News

Lucy Finkelstein-Fox is the First Recipient of the Fisher Fellowship

Photo of Fisher Fellowship Award Ceremony
Pictured from left to right: Dr. Radenka Maric, UConn Vice President for Research; Dr. Jeff Fisher, InCHIP Founding Director (Emeritus); Lucy Finkelstein-Fox, recipient of the first Fisher Fellowship Award; Dr. Amy Gorin, InCHIP Director;
Photo credit: Carson Stifel

Lucy Finkelstein-Fox, a Ph.D. student in Clinical Psychology, has been awarded the first Jeffrey D. Fisher Health Behavior Change Research Fellowship.

Throughout her undergraduate and graduate studies, Finkelstein-Fox’s primary research interest has been in the effects of traumatic life events and related cognitions as they carry forward into daily health.

“Ever since I was an undergrad, I’ve really been interested in trauma and how different kinds of life events – both…official traumas as well as major transitions – impact the course of people’s lives and how they make sense of what comes next,” Finkelstein-Fox says.

Crystal Park, Ph.D., a Professor of Psychological Sciences at UConn, is Finkelstein-Fox’s advisor, and the two have worked together on several projects.

“In working with Dr. Park, I’ve really had the opportunity to look at how trauma history plays into daily experiences and stress, coping, health, and emotion,” Finkelstein-Fox says.

For her dissertation, Finkelstein-Fox plans to expand on her previous studies of stress, coping, and health outcomes. She plans to explore how emotional attention biases affect meaning-making over time, as well as insomnia, sleep hygiene, and persistent depressed affect after the death of a loved one.

“I’m going to look at how the ways that we make meaning impact our mood and the quality of our sleep,” Finkelstein-Fox says.

Meaning making is when an individual thinks repetitively about a traumatic event. Finkelstein-Fox will be looking specifically at loss as the traumatic event in her study.

Finkelstein-Fox’s study will be the first to examine a comprehensive longitudinal model of reciprocal change in cognitions, mood, and sleep behaviors over the course of bereavement. Her dissertation research has the potential to inform personalized bereavement interventions in the future.

Finkelstein-Fox says the Fisher Fellowship makes reimbursement of study participants possible, which is very meaningful in her work, especially for a longitudinal study where participants are asked to discuss difficult experiences.

“This study also…is a new one for me because I’m going to be using a laboratory task of attention,” Finkelstein-Fox says. “The funds will help me to purchase the software and learn how to use it in a way that’s going be important for my career.”

Finkelstein-Fox has been a research assistant for several clinical intervention studies at InCHIP. In addition, an InCHIP seed grant funds her current pre-dissertation project.

“I’m running a project right now that looks at the ways in which undergraduate students who have chronic medical problems are able to cope flexibly with both their medical issues and their experiences as students,” Finkelstein-Fox says.

In the future, Finkelstein-Fox hopes to work within an academic medical center. She intends to continue her research on the relationship between trauma, cognitions, affect, health-promoting behaviors, and socio-cultural determinants of health.

Jeffrey D. Fisher, Ph.D., recently retired from the University of Connecticut, where he was the founding Director of the Institute for Collaboration on Health, Intervention, and Policy (InCHIP).

The Jeffrey D. Fisher Health Behavior Change Research Fellowship was created to honor Fisher’s legacy at UConn and to advance the research of continuing UConn graduate students working on dissertations in the health behavior field.

“[The Fisher Fellowship is intended] to provide a measure of extra support for those students to help them to succeed,” Fisher said.

The Fisher Fellowship will award a $2,000 stipend each year to a student conducting their dissertation research on health and health behavior change research. This year, the Office of the Vice President for Research contributed an additional $2,000 to the award.

2018 CSCH Encore Conference and Networking 9/24/18

The second UConn Collaboratory on School and Child Health Encore Conference will be held at the Hartford Public Library on Monday, September 24, 2018, from 4-6 p.m.

The CSCH Encore conference provides an opportunity for participants to learn about work related to school and/or child health that affiliates have presented previously at an external conference. The event will include an poster “encore” session (meaning presenters share work they have already presented in another setting) and active networking. There will be a special opportunity to participate in an on-the-spot seed grant competition. Winners at this stage will be invited to apply for seed grants for up to $8,000. Refreshments will be provided.

The event is open to all people that are CSCH affiliates (faculty, postdocs, students, community partners) by the time of the event.

For more information, contact Helene Marcy.

