CIRA Seeks Letters of Intent for its Annual Pilot Projects in HIV Research Program

CIRA currently seeks letters of intent for its annual Pilot Projects in HIV Research Program. Applicants must submit a one-page letter of intent by 5:00 p.m. on Monday, August 20, 2018. Full applications will be due on Monday, October 8, 2018.Download a PDF of the submission guidelines.

The goal of the program is to provide pilot funding to junior investigators, and/or support community-university research partnerships that will result in additional externally funded research projects. We will consider letters of intent for preliminary, formative, and/or feasibility studies that will inform the development of proposals for NIH or other external funding. Implementation Science (IS) is a central focus at CIRA and we expect to fund at least one IS project in this cycle. IS includes the study of whether activities or tools that have been shown to be effective in scientific studies work in the real world, and/or the factors that inhibit or facilitate the implementation of such programs.

CIRA is most interested in supporting pilot projects that study populations at highest risk of HIV infection and studies focused on reducing disparities in HIV incidence, prevalence and outcomes among marginalized populations, including those with common co-morbidities such as substance use and mental health disorders. Research that focuses exclusively on the basic biology of HIV or research to develop new HIV treatments will not be considered.

CIRA plans to fund up to three projects in this cycle with a maximum award for individual projects of $30,000. Projects must be completed within 12 months of the award.

Letter of Intent:
Applicants must submit a one-page letter of intent by 5:00 p.m. on Monday, August 20, 2018. This letter should include a descriptive title of the proposed project, a one paragraph description of the project, and the names and contact information of all key personnel. If you have any questions, please contact Linda Niccolai via email (

Application Process:
Applicants are required to submit a letter of intent. Our invitation for you to submit a full application will be contingent upon (1) the project’s alignment with CIRA’s mission, (2) the feasibility of the project, and (3) the potential for the project to lead to a larger research study funded by the National Institutes of Health or other granting agency. Full applications will be due on Monday, October 8, 2018. It is strongly recommended that applicants with a specific interest in developing an Implementation Science study consult with IS mentors at CIRA in developing their application. Additionally, pilot project applicants must submit their IBR request in advance, as part of the full application.

Emerging and new investigators (including Post-Doctoral Students, Research Associates, and Assistant Professors) at Yale University, The Institute for Community Research (ICR), and the Institute for Collaboration on Health, Intervention, and Policy (InCHIP) at UConn are eligible to apply as PIs. A senior researcher is allowed to participate as a mentor on the project. Investigators from other universities or colleges and community-based organizations are eligible to apply in collaboration with a Principal Investigator based at Yale, ICR, or InCHIP. It is our expectation that awardees will hold an appointment at one of these institutions for at least one year past the award date.

Letter from Jeff Fisher June 18, 2018

Dear InCHIP Affiliates, Principal Investigators, and Staff:

This is a good-bye message from me as InCHIP Director, although I will have an office on the second floor of Ryan for the next few years. Starting July 1, Amy Gorin and her team will be running the show at InCHIP, and I will step down from my administrative role.

I’ve been privileged to be the founding Director of InCHIP and its predecessors, the UConn AIDS Risk Reduction Project (ARRP) and the UConn Center for Health, Intervention and Policy (CHIP). Due to all of you, its remarkable affiliates, PIs, staff, and Associate Directors, InCHIP and its predecessors have accomplished a tremendous amount. We started out with a small number of affiliates in just two disciplines (see photo below), and now have about 400, spanning almost every school and college at UConn, and more than 60 other institutions.

(From Left) William Fisher (University of Ontario), Michael Copenhaver, Jeff Fisher, Seth Kalichman, Leslie Snyder, Blair Johnson, Kerry Marsh, , Bede Agocha, and Deborah Cornman.

We’ve performed research that has improved the public health in important ways in the US and globally. In the process, since 2002, we obtained $160 million in external grant funding, and generated $40 million in indirect cost returns to UConn. We’ve worked to support the success of many fabulous UConn researchers and recruited remarkable faculty to join InCHIP from other institutions. We also recruited the Rudd Center to move to InCHIP from Yale, and the Center for mHealth and Social Media to move to InCHIP from U. Mass Medical Center.

