Q & A With Social Welfare's Ian W. Holloway

Q & A With Social Welfare's Ian W. Holloway

Posted on

Mon, 10/15/2012 - 4:45pm

Dr. Ian Holloway joined the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs as an assistant professor in Social Welfare prior to the Fall 2012 quarter after earning dual masters degrees in social work and public health from Columbia University and earning his doctorate in social work from the University of Southern California.

An expert in social network analysis and the application of social network methods to substance abuse and HIV prevention. He is affiliated with the UCLA Center for HIV Intervention, Prevention, and Treatment Services (CHIPTS). This Center, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, fosters interdisciplinary and community collaborations to develop strategies for integrating, promoting, and diffusing HIV detection, prevention and care.

Holloway will be teaching SW 201 C: Dynamics of Human Behavior in the Winter 2013 quarter. He took some time to sit down and answer some questions about his research and working at UCLA.

Question: Your research focuses on HIV and substance use among young people. What drew you to these areas of inquiry and this population?

Answer: HIV is one of the most pressing public health issues faced by our society.  Many people don’t realize it but there are certain subpopulations within the United States that have HIV prevalence rates that rival those in sub-Saharan Africa, the region of the world most affected by HIV. Substance use and HIV risk often go together because substance use can reduce a person’s ability to correctly and consistently practice safer sex.

I am especially drawn to work with adolescents and young adults because adolescence and emerging adulthood are periods of transition in a person’s life.  These developmental stages bring along challenges related to establishing independence from one’s family of origin, initiating romantic and sexual relationships, and often experimenting with alcohol and other substances.  HIV and substance abuse prevention programs that are developmentally appropriate and tailored for young people are needed in order to prevent the spread of HIV among young people in these age groups.   

Q: You have published with scholars from many different disciplines.  Who do you work with regularly in your research studies?

A: HIV prevention is absolutely an interdisciplinary field.  In my work, I have collaborated with scholars and community partners from a variety of disciplines, including medicine, public health, social work, public policy, anthropology, and psychology. Recently, I became affiliated with UCLA’s Center for HIV Identification, Prevention and Treatment Services (CHIPTS), which is funded by the National Institutes of Health. At CHIPTS I’ve had the opportunity to interact with interdisciplinary researchers from across campus, including those who conduct social and behavioral research as well as biomedical research on HIV. 

Q: You have an expertise in social network analysis. How do you use this technique to understand HIV risk?

A: HIV is transmitted through sexual and drug using networks, so using social network analysis to understand HIV transmission is incredibly valuable to determining how HIV prevention programs might be disseminated through networks. In my most recent work, I have used social network analysis at the community level to understand how venues attended by young men who have sex with men (YMSM) are interconnected.  This approach enabled me to identify the venues that were most popular among YMSM and the levels of substance use and sexual risk behavior present among the men attending those venues.  This information can be useful in formulating structural interventions to prevent HIV in YMSM communities.

Q: You have conducted research internationally.  What were some of the projects on which you’ve worked outside of the United States?

A: My international work has primarily taken place in Latin America and the Caribbean.  In a recent project in the Dominican Republic I assisted in the evaluation of an HIV prevention campaign designed for students attending Santo Domingo’s largest public university. This was a tremendous opportunity to determine the effectiveness of an existing program to increase knowledge about HIV and promote skills for safer sex negotiation. This research also helped my Dominican collaborators and me think about ways to strengthen the intervention program in the future. 

Q: You just published a paper called “Where are the Young Men in HIV Prevention Efforts?” in the Journal of Primary Prevention. What were some of your findings from that research?

A: In Los Angeles we have seen a disconnect between the average age of men who contract HIV and the average age of those men who participate in HIV prevention programs.  In this paper, my colleagues and I sought to understand the facilitators and barriers related to HIV prevention program attendance among young men who have sex with men (YMSM) in Los Angeles.  We interviewed 100 YMSM outside of bars and clubs in West Hollywood and found that only about one third of them had participated in an HIV prevention programs outside of formal sex education classes in school settings.  This is significant because previous research has shown that traditional sexual education classes do an inadequate job of educating YMSM how to protect themselves against HIV.

Young men in our study also indicated that they were not interested in traditional approaches to HIV prevention that require them to attend multiple sessions in university or community-based agency settings.  Instead, YMSM reported that they prefer to receive HIV prevention information quickly and conveniently in the social contexts they are already attending with their friends or through their social networks.  This study demonstrates the importance of future work to develop innovative HIV prevention approaches for YMSM, such as venue-based prevention and prevention using mobile phone technology.

Q: Is it weird knowing you got your doctorate at USC and now you're a faculty member at UCLA?

A: It’s not weird for me.  I feel very connected to community-based work in Los Angeles so I was grateful to be offered a job at UCLA after finishing my doctorate at USC.  Staying in LA means being able to continue working relationships with my community partners.  Both USC and UCLA are great schools.   

Q: What excites you about teaching at UCLA Luskin?

A: The Luskin School is a very unique setting in which to teach.  I love the interdisciplinary emphasis here at Luskin and I look forward to teaching social welfare students as well as urban planning and policy students.  We have much to learn from each other and have a unique opportunity to confront one of society’s most pressing issues from a variety of perspectives.

Q: How do you feel your expertise and teaching can help UCLA Luskin?

A: I think my expertise in social network analysis is a useful skill set to bring to the Luskin faculty. I know there are masters and doctoral students here who are interested in using this methodology to approach a variety of topics, so I’d like to teach a class on social network theory and methodology one day.  In the spring I’m developing a class called “HIV and Social Work” which draws on my expertise in HIV prevention.

Q: How has your previous experience prepared you for this opportunity?

A: My training in social work and public health have given me the theoretical background and practical skills necessary for carrying out research.  I have been working on community based participatory research projects for many years, so I know firsthand what it is like to form partnerships with communities and co-develop research aims to achieve our respective populations. As a doctoral student at USC, I taught several classes in research methods to masters students, so I bring that teaching experience to this opportunity for professional and personal growth.

Q: What is the best part of your job as a professor and researcher?

A: One of the best things about working as a professor is the opportunity to engage with students through teaching and service work.  I advise the Social Welfare Department’s LGBTQA Student Caucus and am inspired by the passion and enthusiasm that those students bring to their work with the LGBTQA community here at UCLA and beyond. 

The best thing about being a researcher is the ability to engage with community partners to conduct research that advances science and meets the needs of the communities most affected by a particular social problem.  I love knowing that the research in which I am involved is developed in partnership with community stakeholders and will ultimately affect the well-being of those most affected by a particular health risk. 


About the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs
Founded in 1994 and dedicated in 2011, the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs is a leading institution for research and scholarship in the areas of public policy, social welfare and urban planning. Based in the global metropolis of Los Angeles, UCLA Luskin develops creative solutions and innovative leaders that confront challenges in immigration, drug policy, prison reform, transportation, the environment, and other areas vital to the continued health and well-being of our global society.


Dr. Ian Holloway joined the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs as an assistant professor in Social Welfare prior to the Fall 2012 quarter after earning dual masters degrees in social work and public health from Columbia University and earning his doctorate in social work from the University of Southern California.