Sociology professor secures Congressional health fellowship

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

DENTON (UNT), Texas -- Erma Lawson, associate professor of sociology at the University of North Texas, has been awarded a Congressional fellowship from the American Sociological Association's Sydney S. Spivack Program in Applied Social Research and Social Policy.

Beginning in December, Lawson will work for six months in the Washington, D.C., offices of Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, who represents the 30th Congressional District of Texas, and the Congressional Black Caucus, for which Johnson serves as chair. Lawson will assist Johnson and other lawmakers in bringing a sociological perspective to health care policies, particularly policies impacting women and minorities.

"Typically, issues that were of concern to health care policymakers were medical concerns, but now health is defined more broadly," Lawson said. "One issue is growing violence among young women -- we see more females engaging in gang violence."

Only one recipient is chosen for the Congressional Fellowship each year. Past recipients include faculty members and recent doctoral graduates from Johns Hopkins, Brown and Harvard Universities. Lawson is the first Congressional fellow from a Texas college or university.

Lawson said she hopes that while she is in Washington, D.C., students at UNT will be able to attend Congressional hearings.

"I'll let our students know what hearings are going on at different times," she said. "I want them to become more familiar with the federal funding process, because it really impacts the way research grants will be written in the future."

An ob-gyn nurse before she received her doctoral degree in medical sociology, Lawson has received grants from the March of Dimes in support of her research on intervention techniques to help pregnant smokers quit or decrease smoking. She has also studied the correlation between blood pressure of pregnant women and the birth weights, gestational ages and fetal weight gain of their infants. The research was published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

In 2000, she took a faculty leave from UNT after she received a postdoctoral fellowship from the Division of Public Health Practice in Harvard University's School of Public Health. For a year, she collaborated with Harvard faculty members on several research projects, including how gestational stress of mothers influences their infants' birth weights and the health of those whose siblings were murdered. She was also invited to be the keynote speaker at the International Black Women's Congress, where she discussed the importance of psychological abuse in the health status of African-American women.

Lawson was also a visiting research professor at the University of Zimbabwe's Department of Community Medicine, focusing on childbirth in the African nation. Her latest research focuses on the psychological aspects of heart transplants in women.

In addition to her medical sociology research, Lawson also focuses on marriage and families. She is the author of Shattered Marriages: Black Men and Divorce and has published articles in Western Journal of Black Studies, Journal of Family Issues and Family Relations, among other publications.

She received her bachelor's degree in nursing from Howard University in Washington, D.C., master's degree in sociology from Atlanta University and doctoral degree in medical sociology from the University of Kentucky.

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