Welcome to the Social Science Research Institute
The mission of Penn State’s Social Science Research Institute (SSRI) is to foster novel, interdisciplinary collaborations that address critical human and social problems at the local, national, and international levels and that translate and disseminate this knowledge into measurable outcomes for human behavior, health, and development. Since its launch in 2001, the SSRI team has worked to promote innovation and excellence in research in the social and behavioral sciences at Penn State.
SSRI advances its mission by bringing together researchers from a range of disciplines around emerging areas of study and by providing consultation, financial support, and shared infrastructure development and services to Penn State’s social and behavioral scientists. The SSRI is one of seven, cross-university research institutes supported by the Office of the Senior Vice President for Research, which include the Institutes for Energy and Environment, Huck Institutes for the Life Sciences, Institute for Computational and Data Sciences, Materials Research Institute, Clinical and Translational Science Institute, and Penn State Cancer Institute.
SSRI’s 2019-2021 Annual Report presents a sampling of the many groundbreaking, interdisciplinary research projects led by Penn State’s social and behavioral scientists. We focus in this report year on projects that align with the Institute’s 2014-2024 strategic aims: the human system, reducing social disparities, smart and connected health, innovative methods, and dissemination and implementation science. In describing these projects, the Annual Report also highlights SSRI’s research units and activities, the growing number and scope of supports by SSRI’s units, and the success of our faculty in building on SSRI seed grants to develop externally funded projects.
A major focus of the Institute this year was addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. In partnership with the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences and the Clinical and Translational Science Institute, SSRI has worked to give voice to Centre County residents and Penn State students via the Data 4 Action Project. Through surveys and biological testing, the project aims to document the pandemic-related experiences of the population surrounding University Park, including its social and economic impacts, in an effort to advance science and contribute to local leaders’ decision-leaders making as the region moves forward. Read this story.
SSRI also partnered with the Huck and the other OSVPR Institutes to support pilot projects aimed at addressing the complex problems surrounding the pandemic. Across the institutes more than 135 faculty members in 48 research teams from across 10 colleges at Penn State have been granted $2.4 million in seed-funding to initiate their vitally important work. Those funded by SSRI included faculty members from different departments in different colleges and campuses, some of which have already gone on to garner external funding to further their work.
The year also was marked by a renewed urgency to bring our academic mission to bear on advancing social justice. Social scientists across the University continue to draw attention to widening gaps in education and health and to the economic marginalization of individuals, families and communities of color. Including through their translational research and in more recent policy-focused activities, our faculty are having an impact on this wicked problem - which has long plagued our nation. Clearly much more needs to be done, however, and planning an SSRI agenda to address racism and reduce inequities will be a focus of activity in the coming year.
Toward this end, SSRI welcomed eight new co-funded faculty members. These professors join a highly productive and talented group of SSRI co-funded faculty members whose interdisciplinary research is advancing social and behavioral science. SSRI’s co-funded faculty support reflects the range of partnerships between the Institute and academic units around the University: As of summer 2021, SSRI supported 51 faculty members from 15 departments in 5 colleges.
On a personal note, I will be stepping down from the SSRI Director role at the end of June 2021, and so I take this this opportunity to thank Penn State’s social scientists for their many and effective efforts at advancing our science and its real-world impacts. Serving as SSRI Director has been a great privilege and one of the most exciting adventures of my career. We are living through unprecedented times that have brought substantial challenges both to both our work and personal lives. Meanwhile, there is increased urgency to further our knowledge and its translation into programs and policies that promote positive human behavior, social relationships, and institutional and organizational practices toward bettering the world. Together with colleagues from a broad range of disciplines, Penn State social scientists can and will make a difference.
Susan McHale, Ph.D.
How environments and experiences get under the skin to affect stress and immune functions, social, cognitive, and affective neural processes, and gene-related mechanisms—and the ways in which these bio-psycho-social processes both shape and are shaped by human behavior, health and development.
Discovery of causes and consequences and development of evidence-based policies, programs, and practices for remediating widening gaps in the health, education, and community resources of vulnerable populations, including children, youth, elders, and their families—toward sustaining a diverse and changing population in a global society.
Health and mental health promotion and disease prevention and treatment using novel methodologies (electronic devices, social media, human-technology hybrids), “big data” analytics, and other innovations for enhancing health and health behavior and optimizing health care and health care delivery using evidence-based practices and policies toward a sustainable health system.
Novel approaches to research design, data collection, security, and archiving, and modeling and analysis pertaining to our targeted foci and beyond.
The scientific study of best methods for translating knowledge into policies, programs, practices, and products that achieve broad and sustained uptake and use toward enhancing the health and well-being of individuals, their communities, and the larger society.
Center for Educational Disparities Research conducts multi-disciplinary research aimed at closing the opportunity and achievement gaps often faced by children who are minorities, low-income, or have disabilities; CEDR is co-sponsored by the College of Education.
The Child Maltreatment Solutions Network includes researchers and practitioners from across Penn State who produce new knowledge, foster innovative approaches to prevention and treatment, create educational opportunities, and engage with communities to combat child maltreatment.
The Clearinghouse for Military Family Readiness works to foster and support interdisciplinary applied research and evaluation, translational and implementation science, and outreach efforts that advances the health and wellbeing of military service members and their families.
The Computational and Spatial Analysis Core develops spatial statistics and analysis methods and infrastructure for integrating and analyzing large spatial, historical, individual, and contextual datasets. The CSA also provides consultations, programming, and analysis services.
The Consortium to Combat Substance Abuse produces new knowledge and develops effective programs, policies and practices aimed at preventing and treating substance misuse and its effects on children, families and communities.
The Evidence-to-Impact Collaborative facilitates the translation of social science research into measurable societal impact by increasing relevance to policymakers and practitioners.
