In July, USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy PhD student Dominique Como received a National Institutes of Health Ruth L. Kirschstein Predoctoral Individual National Research Service Award (Kirschstein-NRSA). Commonly referred to as an F31 award, the two-year fellowship funded by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research will support Como’s project, titled, “A Mixed Methods Study of the Intersections of Oral Health, Culture, and Autism in African American Families.” The Kirschstein-NRSA awards enable promising predoctoral students to continue growing into productive, independent research scientists through mentored training while conducting their dissertation research. Como’s award is anticipated to total more than $92,000.

Dominique Como (Photo/Courtesy of the USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy)

For her F31 project, Como will identify facilitators and barriers of oral health practices and examine oral health’s intersection with both autism spectrum disorders and Black communities. Oral health care disparities continue to persist for children from ethnic minorities, as well as for children with special health care needs like ASD, despite public policies which have attempted to minimize barriers that vulnerable populations encounter. The fellowship will also include enhanced training opportunities for Como to develop a deeper understanding of health disparities, as well as advanced practice in research design and methodology, implementation science, knowledge mobilization and dissemination.

Through her current and future research projects, Como aims to better serve vulnerable and marginalized populations who experience social injustices through improved quality of care. This fellowship will provide her with the skills, tools and expertise to become an agent in the transformation of healthcare for underserved, marginalized and vulnerable populations.

Como will be supported on this fellowship by her mentorship committee, including USC Chan faculty members Sharon Cermak, EdD, OTR/L, Mary Lawlor, ScD, OTR/L, and Leah Stein Duker, PhD, OTR/L, as well as Brandi Jones, EdD, vice dean for diversity and strategic initiatives of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, and José Polido, DDS, head of the division of dentistry at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and assistant clinical professor at the Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC.