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Collaborating to help youth communicate


photo of a teen boy speaking at a microphone standing in front of a red curtain

By Sheri Hall for the BCTR

New York State 4-H (NYS 4-H) Youth Development is partnering with communications and theater experts from Cornell and the Ithaca community to offer a 4-H Communication Institute this summer.

The weekend-long program will offer 4-H teens the opportunity to attend workshops led by teaching assistants from the departments of communication and performing and media arts and professionals from Civic Ensemble, an Ithaca theater company. Participants will also work on their personal presentations, resumes, and participate in mock interviews. Institute organizers have three goals for the event:

  1. To have Cornell undergraduate, graduate, and faculty members share their knowledge and skills with 4-H alumni, parents, and educators;
  2. For Cornell students engage in experiential learning, applying their knowledge in a workshop setting;
  3. Finally, for 4-H members and parents to explore communications and performing arts and to take new skills back to their home communities around New York State.

Jamila Walida Simon

“This collaboration is a great one,” said Jamila Walida Simon, NYS 4-H civic engagement specialist who is helping to organize the conference. “The organizations participating in the conference are each focused on a single purpose: to be able to tell a credible story. Whether we talking about traditional communication techniques or performing arts, the lesson is in the crafting of the story.”

The idea, Simon said, is to help teens from across New York State to improve their communication skills while providing Cornell students with the opportunity to become teachers, sharing what they have learned in their studies and evaluating the work of 4-H teens.

4-H districts from across New York State will select teen members with strong presentation skills to attend the institute. In addition, Jodi Cohen, a senior lecturer in the Department of Communication, will host workshops for 4-H educators, volunteers, and parents. This year, the conference will be free to participants, although lodging is not included.

The hope moving forward is to continue the program so that New York State teens are able to improve their communications skills to serve them in college and beyond.

“I hope that we will be able to build up our communities through our work in Cornell University Cooperative Extension,” Simon said. “This is one way in which we can extend the research of the university into communities.”

(2) Comments.  |   Tags: 4-H    collaboration    communications    Jamila Walida Simon    youth   

Grant unites Project 2Gen, partners in fight against opioids


By Stephen D'Angelo for the Cornell Chronicle

Portraits of Rachel Dunifon, Laura Tach, and Anna Steinkraus.

Project leaders Rachel Dunifon, Laura Tach, and Anna Steinkraus. Dunifon and Tach are also co-directors of Cornell Project 2Gen in the BCTR.

The College of Human Ecology, in partnership with Cornell Cooperative Extension-Tompkins County (CCE-Tompkins), has been awarded the William T. Grant Foundation’s first Institutional Challenge Grant to respond to increasing rates of opioid abuse and child maltreatment in low income, rural communities in upstate New York.

The foundation supports research to improve the lives of young people. The award seeks to shift how research institutions value research and to encourage them to build sustained research-practice partnerships with public agencies or nonprofit organizations to reduce inequality in youth outcomes.

“Typically, universities reward faculty members for publishing articles in academic journals,” said Adam Gamoran, foundation president. “This grant challenges universities to reward faculty members whose research is directed to public service. The winning application will support research on one of our most vexing social problems, the opioid crisis, in a partnership that is poised to take action on the basis of the findings.”

The winning team, led by College of Human Ecology researchers Rachel Dunifon and Laura Tach and CCE-Tompkins program coordinator Anna Steinkraus, will attempt to understand the association between opioid use and child maltreatment rates; examine the role of family drug treatment courts in mitigating child maltreatment; and evaluate evidence-based interventions that may reduce the risk of opioid abuse for low-income youth and families. Findings from each study will be used to improve local practices and programs.

“We are honored to have been chosen, as the vision of the grant reflects the mission of our college and the land-grant mission of Cornell University,” Dunifon said. “The College of Human Ecology’s public engagement mission from the start has been about breaking down boundaries between academic research and its application to policy and practice.”

She continued, “This grant supports a true collaborative research-practice partnership that brings together faculty and community educators to address a pressing local issue: the opioid epidemic. We will not only generate cutting-edge research on this important topic, we will also provide faculty and our community partners with the time, funds and skills necessary to engage in this type of research collaboration. By doing this, we will pave the way for future research-practice partnerships to succeed.”

A committee of faculty and CCE-Tompkins staff will select faculty members to serve as fellows and receive mentoring from the partnership leads. Tach, an associate professor of policy analysis and management, is the first faculty fellow selected under the grant, and will bring her expertise in poverty and social policy to the project.

To support this work, housed in the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research, Cornell has committed a postdoctoral fellow for the first half of the award, a faculty fellowship, and an undergraduate internship at CCE-Tompkins. The College of Human Ecology will also review current support for research-practice partnerships, initiate conversations about how such work is measured and valued, and build capacity at CCE-Tompkins to facilitate high-quality evaluation work.

