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Category: News

Emory University Awards NIH CTSA Pilot Grant to Dr. Jessica Knight

Dr. Jessica Knight, Assistant Professor, in Epidemiology and Biostatistics and former OIBR Grant Development Program participant, has been granted a pilot award by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) program. The grant, valued at $57,337, has been awarded for her research project, “Addressing stress-related pathways of disparities in cardiovascular health for young Georgia families using a wearable biometric device (CTSA Pilot).”

This innovative project seeks to explore new ways of understanding and addressing disparities in cardiovascular health, particularly in young Georgia families. They aim to achieve this through the utilization of cutting-edge technology and novel research methods. The project’s primary focus is on measuring and evaluating heart rate variability (HRV) responses to stress, an essential factor in cardiovascular health.

The research team plans to combine several key elements in their approach, including ecologic momentary assessment, wearable biometric devices, and advanced machine learning analytics. By combining these elements, they aim to gain a comprehensive understanding of how stress affects HRV, particularly in young populations.

The significance of this research extends beyond the immediate findings. Dr. Knight hopes that the insights gained from this project will serve as a foundation for future NIH and American Heart Association (AHA) applications. The ultimate goal is to incorporate their model into prevention studies that aim to reduce stress-related cardiovascular diseases in young individuals.

In addition, the project’s long-term vision extends to using the developed model in other youth populations. This includes those with obesity, sleep disorders, diabetes, and mental health disorders, broadening the potential impact of the research beyond its initial scope.

Collaborators from the University of Georgia (UGA), including Kyle Johnsen from the College of Engineering, Michael Schmidt from the Department of Kinesiology, and Allan Tate from Epidemiology & Biostatistics, will play vital roles in the project’s success.

The project began on August 1, 2023, and will conclude on July 31, 2024. Dr. Knight’s work, along with her research team, is expected to shed new light on the relationship between stress and cardiovascular health, offering potential solutions for at-risk youth in Georgia and beyond.

Can environmental factors affect neurocognitive development, risk for drug use in rural Georgia?

Environmental portrait of Assaf Oshri in front of an MRI scanner

The University of Georgia was recently awarded $3.2 million from the National Institutes of Health to study resilience in rural children using neuroimaging technologies, to help find the answers.

The BRANCH study, which stands for Building Resiliency and Nurturing Children’s Health, will investigate the development of resilience among low-income children living in rural Georgia areas over five years, starting at age 7.

The overarching goal is to determine how children’s communities affect their neurocognitive development and risk for drug use as adolescents.

“If you really want to prevent drug abuse, you need to start early,” said Assaf Oshri, OIBR distinguished scholar, principal investigator of the study and an associate professor in UGA’s College of Family and Consumer Sciences and the director of the Youth Development Institute at UGA. “Toxic environments and conditions during childhood can promote risky behavior over time. Things like stress related to poverty, unsafe communities or feeling lonely can manifest in physical stress that can affect brain development.

“And that developmental damage can affect where these kids go and what they do as adults.”

Oshri’s previous research has shown that low to moderate stress can be good for you, as it forces your body to optimize brain cognition and function. But there is a limit to how much stress is a good thing.

Once stress levels go above moderate levels, which is common in households struggling to pay bills or keep a roof over their family, that stress becomes toxic.

Constant high levels of stress can actually change the structure of the brain. It can lead to increases in white matter at the expense of gray matter, which is involved in muscle control, decision-making, self-control, emotional regulation and more. Chronic stress can also make people more susceptible to a variety of illnesses ranging from nausea and migraine headaches to high blood pressure and heart disease.

Children are particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of stress because their brains are still developing.

“If a child doesn’t have routine at home and they don’t have the security and the safety of the trust in their environment, how do you expect them to do well in school, behave and be attentive?” Oshri said. “Connecting their environment and trying to understand the psychobiological consequences of it—as we will do in the BRANCH study—can help us design preventive intervention to intervene and reduce risk among children with these environments.”

