Six women gathered around a table.

NDSU Extension Builds Leadership Capacity in Communities Facing Health Disparities

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NDSU Extension, the NDSU Department of Public Health and the NDSU Center for Social Research are taking steps to address health disparities in North Dakota.

Health disparities are preventable differences in health that are closely linked with social or economic disadvantages.

NDSU Extension is engaging urban Native American and new American communities in Fargo, Grand Forks and Bismarck. Each of these populations faces a degree of health disparities.

“We wanted to learn about the lived experience of folks in these communities,” says Jan Stankiewicz, community health and nutrition specialist and tribal liaison for NDSU Extension. “What does living, working and raising a family look and feel like?”

The first phase of the project was hiring and training Indigenous and new American community coaches who would lead initiatives in their own communities. NDSU Extension specialists trained the coaches in facilitation and leadership skills.

After completing the training program, the coaches organized and facilitated dialogue circles with members of their community.

“A dialogue circle is a guided discussion around health equity,” says Stankiewicz. “It allows participants to have hard conversations around racism, language or cultural barriers, and health access. The structure of the discussion helps to ensure all voices are heard.”

NDSU Extension professionals were present to take notes and answer questions about the process, but they did not participate in the discussions, allowing the coaches and community members to lead their own dialogue.

After exploring health disparities in the dialogue circles, the community coaches will host broader community action forums to engage local decision makers such as representatives from city councils, school boards, public health, housing and healthcare. The goal is to inspire action plans that can begin addressing issues.

The health equity project is supported by a grant NDSU received from the North Dakota Department of Health. As a part of the grant, each community will have funds available to initiate a project of their choice.


Jan Stankiewicz, 701-328-9719,