Uriyoán Colón-Ramos, ScD, MPA




As a researcher, I aspire to design studies to inform policy to level the field for more vulnerable populations…and have a more lasting impact.


Uriyoán Colón-Ramos is an associate professor at George Washington University.

Uriyoán Colón-Ramos acknowledges that conducting research in under-resourced communities requires a grasp on the limitations placed upon that community. As a child growing up in a rural mountainous area of Puerto Rico, Uriyoán realized that many of her choices, particularly about the food she and her family ate, were dictated to her by the limitations of what was available to eat.

“Growing up in the Caribbean where 95 percent of the foods are imported gave me an intuitive understanding about the limitations that people face in the context of an environment that does not enable certain food or beverage choices,” Uriyoán says. “I’ve brought that perspective with me in studying nutrition and asking to what extent those environments can influence diet behaviors.”

As an undergraduate student at Cornell University, she created her own major, Sociological Perspectives of Nutrition in Developing Countries, to acquire a society- and systems-based understanding of nutrition behaviors. Her research now focuses on underserved communities in the U.S., Latin America, and the Caribbean. Continuing on that interdisciplinary path, she received a Master’s degree from Cornell in public administration and a ScD in public health nutrition from Harvard University.

“For me, addressing nutrition from a clinical and individual perspective was not as interesting as food system questions that takes society into consideration, because that was my reality growing up,” Uriyoán explains. “People would receive individual nutrition and health counsel that would get ‘messy’ when they put it in practice in their living context. For example, when I was little, when we were told to eat a variety of fruits, for whatever reason that meant either apples and pears, or fruit cocktails. Since apples and pears were imported, expensive, and tasted like cardboard, we would be served canned fruit cocktail in heavy syrup. Then eventually the family would develop recipes using these foods and those dishes would become part of traditions and served repeatedly.”

Uriyoán’s research, therefore, asks, “How can policies that promote locally-produced fruits, or that discourage high-sugar canned fruit purchase, for example, be coupled with educational programs to help shape individual diet choices? I want to understand to what extent society, systems, and policies can have an influence.”

Looking at behaviors from that perspective is crucial. By focusing only on the individual, researchers often neglect to understand that people are subject to larger, societal and systemic factors that prevent them from engaging in beneficial health behaviors. For example, her current research tries to understand if sugary drinks can be replaced with drinking water in a low-resource Latino community. However, many people in under-resourced communities lack access to safe water and cannot afford to buy bottled water—this coupled with the widespread availability and affordability of sugary drinks leads to higher sugary drink consumption. Uriyoán’s work, therefore, focuses on understanding which elements within systems can be leveraged to facilitate healthy behaviors, so that the burden of changing health behaviors does not fall entirely on the individual.

“Through focusing on food systems, we can level the field and ensure that healthy options are there and easy to do,” Uriyoán says. “As a researcher, I aspire to design studies that can inform policy and level the field for more vulnerable populations—those impacted by obesity, chronic diseases, poverty, racial discrimination, stress. Ultimately, I want to take my current research on water and have an impact on policy or a system design, an infrastructural design.”

For the last few years, Uriyoán and a team of researchers at George Washington University have worked on a community participatory research project around water security and sugary drinks in a Central American immigrant population in the Washington D.C. metro area.

The research team, which collaborates with community partners, local NGOs, and local parents in the formulation, implementation, and interpretation of the research, began four years ago by asking kids to take pictures of things they wanted to change in their community. Many took pictures of fast food restaurants, noting that they learned about nutrition in school, but couldn’t apply it because of the limitations of their environment.

Community members further refined the research question to look at sugary drink consumption, and the team began by promoting water consumption in schools, businesses, restaurants, and homes. Then, news broke about the water crisis in Flint, MI, which led the team to think about whether replacing sugary drinks with tap water was a viable solution for their population.

“People didn’t have the perception that tap water was safe. If they drank water, it was bottled. They were spending so much on bottled water, making it hard to replace sugary drinks with water,” Uriyoán explains.

Other research offers context for the avoidance of tap water in some communities. White people consume more tap water and are more likely to believe it is safe. While communities of color think the opposite, and will not give tap water to their kids, which has been associated with increased sugary drink consumption, Uriyoán notes that there is further difference in the consumption of tap water in different communities. While her team is working on interventions with Central Americans, the exact same intervention may not work with an African American community because of different experiences.