Oshri hopes the BRANCH study will connect the dots between childhood conditions and brain development not only by interviewing and getting to know the families in the study but also by using MRI scanning technology to assess how stress can affect cognition and neural functioning.

Co-investigators on the project include OIBR distinguished scholar, Lawrence Sweet from the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences Department of Psychology, and from the College of Family and Consumer Sciences’ OIBR distinguished scholar, Steven Kogan, OIBR Grant Development Program member, Kalsea Koss, Diane Bales and Margaret Caughy, OIBR distinguished scholar.

The study is funded by a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.


Original article: here
Written by: Leigh Beeson


UGA Psychology researchers are revolutionizing the way we diagnose and treat Schizophrenia patients


Asking better questions: Psychology researchers changing the way we diagnose, treat schizophrenia

OIBR distinguished scholar, Brett Clementz doesn’t love the term “schizophrenia.”

Sure, a quick glance down his extensive publication history might yield several uses of the word, but the University of Georgia Distinguished Research Professor finds it obsolete and imprecise.

It doesn’t capture the nature of the illness, he said, which is much more complex than society’s common definition.

The popular understanding goes something like this: An individual, usually a young adult, begins having hallucinations—“hearing voices” is a common description. Believing these misperceptions to be genuine, they lose their grip on reality and withdraw from family and friends. Taken to their conclusion, the symptoms may result in unpredictable and dangerous behavior.

That’s the popular belief. But it’s not entirely accurate.

In reality, there are far more factors that go into determining an individual’s unique neurological disorder. Different behavioral symptoms call for varying responses. Social support systems, which can impact escalation of the condition, are diverse. On top of it all, everyone has their own genetic and neurological makeup, meaning not all diagnoses—nor treatments—are equal.

Therein lies the problem with traditional approaches to schizophrenia. Diagnoses can lack specificity, making it difficult to tailor effective treatments. Additionally, while 10-15% of the adult population has experiences associated with schizophrenia, only a small portion develops more pronounced, diagnosable symptoms.

So, what makes one high-risk individual capable of living a perfectly unencumbered existence, while others are left struggling? That’s what a pair of research groups at UGA are trying to understand.

From investigating early symptom onset to distinguishing people’s various unique neurological conditions, the researchers are hoping that a better understanding of schizophrenia and similar disorders can lead to more precise diagnoses, better treatment and an overall clearer perception of the disorder.

A new lens for psychosis treatment

Schizophrenia is one of the main psychotic mental disorders outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the standard for diagnosis in clinical psychology. Psychotic bipolar disorder and schizoaffective disorder, also commonly diagnosed, share similar symptoms.

In the text, schizophrenia is marked by delusions or hallucinations, a departure from early definitions that centered on affect (or emotion), perception of self and volition. Bipolar disorder, meanwhile, focuses more on the mood, characterized by episodes of depression and mania. And schizoaffective disorder, like the center of a Venn diagram, displays a bit of both. Clinicians must distinguish between the three based on their own observational analysis and patients’ limited self-reports.

Beginning to see the problem?

While the DSM is the standard, its definitions of psychotic subtypes and the methods with which they are diagnosed is enough to draw skepticism from many experts.

In 2010, Clementz began working with the Bipolar, Schizophrenia Network for Intermediate Phenotypes (B-SNIP), a consortium backed by more than $20 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health to fill in the gaps. Originally, they examined brain activity and structure to find biomarkers that more clearly defined the psychotic disorders outlined in the DSM.

Some small-scale studies identified occasional shared physiology between individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia and their clinically normal first-degree relatives, but results from other groups greatly differed.

After finding no pattern, they took a different approach.

“We had been playing around with other ways of looking at the data,” said Clementz, who co-directs the Clinical and Cognitive Neuroscience Lab with OIBR Associate Director and Professor Jennifer McDowell. “There are statistical approaches called ‘numerical taxonomy.’ Instead of assuming you know the groups—like schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder and psychotic bipolar disorder—you throw that out the window and look for statistical patterns that might indicate new groups.”