“We are excited to partner with the College of Human Ecology on this project, focusing on the opioid epidemic that has affected communities all across New York state and the country,” said Steinkraus, a principal investigator on the grant.

The College of Human Ecology will receive $650,000 over three years, with the opportunity to apply for a two-year continuation grant.

Grant to unite Cornell, partners in fight against opioids - Cornell Chronicle

(1) Comment.  |   Tags: CCE    collaboration    Cornell Project 2Gen    drugs    health    Laura Tach    media mention    Rachel Dunifon   

BCTR and the new Cornell Center for Health Equity


From right, Drs. Avery August and Monika Safford, co-directors of the Center for Health Equity, celebrate the center's opening with Dr. Augustine M.K. Choi, the Stephen and Suzanne Weiss Dean of Weill Cornell Medicine, and Dr. David Satcher, the founding director of and senior adviser to the Satcher Health Leadership Institute at the Cornell Tri-Campus Health Equity Symposium, March 15-16 at Weill Cornell Medicine.

From right, Drs. Avery August and Monika Safford, co-directors of the Center for Health Equity, celebrate the center's opening with Dr. Augustine M.K. Choi, the Stephen and Suzanne Weiss Dean of Weill Cornell Medicine, and Dr. David Satcher, the founding director of and senior adviser to the Satcher Health Leadership Institute at the Cornell Tri-Campus Health Equity Symposium, March 15-16 at Weill Cornell Medicine.

Adapted by Sheri Hall for the BCTR from an article by Timothy Malcolm for the Cornell Chronicle

The newly-formed Cornell Center for Health Equity (CCHEq) held its inaugural symposium on March 15 and 16 at Weill Cornell Medicine. Dr. David Satcher’s keynote address emphasized that health equity means “everyone has the opportunity to achieve their highest state of health.”

The CCHEq brings together researchers from Weill Cornell Medicine, Cornell’s Ithaca campus, and Cornell’s Tech Campus in NYC. Together they will work to better understand why health outcomes vary among demographic groups and generate new evidence on how to eliminate health disparities with the goal of achieving health equity for people locally, regionally, and nationally.

Portrait of Jennifer Tiffany

Jennifer Tiffany

Jennifer Tiffany, BCTR’s director of outreach and community engagement is a key faculty member working with the CCHEq. Tiffany also serves as the

executive director of Cornell University Cooperative Extension’s New York City programs (CUCE-NYC) and leads the Community Engagement in Research team at Weill Cornell Medicine’s Clinical and Translational Sciences Center.  These roles enable her to work with the CCHEq to bring together researchers from New York City and Ithaca and to promote partnerships with communities, practitioners, and Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE).

“At a time when economic inequality within the U.S. and New York state is extreme and rising, working actively to promote health equity is particularly crucial,” Tiffany said. “Partnerships with communities that experience extreme health disparities are vital to this work, as are the kinds of multidisciplinary and cross-campus partnerships the CCHEq seeks to develop and sustain. The BCTR has strong interests, resources, and capabilities in all of these areas.”

Tiffany and Elaine Wethington, an associate director of the BCTR, both participated in the March symposium. Tiffany presented on “Using Geospatial Mapping to Plan and Assess Programs" as part of the session on community-partnered research. She also participated in a panel called "Building a Sustainable Community-Engaged Research Program.”

Portrait of Elaine Wethington

Elaine Wethington

Wethington, who is co-director and director of pilot studies of the BCTR’s Translational Research Institute on Pain in Later Life, has been working for over a year with CCHEq investigators and other Ithaca-based investigators on proposal submissions through the CCHeq. She has also recruited other Ithaca investigators to take part in proposals and other collaborative projects with CCHEq.

“I hope that many other Ithaca faculty follow me in affiliating with the Center for Health Equity,” Wethington said. “Collaboration with the CCHEq is an outstanding opportunity for social scientists to partner on research projects that will have immediate application to improve the lives of New Yorkers living with disadvantage.”

The CCHEq will address disparities in heart disease, stroke, and cancer outcomes in disadvantaged minority communities in the diverse, urban New York City area, as well as in more rural regions of New York state. Working with organizations and providers deeply engaged in their communities, including caregivers and local health centers, the investigators will analyze the role of policy, societal biases, socio-economic status, educational attainment, health care providers, and the home and family environment in overcoming these disparate health outcomes.

For one of its projects, the CCHEq is engaging with Afro-Caribbean communities that increasingly use New York-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital. Using data showing higher prevalence of hypertension among populations of African descent, center investigators are working with colleagues at New York-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist to plan events that encourage residents to be screened and receive treatment for hypertension. They hope that these activities will also motivate residents to be screened for common cancers – including breast, colon, and prostate cancers – that are also of higher prevalence in African-descent communities.

