Kirk Dombrowski

John Bruhn Professor Profile Image
John Bruhn Professor Sociology (402) 472-3205 708 Oldfather Hall

 Curriculum Vitae

Google Scholar

Reach Lab

Minority Health Disparities Initiative

Current Research

My research focuses on broad interdisciplinary approaches to addiction and its related social and personal harms. This means that I necessarily work across fields that include sociology, anthropology, psychology, biology, and political-economy. It has also allowed me to develop specialized research methods in network analysis and hard-to-reach populations, methods that are needed to do research with groups that are highly stigmatized and often not easy to find. This includes work on rural drug injectors in Puerto Rico. We have operated a three- to five-person field team and permanent field station in Puerto Rico’s interior since 2013. We also have ongoing partnerships with researchers from the University of Alaska-Fairbanks (where I serve in a permanent visiting professor role as President’s Professor of Biomedical Research, in affiliation with the Center for Alaska Native Heath Research) and with the University of Massachusetts’ School of Public Health. These collaborations focus on two distinct projects in rural Alaska that focus on suicide prevention and substance abuse prevention through culture-focused interventions in predominantly Alaska Native communities. Together with Professor Bilal Khan, I help develop software that allows for better field work and project evaluation, including network data collection software and simulation tools. Altogether, the research describe above has been supported by more than $6 million in NIH and NSF grants over the last 10 years.

 In addition to my work as Principal Investigator at the REACH Lab, I also serve as a the Director of UNL’s Minority Health Disparities Initiative. In this role I mentor junior faculty and post-doctoral scholars in project design, grant writing, project management, and overall professional development. Mentees come from a range of departments including Psychology, Counseling, Sociology, Nutrition, Ag Econ, Communication Studies, and others. Over the last four years, minority health research at Nebraska has increased 15-fold, and it will continue to grow as new scholars are hired and added to the program. In academic year 2017-8, UNL minority health scholars submitted more than $25 million in research funding proposals.

 Most of my work as a researcher and mentor takes place with large interdisciplinary research teams that place sociologists in conversation with other social, behavioral, and health researchers across the US. Since arriving at UNL in 2013 I have published more than 50 peer-reviewed papers, 70% of which included a graduate or undergraduate student, and more than 80% were published in general science journals or journals outside of sociology. More information on my projects or mentoring opportunities can be found at the REACH Lab or MHDI websites.

Student Opportunities

I am interested in working with undergraduate and graduate students who have a strong computation and theoretical background, can work in a team science environment, and whose thesis or dissertation interests align closely with the current topics of the REACH Lab—addiction, social determinants of health and health disparities, network science and social science methodologies, and rural, Native American, or hard-to-reach populations. Student who join the REACH Lab are immersed in “lab culture”—meaning that they will work as a team member on a range of projects, and often many different projects at the same time, and that students’ roles change through time as they gain experience and take on more responsibility. Throughout, multiple lab-wide weekly meetings serve as an unofficial additional course (or two), and lab members gain exposure to a range of projects, methodologies and theoretical ideas from each other and from an interdisciplinary group of post-docs (whose backgrounds range from anthropology to psychology, and computer science to mathematics). Throughout students are encouraged to take an aggressive role in contributing to the research outputs of the Lab. It is not uncommon for graduate students who have worked at the REACH Lab for 5 years to complete their PhD with 5-10 published papers, often as lead authors by their last year or two in the lab. In addition, all lab members contribute to grant writing and thus gain exposure to this critical aspect of current academic life.

In general, the REACH lab accepts one student each year onto the team. Students work as a TA until they have completed a master’s thesis. After this, students are generally supported by external fellowships though one of the Lab projects. At that stage they no longer have any teaching assistant responsibilities, but are instead full time Lab researchers while completing their coursework and dissertation. Work in the Lab is demanding, generally more so than simply completing a PhD. As such, it is not the right place for every graduate student. But the extra work is rewarded by being part of a team that is there to support the student’s class work as well as their research plans. For the right person, it is a unique graduate school experience and one that can lead to a promising research career. Each year the lab sends multiple undergraduate students on PhD programs, and graduate students on to tenure track jobs or prestigious NIH post-doctoral fellowships.

