Native Elder Research Center (NERC)

The mission of the Native Elder Research Center is to promote the health and well-being of aging American Indians and Alaska Natives by pursuing research, training, continuing education, technical assistance, and information dissemination within a biopsychosocial framework that recognizes the unique cultural contexts of this special population.

Mission & Aims of NERC

The NERC addresses the following goals:

  • provide the administrative structure, supported by a large, comprehensive array of relevant AI/AN programs, required to direct and coordinate a culturally relevant, scientifically meritorious effort of this nature;
  • augment already active partnerships with AI/AN communities that ensure continuous access to and involvement of elders, their families, and local systems of care in the aging research process;
  • capitalize on an extensive network of collaborative links to identify, recruit, and sustain a cadre of AI/AN investigators willing to commit themselves to developing their potential as scientists specializing in aging research;
  • implement a carefully crafted set of mechanisms--informed by nearly two decades of experience--to equip AI/AN investigators for successful research careers at the interface of aging, health, and culture;
  • enlarge an existing group of investigators to include even more diverse disciplinary expertise of an exceptionally qualified nature that can address a broad range of high-priority questions related to the aging of Native elders; and
  • promote a program of research that holds considerable promise for reducing the differentials in health status and access to care that now plague this special population.


The NERC is organized in terms of four core components.

  1. The Administrative Core provides varying levels of direction and support--both day-to-day and long-term--to each of the other cores. This consists of the following levels of support:
    1. full range of logistical operations (e.g., scheduling, communication, personnel matters, expenditures, and monitoring functions);
    2. coordination of activities across all cores through a Center Coordinating Committee comprised of the core leaders;
    3. key strategic decisions (e.g., selection and periodic evaluation of Native Investigators, approval of Pilot Studies); and
    4. program planning as well as review.
  2. The Community Liaison Core provides formal linkage of the other core components to the participating communities through the four field offices and facilitates broader participation of local consumers, providers, and planners in the NERC efforts. In addition, the core builds upon existing collaborations with community-based, advocacy, and professional organizations to disseminate the programmatic outcomes of the NERC activities.
  3. The Investigator Development Core weaves together didactic, experiential, and mentored instruction as well as specialized seminars to equip the Native Investigators to function as independent scientists working at the interface of aging, health, and culture, with special emphasis on Native elders.
  4. The Measurement Core provides varying levels of direction and support to each of the Native Investigators and supporting faculty in the development and course of the Pilot Studies and related research. The NERC employs the pre-existing Research and Methodological Core already supported by the NCAIANMHR, which is comprised of four components: a data management/analysis sub core, an ethnographic sub core, a clinical sub core, and a statistical sub core. The staff assists in calculating power analyses to determine sample sizes, in tailoring analyses to the data available, in supervising data analysts, in reviewing manuscripts, and in demonstrating new analytic procedures.

NERC Key Personnel

Administrative Core: Spero M. Manson, Director, Core Leader

Community Liaison Core: Candace Fleming, Core Leader

Investigator Development Core: Dedra Buchwald, Core Leader

Measurement Core: Steve M. Schwartz, Core Leader

RCMAR Scholar
Vanessa Hiratsuka, Ph.D.: Dr. Hiratsuka is currently an indigenous Senior Researcher in the Southcentral Foundation Research Department.
Investigator Training

NERC has contributed significantly to foster over 37 well-trained Native Investigators engaged in research that can be readily consumed by American Indian and Alaska Native communities.


RCMAR Scholars at NERC have published over 266 papers on American Indian and Alaskan Native health.


NERC has garnered over $48 million in research funding aimed to improve the health of our nation’s Native elders.

RCMAR Scholar in the News

In March 2009, President Obama nominated Dr. Yvette Roubideaux, a RCMAR Scholar at NERC, to lead the Indian Health Service, citing her scholarship, clinical experience, and policy background as the basis for his appointment.