The Federal Statistical Research Data Center is one 24 Federal Statistical Research Data Centers across the nation that provide researchers with secure access to restricted economic, demographic, and health data collected by US federal agencies. The RDC at Penn State, together with a branch in Philadelphia, is funded and operated by a consortium including Penn State, Drexel University, University of Pennsylvania, and the Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank.
The Population Research Institute supports and promotes innovative, interdisciplinary population research and is one of 21 centers across the nation funded in part by a grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
The Quantitative Developmental Systems Methodology Core develops new methods for the study of human behavior and behavior change, including measurement, design, and analysis techniques that span multiple time-scales and levels of analysis. It is co-sponsored by the Department of Human Development and Family Studies.
The Social, Life, and Engineering Sciences Imaging Center fosters cutting edge research for which imaging methodologies play a central role by providing instrumentation, technological and substantive expertise, educational opportunities, and financial support.
The Survey Research Center provides survey services, promotes and contributes to the science of survey research methodology, helps investigators prepare effective proposals for external funding, and educates members of the Penn State community on best practices and emerging developments in the survey research field.
The Administrative Core, in addition to its budgetary and human resources activities, is responsible for the tracking and evaluation activities pertaining to the SSRI’s research supports. This includes Level 1 and Level 2 seed grants, facilitated research projects, Faculty Fellows Program, SLEIC and GIA Pilot Hours, SRC projects, grant proposal consultation with SSRI unit directors and co-directors around SSRI and external funding, and the SSRI co-funded faculty.
The Communications Core promotes the SSRI mission by engaging a broad community of stakeholders in the Institute’s activities via news releases, news letters, social media and website development. Additional efforts are directed at increasing the visibility of important social science research to the broader community. The Communications Core also provides internal communications support to SSRI faculty, staff, and students.
The IT Core provides strategic IT vision, leadership, and solutions to the faculty, staff, and students within the SSRI to enable them to meet their research goals, deliver results, and enhance the SSRI’s position at Penn State and the larger research community.
Susan McHale, Ph.D. - Distinguished Professor, Human Development and Family Studies and Demography
Keith Aronson, Ph.D. - Associate Research Professor, Biobehavioral Health / Associate Director, Clearinghouse for Military Family Readiness
Sheri A. Berenbaum, Ph.D. - Professor, Psychology and Pediatrics
Leif Jensen, Ph.D. - Distinguished Professor, Rural Sociology and Demography
Joshua Smyth, Ph.D. - Distinguished Professor, Biobehavioral Health and Medicine
Danielle Symons Downs, Ph.D. - Professor, Kinesiology and Obstetrics & Gynecology
Kristie Auman-Bauer - Director, Communications Core
Joseph Broniszewski - Director, Information Technology Core
Guangqing Chi, Ph.D. - Director, Computational and Spatial Analysis Core / Professor, Rural Sociology and Demography and Public Health Sciences
Diana Crom - Director of Operations, Survey Research Center
Max Crowley - Director, Evidence to Impact Collaboratory / Associate Professor of Human Development and Family Studies, and Public Policy
Michele Diaz, Ph.D. - Director, Social, Life, and Engineering Sciences Imaging Center / Associate Professor, Psychology
Jennifer Glick, Ph.D. - Director, Population Research Institute / Arnold S. and Bette G. Hoffman Professor, Sociology and Criminology
Nicole Hurlbutt - Director of Administration, Clearinghouse for Military Family Readiness
Stephanie Lanza - Director, Consortium to Combat Substance Abuse
Paul Morgan, Ph.D. - Director, Center for Educational Disparities Research / Professor, Education Policy Studies and Demography
Jennie Noll, Ph.D. - Director, Child Maltreatment Solutions Network / Professor, Human Development and Family Studies
Daniel Perkins, Ph.D. - Principal Scientist, Clearinghouse for Military Family Readiness / Professor, Family and Youth Resiliency and Policy
Nilam Ram, Ph.D. - Director, Quantitative Developmental Systems Methodology Core / Professor, Human Development and Family Studies, and Psychology
Mark Roberts, Ph.D. - Director, Federal Statistical Research Data Center / Professor, Economics
Joshua Rosenberger, Ph.D. - Director, Survey Research Center / Assistant Professor, Biobehavioral Health
Barbara Rigg - Director, Administrative Core
Clarence Lang, Ph.D. - Dean, College of the Liberal Arts
Kimberly Lawless, Ph.D. - Dean, College of Education
John Mason, Ph.D. - Chancellor, Penn State Harrisburg
Craig Newschaffer, Ph.D. - Dean, College of Health and Human Development
Leslie J. Parent, M.D. - Vice Dean, Research and Graduate Studies, College of Medicine
Richard Roush, Ph.D. - Dean, College of Agricultural Sciences
Lora Weiss, Ph.D. - Vice President for Research
Brian Allen, Psy.D. - Associate Professor, Pediatrics
Emily Ansell, Ph.D. - Associate Professor, Biobehavioral Health
Kristin Buss, Ph.D. - Professor, Psychology
Orfeu Buxton, Ph.D. - Professor, Biobehavioral Health
Soo-yong Byun, Ph.D. - Associate Professor, Educational Theory and Policy, and Demography
Guangquing Chi, Ph.D. - Director, Computational and Spatial Analysis Core / Associate Professor, Rural Sociology and Demography and Public Health Sciences
Sy-Miin Chow, Ph.D. - Professor, Human Development and Family Studies
H. Harrington Cleveland, III, Ph.D. - Professor, Human Development and Family Studies
Christian Connell, Ph.D. - Associate Director, Child Maltreatment Solutions Network / Associate Professor, Human Development and Family Studies
Michele Diaz, Ph.D. - Director, Social, Life, and Engineering Sciences Imaging Center / Associate Professor, Psychology
Rina Eiden, Ph.D. - Professor, Psychology
Sarah Font, Ph.D. - Assistant Professor, Sociology and Criminology
Jennifer Frank, Ph.D. - Assistant Professor, Special Education, Curriculum and Instruction
Michelle Frisco, Ph.D. - Associate Director, Population Research Institute / Associate Professor, Sociology, Criminology and Demography
Lisa Gatzke-Kopp, Ph.D. - Professor, Human Development and Family Studies
Charles F. Geier, Ph.D. - Dr. Frances Keesler Graham Early Career Professor, Human Development and Family Studies
Jennifer Glick, Ph.D. - Director, Population Research Institute / Arnold S. and Bette G. Hoffman Professor, Sociology, Criminology and Demography
Maithreyi Gopalan, Ph.D. - Assistant Professor of Education
Christine Heim, Ph.D. - Professor, Biobehavioral Health
Marianne Hillemeier, Ph.D. - Health Policy and Administration / Professor, Health Policy and Administration and Demography
Cynthia Huang-Pollock, Ph.D. - Professor, Psychology
Kent Hymel, M.D. - Child Abuse Pediatrician, Professor of Pediatrics
Yolanda Jackson, Ph.D. - Associate Director, Child Maltreatment Solutions Network / Professor, Psychology
Kathleen Keller, Ph.D. - Associate Professor, Food Sciences and Nutritional Sciences
Derek Kreager, Ph.D. - Director, Criminal Justice Research Center / Associate Professor, Crime, Law and Justice, and Sociology
Erika Lunkenheimer, Ph.D. - Associate Director of Education, Child Maltreatment Solutions Network / Associate Professor, Psychology
Sheridan Miyamoto, Ph.D. - Assistant Professor, Nursing
Karen Murphy, Ph.D. - Distinguished Professor, Educational Psychology
Jenae Neiderhiser, Ph.D. - Distinguished Professor, Psychology
Jennie Noll, Ph.D. - Director, Child Maltreatment Solutions Network / Professor, Human Development and Family Studies
Carlomagno Panlilio, Ph.D. - Assistant Professor, Education
Koraly Pérez-Edgar, Ph.D. - Professor, Psychology
Daniel Perkins, Ph.D. - Principal Scientist, Clearinghouse for Military Family Readiness / Professor, Family and Youth Resiliency and Policy
David Puts, Ph.D. - Associate Professor, Biological Anthropology
Heather Randell, Ph.D. - Assistant Professor of Rural Sociology
Alexis Santos, Ph.D. - Assistant Professor of Human Development and Family Studies, and Demography
Suzy Scherf, Ph.D. - Associate Professor, Psychology
Hannah Schreier, Ph.D. - Assistant Professor, Biobehavioral Health
Idan Shalev, Ph.D. - Mark T. Greenberg Early Career Professor, Biobehavioral Health
Gregory Shearer, Ph.D. - Associate Professor, Nutritional Sciences
Chad Shenk, Ph.D. - Associate Professor, Human Development and Family Studies and Pediatrics
Joshua Smyth, Ph.D. - Associate Director, Social Science Research Institute / Distinguished Professor, Biobehavioral Health and Medicine
Shedra Amy Snipes, Ph.D. - Associate Professor, Biobehavioral Health
Robert Turrisi, Ph.D. - Professor, Biobehavioral Health
Jennifer Van Hook, Ph.D. - Roy C. Buck Professor of Sociology and Demography
Ericka Weathers, Ph.D. - Assistant Professor, Education
Krista Wilkinson, Ph.D. - Professor, Communication Sciences and Disorders
September 23 – 24, 2019
The 8th annual Child Maltreatment Solutions Network conference focused on identifying and addressing the barriers to meaningful change and innovative policy and practice solutions to the foster care system’s challenges. Over fifteen keynote speakers addressed issues regarding relevant topics including health care integration, technology innovations within the foster care system, mental health care and academic success for foster children. Government officials, academia, and non-profit sector personnel were represented throughout the two-day event. Along with the Child Maltreatment Solutions Network, other conference sponsors included the Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center; Biobehavioral Health; the Child Study Center; the Clearinghouse for Military Family Readiness; College of Information Sciences and Technology; College of Nursing; Department of Educational Psychology, Counseling, and Special Education; Institute for CyberScience; Penn State’s Department of Public Health Sciences; the Social Science Research Institute; and University Libraries.
October 21 – 22, 2019
The 27th Annual National Symposium on Family Issues focused on the many interconnections between families and food. Researchers from across the country met on Penn State’s campus to discuss family ecologies of food insecurity, eating behaviors, and overweight and obesity in youth. This year’s event honored the late Leann Birch, a former Penn State distinguished professor of human development and family studies and former director of the Center for Childhood Obesity Research in the Department of Nutritional Sciences, to honor her novel contributions on child feeding and eating behaviors research. Many attendees of the symposium were colleagues or students of Birch. The Symposium on Family Issues is sponsored annually by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Penn State sponsors include the Child Study Center; Clinical and Translational Science Institute; Department of Agricultural Economics, Sociology and Education; Department of Biobehavioral Health; Department of Human Development and Family Studies; Department of Kinesiology; Department of Nutritional Sciences; Department of Psychology; Department of Sociology and Criminology; Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center; Population Research Institute; and the Social Science Research Institute.
May 03, 2021
The Penn State Consortium to Combat Substance Abuse (CCSA) hosted its second annual conference, “Addressing Substance Use: Cross-Systems Solutions,” on Monday, May 3, 2021.
Held virtually via Zoom, the conference kicked off with a welcome from Stephanie Lanza, the outgoing CCSA Director, and opening remarks from Eric Barron, President of Penn State University.