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,
Jeff

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A New InCHIP PI Is Testing a Postpartum Weight Loss Intervention on Social Media By Beth Krane

New InCHIP Principal Investigator Molly Waring is bringing a postpartum weight loss program to women where they already come together – Facebook.

Molly Waring, PhD (Allied Health Sciences)
Molly Waring, PhD (Allied Health Sciences)

Waring specializes in technology-based weight loss interventions for women of childbearing age. She understands that new moms are extremely busy and don’t always have time for weight loss programs with in-person meetings. Waring also knows that more than 80% of online moms use Facebook, the most popular online social network, and about half of those moms already seek social or emotional support about parenting issues online.

“Delivering our intervention via Facebook allows us to connect with postpartum women where they are, more fully integrating into their lives and daily routines,” said Waring, an epidemiologist and an Assistant Professor of Allied Health Sciences. “A mom in our study may be looking at updates from her high school friends or photos of her sister’s vacation on Facebook, but then she’ll also see a post that says, ‘What’s your plan to be active today?’ or a post starting a conversation about stress management or how to get support from family or friends around lifestyle changes.”

Waring and her collaborator Sherry Pagoto, professor of Allied Health Sciences and Director of the UConn Center for mHealth and Social Media, joined UConn’s faculty this fall from the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Both Pagoto and Waring lead programs of research that merge the most compelling scientific evidence for health behavior change with technology and popular social media platforms to deliver interventions that are effective, convenient, and sustainable.

Waring and her team of researchers, including Pagoto, conducted a successful pilot study of their Facebook-delivered weight loss intervention for postpartum women to see if women would be interested in it and stay engaged. The findings of this pilot study, which will be published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior in early 2018, include a retention rate in the 12-week program of 95%, with 100% of women visibly engaging in the last four weeks of the intervention including 42% who engaged on the last day of the study.

Women enjoyed the intervention and achieved results participating in it, Waring reports in the article. More than 80% said they would participate in the program again and recommend it to a friend. Nearly 60% lost at least 5% of their starting weight.

women running on treadmills

Now, with a new three-year grant from the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), Waring, the principal investigator, and Pagoto, a co-investigator, will build on their pilot study and conduct a randomized controlled trial involving 72 postpartum women who are overweight or obese and who gave birth 6 weeks to 12 months ago. Participants will be randomly assigned to receive a weight loss program designed for new moms delivered either in a private Facebook group or via weekly in-person group meetings.

All of the women in this trial will receive a lifestyle intervention based on an existing program but adapted for postpartum women, so it covers, for example, the caloric needs of nursing mothers, safe exercises to do in the early postpartum period, and fun ways to exercise with your baby. There will be a topic for each week of the program, ranging from diet and exercise to sleep, social support, and stress management.

Half of the women in the study will attend one 90-minute in-person group meeting with a trained coach each week, and the other half will be part of a private Facebook group in which a trained coach will post information twice a day, which women will see as part of their regular Facebook feeds.

”I’m predicting that women who participate in the weight loss program via Facebook will lose about the same amount of weight as women attending traditional weight loss meetings, but that Facebook delivery will be more convenient, cost-effective, and sustainable,” Waring said. “And that ultimately gives our Facebook-delivered intervention an edge in terms of potential for impacting women’s lives.”

Pregnancy and the postpartum period are critical times to change women’s weight trajectories, she said.

As many as half of postpartum women are at least 11 pounds heavier one year after delivery than they were pre-pregnancy. Pregnancy weight gain that isn’t lost after delivery also can lead to obesity for some women. A recent study found that 30% of women who were normal weight pre-pregnancy were overweight at one year postpartum, and 44% of overweight women had become obese.

Waring hopes to ultimately reach as many postpartum women as possible, and delivering the intervention through a widely available social media platform such as Facebook, can help with this goal. In addition to helping women lose weight after having a baby, Waring and her team aim to create a ripple effect that also positively impacts women’s families.

“We’re trying to catch women at a time in their lives when many are already highly motivated to make healthy behavior changes for themselves and their new babies. For instance, some women may give up smoking when they become pregnant,” Waring said. “It’s a great time to help women make choices that result in healthier lives for themselves and for their children.”

 

A New InCHIP Grant Investigates Americans’ Perspectives on Health Equity By Beth Krane

A leading U.S. health foundation has enlisted an InCHIP expert to assist in its efforts to help build a national “culture of health.”

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation approached UConn Associate Professor of Anthropology Sarah Willen to help broaden and strengthen its understanding of Americans’ perspectives on health equity and deservingness. The Foundation’s “culture of health” framework aims to promote health equity and cultivate a sense of health as a shared value.

