Engaged Scholars: Ayaz Hyder

March 10, 2021

Engaged Scholars: Ayaz Hyder

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Ayaz Hyder sitting at a playground
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Originally posted through Outreach and Engagement

March 2021

Engaged Scholars is a monthly series highlighting Ohio State faculty who have made an impact in our communities through their community-engaged research and teaching. Photo: Ayaz Hyder conducts community engaged scholarship at a school.

Ayaz Hyder
Assistant Professor
College of Public Health and Translational Data Analytics Institute

In my community-engaged scholarship, community refers to the people of Ohio, the public health/primary care/social service professionals and organizations, and the next generation of public health students. My community-engaged scholarship focuses on developing strategies for community-centered modeling where models/methods/tools are co-created, personalized and made relevant to community needs, and generalizable and scalable to other communities. By bringing together those who develop the models/tools/methods (e.g., modelers and analysts) and those who use them (e.g., applied epidemiologists, health commissioners, healthcare system leaders) the solutions researched and engineered in my lab are scalable, practical, and responsive.

My research on participatory modeling techniques and systems modeling in reproductive health, infant mortality, opioid addiction, and food insecurity has shown that when diverse stakeholders are brought together in a meaningful manner and models (conceptual or simulation) are co-created with stakeholders via academic-community partnerships then there is greater opportunity for working across disciplinary silos, breaking down barriers to data sharing and aligning organizational goals that improve multiple outcomes for vulnerable populations. I also bring the community into the classroom by using real-world examples to equip students and professionals with the knowledge they will need to apply systems thinking, participatory modeling, and translational data analytics for public health impact.

Why is it important to engage the community in your research and teaching?

There is a famous saying by George Box, "All models are wrong, but some are useful." In addition to the scientific community, engaging the community in my research and teaching allows the community to judge the usefulness of models. Every day I practice this type of engagement because it helps to build and sustain confidence and trust in the model - for both the modelers and those who may use the model for public health decision-making and policies.

What led you to the path of engaged scholarship? How did you get started?

My path to community-engaged scholarship was completely accidental. My academic and postdoc training was in computational epidemiology where I modeled pandemics and health disparities. I did not receive any formal or informal training in community-engaged research. What changed and how I got started was a talk I heard by Dr. Sandro Galea on consequential epidemiology at the Society of Epidemiologic Research and me coming to Ohio State via the Translational Data Analytics Discovery Theme Initiative. As I learned more about land-grant universities and their mission and started to define "translational data analytics" in public health for my own research and teaching, it became clearer for me that community-engaged scholarship would forever be a critical pillar of my research, teaching and service activities.

How has your scholarship benefited from engaging with community partners?

My scholarship has been completely shaped by engaging with community partners. One of the struggles of being an interdisciplinary and community-engaged scholar is that the tenure and promotion process becomes precarious due to the disproportionate time spent on building relationships. At Ohio State, I have been fortunate to have mentors who have helped me address these struggles by identifying opportunities to publish about the process of conducting community-engaged scholarship in addition to the research findings. From my perspective, my scholarship in Ohio's health priorities (e.g., maternal and infant health, mental health and addiction, and chronic disease) is contributing to a playbook or set of use cases for how to do translational data analytics and community-centered modeling in public health. I am hopeful that these use cases will serve as examples for other public health and data analytics-oriented scholars to build upon in their communities and areas of focus in the public health sciences.

What has been a highlight of your community engagement experience?

There have been many highlights, but a common thread among them that keeps my passion alive for community-engaged scholarship is the moment when the model/solution, which is co-developed with the community, actually solves the problem identified by the community. As someone who is not on the front lines of public health, I am always worried that the model/solution I am helping to develop will not be used by the community. It takes a lot of time, effort and hours of debugging code to generate the final model/solution and it is very validating when that model/solution is used to prevent adverse health outcomes and save lives at the population level.

What advice would you give to faculty and students who are interested in engaging the community in their scholarship?

To faculty I would say what Katrina Lewis, a Black pregnant woman in Linden said to Laura Bliss in an article about "smart" cities trying to address infant mortality. Laura Bliss writes in that article:

"A smart city sounds nice to Lewis. It also sounds far from where she lives. 'My thing is, someone should get on the bus and ride with us,' she says, 'and see what the struggles of everyday people are.'"

In other words, actively, deeply and sincerely engage with the community you are trying to solve for because without such engagement you may get promotion and tenure, but you may not have made an impact on the lives of Ohioans and others.

To students, I would say to encourage your professors and instructors to "get on the bus and ride" and actively engage with communities yourself until you've identified the problem(s) that need to be solved in the community. Also, do not worry if you do not know the solution because that is what community-engaged research is all about - solving with the community for the community. My three-phased approach in pretty much any community-engaged scholarship is Engagement, Analytics and Translation or EAT as I call it. I use this phased approach because it starts with the community and ends with the community with the analytics, modeling, and programming, which I really enjoying too, in the middle.

Sample Engaged Scholarship

COVID-19 Analytics and Targeted Surveillance System for Schools

Franklin County Opioid Activity Levels (FOCAL Map)

PUBHLTH 5015 and PUBHLTH 7015 Public Health Data Analytics I and II

Hyder A, Smith M, Sealy-Jefferson S, Hood R, Chettri S, Dundon A, Underwood A, Bassett D, Norris A. Community Based Systems Dynamics for Reproductive Health: A Case Study from Urban Ohio. (Submitted to Progress in Community Health Partnerships: Research, Education, and Action)

Koh K, Reno R, Hyder A. Designing an agent-based model using group model building: Application to food insecurity patterns in a US Midwestern Metropolitan City. Journal of Urban Health. 2018 Apr 1;95(2):278-89.