Lanza emphasized the CCSA’s growing capacity for research and partnerships by introducing the twelve co-funded faculty hires, and the incoming CCSA Director, Paul Griffin, a professor in Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering. She noted that CCSA will also change its name to the Consortium on Substance Use and Addiction (CSUA) and focus on a rebranding effort over the summer.
The conferenced convened four panels focusing on four different systems – education, faith-based, corrections, and healthcare – followed by a wrap-up discussion by David Saunders, the Director of the Office of Health Equity at the Pennsylvania Department of Health.
Janet Welsh of the Penn State Edna Bennett Prevention Research Center led a discussion about the challenges and successes of developing and implementing evidence-based substance use prevention programs in schools, notably the PROSPER program, with panelists: Paul Kazmarcik from the Carbondale Area School District, Scott Gest from the University of Virgina, and Melissa Tomascik from Penn State.
The second session featured a discussion led by Christian Thrasher from the Clinton Foundation featuring Rabbi Eliyahu Schusterman from Chabad Intown, Rev. Melissa Maher from the United Methodist Church, and Imam Dr. Basem Hamid from the Shadow Creek Muslim Community Center and focused on the challenges and opportunities of engaging the faith-based community.
Another session about the correctional response to the opioid crisis featured session chair Derek Kreager from the Penn State Criminal Justice Center with panelists: Steven Seitchik and Kristoher (Bret) Bucklen, both from the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, and Jared Lutz from the RASE Community Recovery Organization.
The last systems panel focused on advancing healthcare innovations to tackle substance use, chaired by Jennifer Kraschnewski from the Penn State College of Medicine with panelists: Sheryl Ryan from the Penn State College of Medicine, Megna Patel from the Pennsylvania Department of Health, and Linda Thomas-Hemak from the Wright Center for Community Health.
In the final session of the day, Paul Griffin, incoming CSUA Director and professor in Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering, and David Saunders, Director of the Office of Health Equity at the Pennsylvania Department of Health, talked about how the social determinants of health and health inequities impact substance use disorders.
The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in an unprecedented disruption to Centre County, impacting every aspect of our daily lives and economic well-being. A new project will give a voice to community members, allowing them to share their experiences and impact decision-making as the region moves forward.
The first initiative of the Centre County COVID-19 Data 4 Action Project (Data 4 Action) was to conduct an anonymous survey, which documents how the pandemic is impacting Centre County residents’ lives and their experiences they as return to work and school.
“It’s essential for leaders to hear the voices of as many community members as possible,” said Meg Small of the Social Science Research Institute. “The Data 4 Action community survey is a way to ensure everyone’s voice is heard and allow them to participate in the decision-making process of our community and University.”
Small, and Matthew Ferrari, Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences Career Development Professor and associate professor of biology, are working with local government and community groups to understand and quantify the range of impacts of the pandemic on Centre County — including health, economic, educational, social and other impacts — right now and over the next two years.
According to Centre County Commissioner Michael Pipe, the best way to confront this pandemic is by using data and science to inform decision-making.
“The project will enable the Centre County community to better understand the effects of COVID-19 on our region and how best we can chart the way forward," said Pipe.
A second survey for both students and residents will track the changing impact over time.
“This project will allow us to follow changes over time, and help local government officials and Penn State administrators make decisions about the right actions to support the health and safety of Centre County residents and Penn State students,” said Ferrari.
Additionally, participants may be invited to participate in a follow-up multi-year study designed to collect additional data, including virus and antibody testing. This information will help local leaders to stay more informed while making public health policy decisions as the pandemic continues to evolve.
“Our goal is to document social and economic impacts alongside biological data to provide guidance to our community leaders,” Ferrari said. “Without an effort like this one, decision makers are forced to make very important decisions about public health and safety in the dark. We want to bring local data to the table to inform local decisions.”
The Data 4 Action Project results will be summarized and provided to the community and University. “We want to use our expertise and our world-renowned research centers to move the community forward as safely as possible during these unprecedented times,” said Ferrari.
The devastating consequences of the opioid crisis are far-reaching in the United States, impacting public health as well as social and economic welfare. Penn State researchers collaborated to address the issue in a supplement of “The American Journal of Managed Care” titled “Deaths, Dollars, and Diverted Resources: Examining the Heavy Price of the Opioid Epidemic”.
According to Dennis Scanlon, distinguished professor of health policy and administration and director of the Center for Health Care and Policy Research at Penn State, the articles and commentaries in the special issue focus on the costs to governments, notably state governments. “State and local governments have long shouldered the burden of the opioid epidemic and its costs to individuals and families. They are at ground zero for the epidemic, where services for those being harmed by opioids are significant and costly, spanning well beyond healthcare for treatment and prevention.”
Scanlon, along with Christopher Hollenbeak, professor of health policy and administration at Penn State, authored the introduction to the special issue, noting “We take an opportunity to raise several important broader questions we believe have not received enough attention but are critically important for learning from the current opioid epidemic and preventing the potential burdens that could be associated with the next epidemic.”
Topics in this special issue are diverse and include the costs of the opioid crisis on employment and labor market productivity, burdens on the child welfare system and special education, the increased costs to the criminal justice system, and the economic burden on state Medicaid programs.
“The supplement fulfills our initial goal of exploring the effects of the opioid crisis on societal costs,” Scanlon explained. “Each article in this special issue presents complex cost analyses of the implications of opioid misuse, shedding new light on the opioid epidemic at the state level, and adds to a growing body of literature about the opioid epidemic.”
For example, researchers found that between 2000 and 2016, opioid misuse reduced Pennsylvania state tax revenue by over $11 billion, including approximately $10 billion in lost income tax revenue and almost $2 billion in lost sales tax revenue. In another paper, researchers found that between 2007 and 2016, total costs to Pennsylvania’s criminal justice system from the opioid crisis was over $526 million.
Meanwhile, total Medicaid costs associated with opioid use disorder more than tripled between 1999 and 2103, reaching more than $3 billion. Additionally, total annual education costs for children born in Pennsylvania with neonatal abstinence syndrome associated with maternal use of prescription opioids was estimated at over $1 million. Finally, researchers also found increased costs of almost $3 billion to the child welfare system from 2011 to 2016.
“Due to these costs, every American has suffered and will continue to suffer from resources diverted to the epidemic that could have been made available for a more productive societal use,” said Scanlon.
Another unique aspect of the issue is the strong Penn State presence, as all authors are either faculty or staff or current or former graduate students. Additionally, one of the commentaries is co-authored by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Rachel Levine , who provides further perspective into the opioid crisis at the state level.
Other lead Penn State authors include Max Crowley, associate professor of human development and family studies; Doug Leslie, professor of public health sciences and psychiatry; Paul Morgan, professor of education; Joel Segel, assistant professor of health policy and administration, and Gary Zajac, associate research professor.
Research contributions in the supplement were supported by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania under the project “Estimation of Societal Costs to States Due to the Opioid Epidemic,” and as part of larger work supported under a Strategic Planning Implementation award from the Penn State Office of the Provost, “Integrated Data Systems Solutions for Health Equity.”
Funding for the production of this supplement was provided by SSRI and by Penn State Clinical and Translational Science Institute through the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, National Institutes of Health, Grant UL1 TR002014.
The “Evidence-to-Impact Podcast,” focuses on conversations between Penn State researchers from multiple disciplines and government partners from across the commonwealth about relevant policy issues like poverty, criminal justice, substance abuse and healthcare. The discussions aim to bridge the gap between research insights and real-world solutions through the translation of complex evidence and data into real-world implications and impacts.
“We want to shine a spotlight on how to better collaborate with government partners and how we can use data to build better policies that help our community and state,” said Susan McHale, director of SSRI and distinguished professor of human development and family studies.
Episodes are hosted by Michael Donovan, director of policy and outreach for the Penn State Administrative Data Accelerator and associate director of the Evidence-to-Impact Collaborative.
“I think this podcast is an opportunity for the research community and policymakers and practitioners to find common ground, to identify problems that require more attention, and explore ways to better support each other,” said Donovan.
The roster of episodes includes conversations about criminal sentencing with Jeff Ulmer, professor of sociology and criminology, and Mark Bergstrom, executive director of the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing; as well as the complex topic of aging, featuring Marty Sliwinski, director at the Center for Health Aging and professor of human development and family studies, and Stephanie Cole, director of special projects and executive assistant at the Office of the Secretary at the Pennsylvania Department of Aging.
The series is produced and recorded in partnership with SSRI, the Administrative Data Accelerator, the Office of the Senior Vice President for Research, and the College of Health and Human Development.
Child maltreatment is a significant health issue, affecting more than 12% of children in the U.S. by the time they reach age 18, and is associated with a myriad of behavioral, emotional, and physical health problems for survivors.
Researchers in Penn State’s Child Maltreatment Solutions Network were awarded a $3.5 million, five-year training grant to develop the nation’s first training program for child maltreatment professionals to help combat this complex issue.
The program, funded by NIH’s National Institute of Child Health and Human Development along with Penn State matching funds, will establish a comprehensive training program that will prepare trainees to be leaders in the field.
According to Yo Jackson, associate director of the Child Maltreatment Solutions Network and director of training for the program, child maltreatment (sexual abuse, physical abuse, and neglect) not only affects the victim and their family, it also affects society as a whole, costing close to $1 billion each year.
“We struggle to move the field forward, because don’t have expertise working together,” said Jackson. “Child maltreatment involves research and training in social welfare, psychology, human development, neuroscience, sociology, medicine, and law among other disciplines, making a comprehensive training model impractical to date.”
However, Penn State is in a unique position to be able to design an effective child maltreatment training model. The Child Maltreatment Solutions Network was established in 2013, and was awarded the nation’s first ever NICHD P50 Capstone Center of Excellence in Child Maltreatment Research and Training in 2017.
“Through these two initiatives, Penn State already has a transdisciplinary team of researchers in place to combat the complex problem of child maltreatment across five colleges, including Health & Human Development, Education, Liberal Arts, Nursing, and Medicine,” Jackson said.
Jennie Noll, who heads up both the Solutions Network and P50 Capstone Center initiatives, is also the training program’s director of research.
“Child maltreatment training has been siloed within isolated disciplines. Children and families at risk for, or experiencing, child abuse and neglect are dealing with a host of complex issues thus requiring a multidisciplinary approach to adequate support. The lack of well-trained specialists can work cross different disciplines is sorely needed if we are to move the needle, but now have more child maltreatment experts at Penn State than anywhere else. We are in a prime position to inspire the next generation of scholars who will follow in our footsteps.”
Specifically, the training program will train fellows in the biological embedding of stress, the impact of child maltreatment on developmental processes, prevention and treatment, and policy, administrative data, and systems research. Students will choose their primary and secondary areas of training, but will be exposed to all the areas via classes, research labs, conferences, seminars and immersion experiences.
Beginning in the Fall of 2020, training fellows will also participate in ongoing academic research projects, incorporating experiences in research ethics, innovative child maltreatment science methods, community engagement, and translation of policy so that trainees will be in the best possible position to effectively contribute to advancing the science.
Participating faculty have extensive experience in all facets of the child maltreatment sciences, from the basic science of stress physiology to population level, administrative data and policy-relevant studies.
“Our faculty team is fantastic — outstandingly productive and successful. Fellows will thus have a very rich environment, and the result will be more experienced scholars, well-versed in all the issues of child maltreatment,” said Jackson.
