Education professor specializing in health disparities named Colorado School of Public Health affiliate

Story by Samantha Ye

Jessica Gonzalez-Voller smiles into camera while wearing bright blue blazer and standing in front of green wall
Jessica Gonzalez-Voller

Jessica Gonzalez-Voller, assistant professor in the Colorado State University School of Education, has been named a faculty affiliate in the Colorado School of Public Health’s Global Health and Health Disparities program.

Gonzalez-Voller is an award-winning researcher in the School of Education’s Counseling and Career Development program and a Race and Intersectional Studies in Educational Equity Center scholar. She is the first RISE Center scholar to join the Colorado SPH.

Research in action

Gonzalez-Voller’s research focuses on counseling interventions for groups with health disparities, such as Latinx people with breast cancer, people with memory issues, and family caregivers.

“Psychosocial interventions can help people with medical illnesses reduce their psychological symptoms of distress when it’s in relation to their health disparity,” she said.

Health disparities are higher burdens of disease, injury, violence, or other health issues experienced by socially disadvantaged populations, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Previously, Gonzalez-Voller made notable community impact by leading a brief mindfulness intervention study with family caregivers of people with a medical illness.

“We basically found that both the one-day and four-week mindfulness intervention reduced the caregivers’ stress and increased their mindfulness,” she said.

The study, funded by a mini-grant from the School of Education, was published in 2019. The agency involved in the study is now running mindfulness groups and workshops with caregivers, based on the training provided by the study researchers.

In March 2020, Gonzalez-Voller was recognized with the “Distinction in Research” award in the Community Engagement Category at the College of Health and Human Sciences Research Day for her research poster presentation.

“What that award category means is that I engaged the community in the research process and, as a community, they may have benefited from the research that I was doing,” she said.

The award and study helped demonstrate her contributions to the populations of people with health disparities, strengthening her application to the Colorado SPH.

Serving the underserved

While Gonzalez-Voller educates students in the Counseling and Career Development master’s program, her research aligns with the work being done by the Colorado SPH.

Through the Colorado SPH, Gonzalez-Voller connected with the University of Colorado Cancer Center. Together, they have been working toward incorporating some brief psychosocial interventions for Latinx people with breast cancer and their caregivers.

“The goal of these brief interventions would be to provide coping strategies that may help them decrease the stress, depression, and anxiety that is associated with cancer,” said Gonzalez-Voller. “Specifically, among Latinx populations, breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer death. There are not a lot of interventions culturally tailored for counseling for this population or their family caregivers.”

Gonzalez-Voller said, that instead of showing up with an intervention, her researchers will interview the patients to learn what kind of techniques they’re interested in, be it meditation or spirituality, and use those interests to adapt the intervention.

Gonzalez-Voller wants to provide these tailored counseling services and Spanish-speaking services to the underserved population that needs them. She derives her passion from a personal connection, seeing how members of her family had roles of being family caregivers, and her own identity as a Latina.

“I want to contribute back to my community, specifically the Latinx population that has breast cancer and their caregivers, because there’s such a need for it,” she said.

For their upcoming intervention, her research team is still in the process of applying for grants. However, with the COVID-19 situation still unfolding and the health of the immunocompromised population a priority, the researchers are staying flexible.

“It’s a time where the research comes second, and the person comes first,” said Gonzalez-Voller. “If we get the grant, we’re going to need to really think through how to implement it in today’s world.”

The RISE Center is housed in the School of Education, part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.