Uriyoán and her team are now testing their tap water intervention, which provides a home tap filter, information about the cost of bottled water and juices, information about the amount of sugar in juice, and information about the health impacts of sugary drinks. The community is hoping to find out whether this information and the presence of a tap filter is enough to sustainably replace sugary drinks in the long term.

Uriyoán credits the New Connections network with helping her gain some of the funding for this project. She brought a funding proposal to a recent coaching clinic and was able to receive strong critiques, preparing the proposal for successful submission.

“Usually you have colleagues who provide this feedback, but New Connections was that on steroids,” Uriyoán remarks. “I was able to give them my proposal and get thorough feedback, making my proposal stronger. I ultimately secured federal funding through that proposal.”

As a former grantee, Uriyoán says she appreciated the unique nature of New Connections. “It’s hard to know how to work with RWJF or NIH and get funding. It’s extremely competitive, so New Connections was a way to break into that godfathering mechanism when that godfather doesn’t exist for you. This was a really special group.”

The Details

Title: Associate Professor, George Washington University

New Connections Year: 2017

New Connections Status: Program Alumna

Jen’nea Sumo, PhD

Dr. Jen'nea Sumo is assistant professor in the Department of Women, Children and Family Nursing at Rush University's College of Nursing.
Dr. Jen'nea Sumo is assistant professor in the Department of Women, Children and Family Nursing at Rush University's College of Nursing.




I’ve always been a person of purpose, with a desire to see others reach their full potential. If I see an issue, I ask, ‘How can we advocate for that population?’


Dr. Jen'nea Sumo is assistant professor in the Department of Women, Children and Family Nursing at Rush University's College of Nursing.
Dr. Jen’nea Sumo is assistant professor in the Department of Women, Children and Family Nursing at Rush University’s College of Nursing.

From a young age, Jen’nea Sumo was encouraged by her family to challenge herself academically. Her grandfather, who had a PhD in Education and Masters in Social Work, enrolled her in community college classes during high school, encouraging her to embrace deeper academic study. At 18 years old, Jen’nea entered Langston University with an associate’s degree already in hand and began studying biology and psychology.

In her senior year, Jen’nea learned she was pregnant, which was a challenge to her family relationships at the time. Jen’nea’s grandfather was a very influential father figure to her and very vocal in expressing his concerns about her being a young parent. Her grandfather was also diabetic, which brought Jen’nea’s attention to the potential impact that caring for a young parent can have on grandparents’ health.

Finishing her psychology degree with a new baby inspired Jen’nea to seek new paths of academic study, pursuing a master’s degree and then a PhD in nursing. Her experience being a young mother ultimately served as the basis of her future research on the behavior and health needs of grandparent caregivers who are raising parenting adolescent children.

“Having a child in college, I thought to myself, how do families do this?” Jen’nea explains. “While working on my dissertation, I saw that there wasn’t a lot of research or support for grandparent caregivers who care for their parenting adolescent children. My desire is to support the caregivers, so they can be well-equipped to provide care for these young parents.”

Jen’nea has made the grandparent caregiver population a focus of her research. As an assistant professor at Rush University, Jen’nea investigates multi-generational views of family health and wellbeing by developing interventions and community support.

“I never in my wildest dreams expected to be in a position where I would be able to study and grow and build knowledge to help people,” Jen’nea says. “I’ve always been a person of purpose, with a desire to see others reach their full potential. If I see an issue, I ask, ‘How can we advocate for that population?’”

While Jen’nea’s primary focus is grandparent caregivers, she is also interested in how all family members respond to parenting. For the past four years, Jen’nea has been the co-project director of an NIH-funded study designed to test two fatherhood interventions with  African American fathers who do not live with their child on a full time basis (Grant # NR-011182-05-). Mothers were recruited as data informants for the fatherhood study and during data collection they repeatedly asked: “what about the Moms?” Their question led to the expansion of the study to include learning about the perspectives of mothers who co-parent with non-residential fathers.