Numerical taxonomy uses statistical values derived from tests like electroencephalography (EEG), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), ocular motor measures and more. Researchers will perform tests that measure a subject’s cognitive control.

“There are two ways your brain works,” Clementz said. “The first is that you have a background level of wow and flutter, which everyone has. Your brain is always doing something. Then, if we present you with a stimulus, your brain will respond to that in some way.”

Measurements of these responses form the foundation of the numerical taxonomy. Clementz, McDowell and their teams reviewed data and compared it to data gathered for clinically normal first-degree relatives.

Finally, a pattern emerged.

“We saw the same patterns in the relatives that we did in the patients,” Clementz said.

It indicated a physiological liability inherited from a parent and offered a more precise option to categorize everyone’s unique psychotic experience.

They’re called biotypes. Like the DSM, they are divided into three classifications. Instead of being based on blanket behavioral thresholds, however, they are tailored to the individual. The main clinical characteristics differentiating the biotypes are thought disturbances, lack of spontaneous speech and low involvement in social and occupational activities.

Biotype-1 cases have low neural response to stimuli and poor cognition. Biotype-2 display poor cognition but also overactive neural responses and poor sensory motor inhibition. Biotype-3 was nearly normal on all biomarkers. All three included individuals from each of the DSM’s three psychotic diagnoses.

“In Biotype-1, we see low levels of background wow and flutter, and their ability to respond to a stimulus in the environment is low,” Clementz said. “So, that signal-to-noise ratio, which you need to function in society, is very bad. In Biotype-2, though, we see an equally bad signal-to-noise ratio, but it’s there for an entirely different reason. Their background wow and flutter is so high, they still have a hard time differentiating that stimulus from the background.

“These people are a mix of schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder and bipolar cases. In the typical approach of the DSM, both subgroups are treated the same, and that makes no sense.”

Researchers are currently studying how this new approach to psychosis can impact treatment. One study will see how repurposing an antipsychotic drug called Clozapine can affect treatment outcomes for one of the biotypes.

“Based on the literature, we think only one particular biotype should benefit from that,” Clementz said. “But you couldn’t tell that from the DSM diagnoses because they were spread across all three of our biotypes. The biotypes are transdiagnostic.”

Clementz cautioned against considering this an answer to a long-held diagnostic problem. They’ll explore how treatments affect each and continue to tease out data within the biotypes, which may result in additional classifications.

“We haven’t necessarily made any conclusions yet,” said McDowell, professor in the Franklin College of Arts & Sciences’ Department of Psychology and associate director of the Owens Institute for Behavioral Research. “But science isn’t just about providing answers, it’s also about asking better questions.”

Another group on campus is asking new questions about a different stage of the schizophrenia experience.

Identifying risk before it takes root

In the Clinical Affective Neuroscience (CAN) Laboratory, researchers are taking a novel approach to early identification and prevention of schizophrenia, as opposed to treating those who have already received diagnosis.

OIBR distinguished scholar, Greg Strauss, who leads the lab, was an undergraduate student at UGA when he had his first encounter with this research focus.

“I was captivated by the notion of preventing psychosis,” said Strauss, a professor in the Department of Psychology. “I went off to grad school and postdoctoral research studying people who were in the chronic phase. At that point, many don’t recover.”

To make a difference, he considered, may require studying the early-stage “prodromal” period of the disorder—before attenuated hallucinations or delusions ever emerge.

About 10-15% of the world’s population has sub-threshold psychotic experiences. Sometimes those entail hallucinations or delusions that don’t cause distress or interfere with functioning. Other times, though, they do interfere with functioning. Called “attenuated psychosis syndrome,” it’s a relatively smaller portion of the population.

“So, a large portion of society has some unusual thoughts or perceptions, but there’s something that allows them to be resilient and not develop the disorder,” Strauss said. “Some also have problems with motivation, initiating social activity, feeling or expressing emotion, and we think the constellation of all those things puts people at greater risk.”

