Steven Houang is an MSPH-to-PhD student in health behavior within the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and is a member of The Graduate School’s Royster Society of Fellows. A Taiwanese American immigrant from San Francisco, he received his undergraduate degree in interdisciplinary science from The New School for Social Research.
What made you choose UNC-Chapel Hill when deciding on a program/place to study?
I had three main considerations. First, we have the top public school of public health (and the first public health education program in the U.S. – now the health behavior department), so I knew I would receive great training here. Second, a number of the big names in the field of HIV are here developing interventions. And third, having completed my undergraduate degree in New York City, I always knew that if I ever went to graduate school, I would want it to be in a campus environment – it helps you focus on the academic hustle! I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention that one of my childhood best friends graduated from our program, so I benefited from knowing that someone with a similar background was able to thrive at Carolina.
Tell us about your research.
The field of HIV care and prevention has made dramatic biomedical advances just within the past decade. But more often than not, scientific advances map onto existing social disparities. My research with LGBTQ+ communities and communities of color examines how overlapping social determinants drive concentrated disadvantage, and what interventions address these disparities. In the Behavior and Technology Lab at UNC, I work on studies that deliver care and bridge access using smartphones, which are ubiquitous and the primary means of internet access for an increasing number of people in the U.S.
What does it mean to be a first-generation graduate student in your family?
I am constantly recontextualizing what it means for me to pursue a doctorate. Recently I’ve been thinking about my late grandmother, who was illiterate but knew how to build a community around her. She was known for sharing what she had during a time when most Taiwanese people did not have a lot. When I think about the studies I work on, I often interrogate if and how interventions can change a person’s context and make them feel like they are connected to more than they can see.
What are you hoping to accomplish with your Carolina degree?
I want to become a better researcher in public health and health disparities. I also very much believe in the power of education and transformative pedagogy to increase civic engagement, so I hope to integrate teaching and mentorship in whatever I do