“This all ties into family dynamics, and I want parents to be well, so their children and even grandchildren can be well,” Jen’nea says. “We can’t do anything in a vacuum. In nursing, we have our hands in a little bit of everything. We work to impact so many different issues to provide the best care we can. I work to understand behavior and the impact of social determinants of health because they have the potential to influence mental and physical health outcomes.”

For her New Connections research, she conducted a secondary analysis on the impact of social determinants of health and health behaviors on grandparent caregivers’ health.  In this study, the impact of social determinants of health and health behaviors did not differ between caregiving grandmothers and a comparison group of women of similar age without grandchildren living in the home.

The findings from this study suggest that the women could benefit from interventions that address financial and parental stress and physical activity taking into account the physical surroundings of their neighborhood and their need for social support. Ability to pay bills was the only social determinant of health found to be associated with both mental and physical health, and physical activity was the only health behavior found to be associated with physical health. Therefore, pragmatic interventions should be created that address and integrate social determinant of health factors related to financial stress and physical activity for both groups of women. Yet, Jen’nea notes, interventionists should take into consideration the unique needs of caregiving grandmothers.

Jen’nea is now working on creating focus groups to further understand the physical and mental health of these grandparents. The next step is to obtain insight from grandparent caregivers to understand what interventions components are required to meet their specific needs.

On top of her research, Jen’nea is heavily involved in Rush’s nursing college as co-chair of its diversity and inclusion committee. “One thing about having a faculty position is that you have many other responsibilities outside of research,” she says. “New Connections offering grants like this is helpful to buy back time for your research.”

The grant has also exposed Jen’nea to a wealth of resources from mentors and relationships with colleagues to building research skills and professional development. These skills and supports have provided her with the foundation to think big about her research and professional goals, she says.

“I have a vision of positively impacting the world,” Jen’nea explains. “I dream big, I want to help everybody. I have a passion for vulnerable populations—I want to help them get the resources they need to thrive. I also want to encourage those interested in supporting vulnerable populations to consider academia and nursing as a career because there are a lot of opportunities to positively affect communities through nursing.”

The Details

Title: Assistant Professor, Department of Women, Children and Family Nursing, College of Nursing

New Connections Year: 2018

New Connections Status: Junior Investigator

Maria Ramos-Olazagasti, PhD

Maria Ramos-Olazagasti is a senior research scientist at Child Trends’ Hispanic Institute and Reproductive Health and Family Formation area.
Maria Ramos-Olazagasti is a senior research scientist at Child Trends’ Hispanic Institute and Reproductive Health and Family Formation area.




There is substantial evidence showing that forced parental separations and detention can have serious, lasting effects on children and families. We can’t ignore this evidence.


Maria Ramos-Olazagasti is a senior research scientist at Child Trends’ Hispanic Institute and Reproductive Health and Family Formation area.
Maria Ramos-Olazagasti is a senior research scientist at Child Trends’ Hispanic Institute and Reproductive Health and Family Formation area.

Moving to New York City for graduate school was more than an academic transition for Maria Ramos-Olazagasti. Having lived in Puerto Rico her whole life, Maria went from “the majority to a minority in one plane ride.”

While earning her PhD in community and developmental psychology at NYU, Maria witnessed how being designated with minority status is often linked to stressful experiences and adverse childhood experiences that can affect individuals’ mental health and wellbeing. Seeing these disparities on the streets of New York City motivated Maria to pursue a research path focusing on mental health in Latino communities.

“The experiences of those living as racial and ethnic minorities in the United States are quite unique, and these experiences can contribute to the existence and maintenance of disparities in health and socioeconomic outcomes,” Maria says.

Her research has shown, for example, that differences in symptoms of depression and anxiety between Puerto Rican children living in Puerto Rico, and Puerto Ricans in the South Bronx, are explained by greater exposure to violence and experiences of discrimination among children in the Bronx, even after taking into account differences in background characteristics between the two groups.

In most research, Latinos in the U.S. are seen as a monolithic ethnicity, but Maria says the reality is different. Latinos have different health and social characteristics based on a myriad of factors, including nationality, environment, and lived experience. Additionally, Latinos are often compared to white populations, but rarely the subject of independent research. Maria’s research seeks to offer a heterogeneous look at Latino experiences and identify the nuances in Latino families and relationships.

