A Community to Help: New Research Center to Tackle Health Care Disparities



By Tom Linder
Distinguished Professor of Psychology Patrick Corrigan and Assistant Professor of Psychology Lindsay Sheehan.

The idea for the Center for Health Equity, Education, and Research (CHEER) has existed in the minds of Illinois Institute of Technology Distinguished Professor of Psychology Patrick Corrigan and Assistant Professor of Psychology Lindsay Sheehan for years.

In March 2024 the idea finally became a reality when CHEER was officially established as a university research center.

The center is composed of five programs, all focused on different aspects of health care disparities and access and all sharing the common theme of health equity.

“These are all different centers that we already had that had a common theme. When we moved to our new facility in Galvin Tower, we organized them into CHEER,” says Corrigan, who serves as CHEER’s director. “We’re interested in stigma. We’re interested in health equity. Our deep roots tend to be in serious mental illness—serious illness being people diagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, PTSD—but because of that, they’re unable to make their life goals, unable to get a job, unable to get through school.”

The programs and organizations that make up CHEER are the Chicago Health Disparities Center; the National Consortium of Stigma and Empowerment; the Honest, Open, Proud program; Stigma and Health; and the Certificate for Recovery Support Specialist, which is a nine-credit certificate program offered by Illinois Tech that allows mostly nontraditional students who have lived experience with mental illness and/or substance abuse to earn the credentials necessary to provide services within their communities.

The team at CHEER is composed of more than a dozen Illinois Tech faculty members, including Corrigan and Lindsay Sheehan, who also serves as CHEER’s managing director, as the principal investigators. Joining them as senior researchers are Department of Psychology faculty Jon Larson, Eun-Jeong Lee, and Nicole Ditchman. Vardha Kharbanda, Elliott Morris, Madeline Oppenheim, Virginia Spicknall, Karyn Bolden Stovall, Anastasia Tooley, Miranda Twiss, and Beatrice Wendeln join as research associates.

“I think CHEER will promote some collaboration between us and other areas of the university,” says Sheehan. “As we’re putting together this center and talking with folks, we’re getting to know one another and where our priorities in terms of health may overlap. That’s exciting to me to be able to collaborate with more folks at Illinois Tech.”

The center is funded by more than a dozen grants and contracts—totaling more than $4 million for 2024—and partners with institutions throughout Chicago and beyond to better address access to mental health care from a variety of angles. Examples include working with the National Academies of Science to write a paper detailing COVID-19’s effect on loneliness in the United States, and partnering with Ali Cinar and Mudassir Rashid in Armour College of Engineering on a project discerning why certain communities are less likely to utilize continuous glucose monitors for diabetes.

Above all, the overarching goal is to enhance access to health care—particularly mental health care—across the board, which the team believes starts with increased engagement within communities.

“What’s the pill you’re going to get out there to take care of trauma? I don’t think there is one,” says Corrigan. “What’s the cognitive behavior therapy you’re going to do for PTSD? I don’t know if there is one. But you can engage—for example, the Black community—to tackle their health care needs. I think it’s important to realize where the spirit of medicine is going. A lot of health care is done ‘out there’ in the community.”