The current standard is to assess symptoms and give people a label of “clinical high risk.” Patients will sit for a standard interview about their symptoms.

“We try to phrase questions in a way that is open or not labeling to increase their willingness to share,” said Lauren Luther, a research scientist in the CAN Lab. “But it is largely reliant on self-report.”

That’s a problem. Individuals are biased when it comes to personal experience. There is also significant stigma surrounding mental disorders, and patients may not admit that anything is wrong, much less accept help. Researchers seek collateral information—from a clinician or family member, for example—but sometimes it’s not possible to gain a clear understanding.

Another problem, specificity, looms arguably larger.

“We say these 10-15% are at high risk, but only 20% in that group go on to develop psychosis,” Strauss said. “So, our measures have poor specificity in predicting who is going to develop it or not.”

The CAN Lab, which is conducting several studies funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), is offering several new approaches to address these shortcomings.

One is a 50-site worldwide study that is the largest of its kind conducted by the NIMH. Backed by about $100 million in funding, it is part of the Accelerating Medical Partnership in Schizophrenia’s Psychosis Risk Outcomes Network (ProNET) initiative. UGA and 25 other U.S. institutions are studying a variety of biomarkers—brain scans, blood tests, genetic data and more—to better predict outcomes of high-risk individuals.

Another is called “digital phenotyping” and takes advantage of modern technologies to gain a more consistent and clearer picture of the individual. Cell phones and smart bands follow their owners around all day, providing opportunities for researchers and clinicians to engage with patients or monitor daily activities.

Patients receive prompts throughout the day to immediately complete a survey: Where are they? Who are they with? How are they emotionally, and what symptoms are they having? The surveys allow them to answer more clearly and honestly without their recollection being clouded by time.

But there are also tools like accelerometry that can measure how much they are moving and geolocation to see whether they are spending all their time isolated at home or with friends or family. The microphone can measure how much speech is happening in the background, and researchers can also have them record a video to be analyzed by software that can interpret emotion in the face and voice.

A 2022 study validated the use of accelerometry in digital phenotyping, demonstrating correlations with active self-reports of time spent in goal-directed activities and motivational symptoms. Another study in 2021 showed that machine-learning algorithms with access to geolocation and accelerometry data could classify the presence of a psychotic disorder with 80% accuracy.

“We think that by measuring these behaviors in the real world, we might be able to obtain better sensitivity and specificity in predicting psychosis than clinical interviews alone,” Strauss said. “In particular, we’re interested in negative symptoms like reduction in motivation, socialization or emotion. These occur years before subthreshold hallucinations or delusions and offer the earliest window into the risk period.”

A remaining key barrier to early detection is access—to care (for patients) and to the patients themselves (for clinicians). Only about 20 sites in the United States (one of which is at UGA) and fewer than 100 in the entire world are specialized in performing clinical evaluations for psychosis risk.

Strauss offers a couple of potential solutions.

One is a six-site study called Computerized Assessment of Psychosis Risk. Funded by about $10 million from NIMH, it is developing a computerized battery of tests meant to tap into the neural mechanisms underlying symptoms. These tests will be administered online to predict an individual’s level of developing a psychotic disorder. Developing a tool that clinicians without specialized training can use to determine psychosis risk may allow more individuals to receive services who would have never otherwise been referred for help.

Another is simply to reduce the stigma.

“I’ve often wished that something like the ALS ice bucket challenge would be done for serious mental illnesses like schizophrenia,” Strauss said. “We need to raise awareness and try to understand the disorder before it takes root.”