“We tend to group Hispanics into a single category, when the reality is that there is substantial variation in the experiences, opportunities, and outcomes of Hispanic subgroups,” Maria says. “If we fail to examine these differences, we’re not going to be able to understand the unique needs and strengths of specific groups, which will hinder our ability to design effective interventions.”

After receiving her PhD and completing postdoctoral training in developmental psychopathology, Maria worked as a research scientist at New York State Psychiatric Institute and assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University. She maintains a voluntary appointment at Columbia University, but now works as senior research scientist at Child Trends, a nonprofit research organization focused on improving the lives of children through rigorous research, action, and effective dissemination. Research at Child Trends focuses on how different aspects of a child’s life, such as family, school, and other contexts, affect child wellbeing throughout development—with attention to the unique circumstances of children living in poverty, children of color, and marginalized families.

As a senior research scientist at Child Trends’ Hispanic Institute and Reproductive Health and Family Formation area, Maria examines how culture and context affect Latino children and youth, with particular attention to the effects of adverse childhood experiences on their mental health and risk behaviors. She is particularly interested in expanding the concept of adversity to better capture the realities of Latinos in the United States. In particular, she is interested in raising awareness of the long-term trauma that current immigration policies can impinge on our nation’s Latino children, with the goal of informing future policy.

“There is substantial evidence showing that forced parental separations and detention can have serious, lasting effects on children and families,” Maria says. “We can’t ignore this evidence as we consider approaches to address our country’s immigration challenges.”

Within Child Trends, Maria also serves as investigator of the National Research Center on Hispanic Children and Families. She and a colleague have outlined ways for policymakers, clinicians, educators, and others to support Latino children who have been forcibly separated from their parents and subsequently traumatized. On top of addressing the trauma in these communities, Maria says, we must work toward removing the barriers—stigmatization, fear, discrimination—that prevent Latino families from seeking the help they need.

Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) have far-reaching consequences, as teenagers reach adulthood, including early exposure to alcohol, teenage pregnancy, and other risky sexual behaviors. In her New Connections research, Maria examined the influence of ACEs on early alcohol use, comparing Puerto Ricans living in the metropolitan areas of San Juan and Caguas, and Puerto Ricans living in the South Bronx. She found that multiple adversities often accumulated, such as parental maladjustment, physical and emotional abuse, and exposure to violence, leading to a greater risk for early initiation into alcohol use.

“The fact that adversities usually co-occur suggests that we need interventions that target ACEs at multiple levels, not just individual ACEs,” Maria explains.

At Child Trends, several programs and services for families and children aim to promote positive parenting by increasing parents’ knowledge about children’s development and teaching parents strategies that support child development. Parents who possess this knowledge tend to use more effective parenting practices and engage in activities that support child development.

Maria was recently involved in a project that investigated what parents of infants know and want to know about parenting and children development. The goal of the study was to give parents a voice in what they feel they need more information about, how they want to receive the information, and from whom. The investigative team found that parents across socio-economic contexts want more information about their children’s socio-emotional development. Parents generally did not feel uninformed, but they sometimes struggled to find information from sources they considered trustworthy. Parents also hoped they could receive more support as they tried to implement recommendations at home.

“If we want parents to successfully use the information that we provide them, we need to make sure that we also show them how to use that information and provide support as they try to implement recommendations with their children,” Maria says. “Just providing recommendations is not sufficient.”

Parents across groups expressed a desire to learn more about what’s best for their babies. Making this information available to parents in accessible ways is key to enabling healthy child development, Maria says.

Receiving the New Connections grant was not only critical to developing Maria’s research, but the professional development she gained helped shape her career trajectory. Her mentor at Columbia, a New Connections alumna, encouraged Maria to apply, and through the grant process, their mentoring relationship grew stronger, enabling Maria to grow in her career as a scholar committed to researching underrepresented and underserved populations.

“Opportunities like New Connections have marked my career by providing the training, financial support, and networks needed to establish myself as a young investigator,” Maria says.

The Details

Title: Senior research scientist at Child Trends’ Hispanic Institute and Reproductive Health and Family Formation area.

New Connections Year: 2015

New Connections Status: Program Alumna

Jennifer Woo Baidal, MD, MPH


Woo Baidal


I want to live in a world where, if you’re on one side of the city, country, or globe, you don’t see these stark health differences for children.