It has been a wonderful opportunity for me, along with a cast of many extremely talented academics and administrative colleagues, to have had a role in our evolution. We have done things we never thought would be possible, and for that I am very proud. Being the founding Director of InCHIP has been one of the greatest privileges of my professional life. After I retire on September 1, I look forward to interacting with all of you in my new phase of life. I’ll continue my passion of studying vexing problems that occur when folks do not behave in the best interest of their health. I love understanding the dynamics of such behavior and designing theory-based interventions to help people change. I don’t think I could be happy without playing at least a bit in this fascinating sandbox. I’ll be writing some grants, helping UConn find global partners for health research, doing some mentoring, and consulting on how to build successful Centers and Institutes elsewhere. Consulting is very different from directing a Center or Institute day after day, year after year. It’s more like being a grandparent—you visit, enjoy, and leave after a few days!

I want to thank all the many folks who worked with me on my research over the years, beginning before we received NIH funding for ARRP– from 1975 to 1989. It was impossible to pay you, but you believed in what we were doing, and that was somehow enough. Many fabulous colleagues, graduate students, post-docs and professional employees worked with me from 1989-2014 on my NIH grants with Bill Fisher. You deserve great credit for our scientific accomplishments.

I deeply thank everyone within and outside of the Institute who made InCHIP and its predecessors possible. Outside of InCHIP, several Vice Presidents of Research, Provosts, and Vice Provosts have been extremely supportive. Skip Lowe and then Provost John Petersen worked closely with me to initially obtain UConn funding for the Center in 2002. Most relevant to the present context, I am grateful to all of those who worked with me to build InCHIP and its predecessors. Over the years there have been too many of you to mention individually, but I am extremely grateful to each of you. Deborah Cornman has been Associate Director since we began and contributed a great deal to our progress. Vasinee Long worked with us for many years, has passed away, and is fondly remembered. Melissa Stone has been with us from the start in many different critical roles. Steve Jagielo, AnnMarie White, Lynne Hendrickson, Grace Morris, Aaron Plotke, Melanie Skolnick and Josh Hardin contribute greatly to the finest administrative team anywhere. Because of these folks, our Associate Directors, and our affiliates and PIs, InCHIP is widely considered one of UConn’s crown jewels.

After sixteen years in an administrative role, it’s a pleasure to pass the administrative torch to Dr. Amy Gorin. I’m delighted that InCHIP will have a new Director with such vision and talent. I wish Amy every success in running this remarkable Institute which all of you helped to build. I’ve loved working with you and serving as founding InCHIP Director. I look forward to interacting with you after my retirement on September 1 in my new role as active InCHIP affiliate, health promotion researcher, consultant, extremely attentive parent and grandparent, and leisurely world traveler!

With affection,

“K” Career Development Award Seminar May 7th


Post-doctoral fellows and junior faculty are eligible for NIH K Research Career Development Awards which are 4-5 year awards that support mentored research and training. K awards have higher funding rates than R grants and assist junior investigators in developing an independent program of research.

This seminar will provide an overview of the K award mechanism including:

  • 1) Discuss who qualifies for K award, the different types of Ks,
  • 2) the steps to prepare and apply (key sections of the K application)
  • 4) how to build a mentorship team,
  • 5) other strategic advice to increase competitiveness for a K.


May 7th from 12-1:30PM


InCHIP’s Colloquium Room (First Floor)


Post-Doctoral Fellows and Junior Faculty (with no more 4 years of postdoctoral research experience)


Professor of Allied Health Sciences, Director of the UConn Center for mHealth and Social Media, and mentor on numerous K awards will lead this seminar. She earned a K23 in 2003 to develop her program of research which has since attracted over $11M in federal funding.

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Community-Academic Networking Event on May 11th

| Healthy Communities Through Research: Fostering Equitable Community-Academic Partnerships |

  • When: Friday, May 11, 2018 from 12:00 to 3pm
  • Where: Hartford Public Library, 500 Main Street, Hartford, CT
  • Who: For community organizations and academic researchers interested in community-engaged research.

This event is free, but registration is required.

NIH Innovation Lab: Junior Faculty Collaboration Opportunity

NIH Innovation Lab: Staying Power: Developing Lifestyle Interventions that Last

Innovation Lab methodology is designed to counteract the myriad forces that tend to favor monodisciplinary, incremental science. Innovation Labs move quickly but deliberately to scope the problem and gather data, and then to generate novel combinatorial solutions, “stretch ideas,” and to create and refine solutions/research proposals with real-time peer-review. The idea is to develop sketches of high-impact, novel proposals within five days. Throughout the process, we focus deliberately on creatively combining expertise, lateral thinking, paradigm disruption, and the amplifying trust and shared understanding among participants.