Sara Willen, PhD (Anthropology)
Sara Willen, PhD (Anthropology)

With help, in part, from an InCHIP Rolling Seed Grant and advice from mentors at both InCHIP and CDC, Willen responded to the Foundation by building an interdisciplinary research team and advisory board, conducting a two-day planning workshop, and preparing a detailed proposal.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation awarded Willen and her research team a two-year grant to support a two-phase study, ARCHES (AmeRicans’ Conceptions of Health Equity), which launched last month. The team is beginning by conducting interviews in Cleveland, Ohio, with Americans from diverse socioeconomic, professional, and racial and ethnic backgrounds, and then will use those qualitative findings to develop and conduct a national survey. An additional study component is an ethnographic study of HIP-Cuyahoga, a regional health equity initiative based in Greater Cleveland.

Willen and her team plan to investigate “how Americans think about a question that plays a pivotal, but largely implicit, role in American public discourse about society’s obligations to its members – the question of ‘who deserves what in the health domain, and why,’” she said.

“Often we hear health researchers and folks in public health say things like, ‘Everyone deserves to live the healthiest life possible,’” Willen said. “That’s a bold statement, and we don’t know whether it’s supported by all Americans. In fact, it’s possible some see things quite differently. Our goal is to develop a better understanding of how people’s moral values and personal experiences influence their views and their actions.”

Willen’s focus on health-related deservingness emerged from her research on unauthorized migration and health in different countries, including Israel.

“Health researchers who work on international migration know full well that ideas about who is and who is not deserving of attention or investment vary considerably from one country to the next,” said Willen, who also directs the Research Program on Global Health and Human Rights at UConn’s Human Rights Institute. “Whether we are health officials, policymakers, voters, or researchers, our views are always influenced by moral values and commitments that tend to remain unspoken.”

“Now we want to open up these questions and pursue them more broadly here in the U.S.,” Willen said. “How do people think about what they themselves deserve in the health domain? How do people’s views and experiences influence their ideas about what others deserve? And, moreover, how might these ideas change over time?”

Willen said her group will examine how individuals’ positions on these issues might affect their health behaviors as well as their perspectives on health disparities, sense of social interconnectedness, and level of civic involvement.

Willen’s core research team includes co-investigators Colleen Walsh, an Assistant Professor of Health Sciences at Cleveland State University, and Abigail Fisher Williamson, an Assistant Professor of Political Science and Public Policy & Law at Trinity College, as well as UConn Anthropology PhD Candidate William Tootle, Jr. The project also involves research consultants from Brown University, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland State University, Syracuse University, and University of South Florida.

The first study phase, in Cleveland, involves interviews with 140 people, including elected officials, public health professionals, community leaders, philanthropists, clergy, and local residents. Half of those interviewed will be active in HIP-Cuyahoga, and half will not. Researchers also will attend HIP-Cuyahoga meetings, observe its events, and track its public messaging.

Willen chose to conduct the study’s first phase in Cleveland because it is similar to many American cities, yet also exhibits some of the country’s greatest disparities in health outcomes by race/ethnicity and class, including indicators like infant mortality, childhood lead exposure, and life expectancy. And HIP-Cuyahoga presents a nationally-recognized model for responding to those health inequities.

The second phase of the study will test the team’s qualitative findings with a national survey of 3,000 Americans.

Willen said InCHIP Director Jeffrey Fisher, InCHIP Associate Director Amy Gorin, and InCHIP PI and Director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity Marlene Schwartz, who has worked extensively with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, were all instrumental in helping her respond to the Foundation’s initial interest in her research.

In accepting the grant, Willen has committed to a host of deliverable products including academic papers and presentations, a case study and teaching module focusing on HIP-Cuyahoga, blog posts, and op-ed pieces for mainstream media.

“One of the most exciting things about working with RWJF is their challenge to consider the implications of our research from the outset, ” Willen said. “Not only do we need to produce rigorous findings, but we also need to think constantly about the bigger questions that researchers sometimes neglect: Why does this matter? Who should care about our findings, and how can we make our findings accessible to the right people, in the right way? How might our work change minds?”

