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The new Youth Risk and Opportunity Lab

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By Sheri Hall for the BCTR

stylized mountains and large sun shape with the text Youth Risk and Opportunity Cornell Lab

After more than a decade of research on self-injury, a BCTR laboratory is expanding its focus to include research on social media and adolescent sexual health as well.

The Research Program on Self-Injury and Recovery has changed its name to the Youth Risk and Opportunity Lab, or YRO.  Laboratory director Janis Whitlock, a BCTR research scientist, said the name change demonstrates how the laboratory had broadened its reach in recent years.

portrait of Janis Whitlock

“Our work on self-injury helped to establish a whole, and now robust, field of study. I am now happily returning to more fundamental interests related to technology as a context for social and emotional development, sexual health and development, and development of innovative interventions. I am excited!”

The Youth Risk and Opportunity Lab is involved in several new projects that inspired the name change.

Two projects are particularly good examples of the laboratory’s expanded focus. Whitlock is working with communications assistant professor Andrea Won and associate professor Natalie Bazarova to develop and test virtual reality treatments for people with self-injury or anxiety disorders. The concept is to create alternative worlds that will help people during moments of stress and encourage them to seek treatment with a therapist.

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

In addition, Whitlock has partnered with NYS Department of Health and ACT for Youth to lead an evaluation of a program for adolescent boys that aims to prevent them from becoming future perpetrators of sexual violence. The program is a strengths-based curriculum to help middle school boys learn relationship skills and build healthy relationships with peers and adults.

The lab is still focused on studying self-injury as well. Currently, they are surveying individuals who have self-injured in the past to inform the development of tools that will help professionals screen and better.

Learn more about the Youth Risk and Opportunity Lab.

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Talks at Twelve: Glynis Shea, Tuesday, September 24, 2013

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Framing Disparities: Are You Sending the Right Message? Building the Public Will to Tackle Health Disparities
Glynis Shea, University of Minnesota

Tuesday, September 24, 2013
12:00pm - 1:00pm
Beebe Hall, 2nd floor conference room



This talk is open to all. Lunch will be served. Metered parking is available in the Plantations lot across the road from Beebe Hall.

It seems logical to believe that the compelling data about adolescent sexual health disparities would cause a public outcry, inspire immediate action from policy makers, and shake up our systems and infrastructure. But this is not the case. As it turns out, promoting the very data we find so compelling may be having exactly the opposite effect.

Building the public will to tackle health disparities remains an enormous challenge. As members of the youth-serving community we all – as individuals and organizations – have a role to play in shaping how people think about and work to eliminate health disparities.

In her talk, Glynis Shea will borrow strategies used by commercial advertisers, leverage the best thinking of cognitive linguists, and apply findings from the latest communications research to inform and inspire new ways to think about, discuss, and present health disparities data.

Glynis Shea is the Communications Director for the Konopka Institute for Best Practices in Adolescent Health and the Healthy Youth Development • Prevention Research Center at the University of Minnesota.

As a former Vice President at Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising San Francisco, Ms. Shea crafted communication plans and advertising strategies, fielded national market research efforts, and managed the production of TV, print, and radio advertising. Her client list included Hewlett-Packard, US West, and the Blue Diamond Almond Growers.

At the University of Minnesota, Ms. Shea collaborates with a host of youth-serving professionals and students. Her expertise is used to translate scholarly literature, develop communications strategies, and create publications, reports, web sites, newsletters, and fact sheets. She is a nationally recognized speaker and trainer. Her workshops focus on effectively communicating about young people and the resources required to support their well-being and health.

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