Upcoming HIV Research Interest Group Programming

We are pleased to announce InCHIP’s HIV Research Interest Group Programming for 2018!
Please check back frequently, additional events and programs may be forthcoming

Past Events:


Christopher Gordon, PhD
Date: Monday, April 30, 2018
Time: 10:00am – 11:30am

“Spring Webinar to Discuss NIH Funding Priorities in HIV Prevention Science”
In this webinar, Christopher Gordon, Branch Chief of the Division of AIDS Research at the National Institute of Mental Health, will outline NIH’s funding priorities in HIV Prevention Science. This will include a review of current and future funding opportunities as well as identifying future trends in the world of HIV Research. The format will be composed of a 45-minute presentation with a 15-20 minute interactive Q&A session to follow.


William Darrow, PhD
Date: Thursday, March 29, 2018
Time: 1:45pm – 3:15pm

“From Patient 0 to Getting to Zero — A Brief History of the AIDS Epidemic”
With the announcement of “highly active” anti-retroviral therapy (HAART) in 1996, the focus of HIV prevention efforts and federal funding in the United States shifted from the promotion of “safer sex” and ABC (Abstinence, Be faithful, and use a Condom) messaging for behavior change to programs predicated on conceptualizations of “treatment as prevention,” “high-impact [biomedical] interventions,” and “pre-” and “post-exposure prophylaxis.” Policies and programs turned away from the community mobilization model of a “new public health” as outlined in the Ottawa Charter (1986) and implemented through “community planning” by state and local health departments in the mid-1990s towards a narrowly defined but politically more practical—and palatable—biomedical model for the 21st century. This roundtable discussion is meant to be provocative by reviewing the post-HAART history of the AIDS epidemic in the United States, plausible explanations for the more recent turn of events, and the effectiveness of HIV-prevention programs.


David Fiellin, M.D.
Date: Tuesday, March 27, 2018
Time: 12:00pm – 1:30pm

“Is It Harder to Change Patient or Provider Behavior?: Lessons for Addiction and HIV Research from Implementation Science”
This talk will provide an overview and introduction to Implementation Science. This will be followed by a discussion of examples of ongoing Implementation Science research studies addressing substance use in HIV clinics and untreated opioid use disorder in Emergency Departments. Finally, the talk will discuss opportunities for training, partnership and research collaboration through the New England HIV Implementation Science Network.


Lisa Eaton, PhD
Date: Thursday, January 25, 2018
Time: 2:00 – 3:00pm

“Roundtable Discussion: Ideas for Stigma Intervention Development”
Although it is acknowledged that stigma serves as a barrier to beneficial health outcomes, there are few developed and available interventions to address stigma. At this roundtable discussion, we will review different intervention points for stigma (e.g., individual, group, community, structural) and different intervention models for delivering stigma focused content.

Collaboratory on School and Child Health Helping to Develop CT Model for Trauma-Informed Schools By Beth Krane

Sandra Chafouleas, PhD Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor, Department of Educational Psychology
Sandra Chafouleas, PhD Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor, Department of Educational Psychology

A growing awareness of the prevalence of childhood exposure to trauma and an increased understanding of its corrosive, potentially lifelong impacts on health and behavior together are fueling a national movement to create trauma-informed schools, says InCHIP Principal Investigator (PI) Sandra Chafouleas. Such schools foster environments that are responsive to the needs of trauma-exposed students using systematic approaches and implementation of effective practices, the Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor of Educational Psychology explains.

Chafouleas co-authored an introduction to a special issue of the journal School Mental Health devoted to the topic and also wrote an article for the issue offering a blueprint for trauma-informed schools in spring of 2016. Since then, UConn’s Collaboratory on School and Child Health (CSCH), which Chafouleas co-directs, has been working to coalesce efforts to build a state model for trauma-informed schools in Connecticut. Steps taken include hosting a documentary screening and panel discussion, co-sponsoring a well-attended conference, helping to form a monthly working group comprised of relevant state and local stakeholders, and taking part in a series of professional development opportunities offered for educators across the state this fall.