Original story: Written by David Mitchell
Photo of Dr. McDowell & Dr. Clemenz: Lauren Corcino
Photo of Dr. Strauss: David Mitchell

Research Spotlight, Sun Joo (Grace) Ahn

Dr. Grace Ahn, Associate Professor, Advertising


Dr. Sun Joo (Grace) Ahn, Professor, Advertising & Public Relations, never thought she would become an academic. Her dad worked in sales for a very long time at multinational corporations in South Korea, and Grace still remembers her dad telling her about the challenges of leading large, integrative teams of people from different backgrounds and the excitement of finally being able to close a deal after months of preparation. She said, “I didn’t really understand much of the content of what was being said- but was always in awe of how the adult world worked and at the multinational scale of things.”

Looking back now, though, Grace shared that “it’s funny how my dad’s experiences and wisdom delivered to me during long conversations over dinner impacted my career choices: I love thinking about how persuasive messages can be designed and evaluated, the processes and outcomes of persuasion, pulling together large integrative teams for research, and ultimately developing interventions for large-scale attitude and behavior change. I never intended to be a professor of advertising but maybe my dad secretly knew all along!”

“Studying persuasion is a constant lesson in humility and the appreciation of diversity,” said Dr. Ahn. “Communication science is complicated and fascinating, because it is very much a relational science, where interactions between the medium, user, and contextual details all matter. The human stands at the center of our science and their lived experiences play a key role in how persuasive messages are processed and interpreted. Understanding the diversity and complexity of these relationships and designing a successful intervention to modify behavior, particularly in the context of everchanging technologies always keeps me on my toes,” Grace said. “What surprises me most about working on these types of projects is that understanding human behaviors and how they interact with technologies never, ever gets any easier (despite all these years)!”

Communication undergirds almost every human activity we can think of; it’s omnipresent. As a result, there are many more armchair scientists in this neck of the woods than there may be in, say, physics or chemistry. Grace added, “It’s surprisingly challenging to get noncommunication scholars to understand what communication science is and why it is important. Despite the seemingly frivolous nature of our research topics (e.g., entertainment, video games, social media), we employ systematic and rigorous methodologies to address our scientific inquiries.”

“Media and communication are weaved into almost every part of our lives and we are far more impacted by mediated communication than we realize; yet, it’s often a challenge to be taken seriously when your area of research is virtual reality, avatars, and video games.”

Grace has over 20 years of training and experience in media psychology with an emphasis on technology-integrated community-level interventions. She is currently serving as the Deputy Director and a MPI of the Center for Children’s Health Assessment, Research Translation, and Combating Environmental Racism, which is part of her current $4.5 million grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health.

The Center for Children’s Health Assessment, Research Translation, and Combating Environmental Racism (CHARTER), works to develop effective strategies to translate research findings of importance to children’s environmental health to relevant stakeholders in the community, academia, and healthcare. The research team with CHARTER know that working with community partners are the key to developing communication products that can be used to improve children’s health. The center acknowledges the structural nature of health inequity and is working on projects that address how structural inequities can negatively impact children’s health via research projects and community engagement (e.g., social media activities, training community health workers, K-12 outreach programs).

In recent years, Dr. Ahn has really expanded her partnerships with grassroots, non-profit organizations in the community, translating science into actionable, technology-mediated interventions. “When I launch interventions with these community partners, my research team gets to know them well and over the years, and we develop strong friendships with people who share our vision of leveraging science to help people live happier, healthier lives,” she said. “Being able to directly see and interact with community members and observe the positive impact of my research really makes all the hard work worth it. As many of us understand, this job is much more than “just a job”—it creates a lot of meaning in my life. The thrill of making discoveries and generating new knowledge never gets old, but I truly love the opportunity to be able to give back to community through my research. I think that intrinsic reward is what keeps me up working late at nights and drives a lot of the motivation behind my recent work.”

“My research program that started out with a small $20,000 internal grant has now become a sizeable enterprise with over $10 million in extramural funding. The interesting thing is that none of these people are in the field of communication; but their mentorship, guidance, and friendship over the years has allowed my scholarship to dramatically expand beyond its initial narrow focus to something that is much more transdisciplinary and meaningful,” Grace added.