Faculty partners serve as primary and secondary mentors and span five colleges from Penn State and Penn State Hershey. Co-investigators will take the lead for training in tracks that represent their substantive expertise and include: Christian Connell, associate professor of human development and family studies (policy, administrative data and systems research); Chad Shenk, associate professor of human development and family studies (prevention and treatment); Erika Lunkenheimer, associate professor of psychology (developmental processes); and Hannah Schreier, assistant professor of biobehavioral health (biological embedding).
Even in the midst of a global pandemic, opioid use disorder (OUD) continues to take lives, but Penn State researchers are planning an intervention to help those in recovery.
Derek Kreager, Liberal Arts professor of sociology and criminology and a cofunded faculty member of SSRI, and colleagues in the Criminal Justice Research Center (CJRC) are spearheading an intervention for state prisoners with opioid use disorders (OUD) reentering Pennsylvania communities.
The pilot project, Social Support and Continuity of Care for Reentering Prisoners with Opioid Use Disorder, will connect participants currently incarcerated to community-based Certified Recovery Specialists (CRS) just before transitioning back to their communities. A CRS is a state-certified specialist who is also in recovery and provides individualized guidance, support, and treatment education to individuals with OUD and their family members.
As the project develops, it’s designed to provide reentering prisoners a liaison to health care professionals to encourage the preservation of addiction treatment outside of the prison environment and in civilian settings.
One thing that sets Kreager’s project apart from other reentry programs is the family support services offered. Amongst many other tasks, the CRSs will be responsible for understanding and assisting clients’ families and educating them on naloxone (i.e., Narcan) administration.
Eligible prisoners reentering Dauphin and York Counties will be eligible to participate in the pilot study, but the project aims to extend the intervention system to prisons statewide and further test program effectiveness.
“The period immediately following community reentry is when substance use relapse and overdose risks peak,” stated Kreager, “It is imperative that social supports are available to provide continuity of care from the prison to the street. Certified recovery specialists are a newly available resource for providing informal social support that previously incarcerated individuals with OUD require.”
SSRI allocated funding for Kreager’s work on this project and also that of three Penn State commonwealth faculty members.
Katherine McLean, assistant professor of administrative of justice at Penn State Greater Allegheny, and Jennifer Murphy, associate professor of criminal justice at Penn State Berks, are utilizing SSRI support to provide qualitative interviewing for the project.
Additionally, SSRI funding has allowed Glenn Sterner, assistant professor of criminal justice at Penn State Abington, to collaborate with the Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs (DDAP) to provide naloxone kits to families of the selected participants.
Kreager and his team have also received funding from DDAP to support the work of two CRSs in Dauphin and York counties.
The intervention project will start a cooperative program and partnership between Penn State’s Criminal Justice Research Center (CJRC), the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PADOC), and the RASE Project, a non-profit organization that employs CRSs.
Due to COVID-19, it is unknown when recruitment of participants for the project will begin; however, all approvals are in place for when the public health crisis subsides.
The involved researchers have future plans for yet another project regarding Correctional Officer Health and Networks, which also will be supported by SSRI and DDAP funds.
Alaskan coastal Indigenous communities are facing severe environmental changes that threaten to irrevocably damage their way of life. A $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) will allow Penn State researchers to assist local communities with foreseeable environmental challenges and work towards building more resilient communities.
The project, “Pursuing Opportunities for Long-term Arctic Resilience for Infrastructure and Society,” or POLARIS, is funded through NSF’s new "Navigating the New Arctic" program, which will establish a network of platforms and tools across the Arctic to document and understand the Arctic's rapid biological, physical, chemical and social changes.
According to principal investigator Guangqing Chi, professor of rural sociology and demography and public health sciences in the Department of Agricultural Economics, Sociology, and Education, it is estimated that Arctic Alaskan temperatures are rising two to three times faster than in the mainland United States.
“Together with permafrost thawing, sea levels rising, and declining sea ice cover, extreme storms are rapidly eroding some Alaskan coasts and damaging community infrastructure, livelihoods and cultural heritage,” he said. “The rising temperatures are also causing sea ice to melt, disrupting marine food chains that many rural Alaskan communities rely on.”
Chi, who also serves as director of the Computational and Spatial Analysis Core of the Population Research Institute and SSRI at Penn State, said another complication is that existing research is piecemeal.
“A holistic picture of coastal communities has not been developed, nor are ways to effectively address the complex and interconnected problems communities face," he said. "Solutions will require a transdisciplinary, convergent approach where researchers from different disciplines collaborate to create new knowledge beyond discipline-specific perspectives.”
The POLARIS project includes three pillars to guide research efforts: the study of community disruptors due to environmental change; food in complex adaptive systems; and migration and community relocation. The three research pillars will be interwoven with education, outreach, community engagement, international collaboration, and evaluation.
POLARIS brings together researchers from multiple fields with local community members to conduct the study. The research team integrates demography, economics, sociology, environmental science, anthropology, Indigenous knowledge, food nutrition, and ecology to create innovative partnerships and discussions. The team is comprised of over 20 collaborators from Penn State; University of Alaska Anchorage; University of Alaska Fairbanks; Michigan Technological University; Ukpeavik Iupiat Corporation Science, Alaska; University of Guelph, in Ontario, Canada; University of Leeds, England; and Alaska government agencies.
Co-principal investigator, Ann Tickamyer, professor of rural sociology, brings expertise in social and demographic processes to the project, and is eager to extend research on how “gender roles, relations, and divisions of labor relate to individual, family and community reactions, decisions and resilience to disaster and climate change in this environment.”
The researchers are analyzing publicly available data such as from the Census Bureau and existing surveys of local communities and also collect new data via POLARIS surveys. The data is helping the researchers identify how communities can become more resilient to change and help them adapt through outreach engagement.
