.

Visit this article on the Department of Epidemiology’s website here.