More information about Dr. Ahn’s research: Center for Advanced Computer-Human Ecosystems (CACHE)

More info.: Grace Ahn
Written by: Andrea Horsman

2023 AAAS Lifetime Fellows Elected


The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world’s largest general scientific society and publisher of the Science family of journals, annually bestows the honor of Lifetime Fellow for extraordinary achievements leading to advancement in science. This award is one of the most distinguished honors within the scientific community.

This year, two scholars from the Owens Institute for Behavioral Research were awarded this prestigious title.

Ping Ma is a Distinguished Research Professor in Statistics and an adjunct professor of computer science at UGA. He has authored or co-authored more than 80 research articles and was recognized with the National Science Foundation Distinguished Lecture in 2021. His work lies in development of statistical theory and methods to solve scientific and engineering problems with broad societal impacts. He was recognized in the statistics category by AAAS.

“I was deeply honored to be elected to AAAS Fellow,” said Ma. “I have been fortunate to work with many colleagues at Owen Institute on many important behavioral research projects, which have been a very rewarding experience.”

He is currently working on statistical and data science, which play a significant role in modern society. They are used extensively in various fields, including healthcare, business, finance, social sciences, and many others. Statistical and data science help us to understand and interpret data, make informed decisions, and solve real-world problems. Statistical and data science provide valuable insights into human behavior and social trends, which the researchers at Owen Institute have been focused on.

Ronald Simons is a Regents’ Professor in Sociology, a Fellow in the Center for Family Research, and co-director of the Center on the Biological Embedding of Social Events and Relationships at OIBR. He has received numerous awards for his research including best article awards from three different professional organizations and the UGA SEC Academic Achievement Award. The National Institutes of Health have provided nearly $50 million dollars of support for his longitudinal studies since 1990, and his research has resulted in over 300 peer-reviewed articles.

Simons stated that, “It is a great honor to be inducted as a fellow into the AAAS and I am humbled to be included in this group of accomplished scientists.”

Much of his scholarship has involved investigations of the mechanisms whereby social-environmental conditions and health risk behaviors become biologically embedded via gene expression and trigger onset of various chronic illnesses. An important component of this work has been the utilization of blood-based epigenetic markers to calculate, in years and months, the extent to which an individual is experiencing accelerated or decelerated biological aging.

These new Fellows will be celebrated for their scientific and socially notable achievements spanning their careers in Washington, D.C., in summer 2023.

Written by: Andrea Horsman

HHMI grant will help UGA advance evaluation of teaching

UGA faculty members (left to right) Tessa Andrews, Peggy Brickman, Paula Lemons and Erin Dolan. (Photo by Lauren Corcino)


A research team from the University of Georgia will join 103 institutions from across the country to form a collaborative learning community that seeks to foster inclusive undergraduate science education.

Funded by a six-year, $493,065 grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Inclusive Excellence 3 (IE3) initiative, the UGA team will focus on three areas of effective and inclusive teaching including changes in policy, effective instructor development and optimal sources of evidence.

The HHMI’s IE3 initiative challenges U.S. colleges and universities to substantially and sustainably build capacity for students to have meaningful and positive experience in science through which they will better understand and engage in scientific thinking and discovery, especially students from backgrounds that have been historically excluded from the sciences.

Of the nearly one million students who enter college intending to study STEM, more than half will not complete a degree in a STEM field. Those who leave STEM are disproportionately students who are first in their family to attend college, students who begin at community colleges and students from historically excluded ethnic and racial groups.

The 104 participating institutions have been divided into seven Learning Community Clusters, or LCCs, that comprise approximately 15 schools each. These clusters will focus on the content of the introductory science experience, evaluating effective and inclusive teaching, and building partnerships between the two- and four-year schools.

Leveraging their collective experiences and resources, the UGA LCC4 research team aims to advance policies around inclusive and effective teaching for promotion and tenure, and to improve sources of evidence used to evaluate teaching more robustly and holistically.