According to co-principal investigator Davin Holen, coastal community resilience specialist with the Alaskan Sea Grant at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, the researchers will work directly with the communities to facilitate the research, as well as to conduct outreach and tell the stories of community resilience from community perspectives.
“I’m a social scientist who spent the first part of my career researching economies in Alaska, including documenting customary and traditional harvesting practices and the importance of subsistence to cultural continuity," said Holen. "For this project, I will be working with communities to do climate adaptation planning and to build better community resilience.”
In addition, local educators will work with the communities to develop classroom tools to engage students in K-12 settings. POLARIS also will train junior researchers, graduate students and undergraduate students in interdisciplinary research as they participate in work across the research pillars and five components.
“This will ensure that the rising generation of researchers is well prepared to continue the crucial work to address these issues,” Chi said.
“Ultimately, the project is aimed at synthesizing possible ‘navigation pathways’ for communities as they adapt to rapidly changing social and environmental systems,” said team member Erica Smithwick, professor of geography and associate director of the Institutes of Energy and Environment at Penn State.
Other Penn State researchers include Bronwen Powell, College of Earth and Mineral Sciences; Kathleen Hill, College of Education; Junjun Yin, Social Science and Population Research Institutes; and Douglas Wrenn and Leif Jensen, College of Agricultural Sciences.
Other co-principal investigators on the project are Elbert Howe, associate professor of economics at the University of Alaska Anchorage, and Christopher Maio, associate professor of geography at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
The rural population in the U.S. is aging at a more rapid rate than in urban areas, while disparities in rural health and life expectancy continue to grow. A new five-year, $1.6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Aging (NIA) will fund a Penn State-led project to build an interdisciplinary network of researchers focusing on rural population health and aging.
According to principal investigator Leif Jensen, distinguished professor of rural sociology and demography and associate director of SSRI, what is needed is a new approach to research that recognizes rural America is ever-changing and its problems are complex.
“In addition to aging, populations in many rural areas are declining and rates of persistent poverty are high, raising questions about the implications for the people and places left behind.”
Building upon a USDA-supported, multi-state research project involving a group of demographers studying rural people and places, Jensen and his research team plan to draw in researchers at the participating institutions and elsewhere to create and support a network devoted to better understanding the problems of health and aging in rural America. In addition to Penn State, the key institutional partners are Syracuse University, the University of Colorado Boulder and the University of Mississippi.
“Our goal is to forge new collaborations between scientists who study health and aging with others who focus on spatial disparities and rural well-being,” Jensen said. “We will recruit emerging, established and underrepresented scholars from multiple institutions across the U.S. to generate new research that is greatly needed.”
The newly established “Interdisciplinary Network on Rural Population Health and Aging” will identify gaps, stimulate new research, and develop and disseminate training materials, as well as data and analytic resources to better understand rural health and aging trends and the factors affecting these trends.
The project will support network researchers through pilot grants, annual meetings, working groups and mentoring. A central goal is to promote the development of large-scale research proposals to be submitted to NIA and other funders. Finally, the network will share their findings and resources with academic, policy and public audiences through research briefs, webinars, congressional briefings, and data archiving.
For Jensen, the project is a reflection of his academic career coming full circle.
“My first published paper as a graduate student focused on gerontology, and I’ve always been interested in rural elders," he said. "As our population ages, people living in small-town and rural America face additional challenges, such as isolation and limited access to health care. We hope that our work will establish a sustainable foundation to support innovative, publicly-accessible and impactful research.”
Each of the Network’s lead investigators and institutions have expertise in one or more of the broad areas of population health, aging, and rural people and places, and they are geographically dispersed across the country.
"I am thrilled to be involved in the development of this interdisciplinary network on rural population health and aging,” said Shannon Monnat, associate professor of sociology at Syracuse University and a co-principal investigator on this project. “This NIA award will be instrumental in our group's efforts to build a research infrastructure to better understand and address the large and growing rural-urban and within-rural disparities in life expectancy and other health and aging outcomes. As a former Penn State faculty member, I am also very excited to have the opportunity to once again work with my talented Penn State colleagues on this exciting and important initiative."
Other co-principal investigators on the project are Lori Hunter, professor of sociology and director of the CU Population Center in the Institute of Behavioral Science at the University of Colorado Boulder, and John Green, professor of sociology and director the Center for Population Studies at the University of Mississippi. Martin Sliwinski, professor of human development and family studies and director of the Center for Healthy Aging at Penn State, is a co-investigator on the project.
Sexual assault rates are higher in rural areas of Pennsylvania than in urban areas, yet many rural hospitals don’t have the resources to provide high-quality sexual assault care.
A $2.4 million grant from the Pennsylvania Commission On Crime And Delinquency will expand the efforts of Penn State’s Sexual Assault Forensic Examination Telehealth (SAFE-T) Center to provide expert consultation and training to nurses who provide care to sexual assault victims. This funding aims to improve the quality of care and to ensure the SAFE-T Center model is available wherever there is need.
Launched in 2016 with funding from the U.S. Department of Justice, Office for Victims of Crime, the SAFE-T Center works to enhance access to high-quality, sexual-assault care for those who need the most help – assault victims - in underserved communities.
“The new funding will allow us to expand the SAFE-T Center project to four additional hospital partners that have a deficit in sexual assault nurse examiners (SANEs),” said Sheridan Miyamoto, assistant professor of nursing and director of the SAFE-T Center.
New partners sites include Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, UPMC Susquehanna Lock Haven, and Guthrie Robert Packer Hospital, with a fourth hospital site yet to be determined. With the project expansion, SAFE-T Center will be partnering with eight hospitals geographically dispersed across Pennsylvania, primarily in rural areas.
