Meet the Scholar: Jake Ryann Sumibcay


Jake Ryann Sumibcay is a DrPH student in public health at Claremont Graduate University School of Community and Global Health. He is a part of Health Policy Research Scholars Cohort 2017.

Before we begin, tell us a little bit about yourself and what your research interests are.

I was born and raised in Honolulu. Growing up at the crossroads of the Pacific was a unique experience that I often take for granted. The land, the ocean, the diverse communities, the food, and extensions of family all fuel my deep appreciation and reverence for the place that helped shape who I am.

Currently, I am on the continent pursuing my doctoral degree as a first-generation student and son of immigrants. I carry with me the pride, passion, and values that my island home has afforded me, along with the intention to return in the future.

Hawai’i is a real place with real people facing real challenges from the high cost of living to health issues, the disenfranchisement and grievances of our Native peoples, and many other social and economic problems. Beyond the idealized perceptions of the Hawai’i, it is important to understand the multifaceted realities and to prioritize solving these challenges.

My research interests are generally focused on health disparities. I specifically focus on the disparities and inequities among Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander populations. I am interested in understanding the nuances in racial representations of these groups and how these are reflected in public health policy, practice, and research.

What’s the story behind why you’re doing what you’re doing?

An ‘ōlelo no’eau or Hawaiian proverb that broadly describes this is “E hahai i ke ala o ka hana pa‘akikī,” pursue the path of challenging work.

Studying health disparities can be unnerving at times, especially when it hits close to home. Research is alluring when you see yourself and your community in the narratives. In my research inquiries, I too often encounter the concluding clichéd statements that “more research is needed” or some other variation. What initially feel like empty words are also invitations to take on the challenge to expand on the research findings, fill in the gaps, and make our own scientific contributions.

I challenge myself to honor people’s lived experiences by sensibly connecting with the community members that I engage with. I aim to play a critical role in the identification and elimination of health disparities while maintaining scientific objectivity. I value diverse perspectives from the community as sources of expertise that are crucial in shaping formal research.

Tell us about a project you are currently working on that you are excited about.

A project that I am currently consumed with at the moment is my dissertation. The excitement level depends on the day.

My dissertation work takes a deeper dive in understanding the health disparities experienced by Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (NHPI) populations in the U.S.

Research and understanding on NHPI is relatively sparse and has not kept up with the demographic realities corresponding to their population growth in the U.S. I investigated the systemic and structural factors that intersect with indigenous identities and representation, and the complex history of colonialism and American imperialistic policies that drive social and economic forces unfavorable to NHPI with implications for health.

I also explored additional examples across the Pacific, comparing the experiences documented in the only other western democratic country with a large Pacific Islander population: Aotearoa (New Zealand). The experiences of the indigenous Māori and Pacific peoples of New Zealand offer insights into ways of centering equity in national health strategies.

I am grateful to have connected with many local community, national, and international leaders to learn about ways to engage and improve the health of our indigenous and Pacific Islander communities.

For people unfamiliar with your research area, what is one piece of information you think is important for them to know?

Centering and authentically engaging community voices is essential to addressing and reducing health disparities and the overall public health practice. Giving power to and elevating these voices can ensure that programs and policies reflect the values and the needs of the community.

Who is a researcher you admire and why?

I have to give props to my home institution mentor, Dr. Paula Healani Palmer. She is someone who has truly gone above and beyond for students (myself included). The interdisciplinary and dynamic nature of public health matches her innovative pedagogical approaches in and outside of the classroom. She strongly connects her identity and both her personal and professional experiences. She embodies genuine leadership and dedication to her work, her students, and her community.

How has being a Health Policy Research Scholar helped you during your time as a doctoral candidate?

The list is endless and I am so grateful to be an HPRS Scholar. Beyond the financial support, which has helped me substantially, the program has allowed me to overcome my fears of pursuing an advanced degree. One of the most valuable things I have gained in this program is a web of connections to a vast and diverse network. From my cohort mates to the HPRS leadership, our mentors, and colleagues from HPRS and the other RWJF programs, these connections have led to friendships, collaborations, and new opportunities. The HPRS program has provided me with the tools to turn possibilities into reality and has provided us as a collective with the tools to advance health equity and build a Culture of Health.

In the RWJF HPRS program we have worked with you to help you think further about using your research to develop policy. If you could use your research to change any policy, what policy would it be?

I would like to use my research to improve data collection practices, specifically the processes of collecting data on race, ethnicity, and language. I am interested in ways we can build a robust practice of disaggregating data, actively encourage data collection beyond the federal required minimum reporting standards of major racial and ethnic categories, and link the data to factors that influence health. We must be responsive to evolving demographic trends by accurately and insightfully understanding the needs of all our communities. This includes revising federal standards for the collection of federal data on race and ethnicity, notably the OMB Statistical Policy Directive No. 15. Best practices, oversight, and support will ensure high-quality, accurate data collection that can best inform equitable policies for all.

OK, here’s a fun question to wrap things up. If you could visit any place in the world, where would you choose to go and why?

Ah, wanderlust! I have never been anywhere in the southern hemisphere. OK, there are three places off the top of my head. I would love to visit the two southern ends of the Polynesian Triangle: Aotearoa (New Zealand) and Rapa Nui (Easter Island). The third place is the Patagonia region of South America (Chile and Argentina).

Thank you so much for your time!

Mahalo nui! It was a pleasure to share a bit about myself!

Jake’s bio


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