“I think that one of the things we know from lots of research on teaching is that it’s not just about instructor knowledge and skills,” said program director Erin Dolan, who serves as Georgia Athletic Association Professor of Innovative Science Education in the Franklin College of Arts & Sciences Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. “It’s also about incentives, rewards and friction in the environment. What incentivizes an instructor to change their teaching if they need to? How do they know they need to change their teaching? What evidence can inform how they teach, including any changes they make? And then what makes it possible for changes to be sustained over time?”

According to Dolan, one of the things that the university’s recent NSF-funded, $2 million Department and Leadership Teams for Action (DeLTA) project did, which this project capitalizes on, is move away from assuming that faculty are going to be effective teachers from the first time they teach, and toward this idea of continuous improvement.

“And that’s really what we want,” Dolan said, “for people to be reflective teachers who base their teaching decisions on evidence.”

This new project is inherently a team effort. The core team is made up of two groups of faculty and administrators: an implementation team and an advisory team. Along with Dolan, the implementation team members include Tessa Andrews, associate professor in the Department of Genetics; Peggy Brickman, Meigs Professor in the Department of Plant Biology; and Paula Lemons, professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and associate dean of Franklin College. The advisory team will function more strategically and includes: Allan Aycock, director of assessment and accreditation, Office of Academic Planning; Michelle Cook, senior vice provost, Office of Institutional Diversity; Meg Mittelstadt and Ruth Poproski, director and associate director, respectively, of the Center for Teaching and Learning, Naomi Norman, associate vice president for Instruction, and Henry Young, Kroger Professor and head of the College of Pharmacy Department of Clinical and Administrative Pharmacy.

“This project definitely builds on the work that got started with the DeLTA project,” Dolain said. “It nicely complements work that’s happening in CTL with the new QEP and with the 2025 plan for promoting diversity and inclusion, along with the University Strategic Plan. It’s really well aligned with where the university is going, and I think that we are poised to make substantial improvements in supporting faculty in teaching more effectively and inclusively.”

More info.: Erin Dolan
Written by: Andrea Horsman

First recipient of Lillian Eby OIBR Mentoring Award announced

Dr. Lawrence Sweet was awarded the inaugural Lillian Eby OIBR Mentoring Award at our recent annual meeting.

Sweet, an OIBR Distinguished Scholar and Gary R. Sperduto Professor in Clinical Psychology in Franklin College, joined the University of Georgia faculty in 2012. He received a K award with mentee, Jiaying Lui, OIBR Distinguished Scholar and associate professor of Communication Studies and he also received a K award with mentee Assaf Oshri, OIBR Distinguished Scholar and associate professor of Human Development and Family Science. Prior to coming to UGA, Sweet was the mentor on five other grant awards.

His research interests include substance abuse and treatment outcomes (tobacco, vaping, alcohol, opiates), cardiovascular disease, aging, and outcomes of chronic stress and adversity. In collaboration with Dr. Liu, they recently received a R21 grant entitled, “A neuroimaging approach to advance mechanistic understanding of tobacco use escalation risk among young adult African American vapers.”

Dr. Sweet has received several other mentoring awards including the Richard L. Marsh Mentoring Award (UGA Psychology) and is a two-time recipient of the Psychiatry Research Mentor Award in the Alpert Medical School of Brown University.

“Mentoring is my favorite part of my job. Recognition from the outstanding faculty and staff at OIBR is a true honor. Their outstanding facilitation of research and mentorship is highly respected, and this association with Lillian Eby’s record of mentorship and service is such a compliment,” said Sweet.


2022 Rising Star Justin Lavner

Congratulations to our 2022 Rising Star, Justin Lavner!

The OIBR Rising Star Award recognizes the scholarly achievements and future potential of an OIBR Distinguished Scholar or Affiliate who is within 8 years of their Ph.D. This award focuses on exceptional and sustained research contribution and future promise, as evidenced by publications, grant submissions (both through OIBR and through other units on campus), funded grants, major works-in-progress and other discipline-relevant evidence of past and likely future scholarly impact.

