Funding early career scientists to support the well-being of diverse populations

Prevention Research Center announces grants to support five research projects

The Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center recently awarded its annual trainee research award to five early career scientists who are addressing challenges faced by diverse and oppressed populations that may affect their health and wellbeing. Credit: Penn StateAll Rights Reserved.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A goal of the Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center (PRC) at Penn State is to address challenges faced by diverse and oppressed populations that may affect their health and well-being.

Through its annual trainee research awards program, the PRC offers funding to selected Penn State graduate students and postdoctoral scholars to conduct innovative research to inform or develop interventions that address issues of disparities related to race, socioeconomic status, sexual or gender identity.

The PRC recently announced its trainee research award recipients for the 2021-22 academic year. The award recipients will present their research in a PRC symposium planned for the spring 2022 semester.

"We are honored to support this work and look forward to the great things to come," said Greg Fosco, PRC associate director.

Eileen Flores – Skin cancer risk perceptions and related behaviors among the U.S. Hispanic population

"I have always been passionate about promoting skin cancer prevention, especially when skin cancer is highly preventable compared to other cancers,” said Eileen Flores, doctor of public health candidate in the Penn State College of Medicine.

“Skin cancer is increasing among the U.S. Hispanic population, and it is diagnosed at a later stage in Hispanics,” said Flores. “This may be because most public health programs and educational interventions related to sun exposure and protection behaviors mainly address mostly white populations. It is important to address this as Hispanics make up the second largest racial group in the U.S. ”

Flores will investigate the factors that could encourage or discourage these behaviors by interviewing Hispanic community leaders and health professionals that work within the 28 Pennsylvania counties included in the Penn State Cancer Institute (PSCI) catchment area.

“I hope to gain additional insight to inform culturally sensitive measures and development of targeted public health recommendations for Hispanics in the catchment area,” Flores said.

Flores’ adviser is Shirley (Shelley) Bluethmann, assistant professor in the department of public health sciences and director of the Healthy Aging after Cancer Lab at the Penn State Cancer Institute.

Marci Cross-Ramirez – Assessing the needs of mothers who use substances to help prevent child maltreatment

“We know that child welfare involvement or foster care placement can be a traumatic experience for children, but we may forget that it can also be traumatic for mothers,” said Marci Cross-Ramirez, doctoral candidate in human development and family studies.

Cross-Ramirez will assess the ways in which mothers who use substances need support through mental health services, medical care, or economic assistance — with the goals of maintaining their role as the caregivers for their children and minimizing involvement of the child welfare system.

“This is important to consider when we know that many women who uses substances are members of marginalized groups and have prior experience of trauma,” said Cross. “My driving motivation is doing research that will best serve both mothers and their children.”

Cross-Ramirez's adviser is Christian Connell, associate professor of human development and family studies and associate director of the Child Maltreatment Solutions Network.

Flora Oswald – Understanding perceptions of diversity from images featuring groups of faces

“I am conducting an online experiment to examine how women and people of color extract information about diversity from images featuring groups of faces, and how this information influences their feelings of whether they are likely to experience discrimination,” said Flora Oswald, a dual title doctoral fellow in psychology (social area) and women’s, gender and sexuality studies.

“For example, companies may include high representation of racially diverse individuals in promotional materials in order to enhance feelings of belonging among racial minority employees,” Oswald said. “However, it is unclear whether, and under what conditions, these interventions are effective, primarily because we do not understand the mechanisms underlying perceptions of diversity among marginalized group members.”

“My goal is to enhance and guide the development of interventions aiming to improve the well-being and health outcomes of marginalized group members,” said Oswald.

For this project, Oswald is collaborating with Jason Griffin, doctoral student in psychology (cognitive area). Her adviser is Professor of Psychology Reginald B. Adams Jr.

Amy Moore – Measuring the effects of a mindfulness app on breastfeeding mothers living in poverty

"Women who experience poverty breastfeed at lower rates and report high levels of stress, which may impact their breastfeeding goals," said Amy Moore, a registered dietitian and postdoctoral scholar at the Center for Childhood Obesity Research.

"Some studies have shown that mindfulness or 'paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and nonjudgmentally' reduces mothers' stress, but little is known about the impact of mindfulness on breastfeeding," said Moore.

Moore will interview women from various racial and ethnic backgrounds enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) about their unique experiences with breastfeeding after taking part in an app-based mindfulness program.

"My hope for this project is that we will better understand how to develop effective breastfeeding support programs for women who experience poverty," said Moore.

Moore's primary mentor is Jennifer Savage Williams, associate professor in the Department of Nutritional Sciences and director of the Center for Childhood Obesity Research.

Mary Kruk – Cues in medical spaces to increase LGBTQ people's sense of safety and belonging

"LGBTQ people have higher rates of mental health conditions, physical health problems, and substance use disorders than heterosexual people," said Mary Kruk, doctoral candidate in the joint Social Psychology and Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies program. "One reason these disparities exist is because LGBTQ people often experience homophobia at the doctor's office and then delay going back for further appointments."

Kruk is testing if medical offices can send signals of safety to LGBTQ patients by posting a rainbow flag on doctors' name tags.

"I then hope to use that evidence to encourage medical professionals to not only treat their LGBTQ clients with respect, but to use visible signals of support," Kruk said.

Kruk’s adviser for this project is Jes Matsick, assistant professor of psychology and women's, gender and sexuality studies.

Last Updated October 29, 2021