Its initiative in this area is an example of CSCH doing precisely what it was formed to do two years ago. CSCH, which represents a partnership between the University’s Neag School of Education, Office of Public Engagement and InCHIP, brings researchers, policy makers, and practitioners together to promote the health, safety, and well-being of the whole child.

“We don’t always ask the right questions when we see a student struggling academically, missing school, or getting into trouble repeatedly,” Chafouleas said. “Once educators look at student behavior through a trauma-informed lens, it is easier to reframe their questions from blaming the child to asking what happened to the child and how can we help.”

In reframing, schools then can respond by teaching students needed coping and self-regulation skills instead of possibly re-traumatizing students with harsh discipline policies that don’t address the underlying problems, she said.

In the special journal issue, Chafouleas highlighted the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)’s four key assumptions underlying trauma-informed approaches: (1) a realization of the widespread prevalence and impact of trauma, (2) a recognition of the signs of traumatic exposure, and (3) a response grounded in evidence-based practices that (4) resists retraumatization of individuals.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA, 2014)
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA, 2014)

The blueprint she wrote with colleagues shared some of the best evidence-based interventions that schools could adopt, described using a familiar framework for multi-tiered service delivery within schools – the School-wide Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (SWPBIS) framework developed by her Neag School of Education colleague, Professor George Sugai. That framework focuses on planning, implementation, and evaluation of services across different levels of student need.

Using a multi-tiered service delivery approach, a school system might adopt a curriculum for social-emotional learning to teach all students coping and resilience, provide a smaller portion of the student body exposed to traumatic events access to in-school counseling resources, and identify an even smaller group of students exhibiting negative effects of trauma exposure and assess whether they need a combination of in- and out-of-school services. For example, in New Haven, the Clifford Beers Clinic partnered with the New Haven Public Schools and other agencies to lead trauma-informed school services. Led by the Clifford Beers Clinic, all school personnel received what Chafouleas refers to as “Trauma 101” training, students with moderate need have been offered access to an evidence-based intervention delivered in schools, and care coordinators intervene with those students and families experiencing the most toxic effects of trauma.

“Schools form a great space for addressing childhood trauma and its lasting effects,” Chafouleas said. “The kids are already there. Prevalence research estimates that two out of three children will be exposed to trauma by the age of 17. We want to facilitate the early identification of children affected by trauma, and to create ease of access to the most appropriate services to facilitate child wellbeing.”

“There are a lot of people and groups around the state who are committed to this kind of work,” Chafouleas said. “The question at the outset was, how do we bring them together to do the work more efficiently and effectively?”

Last fall, CSCH hosted one of the first screenings of the documentary Resilience: The Biology of Stress and the Science of Hope followed by a panel discussion with the film’s director James Redford; Alice Forrester, Clifford Beers Clinic Chief Executive Officer and CSCH Steering Committee Member; and Paul Diego-Holzer, Executive Director from Achieve Hartford!. The documentary chronicles the work of the researchers who discovered the long-term biological, psychological, and social effects of abuse and neglect in childhood, and highlights the efforts of pediatricians, therapists, and educators using the best evidence-based interventions to help children exposed to chronic stress. New Haven Public Schools and Clifford Beers Clinic are among those featured in the film.

Then, in the spring, CSCH co-sponsored a symposium on trauma-informed schools attended by more than 100 education, mental health, and community leaders, including an introduction by Connecticut Department of Education (CT DOE) Commissioner Dianna Wentzell. The Neag School of Education, Capitol Region Education Council (CREC), CT DOE, Ana Grace Project, Clifford Beers Clinic and the Child Health Development Institute (CHDI) collaborated with CSCH on the conference.

Throughout this fall, Connecticut Association of Schools (CAS) and Clifford Beers Clinic have sponsored five additional screenings of Resilience, coupled with panel discussions across the state, in response to educators’ overwhelming interest in learning about trauma-informed approaches. The professional development opportunities have been offered in Hampton, New London, Cheshire, Norwalk, and Torrington. Chafouleas and Forrester have each participated on many of the panels.

And a working group consisting of the symposium collaborators and additional organizations continues to meet monthly to discuss what a state model for trauma-informed schools should look like in Connecticut and to create an action plan for developing it. Chafouleas said the working group is using a multi-tiered service delivery framework such as the one presented in her blueprint as a guide, but each partner also brings its own experiences and expertise to the process.