Dr. Lavner received a beautiful commemorative plaque and a $1,000 research fund.

Rebecca Nesbit receives AmeriCorps Grant Award

Dr. Rebecca Nesbit, Associate Professor, Nonprofit Management

OIBR Affiliate Rebecca Nesbit, PhD was recently awarded a grant from AmeriCorps for her research project entitled, “Examining the Influence of Civic Infrastructure on Rural/Urban Volunteering and Civic Engagement.”

Community leaders depend upon civic engagement to address local issues, yet local capacity for civic engagement differs significantly across place. At the same time, ongoing shifts in the socio-demographic characteristics of communities and the drivers of civic engagement may be changing how Americans engage in their communities, particularly in rural communities where these shifts are creating greater barriers to participation.

“Unfortunately, we know little about the effect of the civic infrastructure on civic engagement,” said Nesbit, associate professor of nonprofit management in the department of Public Administration and Policy at the University of Georgia. “Furthermore, many contemporary studies of the place-based determinants of volunteerism and civic engagement are based upon data from metropolitan respondents, leaving significant gaps in our understanding of civic engagement in rural places.”

So, the question remains: How does a community’s institutional civic infrastructure (e.g. nonprofits, voluntary associations, philanthropic foundations) influence volunteering and other civic behaviors across rural and urban communities?

This research project explores the institutional, place-based determinants of differences in volunteering and civic engagement behaviors between rural and urban respondents using the confidential Current Population Survey (CPS) Volunteering Supplement, merged with county-level administrative records describing the local civic infrastructure (e.g. number of nonprofits, presence of community foundations).

Along with Co-PI, Dr. Laurie E. Paarlberg at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at IUPUI, the team will analyze this unique dataset in a secure Census Bureau Research Data Center (RDC) using multi-level modeling.

The goals of this research are to understand which community institutions (e.g. churches, schools, other nonprofits) have the biggest influence on volunteering in rural and urban places.  Dr. Nesbit wants to understand whether different community institutions have a different effect on volunteering for rural residents compared to urban residents. They hope make a significant contribution to the scholarship of volunteerism and civic engagement and professional discussions about building engaged communities by exploring the institutional community-level drivers and inhibitors of volunteering and civic engagement.

Dr. Nesbit had a prior AmeriCorps grant from 2017-2021 for a project titled “Examining the Community-Level Determinants of the Rural-Urban Volunteering Divide” which showed that community context matters for volunteering.  The current study expands on that research to look more specifically at the influence of community institutions on volunteering.

The total grant award amount is $191,670. for a period of one year and they already have forward funding for year 2. Dr. Nesbit expects to have three years of funding by the end of the project, assuming that the sponsor gets the funds they are planning on.


Written by: Andrea Horsman
For more info. contact: Rebecca Nesbit

Gene Brody receives 2023 APS Lifetime Achievement Award


The Association for Psychological Science has awarded the 2023 James McKeen Cattel Fellow award to OIBR Distinguished Scholar Dr. Gene Brody. This award recognizes APS members for a lifetime of outstanding contributions to the area of applied psychological research. Recipients must be APS members whose research addresses a critical problem in society at large.

Gene Brody is a Regents’ Professor in the Center for Family Research at the University of Georgia. His work has changed the landscape of developmental, health, and prevention science by demonstrating its potential for narrowing social and racial disparities in health and well-being. In addition, his prospective investigations of resilience among Black Americans have set a standard for conducting research with historically underrepresented populations that focuses on strengths rather than deficits and uses ecologically and culturally sensitive methods. Brody’s renowned work in the development of family-centered prevention programs has been shown to deter youth engagement in risky activities and promote mental and physical health. He has helped many youths in their journey through adolescence by identifying factors in support networks that buffer them from the consequences of chronic environmental stress. No less notable are his theoretical contributions to psychology, wherein he demonstrated how resilience is only “skin-deep” for some Black youth.

Check out this video to learn more about Dr. Brody’s research.

Written by: David Pollack