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The Power of Partnerships
One award-winning partnership helped raise rates of breast cancer screening among Hmong women living in three California cities. (Photo courtesy of The Center for Community Partnerships)

The Power of Partnerships

The death of a local Hmong woman compelled Lillian Lew and Marjorie Kagawa-Singer, a UCLA professor of public health and Asian American studies, to take action.

They had little knowledge about the disease and could not understand why one of their members would die of this strange U.S. malady.


This article was first published by UCLA Today Online.

By Letisia Marquez

THIRTEEN YEARS AGO, few women in the Hmong community in Long Beach knew how vital it was to get a yearly screening for breast cancer, said Lillian Lew, head of the Families in Good Health program at St. Mary's Medical Center.

"One woman came to us when her breasts had turned black from the cancer," Lew recalled. "Some of the older Hmong women didn't even know what cancer was, and they only went to the doctor as a last resort."

The woman's death compelled Lew and Marjorie Kagawa-Singer, a UCLA professor of public health and Asian American studies, to take action. "The community was very confused and frightened," said Kagawa-Singer. "They had little knowledge about the disease and could not understand why one of their members would die of this strange U.S. malady."

Together, the two women applied for funds from the California Breast Cancer Research Program to promote screenings among Hmong women in Long Beach, San Diego and Fresno. With hard work, the payoff was amazing: Screening rates among Hmong women rose from 29% — among the lowest for all ethnic groups — to 41%.

Their success led to a second project, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that promoted breast and cervical cancer screenings in seven monolingual Southeast Asian and Pacific Islander populations in Los Angeles, Orange, San Francisco and Alameda counties.

Productive collaboration is why Kagawa-Singer and Families in Good Health, along with four other UCLA professors and their community partners, will receive the Ann C. Rosenfield Distinguished Community Partnership Prize. The Center for Community Partnerships will present the awards tonight at the Broad Art Center. Each set of partners will share a $25,000 award.

"The work of our UCLA prizewinners is significant, not only for the impact it will have on the individuals and families served by their innovative partnerships, but also because it symbolizes the greatness that can occur when UCLA scholars are engaged in the community," said Franklin D. Gilliam Jr., associate vice chancellor of the Center for Community Partnerships. "UCLA is proud to be a leader in the national movement toward engaged scholarship."

Other winning collaborators:

Joan Asarnow, professor of psychiatry and biobehavorial sciences, and Pasadena-based Hathaway-Sycamores Child and Family Services worked together to develop a program to prevent teen suicide;

Yoram Cohen, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, and the Committee to Bridge the Gap teamed up to help Simi Valley and surrounding communities deal with environmental issues associated with the Santa Susana Field Laboratory;

Jose Luis Valenzuela, professor of the School of Film, Theater and Television, and the Latino Theater Company at The New Los Angeles Theater Center (LATC) partnered to showcase diverse theater, dance and other performances in Los Angeles;

Gail Wyatt, professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences, and To Help Everyone Clinic, Inc., began collaborating more than 30 years ago. Their work has addressed stress among African-American mothers and children as well as women's health issues.

A Special Recognition Award will be presented to David W. Gjertson, adjunct professor of the Department of Biostatistics and Pathology in the School of Public Health, and the Los Angeles Aquatic Search and Rescue Unit, Inc. The award will fund research to determine the safest rates at which divers should ascend after a dive. The results will be distributed to other public safety dive units.

The Community Leader Award will go to Elise Buik, president/CEO of the United Way of Greater Los Angeles. The Rosenfield Prize is supported by the UCLA Foundation Ann C. Rosenfield Fund under the direction of UCLA alumnus David A. Leveton.