Chafouleas said a number of CSCH’s partners have indicated they are pleased to have UConn at the table committed to working with them, from helping to identify the best-evidence based policies and practices to eventually guiding effective implementation of the model and evaluating how it is working.








Some Posts in Online Weight Loss Communities More Predictive of Success Than Others By Beth Krane

Likes, followers, posts. These are the signs of popularity or success on personal social media pages.

When it comes to using social media to promote healthy behaviors, research has revealed that, in those spaces too, posting more often is generally associated with better outcomes. But the frequency of posts doesn’t tell the full story, according to new InCHIP Principal Investigator (PI) Sherry Pagoto. The content of posts may matter more.

“So many people are using online communities to manage their health, but so few people study what works best in them and how people can benefit the most from them,” said Pagoto, Director of the UConn Center for mHealth and Social Media. “We want to understand what types of posts by participants are most associated with healthy behavior changes.”

Sherry Pagoto, PhD

Pagoto, a clinical psychologist and Professor of Allied Health Sciences, moved to UConn and joined InCHIP this fall from the University of Massachusetts Medical School, bringing with her more than $6 million in federal grants, her Center, and its staff of 10. Pagoto’s collaborator, Molly Waring, an Assistant Professor of Allied Health Sciences and an InCHIP PI, also made the move.

The new InCHIP researchers are using a grant from the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) to conduct a series of pilot studies examining engagement in online weight loss communities. Pagoto, the grant’s PI, will present their latest findings in early January at the Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences (HICSS), and the findings will be published in the conference proceedings.

The research team found that the three most common types of posts from a 12-week Facebook-delivered weight loss program were: (1) reporting a healthy choice such as “I just declined a doughnut. Go me!” (23%), (2) acknowledging another participant’s post such as “Great post!” (21%), and (3) sharing a challenge or slip-up such as “Ate way too much at the party!”(13%). The least common types of posts were: (1) negating such as “This recipe has broccoli. I hate broccoli” (1% percent), (2) irrelevant such as “Anyone see the game last night?” (2.5%), and (3) asking for help with a problem such as “I need ideas for low-cal snacks” (4%).


The types of posts most associated with weight loss were: reporting a healthy choice, asking for help with a problem, sharing a specific plan to eat better or exercise, and sharing progress on weigh-in days.

“We were intrigued that two types of posts that seemed similar – reporting a challenge and asking for help – actually were quite different in terms of predicting weight loss,” Pagoto said. “Reporting a challenge was one of the most common types of posts, but it wasn’t associated with weight loss. Asking for help was one of the least common types of posts but one of the most predictive of success. Asking for help is more proactive than just stating a problem and likely resulted in some ideas on how to move past the problem.”

Her team is testing ways to encourage participants to be more proactive in asking for help and to post content more likely to result in receiving personalized feedback and support from counselors and other participants.

After each study of online engagement, Pagoto’s team conducts focus groups with participants. Some have said they are not comfortable posting with strangers. Others are unsure of what to say.

“We are working on creating a supportive, confidential environment to make participants feel more at ease about participating. A weight loss group is also a new use of social media for a lot of people, so some might not be sure what is appropriate to post. We coach them on how to get the most out of these communities by telling them about what kind of posts are associated with greater success.”

Using popular social media platforms like Facebook to deliver behavioral interventions allows the researchers to reach the most people and to save time and money they otherwise would have to spend developing and marketing apps and websites. One potential drawback to social media delivery, however, is that people are used to sharing only good news on their personal social media pages, Pagoto said. This may account for why participants in the current study spent the most time reporting healthy choices they had made and less time asking for help.

“It’s a mental pivot for a lot of people, how to use one of these online communities differently than their regular social media pages,” Pagoto said. “When people do go out on a limb and share they have a problem, though, it’s actually very well-received. Other participants swoop in and offer advice, and they report that it made them feel better, not so alone.”

One of the research team’s next studies of engagement in online weight loss communities will test what happens when participants are allowed to invite family members and friends to join the community. The study will examine whether participants contribute more and ask for more help solving problems when they know people in the group and whether the number of people invited makes a difference.

While a number of her projects leverage existing social media platforms, Pagoto also is in the process of developing three mobile apps for weight loss.

“We’re moving toward integrating apps that help people with health behavior change, with social media communities that support them,” Pagoto said.