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San Diego State University

Faculty-Student Mentoring Program

Melody K. Schiaffino, PhD, MPH
Assistant Professor of Public Health

One of the roles I most value at SDSU is that of mentor. To have the opportunity to work closely with students as they discover the exciting world of research is a privilege and gift for me as a professor and scientist. My research deals with the organization and delivery of health services and how we can improve them to make sure that they are delivered in a way that ensures they are not fragmented and they reach the people that need them, when they need them, and that they are safe, effective, timely, efficient, patient-centered, and most of all, equitable. I use maps (Geographic Information Systems – GIS), surveys, and data (statistical models) to study the relationship between where healthcare is delivered (by hospitals, clinics, etc), how it is delivered (hospital services, Emergency Room, patient education, etc), and the outcome of these relationships which we measure in different ways, but in general refer to as quality.


My approach to mentorship is to engage students where they are, build with what they know, and support their curiosity so that they can persist through the rigor that is required for good science. Rigor refers to the long, sometimes frustrating and redundant need to ensure good methods, best practices, and adherence to protocol that is critical to ensure hypothesis testing, replication, and reproducibility that ensure we are able to make new knowledge and answer the questions that we have. Students must be willing to commit, and curiosity makes commitment easy, by finding a part of my research that is interesting to them I make sure they are engaged in the topic area which still starting to cover the basic tenets of research methods. We start with an overview so that they can see the purpose, then we dig in with understanding literature and evidence, searching for evidence to understand what’s been done before, looking at data, information, talking about science, mostly depending on the interest of each student.


In addition, due to my cross-disciplinary work I also like to expose students to different investigators and field experts doing exciting work in the fields I collaborate with including geography, psychology, business, healthcare and hospitals, engineering, computer science, robotics, cancer outcomes, and more. Students will learn about graduate school, data management, statistical analysis, and interacting with diverse academic and professional groups, etc. The key to a multi-disciplinary lab is to make sure that students are engaged with me and with each other in problem-based learning that contributes to a goal that is going to bring them short-term wins and fuel curiosity for long-term research careers. I encourage rising sophomores and juniors to consider an experience in the FSMP program where they can learn skills that are transferrable across research and professional settings willing to dedicate 8-10 hours a week.

Melody Schiaffino