CSU professor receives award for excellence in global health

Kate Trulson

Whether she is in her office tucked behind The Oval in Sage Hall or overseas researching, one Colorado State University professor is making a difference on campus and around the world.

Lorann Stallones, a psychology professor and director of the Colorado Injury Control Research Center, was given the 2019 Excellence in Global Health Award from the Center for Global Health in Denver, which she said “recognizes a long-term commitment to global health.”

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“I was so honored that they did it,” Stallones said. “That was enough, and when I got selected, I was really surprised. It was really quite something.”

Stallones has worked in global health to positively impact others and create “that bridge with other cultures and communities of researchers so that we value each other equally,” she said. 

The biggest, most important thing that we do when we work at a university is preparing the next generation of people who are going to be helping reduce problems.” -Lorann Stallones, CSU psychology professor and Colorado Injury Control Research Center Director

However, Stallones said global health was not the path she envisioned for herself. 

“I never thought I would be a scientist; I wasn’t really good at math and science,” Stallones said.

After Stallones completed her bachelor’s degree in cultural anthropology at the University of California, Santa Barbara in 1974, she planned to go into the Peace Corps.

As a backup plan, she applied to the University of Texas School of Public Health, and when things didn’t go as planned with the Peace Corps, she attended UT to study community health.

At the time, UT’s School of Public Health was just founded, and her father was named the founding dean.

Her father played a large role in her decisions, although she never thought she would do the same line of work, Stallones said. He was an epidemiologist, so, “public health was kind of in our blood from the beginning.” She said his work influenced her life and career path. 

Her mother was a nurse and worked at Planned Parenthood during a time when abortions were illegal in Texas.

“Both of my parents were (strong influences),” Stallones said. “My mother was very definitely a social justice person.”

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Lorann Stallones sits in her office on Nov. 11. Stallones was recently awarded the 2019 Excellence in Global Health Award from the Center for Global Health in Denver. Stallones’ work has included working with communities in South Africa, Sri Lanka and China to name a few. (Gregory James | The Collegian)

After completing her education at UT, Stallones went on to serve in the Peace Corps, coordinate the Swine Influenza Immunization Program at the University of Washington and teach at the University of Kentucky, the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center and CSU.

Locally and internationally, Stallones has been a part of countless research projects studying various factors of global health. She has been researching since the 1970s, and her work has been included in over 175 publications.

Stallones said if she had to pick one research project that has been most memorable to her, it would be her work on the relationship between pesticides and mood disorders that focused on suicide.  

In this research, she said she began by looking at suicide among farmers that started her on the trajectory of looking into the pesticides in use.

Stallones and a former research associate from the University of Kentucky found a CSU-published paper about neurological problems developing from pesticide poisoning, and this further put her on that trajectory.

“(We started) looking at all fatal injuries among farmers, and a third of them were suicide, and that really surprised us,” Stallones said. “And so she started in trying to figure out why that might be the case, and you got explanations of the social determinants. You got a wide range of things that people use to say this is why, but in Kentucky at that time, the economic explanations didn’t make any sense because the farmers were fairly well off.”

Many people tend to focus only on the social factors of suicide, overlooking possible biological factors that can increase a person’s risk of suicide, Stallones said.

Stallones has been personally affected by suicide, having lost her own son to it.

“That puts a damper on your ability to really do the work for a period of time, so it was on hold for quite a few years,” Stallones said. “But things need to be talked about.”

After facing this loss, Stallones said she joined the board of directors at the Alliance for Suicide Prevention of Larimer County as well as the James Kirk Bernard Foundation, a nonprofit that studies biological factors of suicide.

Stallones said her research in this field, as well as her work in global health and “the belief that we can have a better place to live, … that people’s health can be improved by the work that we do,” motivates her to continue doing what she does.

She has since done research in Sri Lanka, Costa Rica and South Africa with other accredited researchers, trying to figure out how pesticide poisoning may link to suicide.

Students and associates who get a chance to work with Stallones get to experience first-hand her passion and knowledge for global health.

You can tell (Stallones) is passionate.” -Yuto Okamoto, second-year CSU master’s student in public health

Yuto Okamoto, a second-year master’s student studying public health with a concentration in global health and health disparities, is currently working with Stallones on a research study in Japan. 

“You can tell (Stallones) is passionate,” Okamoto said. “There are a lot of things that she thinks about on her own that you probably wouldn’t think about yourself.”

Okamoto said Stallones’ knowledge and experience taught him to better understand perspectives and cultural differences. 

Stallones has worked at CSU for nearly 30 years in various areas of study, including preventive medicine and biometrics, environmental health and psychology and epidemiology. She has been the director for the graduate degree program in public health for 12 years.

She has developed many psychology and environmental health courses at CSU over the years, with some becoming required courses for public health majors. 

“The biggest, most important thing that we do when we work at a university is preparing the next generation of people who are going to be helping reduce problems,” Stallones said.

Kate Trulson can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @KateTrulson.