 

From The Director

InCHIP Director Jeffrey Fisher
InCHIP Director Jeffrey Fisher

Dear InCHIP Affiliates

As usual, the atmosphere is highly dynamic at InCHIP, due to our wonderful administrative staff, Associate Directors, Executive Committee, and engaged faculty affiliates. This year we adopted a new Core structure to provide many more services to our affiliates, with a deep focus on training and development. We want to help faculty affiliates at each career stage to be even more successful in their research and their grant applications. In addition to an Administrative Core (which is not new), we now have a Training and Development Core, an Intervention Core, a Biostatistics & Methodology Core, and a Community-Engaged Health Research Core, all of which are active and available to InCHIP affiliates. In addition to providing extensive services, this new structure will position us to apply for future Center and other large interdisciplinary grants. Please read the articles on the new Cores in this issue of InCHIP Research News, visit our website which has pages devoted to each Core, and most of all, take advantage of what the Cores have to offer.

We have been privileged to bring to UConn and to InCHIP several critical new faculty over the past few years, as well as to move the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity from Yale to UConn as a unit within InCHIP. We are happy to announce that we have had the opportunity to continue to attempt to recruit exceptional faculty target of opportunity hires during the current academic year as part of a University initiative. We have interviewed new potential InCHIP researchers/UConn faculty in HIV prevention and in digital health, consistent with our long-term plans to hire a new generation of HIV prevention researchers (some of our HIV prevention researchers, like me, are getting older), and to grow in the fast developing domain of electronic and mobile health. Stay tuned for any news that may materialize on this front. Note that this issue of the InCHIP Research News highlights the research of two of the new faculty we have recruited in the past few years, Kim Gans and Lisa Butler. Both are great additions to our group and are very interested in collaborating with others at InCHIP and UConn.

An exciting initiative with Cuban health promotion researchers has been ongoing, led by Biostatistics & Methodology Core Director and InCHIP Executive Committee member Tania Huedo-Medina and Vice President for Global Affairs Dan Weiner, with assistance from InCHIP. This March, ten InCHIP researchers will be going to Havana to meet with ten Cuban health researchers for a weeklong workshop to develop collaborative research and funding plans. This global health initiative represents a wonderful opportunity for UConn and InCHIP, and one that we hope will continue to grow moving forward.

The highly acclaimed InCHIP Lecture series continues this semester with a number of very accomplished researchers from around the country. Take the opportunity to attend it “in person” over lunch (there is such a thing as a free lunch!) or watch it online, and make an appointment to meet with the speakers before or after their talk.

Last but not least, Dr. Kara Hall, who is the Director of the Science of Team Science (SciTS) Team at the National Cancer Institute, will be joining us for two days on May 11 and 12 to provide training in and facilitate discussions about team science. We are very fortunate to have someone with such tremendous expertise in team science coming to UConn. Not only did Kara help launch the SciTS field by co-chairing the 2006 conference, “The Science of Team Science: Assessing the Value of Transdisciplinary Research,” she also co-edited the 2008 American Journal of Preventive Medicine Supplement on the Science of Team Science, which has been the most cited and downloaded AJPM supplement to date.

As you know, there have been substantial changes in the upper UConn administration in recent months. We deeply thank Mun Choi, Sally Reis, Jeff Seemann, and Jeremy Teitelbaum for their wonderful support of InCHIP over the years. Each of them has had a significant impact on the success and growth of our Institute, and we wish them every success in their new roles.

We look forward to a successful and exciting remainder of the academic year.

 

Best,

Jeff

InCHIP’s New Core Structure Offers “One-Stop Shopping” for Researchers

By Loretta Waldman

The past year has been one of significant growth and transformation at InCHIP, most notably for its evolution from the Center for Health, Intervention, and Prevention (CHIP) to the Institute for Collaboration on Health, Intervention, and Policy (InCHIP). As part of the change from a Center to an Institute, InCHIP has created a new Core structure that provides “one-stop shopping” for researchers. From the creation of an initial research idea to the implementation of a funded research project, InCHIP provides services and support at each step of the process. Of the many services being offered, InCHIP is prioritizing training and mentoring opportunities that help develop faculty and graduate students into strong researchers.

InCHIP’s Directors believe that the newly developed Core Structure and the developmental focus will lead to UConn researchers obtaining larger multidisciplinary grants.

“The reality of public health issues is that they are complex,” says Deborah Cornman, an Associate Director and Associate Research Professor at InCHIP. “Certainly, individual researchers can still get grants to address these issues but, more and more, funders are looking for a team approach that brings in different perspectives and areas of expertise. Historically, not just here at UConn but at most academic institutions, researchers have been pretty siloed. We are trying to bridge those siloes and bring people together. So for the past couple of years, we have been working aggressively on forming multidisciplinary teams of researchers.”

