CSUF professor Austin Nation was compared to the art piece “Sunday in the Park with George” by George Seurat by his colleague and mentor Penny Weismuller. Up close, the historical painting seems to only be composed of dots; viewers have to back away from the piece to make out the scene.
“There’s all these little experiences that I’ve shared with him, but you have to step back to see this wonderful masterpiece that’s just larger than life – that’s what I think of when I think of Austin,” Weismuller said.
The two first met 20 years ago when Weismuller was the division director of the Disease Control & Epidemiology Division in Orange County, and Nation was a community activist working with people who contracted HIV.
Throughout Nation’s lifetime, he has pursued a career in public service, helped many with his work in the HIV/AIDS community. Whether it was working extensive shifts at hospitals or making the decision to go back to school, Nation’s life has come full circle as he continues to give back to his community.
After 20 years as a nurse, the CSUF alumnus found a change of scenery in returning as a professor at the university where he received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
“I love teaching students. There is nothing more exciting than seeing that light bulb go on when they are struggling with some of the concepts we are teaching them,” Nation said.
The position has also given Nation a platform to talk about health care issues within the African-American community with events like Faculty Noon Time Talks.
“There are a lot of disparities among communities of color. We talk about why African-Americans have such high disparities in number of different health conditions,” Nation said.
He wants to open up a conversation on the broader topic of “How we can move forward and engage folks of color who come into care?”
Racism, stereotypes and discrimination are a part of society, and Nation wants to move beyond biases and prejudice so that each person’s life is properly cared for.
Nation’s research on African-American health care extends to his graduate work, which consisted of him researching HIV and substance abuse among young black gay men.
A predoctoral program through UCLA and UC San Francisco encouraged Nation to go back into minority communities; this ignited the spark for Nation’s graduate work and his continual work on African-American health care.
Part of his work is figuring out how to address the disproportionate number of new HIV infections among people of color.
“We have to figure out how to engage our population if we are ever going to get to zero new HIV infections, particularly among people of color that have incredibly high disproportionate rates of new HIV infections. We have to figure out the thinking behind these issues,” Nation said.
Along with his work on African-American health care, Nation wants to look into the issues that the LGBT community faces. Whether it is health care access or barriers to attain it, Nation wants to find out what is and what isn’t working. For Nation, it comes down to finding the best way to improve the health and lives of the LGBT community.
In the 20 years that Weismuller has known Nation, she said she has witnessed Nation grow from someone with passion to advocate for HIV-infected individuals, to someone who has attained a high-level education who can apply the knowledge and research to help people from multiple communities.
“You can only emulate people you have seen as a student,” Nation said. “It’s one thing to look at something and think it’s cool and another thing to actually do.”