The Charger Blog

Health Sciences Professor Brings Passion for Policy to Washington

Alvin Tran, Sc.D., MPH, has a vast background in research and health policy, as well as in fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion. He’s now applying his experience and expertise to an exciting public service opportunity in Washington, D.C., where, for the next year, he will have a seat at the table when it comes to informing policy.

September 7, 2023

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

Dr. Alvin Tran.
Dr. Alvin Tran in Washington, D.C.

As an educator, Alvin Tran, Sc.D., MPH has made several trips to Washington, D.C., over the past several years with his students. During their visits, they attended conferences and explored the nation’s capital, enjoying everything it has to offer. Dr. Tran has now returned to Washington – this time, for a longer stay and in a different capacity – as he begins an exciting new public service opportunity.

On a public-service leave of absence for the 2023-24 academic year, Dr. Tran has received a fellowship to serve in the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H), which is within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. He’s excited to bring his passions for public health and policy to his new role.

“It’s an opportunity to apply the skills I learned as a doctoral student to the creation of new policies to inform health,” explained Dr. Tran, an assistant professor in the University’s Department of Population Health and Leadership. “It’s exciting to be offered this opportunity to do a year of public service.”

‘I come in with a unique skillset’

ARPA-H, which follows the same model as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) but is focused on healthcare, supports the development of high-impact solutions to health problems. Specifically, it endeavors to boldly advance cutting-edge biomedical and health research that is not typically done through “traditional” research. It focuses on a variety of critical challenges in healthcare, from cancer to cybersecurity.

Alvin Tran, Sc.D.
Alvin Tran, Sc.D.

President Joe Biden proposed the creation of ARPA-H to enable the government to expedite biomedical and health solutions. The Consolidated Appropriations Act was signed into law in early 2022 authorizing the establishment of ARPA-H within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Dr. Tran, who also serves as the University’s assistant provost for diversity, equity, and inclusion, is among the scientists and researchers from across the country who received fellowships. He was selected after an intensive application process, which included writing multiple essays and interviewing in-person in the nation’s capital.

“When I was doing my interview with ARPA-H, it felt like I was interviewing for a similar team to what I have here with the Provost’s Office,” recalls Dr. Tran. “It was a small team, and you have a seat at the table. I come in with a unique skillset. I’m trained in public health and social and behavioral sciences, so understanding what influences human behavior. But I also have a background in diversity, equity, and inclusion, which appealed to them, since they wanted to emphasize health equity.”

‘The person I want to be’

Starting off his time in Washington, Dr. Tran has spent two weeks in orientation. Some of his training brought him back to his days as a student, reviewing pertinent civics lessons such as how a bill becomes a law. He was looking forward to attending talks with lawmakers, elected officials, and experts on Capitol Hill and the many learning opportunities they would offer.

Dr. Tran is especially excited about beginning his public service because it will enable him to have a seat at the table when it comes to policy. The work will draw on what he’s been doing at the University – and take it to another level.

As director of the University’s WeEmbody Lab, a working group that focuses on issues around the sociocultural factors associated with body image, Dr. Tran created a fellowship program that enables students from each of the University’s academic colleges and schools to travel to Washington for hands-on training. They learn about all facets of health advocacy, including addressing health inequities and how to interact with elected officials.

It was during a recent trip to Washington with his students last year – before he’d applied for the ARPA-H program – that the conversation turned its focus to Dr. Tran. He’d already been making an impact as a researcher and educator, but what if he took on a more hands-on role? He’d long been interested in influencing policymaking at the highest level, and he’d put that dream on the backburner. Now it was time to revisit it.

“My students and I met with lawmakers, and they were asking me, ‘When is it going to be you across this table?’” he recalls. “I told them I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be the person in the seat, but I want to be someone who is around that person to help inform them about science, technology, and health policy. That’s the person I want to be.”

‘My dream...’

As he steps into his new role, Dr. Tran is excited about the many opportunities he’ll have to network while at ARPA-H. He’s particularly looking forward to serving on task forces and committees focused on important topics such as addressing health disparities.

Dr. Tran continues to dream about the impact he’ll make in Washington and at the University of New Haven. He hopes to interact with individuals he can eventually connect with his students, perhaps as guest speakers in the classroom, or, even, as keynote speakers for some of the University’s health-related programs on campus. He also hopes his experience in Washington will enable him to create even greater opportunities for educating tomorrow’s health policy leaders, advocates, and policymakers.

“I would like to expand on the WeEmbody Lab with a stronger focus on health policy and what that means to use science and research to influence the creation of newer policy,” he said. “My dream is to one day create a health policy center for a university, so hopefully, that can happen here.”