Sora Park Tanjasiri uses research to address health disparity needs

In Features
(Bailey Carpenter / Daily Titan)

Although she was named one of Orange County’s 2016 most influential people by the OC Register for both her community-based participatory research and for hosting the OC Women’s Health Policy Summit at CSUF, Sora Park Tanjasiri, Ph.D., remains humble about her work, crediting the people and community organizations she works with.

CSUF professor Tanjasiri has worked for over 20 years, researching and dispersing health improvements through practice-based research to communities in need, due in large part to her childhood.

“I always grew up as sort of a minority,” Tanjasiri said. “So I think my personal experience has always been one of understanding what it means to be someone who’s different, but I was never underserved.”

After receiving her master’s degree from the University of California, Los Angeles School of Public Health, Tanjasiri worked in a nonprofit clinic in Los Angeles that served a large population of medically underserved Latinos and Koreans where she experienced firsthand the outcomes of poor health care, including high rates of smoking and cancer.

“That experience is what influenced me to go into this area (of research),” Tanjasiri said. “Ever since then, I’ve been a real proponent not just of doing research in public health, but doing it in collaboration with community.”

Over the course of her career, Tanjasiri has worked with numerous organizations focusing on Asian-American and Pacific-Islander populations to address health disparity needs, specifically high rates of breast and cervical cancer. Because research projects have a limited duration due to funding, Tanjasiri works with communities to ensure that the findings are easily accessible and can used be to benefit people after the research has ended.

“Just by implementing (our research), we’re educating and we’re promoting people to get clinical care,” Tanjasiri said.

Instead of just academically publishing her studies, the programs and products of Tanjasiri’s research are also available online, allowing a far greater number of people to find the materials and protocols necessary to put the research into practice.

Tanjasiri said she’s even received calls coming from Alaska asking about implementing health programs derived from her studies.

The reach of her work is noteworthy and on one occasion, Tanjasiri said she met a cancer survivor who had personally benefitted from her work as co-investigator in the program WINCART (Weaving An Islander Network for Cancer Awareness, Research and Training).

“She was diagnosed and so scared, but then she found a local community organization to help her,” Tanjasiri said.

However, Tanjasiri made it clear that she was not the only one deserving of recognition for working closely with community organizations.

“I could’ve never done that alone. No one would ever claim that I saved their life,” Tanjasiri said. “But they can claim that one of the community organizations did.”

She emphasized the generosity of the community leaders who she’s worked with.

“I get paid to do research and teach. A lot of community members do this as volunteers,” Tanjasari said. “It’s very humbling to work with community.”

CSUF associate professor of Asian-American studies Tu-Uyen Nguyen noted Tanjasiri’s dedication and care for the people she works with.

“She’s always been such a wonderful mentor to me and so many others,” Nguyen said. “She constantly looks out for my welfare as well as others and really guides us.”

Nguyen echoed the sentiment of the rewarding nature of working directly with communities and avoiding “helicopter research.” She said Tanjasiri also works with communities to teach them how to draft their own grants to further research.

“As researchers, we come in and help them to tell their story so that they’re able to obtain more funding as they move forward,” Nguyen said.

With Tanjasiri’s help, Nguyen said community organizations have made a better case that their research is worthwhile as they continue to seek grants and that it is not a single-person effort.
“Maybe this recognition (from the OC Register) was a recognition of the way this research happened, which is in collaboration with community leaders from these different populations,” Tanjasari said.

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