CAIRHE relies on a strong Community Engagement Core to build effective community-investigator partnerships across Montana. Since its inception, CAIRHE has managed a joint Core with Montana INBRE that has thrived on shared resources and cross-program collaboration: the innovative Montana IDeA Community Engagement Core (CEC).

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National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities. Community-Based Participatory Research Program, 2018.

The goal of the CEC is to foster and enhance Native and rural community partnerships across Montana that address health disparities through community engagement. Meeting this goal requires sustainable community collaborations, use of community-based participatory research (CBPR) principles, training in those methods for investigators and communities, and innovative health communications that consider relevant cultural, linguistic, and literacy needs. Our communities are not research subjects; they are partners and collaborators, and our research is all the stronger for it.

Types of Research We Assist

The CEC's approach is rooted in Community-Based Participatory Research — a collaborative, often interdisciplinary endeavor that brings together community and academic perspectives as equal partners. Our team is adept at collaborating with public health professionals, medical professionals, bench or laboratory scientists, epidemiologists, community and tribal leaders, information systems experts, engineers, social scientists and behavioral health professionals, and others.

Central Activities

The CEC offers many tools for researchers to access before and during community-engaged work, including:

  • CBPR trainings that explore the cultural, linguistic, and literacy needs of communities;
  • Project planning using CBPR principles;
  • Mentoring by Community Research Associates (CRAs) who have experience in community organizing and engagement and can assist with connecting investigators and communities;
  • Guidance and contacts for setting up Community Advisory Boards (CABs) that inform research projects and consist of community members who know 1) which health concerns are most important,and 2) what strategies for addressing them may be most effective;
  • Introductions to potential partners such as tribal colleges, tribal and rural public health groups, schools, statewide health research clinics, and community civic and nonprofit organizations;
  • Suggestions on gaining broader tribal and rural community support of research projects;
  • Problem solving, navigating challenges, and communicating research possibilities to communities;
  • Suggestions for navigating IRBs, tribal councils, and other requirements for human subjects research;
  • Help identifying study participants;
  • Useful resources, such as the Health Equity Webinar Series and Resources of the Week listserv with news updates including information on publications, conferences, training, and funding opportunities;
  • Career development advice for researchers conducting CBPR.


Since 2019, the CEC has operated the Health Education and Research Bus (HERB), a unique mobile laboratory and outreach facility customized for community-based health research in Montana's frontier areas. Made possible through funding from the National Institutes of Health, HERB promotes partnerships among health researchers and rural and Native communities, health organizations, and other stakeholders across Montana.

HERBResearch activities include behavioral health interviews and surveys; collection of basic health and environmental data; ultrasound scans; and more. HERB is also a place where communities can engage with investigators and find information on nutrition, cancer, obesity, depression, wellness, and other topics. HERB also can serve as a staging area for community open houses, where local citizens can tour the Lab and meet investigators before any research activity takes place.

For more information about HERB and its use, contact Erik Adams at [email protected].

When to Contact the CEC

The CEC can be most effective in its role and better enhance a project when involved early in the planning process.  As research partners begin to discuss their project and its goals, Core members can help them develop Community Advisory Boards that will guide investigators and community researchers in project design, articulation of specific aims and overall goals, and dissemination of outcome information. The CEC also can provide training in CBPR to investigators and community researchers and help in the design of Memoranda of Understanding and other research documents involving data ownership and dissemination. Core staff are committed to helping research partners succeed in accomplishing their goals through sustained development of relationships and shared goals.

The Team

CAIRHE and its partners rely on the expertise of a team of community-academic professionals who value the mutual goal of improved community health through engagement, dialogue, and collective problem-solving.


Ann Bertagnolli

Ann Bertagnolli, Ph.D.

Montana IDeA Community Engagement Core Director

[email protected]
(406) 994-5214


Emily Matt Salois, MSW

Community Research Associate

[email protected] 

Erica McKeon-Hanson

Erica McKeon-Hanson, MPH, MSEd

Community Research Associate

[email protected]
(406) 945-3060

Emily Tomayko

Emily Tomayko, Ph.D.

Education Director

[email protected] 



“The shift from focusing on health disparities to health equity

research must be paralleled by a move from a community deficit model to one of capitalizing on the community's strengths and resources. This shift allows for the research to be conducted with an eye toward sustainable change, which requires input and buy-in from the local community. Creating a community feedback loop, in which the community participates in developing and implementing health equity interventions and sustaining the health improvement as a result of the interventions, is essential.”

Shobha Srinivasan, Ph.D., and Shanita D. Williams, Ph.D., MPH, APRN
"Transitioning from Health Disparities to a Health Equity Research Agenda: The Time Is Now"
Public Health Reports, Jan.-Feb. 2014; 129 (Suppl 2): 71–76.