The new Core structure was created to facilitate InCHIP’s efforts and is comprised of five Cores:

  • Administrative Core
  • Training & Development Core
  • Intervention Core
  • Biostatistics & Methodology Core
  • Community-Engaged Health Research Core

Critical to the operation of these Cores are InCHIP’s two Boundary Spanners, John Giardina and Grace Morris, who work diligently to help carry out many of the activities of these Cores and support researchers across the University.

The Administrative Core, headed by InCHIP Director Jeff Fisher, provides exceptional pre-award and post-award services. The Administrative Core staff works closely with researchers to provide them with tailored support and services as they prepare their grant proposals and, then once their grants are funded, as they conduct their research.

Cornman called the Training & Development Core “one of the most important Cores at InCHIP.” It is headed by Amy Gorin, an InCHIP Associate Director and Associate Professor of Psychological Sciences. For UConn researchers at all stages of their careers, from graduate students to tenured faculty, this Core provides a variety of services including training in grant writing, faculty mentors, seed grant funding, research team development, and expert assistance with developing grant proposals. Examples of the grantsmanship training that this Core provides include a six-session Grantsmanship Training Workshop last Spring, a three-session Specific Aims workshop this fall, and a Budget Workshop in February.  A workshop in Team Science is scheduled for May of this year.

Another form of support provided by the T&D Core is the InCHIP Internal Seed Grant Competitions.

“There are currently five seed grant opportunities being offered by InCHIP,” Gorin says. “The idea here is that a small investment pays off substantially in the long run. If you allow people to collect the pilot data they need, they are much more successful with their external grant applications.”

A new InCHIP Grant Proposal Incubator is also part of the T&D Core. Co-chaired by Blair Johnson, Professor of Psychological Sciences and InCHIP Principal Investigator, and Michael Copenhaver, Associate Professor of Allied Health Sciences and InCHIP Principal Investigator, the Incubator provides feedback to Principal Investigators and their teams about their research ideas and grant proposals.

“The Incubator is an opportunity for investigators to present an idea or a draft of a grant proposal to a panel of expert researchers and get feedback on it, including how to best sell their idea in their proposal,” says Gorin.

The Intervention Core is another InCHIP resource for researchers. It helps them “create programs, interventions, and innovations that can address priority individual and public health issues,” says Cornman. Co-directed by InCHIP Director Jeff Fisher and Kim Gans, Professor of Human Development & Family Studies and InCHIP Principal Investigator, the Intervention Core provides researchers with assistance in designing, implementing, evaluating, and disseminating innovative behavioral interventions. The Core maintains a directory of 20 faculty members with expertise in health behavior interventions who are willing to assist investigators with their intervention research.

Along with facilitating the formation of collaborative research partnerships between investigators and intervention experts, the Intervention Core hosts lectures and workshops with leading investigators in the field of behavioral intervention research. One recent event featured Ross Buck, Professor of Communication, who gave a presentation on the potential value of interventions that teach people how to accurately forecast, label, and understand their emotions. After his lecture, he led a discussion with faculty and graduate students about health behaviors that might benefit from an emotional education intervention, such as safer sex, diet, exercise, and substance abuse.

“InCHIP is trying to build stronger intervention research at UConn, and this Core is a way of giving faculty the support they need to do that,” says Gans.

The Biostatistics & Methodology Core provides the support researchers need to conduct statistically rigorous research and successfully compete for grants in the health sciences. Under the direction of Tania Huedo-Medina, Assistant Professor of Statistics and Allied Health Sciences, this Core connects researchers with a range of statistics experts and helps them establish successful collaborations for innovative health behavior research.

The Community-Engaged Health Research Core is the newest Core at InCHIP. Headed by Cornman, InCHIP’s Associate Director, the goal of the Core is to develop partnerships between UConn researchers and community-based organizations who work together to identify and address critical health issues facing Connecticut and other communities. This Core is working closely with UConn’s Office of Public Engagement as well as with a variety of community organizations, including the Institute for Community Research, Hispanic Health Council, and Community Solutions, among others.

“The idea is to have the infrastructure in place to encourage and support community-engaged health research,” says Cornman. “Part of the Core’s mission is to provide training to faculty and community partners about how to most effectively work together to conduct community-engaged research that is feasible and sustainable, and has a positive impact on health.”

InCHIP Director Jeff Fisher succinctly summed it up this way:  “We tackle complex public health problems here at UConn, and InCHIP provides services and resources to help researchers be successful at that, including assistance with developing research ideas, writing strong proposals, and ultimately implementing their research.”