Current Teaching

I generally teach graduate and undergraduate courses on social theory and social network analysis. In the last few years I have offered advance courses in research with hard-to-reach populations and medical sociology. Many of my classes allow student to work with original data that I have collected over the years—offering them a first-hand experience in “doing” rather than simply consuming sociology and social science.

Selected Publications

2018 (forthcoming) Hsuan-Wei Lee, Miranda Melson, Jerreed Ivanich, Patrick Habecker, G. Robin Gauthier, Lisa Wexler, Bilal Khan, and Kirk Dombrowski. “Using Perceptual Tomography for Balance Clustering in Helping Networks of Alaska Natives”. PLoSOne.

2018 Bilal Khan, Hsuan-Wei Lee, Courtney Thrash, and Kirk Dombrowski, “Agency and Social Constraint among Victims of Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking: A Method for Measuring Free WillSocial Science Research.

2018 G. Robin Gauthier, Sara Francisco, Kirk Dombrowski, “Social integration and domestic violence support in an Indigenous community: Women’s recommendations of formal versus informal sources of supportJournal of Interpersonal Violence.

2018 Roberto Abadie, Camila Gelpi-Acosta, Carmen A. Davila-Torres, Angelica Rivera-Villegas, Melissa Welch-Lazoritz, Kirk Dombrowski, "It Ruined My Life": The Effects of the War on Drugs on People Who Inject Drugs (PWID) in Rural Puerto Rico.” International Journal of Drug Policy 51:121-127.

2017 Kirk Dombrowski, Bilal Khan, Patrick Habecker, Holly Hagan, Samuel R. Friedman, Mohammed Saad “The Interaction of Human Social Systems and Virus Natural History in the non-Spreading of HIV.” AIDS and Behavior 21(4):1004-1115.

 Recent Grant activity

“Assessing the effects of hurricane Maria on Opioid Agonist Treatment access among PWID in rural Puerto Rico.” November 2018-October 2020. R21 DA047304 National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Drug Abuse.

“Promoting Community Conversations about Research to End Native Youth Suicide in Rural Alaska” August 2018-July 2023. R01 MH112458 National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Mental Health

“REU Site: Social Network Analysis for Solving Minority Health Disparities”. February 2018-January 2020. National Science Foundation 1757739

“Modeling Social Behavior via Dynamic Network Interaction” May 2016-April 2019.R01 GM118427 National Institutes of Health, General Medical Sciences.  .

“HealthVisionVoice: Identifying the Interrelationships between Social Determinants, Self-Identity, and Public Health in Minority Rural Communities” July 2016-December 2018 Rural Futures Institute.

“Qungasvik (Toolbox): Prevention of Alcohol/Suicide Risk in Alaska Native Youth.” August 2015-July 2019 R01 AA023754 National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

 “Applying Behavioral-Ecological Network Models to Enhance Distributed Spectrum Access in Cognitive Radio” August 2014-Dec 2018. National Science Foundation AST 1443985.

“Injection Risk Networks in Rural Puerto Rico” August 2014-July 2019. National Institutes of Health / National Institute of Drug Abuse R01 DA037117. NIDA Minority Supplement R01 DA037117-S1 -S2. “Competing Supplement: Injection Risk Networks in Rural Puerto Rico”. National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Drug Abuse R01 DA037117-S3.

“Developing Effective Proximal Care to Prevent Rural Alaska Native Youth Suicide” May 2014-August 2019. R34 MH096884. National Institutes of Health / National Institute of Mental Health.


Ph.D. CUNY Graduate School and University Center

Areas of Specialization:

  • Social Determinants of Health
  • Addiction
  • Rural Communities
  • Native American Communities
  • Social Network Analysis
  • Research Methods
  • Hidden and Hard-to-reach Populations