Jennifer Woo Baidal is Director of Pediatric Weight Management and an attending physician in the Division of Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition at Columbia University Medical Center. She is also Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Columbia University.

As a second-generation American living in Los Angeles, Jennifer Woo Baidal witnessed childhood health disparities firsthand.

“I grew up on the side of the city where kids were getting ketchup as their vegetable at school,” Jennifer says. “When I went to UCLA on the other side of town, I realized I didn’t have the same options as kids in wealthier communities. I saw that these kids have access to healthier nutrition options, which was a stark contrast to my upbringing—not because people didn’t care, but because those were the only options available.”

Jennifer’s paternal grandparents immigrated from China, first to Mexico and then the U.S., and her mother’s parents came to the U.S. from Mexico. Living in an underserved, minority neighborhood in Los Angeles, her grandparents had a child die because they could not afford to seek health care.

“That knowledge instituted in me a drive to promote health equity and ask how do we achieve health equity? How do we provide an equitable start for children?” Jennifer says. “I want to live in a world where, if you’re on one side of the city, country, or globe, you don’t see these stark health differences for children. Is that realistic? I don’t know, but every day when I wake up I think: How can I help make child health better?”

After completing her undergraduate education at UCLA, Jennifer became interested in child health and nutrition, particularly in underserved areas where disparities in obesity rates are apparent. From 2011-2014, 14 percent of white children age 2-19 developed obesity, compared to 19.5 percent of Black children and 21.9 percent of Hispanic children. While participating in research training with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Washington D.C., she began volunteering as an EMT. Jennifer realized that she loved the combination of research and on-the-ground patient interactions, which inspired her to enroll in medical school at Harvard. While completing her pediatric residency, Jennifer became involved with the non-profit Proyecto Pastoral in Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles, which serves low-income Mexican and Central American families. Jennifer developed interventions at their early childhood education center to promote child nutrition and healthy activity. Realizing that she wanted to evaluate the efficacy of these programs as well, Jennifer decided to get her MPH.

With her interdisciplinary background in clinical work and public health research, Jennifer’s work at Columbia University focuses on preventing childhood obesity and its health complications, particularly in disproportionately burdened populations, such as racial-ethnic minority and low-income neighborhoods.

“A high proportion of children have obesity,” Jennifer says. “Each year that passes, I feel we have the opportunity to shift the needle by making the healthier choice easier for people.”

Partnering with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, MassGeneral for Children, and Harvard School of Public Health during her fellowship, Jennifer implemented and evaluated a multilevel, multi-sector approach to reduce childhood obesity in 2 to 12-year olds. The team introduced five evidence-informed interventions in primary care, WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children), school and afterschool settings, and community sectors. Using these existing platforms, Jennifer found they were able to improve body mass index (BMI) outcomes and reduce their obesity risk factors as well as racial-ethnic disparities in childhood obesity among children in WIC.

“That’s where I’m hoping to leave a lasting impact—in developing and fortifying where prevention is most promising and to work in early life to improve child health for all children,” Jennifer says.

Currently, Jennifer works with WIC in New York to observe risk factors for obesity in the first 1,000 days of a child’s life to identify population-level interventions that could help to reduce the risk factors, such as excess gestational weight gain and rapid infant weight gain.

The guidance clinicians have for obesity from the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force recommends evidence-based services to primary care physicians. Their guidelines suggest screening children ages 6 to 12 for obesity and, if the children are at risk, delivering intensive  behavioral interventions to reduce their BMI scores. In terms of evidence, there is little evidence  for effective ways to prevent and treat obesity in younger children, Jennifer notes.

In a study she conducted in Washington Heights, a neighborhood in Manhattan, Jennifer found that many parents of infants were confused by the lack of health recommendations from clinicians. Out of 280 families with infants, 66 percent of infants were drinking sugar sweetened beverages. While the American Heart Association recommends no sugars before the age of two, marketing in many low-income areas can mislead parents. With few dietary guidelines, Jennifer says it is difficult for families to see through the smoke of what’s healthy or unhealthy.

Another barrier to reducing obesity risk in the population with which Jennifer works is getting families the support they need. While Jennifer often provides referrals to SNAP or WIC, families must navigate the system alone. On top of that, it’s difficult for many families to come to regular appointments at Jennifer’s clinic, as this often requires taking time off work, traveling via car or public transit, paying for parking, and long waits—all of which may not be feasible for low-income parents.

