The Second Century Initiative (2CI) brought more than 80 leading scholars and researchers across a diverse array of disciplines; its successor program, the Next Generation Program, continues to do so. Each faculty member has provided the university with their unique perspectives and leadership in their fields. Their work moves forward important and innovative research and scholarship, while lifting the reputation of Georgia State University and its colleges/schools for work addressing the challenges of the 21st century.
This article is part of a series highlighting individual faculty members and their perspectives through a question-and-answer format. Dr. Eric Wright came to Georgia State through the 2CI Health Risks and Behaviors and ARDC cluster, and is a distinguished professor of sociology and public health and Chair of the Sociology Department at Georgia State University.
Q:Can you tell me briefly about your research and scholarship?
A: I’m a medical sociologist so I work at the intersection of sociology and public health. Currently, I’m working on three different projects. The first project consists of counting homeless youth and surveying them about their various health needs and their involvement in sex and labor trafficking. The second is a project I’m working on for the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention (CDC) on understanding the spread of sexually transmitted enteric infections among men who have sex with men and trying to identify some effective preventive strategies for them. The third project involves analyzing data from a 14-state survey of LGBTQ Southerners in partnership with the LGBTQ Institute at the Center for Civil and Human Rights.
Q:What first interested you in your field of expertise?
A: I’m a sociologist by training so I’m really interested in critical social problems that are difficult for society to address. I always have been intrigued by trying to understand how society should respond to very complex social problems. Because I’m a medical sociologist, the problems that I’m interested in usually involve some sort of health element. My core interests are in sexual health, mental health and addiction.
Q:What did you find attractive about Georgia State?
A: Two things:
i. One was its location in Atlanta. Atlanta is an interesting city from a sociologist’s perspective for several reasons. It’s a thriving metropolis that’s growing rapidly, and as such it offers incredible opportunities to do community based research. I like to get involved in the community which is why all of my research has some kind of community element to it.
ii. The second aspect is that Georgia State is clearly a very entrepreneurial place. There is great interest and commitment to growing the research portfolio and there’s an enormous number of opportunities to think creatively and try new things. Sometimes they work and obviously, sometimes they don’t. But I think that there’s a certain entrepreneurial spirit here at Georgia State.
Q:How has your research and scholarship grown since you first arrived at Georgia State?
A: It’s grown exponentially. I’ve been able to build and grow new partnerships with groups I didn’t expect or didn’t have before I came to Georgia State. A good example of this is the expansion of my relationship with the CDC. The folks at the CDC have expressed interest in all three areas of my research. I’m working with the CDC’s Division of School Health about LGBTQ research and its Center for Waterborne Diseases is very interested in the work we’re doing on enteric diseases. The CDC’s Center for Health Disparities and Minority Health has been very interested in the work I’m doing about homeless youth. I’ve also enjoyed the opportunity to collaborate with individuals at other local universities as well.
Q:What sorts of collaborations have you been able to build at Georgia State?
A: In addition to the academic collaborations and collaborations with the CDC, I’ve been able to get to know a number of community-based organizations. I’ve worked a lot with homeless organizations, LGBTQ advocacy organizations, health groups, community health centers, and homeless service providers.
Q:What new development do you foresee with you research or scholarly department in the future?
A: I think there’s a lot of things that can be done to grow all three areas of my research. In each of those three directions I’m anticipating grants and projects that will involve more faculty, both in my department and other departments in Georgia State. I think the hardest thing to do is finding actual time to grow each of those projects.
Q:Is there anything else that you would like to add?
A: It’s really fun to work here. I’ve enjoyed my experience. It will be 5 years in January that I’ve been here and I haven’t regretted a minute. Coming to Georgia State has been a great opportunity for me.