Along with that work, the CCHEq hopes to use data collected by Dr. Margaret McNairy, the Bonnie Johnson Sacerdote Clinical Scholar in Women’s Health and an assistant professor of medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine, on the prevalence of emerging cardiovascular diseases in Haiti. Her work may become useful in identifying and promoting treatment of cardiovascular diseases in Haitian communities in New York City, said Dr. Monika Safford, co-director of the Cornell Center for Health Equity and chief of general internal medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine.

In Ithaca, Rebecca Seguin-Fowler, associate professor of nutritional sciences in the Colleges of Human Ecology and of Agriculture and Life Sciences, is seeking to reduce heart disease risk factors among women in the central, upstate, and Finger Lakes regions of the New York. In one project, called Strong Hearts, Healthy Communities, Seguin-Fowler is collaborating with CCE educators and the Bassett Healthcare Network’s Center for Rural Community Health to implement and evaluate a six-month cardiovascular disease risk-reduction program for overweight or obese women who are sedentary. The first phase of this community-randomized trial demonstrated effectiveness in reducing multiple disease risk factors, including weight loss and improved physical activity.

As the CCHEq grows, students in New York City and Ithaca will conduct research and work with fellow scientists and staff members across the two campuses. This aligns with one of Cornell’s strategic priorities, which emphasizes a connection between the medical school and other parts of the university through a distinct focus, in this case improving health equity.

The translational nature of the work, which brings together researchers across Cornell campuses and involves community members, is in line with the BCTR’s mission to speed and strengthen connections between research and practice.

“We want to drill down on this issue, so we are partnering with communities to understand their priorities and perspectives, collaboratively developing interventions based on science as well as community realities, and partnering with community organizations to sustain those interventions,” Safford said. “Cornell has such a broad reach. While we’re at the very beginning stages of our center, tapping into that Cornell community and potentially making an impact regionally is really exciting.”

Cornell Center for Health Equity established - Cornell Chronicle

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Using virtual reality to treat self-injury and anxiety


By Sheri Hall for the BCTR

news-whitlock-bazarova-won-inpost

Whitlock, Bazarova, and Won

BCTR Researcher Janis Whitlock is partnering with colleagues in the Department of Communications to create a new kind of treatment for people with self-injury or anxiety disorders: virtual reality sessions.

The concept is to create alternative worlds using virtual reality that will help people during moments of stress and encourage them to seek treatment with a therapist.

“People who self-injure tend to be focused on their body and responsive to external stimuli,” Whitlock said. “That means virtual reality has a lot of potential to help them. What if we could deliver a powerful intervention and mindfulness space through virtual reality? What if they could disappear into a world that is incredibly soothing?”

Whitlock is working with Andrea Won and Natalie Bazarova, both assistant professors of communications at Cornell, to develop and test this technology.  With a team of researchers, they are creating three different virtual reality worlds: a soothing world that focused on mindfulness, a euphoric world, and a control world.

They plan to conduct experiments to determine how the worlds affect the people who enter them – both physically and mentally.

“The question is, can we transport people into a space that may take the edge off their self-injury desire or anxiety?” Whitlock said.

Whitlock says that she hopes this work also helps to address more broad concepts about the intersection of technology and humankind. “There are larger questions of how this type of technology affects people,” she said. “What are the limitations of humans and what does that mean about how we use these kinds of devices?”

The project is currently funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation awarded to Bazarova and Whitlock to explore how and why people disclose personal information in social media and develop interventions to encourage self-reflection and treatment.

You can learn more about Whitlock’s work at The Cornell Research Program on Self-Injury and Recovery.

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(0) Comments.  |   Tags: Andrea Won    collaboration    CRPSIR    Janis Whitlock    Natalya Bazarova    technology   

Collaboration lowers incidence of physical restraint for youth in care


Michael Nunno and Elliott Smith

Michael Nunno and Elliott Smith

By Sheri Hall for the BCTR

Two BCTR researchers have been working with a Connecticut child welfare agency to implement and evaluate a program that promotes evidence-based approaches in supporting troubled youth. The Cornell researchers and two agency administrators published the results of their collaborative effort in March in the journal Child Welfare under the title “Benefits of embedding research into practice: An agency-university collaboration”.

Since 2009, Michael Nunno and Elliott Smith, members of the research team for the Residential Child Care Project (RCCP), have consulted with Waterford County School in Connecticut, which provides residential and day care to youth with mental health problems, behavioral issues, addiction and emotional problems.