“That’s a missed opportunity to link families with existing programs that might be helpful to them,” Jennifer says. “Moving forward, I want to focus on how we can integrate existing systems and evidence into day-to-day practice. If clinics and WIC, for example, are on the same page, we have a lot of potential opportunities to intervene not just for the babies, but for the parents.”

Receiving the New Connections grant soon after finishing her MPH was crucial in helping to sharpen her research, Jennifer says. With the grant and its focus on mixed methods research, Jennifer was able to bridge the gap between clinical work and public health and policy research.

“Meeting other New Connections grantees has helped me to develop collaborations,” Jennifer says. “I have upcoming publications that have come from those relationships. Since receiving the grant, I have come into my own and moved my stream of research forward.”

The Details

Title: Director of Pediatric Weight Management at Columbia University Medical Center; Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Columbia University.

New Connections Year: 2016

New Connections Status: Program Alumna

Leah Robinson, PhD

Leah Robinson, PhD, is a professor of Movement Science at the University of Michigan.
Leah Robinson, PhD, is a professor of Movement Science at the University of Michigan.




I want to use my research to inform educational and health policies that could affect the health and well-being of children across the U.S. and across their lifespan.


From a young age, Leah Robinson was a versatile athlete, playing basketball, volleyball, and track and field. Following her fascination with athleticism and what the human body can accomplish, Leah continued to play volleyball at North Carolina Central University, while studying physical education and biology. Through a research project, Leah discovered that her passion was in research that studied the movement of the human body.

“I loved discovering how to help the human body work and move more efficiently,” Leah says. The research led her to continue her education, earning her Masters and PhD in Exercise Science and Human Motor Behavior from Ohio State University.

While teaching at Bucks County Community College, outside of Philadelphia, after completing her Master degree Leah increasingly became interested in how preschool-aged children move. As a professor at Bucks County, she integrated the on-campus pre-school program with the courses she taught in the health and physical education department. “It was during this course when I first saw children struggling with basic movement skills—like running and jumping,” Leah says. In working with these children to encourage more proficient movement skills, Leah meshed her undergraduate training in physical education with her research interests in sports and movement to create a new research trajectory: investigating the design and implementation of evidence-based motor skill interventions and the effect of motor skills on promoting health-enhancing physical activity and developmental health in young children.

Currently, Leah is investigating the effects of a motor skill intervention, the Children’s Health Activity Motor Program (CHAMP, which she started as part of her dissertation work at Ohio State University)  and its impact on child health through two NIH-funded grants, which provide funds for longitudinal studies of nearly 300 pre-school-aged children. In the first study, Leah and her research team will examine how the motor-based interventions of CHAMP affect children’s motor skills and physical activity from pre-school through second grade—Leah and her team just finished collecting data for the first year of pre-school. In her second project, Leah and the team will examine the effect of the CHAMP intervention on self-regulation in children heading to kindergarten along with the link between these motor skills and self-regulation. Self-regulation—control over our thoughts, feeling, and actions—is a predictor of school readiness in children. Preliminary research Leah conducted with smaller samples showed that this motor-intervention promoted self-regulation skills, such as listening to the teacher and controlling impulses. Children who did not receive the intervention saw a decrease in their self-regulation skills over 10-12 weeks.

“We need to investigate this further over a longer duration and with more extensive measures of self-regulations, because it’s crucial that children are prepared and ready to learn in kindergarten,” Leah notes. The team is also interested in learning whether the intervention can improve learning-based outcomes, such as children’s attention and self-perceptions.

“Early results have shown that this intervention is effective in promoting physical activity and positive self-perceptions in preschoolers, which are two key factors that we want children to develop early and maintain throughout their lives,” Leah explains.

The link between physical activity and school outcomes is a key component of Leah’s future research agenda. Children today are encouraged to participate in more sedentary activities, so this often means they spend less time playing and learning motor skills or engaging in physical activity. One study in the UK found that children spent half as much time playing outside as their parents did.

“Play appears to be disappearing from childhood and it needs to return,” Leah says. “I’m interested in learning more about the effect that decreasing outdoor playtime has on children. Why aren’t they playing outside? This lack of play could impact how children learn to socialize and interact with peers. We need to explore this further.”