According to Miyamoto, many rural communities face challenges such as poverty, unemployment, geographic isolation, and other stressors that can contribute to higher levels of assault. “The partner hospitals we selected for this program were chosen because victims of sexual assault in these communities do not always have access to expert care.”
Through the SAFE-T Center’s specialized digital telehealth technology, SANEs can see the live exam in progress, helping to ensure best practices and proper evidence collection. “Sexual assault exams can be technically and emotionally difficult, and staff who perform them may be difficult to retain,” Miyamoto said. “The SAFE-T Center offers quality assurance, peer support, mentorship and on-demand training to help nurses feel confident that they are doing a good job.”
Results from the initial partner sites show the project is making an impact and creating a culture supportive of nurses, leading to higher retention rates and increased job satisfaction. “Additionally, patients remark on the high level of care they receive, and that the worries they had coming into the exam, such as being judged or having their story believed, were alleviated,” said Miyamoto.
Community advocates, including law enforcement agencies and district attorney offices, also see the benefits of the SAFE-T Center, reporting patients are increasingly connecting to community services for after assault care.
“The expansion of the SAFE-T Center project holds promise to be the solution of how to care for sexual assault victims across the state. It is our hope the model continues to be supported into the future,” said Miyamoto.
Other co-principal investigators from Penn State are Lorna Dorn, professor of nursing; Daniel Perkins, founder and principal scientist of Clearinghouse for Military Family Readiness and professor of youth and family resiliency and policy; Dennis Scanlon, distinguished professor of health policy and administration and director of the Center for Health Care and Policy Research; and Diane Berish, assistant research professor of nursing.
Later school start times improve educational and health outcomes by giving students more sleep, according to a new report from the Pennsylvania Joint State Commission on School Start Times.
Orfeu Buxton, professor of biobehavioral health at Penn State, was asked to serve on the commission’s advisory committee after conducting research that demonstrated secondary school start times after 8:30 a.m. increases the likelihood teens obtain the minimum recommended amount of sleep, benefiting their overall health and well-being.
“We know that most adolescents do not get enough sleep, and insufficient sleep has detrimental effects on the physical and mental health of teens,” said Buxton, also a Social Science Research Institute cofunded faculty member and editor-in chief (designate) of the journal Sleep Health.
The report, “Sleep Deprivation in Adolescents: The Case for Delaying Secondary School Start Times,” includes a study of secondary school start times in Pennsylvania; evaluates studies and initiatives by other organizations; assesses the effects of later school start times on the health, safety and academics of students; and contains recommendations on best practices to rollout later start times.
It is a result of the Pennsylvania Senate adopting Senate Resolution 417 one year ago, directing the commission to appoint an advisory committee of state education officials, school administrators, school board members, pediatricians, school transportation officials, teachers, parents and students.
Delaying school start times falls in line with recommendations made by several professional organizations, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has declared delaying school start times to have the greatest potential to impact possible public health interventions for increasing sufficient sleep among adolescents.
Buxton’s research in the Fragile Families Study was supported by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development of the National Institutes of Health, as well as a consortium of private foundations.
Teachers, school psychologists and counselors are frequently called upon to provide emotional support for students so they can achieve positive behavioral and academic outcomes. A new Penn State-led, five-year project will provide additional support for children of military families, who can be at greater social-emotional risk given frequent moves and other stressors.
Funded by a $2.65 million grant from the Department of Defense Activity (DoDEA) Military-Connected Academic and Support Programs, the goal of the Schools Empowering At-Risk Students (SEAS) Project is to give schools the tools they need to help military students succeed by facilitating access for student support personnel to online training materials and providing technical assistance, coaching, and consultation in ways that are that are sustainable and manageable given the unique needs of each school and community.
According to principal investigator Cristin Hall, assistant professor of education in school psychology and faculty affiliate for the Clearinghouse for Military Family Readiness at Penn State, there are 72,000 U.S. military students who are served in DoDEA schools worldwide and some of them may be in need of extra support. “These students can be at a greater risk due to the transient nature of the military and the potential of having one parent absent due to deployment or other assignments. Also, military students can be stationed anywhere around the world, so level of services available for mental health support can vary widely.”
The SEAS Project has been supporting student support personnel (counselors, psychologist, and nurses) at military schools since its inception in 2016, but with the additional support will able to expand their services to all educators who serve military-connected children, including those attending civilian public schools. Project investigators will evaluate previously created materials, create new ones, and evaluate their effectiveness. Additionally, the expanded SEAS project will focus more specifically preventing suicide and self-harm, violent threat behaviors, and problematic sexual behaviors.
“With the passing of the Every Student Succeeds Act, educators are now being required to emphasize social-emotional adjustment for all students as it supports academic and other long-term positive outcomes,” said Hall. “Educational professionals deal with a myriad of challenges with students in terms of social-emotional risk, and every school will have different student populations and differing needs. We aim to equip these schools with the training and support to assist the students in need, and if additional outside support is need, be able to point them in the right direction.”
Other researchers on the project are co-investigator Daniel Perkins, founder and principal scientist of the Clearinghouse for Military Family Readiness at Penn State and professor of youth and family resiliency and policy, along with researchers in Hall’s lab including Timothy Mazer, program manager; Brooke Kanaskie, project manager; Savanna Woika, research assistant, and several graduate assistants and undergraduate interns.
“I do not work alone on my projects,” said Hall. “I would not be able to do the breadth and depth of work required for a project of this type without the dedication, skill, and passion of all of my team members. It has really been an incredible privilege to be able to work with so many others that are committed to serving the needs of military-connected students and I am grateful everyday for my team.”
The Social Science Research Institute
The Pennsylvania State University
114 Henderson Building
University Park, PA 16802
Your report has been submitted.
There was a problem submitting your report. Please contact Adobe Support.