A team of agency executives, clinicians, supervisors and staff members worked with RCCP staff and consultants to learn about and implement the Children and Residential Experiences: Creating Conditions for Change (CARE) program model.  The CARE model is a research-informed framework created at the BCTR by Martha Holden and her RCCP colleagues that focuses on improving interpersonal relationships between caregivers and youth.  Nunno and Smith were part of the effort to examine if CARE was making a difference in the day-to-day life of the children and staff. 

After the school implemented the program, agency administration reported a substantial decrease in physical restraints among the school’s residential population.  Physical restraints are safety interventions that hold a youth in order to contain physical behavior that is likely to result in injury to the youth or others.  They are, however, not without risks to both the child and the staff since they can have harmful or even fatal consequences. 

“The wonderful thing about the Waterford Country School from an evaluator’s perspective is that it has a thirty-year history of collecting and publishing administrative data on measures that matter to practitioners,” Nunno said.  Our job was to portray the data in relevant and meaningful ways so that it could inform practice, soften professional resistance to change, and add to the growing evidence that relationship-based, trauma-informed practice models can create safe and therapeutic physical spaces.”

“By examining the data, we documented a 48 percent decrease in restraint events within Waterford’s residential and shelter settings,” he said. “We were able to verify the staff perceptions and narratives that the Waterford agency was becoming a safer, calmer place.” 

Yet not all Waterford programs saw this decline.  “The day-school data showed an increase in restraints in the corresponding time frame,” Nunno said.  “Although we were all surprised at this finding, our analysis triggered the agency leadership to examine the children’s social and emotional regulation needs.  They involved day-school teachers and children’s families who designed unified approaches to meet those needs.  Within months of implementing these strategies we saw a significant decrease in the use of restraints.”

The partnership between RCCP and the school demonstrates RCCP’s success at monitoring and detecting problems, guiding solutions, improving practice, supporting learning organizations, and contributing more broadly to evidence-based practice. 

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(0) Comments.  |   Tags: article    collaboration    Elliott Smith    evaluation    Michael Nunno    RCCP    research    residential care    youth   

Connecting retirees to conservation


retirees and solar panels

Retirees learn about sustainable energy during recent field trip to a solar-powered residence.

A new partnership between the Cornell Institute for Translational Research on Aging and The Nature Conservancy is responding to two critical trends in society todaymounting concern about environmental sustainability and an aging population.

The Conservation Retirees in Service to the Environment program, an environmental education and leadership training program for adults over 60, is a new collaboration between the two organizations that builds on the original Retirees in Service to the Environment program (RISE), seeking to create environmental leaders who will play an active role as conservancy volunteers and environmental stewards in their communities.

“This program addresses the critical intersection of two important issues – environmental sustainability and an aging population,” said Karl Pillemer, the Hazel E. Reed Professor of Human Development, professor of gerontology in medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine and director of the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research.

“Retirees are an underutilized resource who have the time, talent and skills to help address issues like climate change, air and water pollution, waste management and the protection of natural areas.”

Bill Toomey, director of The Nature Conservancy’s Forest Health program, said, “The Nature Conservancy is excited to be partnering with Cornell to creatively engage older adults in the conservation actions that they can take individually or as part of a community in the care and stewardship of trees and natural habitats in their own backyards, neighborhoods and community.”

Program organizers conducted an extensive review of the research literature, focus group studies with older adult retirees and a pilot evaluation study. Based on the best available research evidence and practices in the field, including research conducted on aging and environmental issues at Cornell, the project provides 30 hours of training over a six-week period, culminating in a capstone volunteer project.

The training consists of a full-day introductory workshop, four weekly environmental workshops and a capstone stewardship project in the community and provides knowledge from expert speakers on climate change, water quality, soil contaminants, waste management and energy use.

“Through training in leadership and communication skill development, our objective is to improve participants’ effectiveness as environmental volunteers,” Pillemer said. “The educational component of the program also includes hands-on learning experience, such as field trips.”

The conservancy is interested in engaging community members of all ages in the care and stewardship of trees through the Healthy Trees, Healthy Cities program. “We are also looking to support individual and community action through our Habitat Network program to create and maintain local habitats including pollinator, rain and food gardens that can help support wildlife populations and connect people to nature,” Toomey said.

According to Pillemer, the program provides more than environmental improvements to local communities, it also benefits the volunteers themselves.

“It provides potential physical and mental health benefits to participating older adults, including physical activity, exposure to nature and social opportunities, as well as a greater sense of purpose through the chance to improve the world for future generations.”

The Cornell Institute for Translational Research on Aging promotes translational research on aging, including the development, implementation and dissemination of innovative, evidence-based intervention programs. A focus of the institute, housed in the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research, is to promote the social integration of older people in the form of meaningful roles and relationships.

New partnership connects retirees to conservation - Cornell Chronicle

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(0) Comments.  |   Tags: aging    CITRA    collaboration    environment    Karl Pillemer    media mention    RISE    volunteering   
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