At the same time, physical education programs in public schools also have been cut. In a 2012 study of San Francisco, only 20 percent of schools met the state requirements for physical activity, which, in California, is 20 minutes a day—a pattern seen across primary and secondary schools throughout the U.S.

“I want to stress the importance of movement in young populations, especially with physical education programs disappearing and reduced amounts of time dedicated to play (outdoor recess) in public schools,” Leah adds. “I want to use my research to inform educational and health policies that could affect the health and wellbeing of children across the U.S. and across their lifespan.”

Looking back, Leah says the New Connections grant, which she received in 2011, was influential in shaping her career, particularly in terms of understanding how educational and health policies can influence and shape an individual’s experiences to become an agent of change. She also stays in contact with friends from her cohort and says the connections formed within the program are powerful, which is why she continues to volunteer as a mentor and speaker for the program’s many professional development events.

“My New Connections friends and I have formed social media groups where we stay in contact and disseminate information,” she says. “You always meet people at universities and conventions who know one another from the program. Whether they are from your cohort or another, you will meet a New Connections fellow and it’s great to know that we have this bond as part of a larger group.”

These bonds are important in creating support for minority and early career researchers, she says. “I am a big advocate of the program, and I look forward to seeing how RWJF is going to continue offering this sort of training and mentorship with all of its grant recipients.”

The Details

Title: Associate Professor and Program Chair of Movement Science at the University of Michigan

New Connections Year: 2012

New Connections Status: Program Alumna

Sarah Gonzalez-Nahm, PhD




My heritage motivates me to want to help people in whatever way I can.


As a nutrition researcher and a breastfeeding mother, Sarah Gonzalez-Nahm understands the many structural factors that affect a mother’s choice to breastfeed. Though breastfeeding is not the best choice for every family, regardless of socio-economic status or community, new moms should have the agency to decide for themselves whether they want to breastfeed their babies. Slack maternity leave policies and inflexible work climates, however, have removed that choice for many families—particularly those living in disadvantaged communities.

“People want to make the best choices that they can, but their choices are constrained depending on who they are, where they live, and where they come from,” she says. For Sarah, whose research focuses on maternal and child health—particularly nutrition and breastfeeding—these structural constraints are most evident in underserved populations, like the Latino and immigrant communities she has worked in since graduate school.

While some women choose not to breastfeed for personal reasons, without strong maternity leave policies for salaried and wage workers, many mothers in underprivileged communities are left without the opportunity to choose what’s best for the child and their family. As a result, there are significant racial and socioeconomic disparities in breastfeeding rates. African American women are 2.5 times less likely to breastfeed than white women, and a third of Latina women begin supplementing their baby’s diet with formula as early as the second day of life.

In addition to not having paid maternity leave, many workplaces do not have policies that support breastfeeding, Sarah adds. While the Affordable Care Act stipulates a blanket policy requiring employers to provide a “reasonable” unpaid breaktime for breastfeeding mothers in a private space, this language is vague and dependent on the employer’s interpretation. An employer can argue that the person is essential to the operation of the workplace and that taking frequent breaks would be a detriment to the workplace. On top of that, taking unpaid breaks may not be feasible for people living paycheck to paycheck, as pumping takes a significant amount of time.

“We’re not creating the ideal space for women to be able to breastfeed and go back to work,” Sarah comments. “We’re not making breastfeeding the easy choice.”

Removing these political and economic barriers to breastfeeding is the thrust behind Sarah’s research and advocacy for better maternal and child health. As a Latina woman, Sarah is deeply passionate about promoting health in immigrant communities where health choices are often dictated by outside factors.

Though she was born in Florida, Sarah spent eight years of her childhood living in Ecuador. While Sarah says she was fortunate not to experience many of the struggles and discrimination associated with Latino immigration to the U.S., she knows many family members and friends who have been affected by the social, political, and economic obstacles facing Latino immigrants.

“When you’re a Latino in the U.S., no matter where you come from you have a connection with other Latinos,” Sarah explains. “Latinos want to help each other. My heritage motivates me to want to help people in whatever way I can.”

While Sarah’s roots motivate much of her work in maternal and child health, those roots also inform her research, allowing her to become an outspoken proponent of change. “Because of my language skills and being a Latina myself, I connect with other Latinos more easily. They see me as a source of information, and as someone who can raise the visibility of issues pertinent to Latinos. As a Latina with an advanced education, I realize that what I do matters.”

Following her Master’s degree, Sarah worked as a nutrition counselor for the Durham County Health Department, working in an underserved area of Durham, North Carolina. There, she encountered the frustrating choices many families were forced to make about their health because of uncontrollable structural factors tied to immigration, maternity leave, and food affordability. Her frustration drove her to pursue a PhD in maternal and child health so that she can use her research to inform policymaking to help remove the complex socio-economic barriers facing underserved communities.

Sarah sees her New Connections grant research as the first step toward advocating for more equitable maternal and child health policies in the U.S. In her study, which is still in the analysis phase, Sarah assesses the breastfeeding policy landscape of each state, examining legislation that might affect breastfeeding—such as indecency laws, public breastfeeding laws, hospital laws, and maternity leave laws. She evaluates each law to identify whether it was created with equity in mind, considering socio-economic status, race or ethnicity, or the needs of nontraditional families. Her study uses two qualitative methods to assess each law. First, she conducts keyword searches for mention of race, ethnicity, income, or socio-economic status. Then, she uses a published framework from Brandeis University that further assesses equity in policies.

“What I’m finding so far, although it’s not definitive yet, is very few of these laws are created with equity in mind,” Sarah says. “It’s not really a surprise, but it’s never been formally documented. This provides a baseline for researchers to approach policy makers and highlight how this is inequitable and what we can do about it.”

Moving forward, Sarah wants to promote stronger maternity leave and breastfeeding policies with her research. The U.S. is the only developed country in the world where employers are not required to offer paid leave to new mothers. While eligible workers may receive 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a new child, this is not feasible for many mothers who live on the economic margins. This lack of a national mandate can have lifelong impacts on maternal and child health, Sarah notes, as infant nutrition and wellbeing can shape health trajectories later in life.

“It’s hard for women to make the choice to breastfeed because of these constraints and the policies in place in this country,” Sarah says. “If you’re unable to take an unpaid maternity leave, or if you only get 6-12 weeks maternity leave, it’s really hard to go back to work and have breastfeeding established.”

Sarah hopes to help make breastfeeding an easier choice for women, and she says the New Connections grant has given her a starting point. “Getting the RWJF grant has been a great opportunity for me. This research provides a strong baseline. I want to keep going and use the research to influence policy and bring on change.”

The Details

Title: Postdoctoral fellow, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

New Connections Year: Current

New Connections Status: Junior Investigator

Caryn Bell, PhD




I want what I do to inform social justice efforts to address those social and cultural issues that lead to disparate outcomes.


As a public health-trained professor in the African American Studies department of the University of Maryland, College Park, Caryn Bell has always been attuned to social justice issues at the intersection of race and public health.

“In public health we have always included race as a variable, but being in African American studies has allowed me to take a deep dive into culture, social issues, social justice issues, discrimination, and segregation,” Caryn says.

Growing up in Raleigh, NC, Caryn noticed the socio-economic and health disparities between white and black people. Attending one of the state’s top public schools, she noticed how race affected graduation rates, and within her family, she saw how race can affect health behaviors, treatment decisions, and interactions with the healthcare system.

In college, Caryn initially studied chemistry, but she realized she wanted to focus her research on health, race and social justice. “I wanted my research to be more directly impactful,” she said. “I wanted to see more of the effects of my research. I want what I do to inform social justice efforts to address those social and cultural issues that lead to disparate outcomes.”

Following graduation, she worked as a research assistant at the Hopkins Center for Health Disparities Solutions and went on to earn a PhD in social and behavioral sciences. Now, as a professor, researcher, and member of the 2017 New Connections cohort, Caryn focuses on African American health, particularly higher socio-economic status African Americans who still have poorer health outcomes than their white peers.

Caryn says research often focuses on health in urban and low socio-economic status communities, sometimes conflating socio-economic status and place with race. While those communities often have worse health outcomes, African Americans who live in suburban communities and have college degrees may have lower health outcomes than those of whites with the same socio-economic status.

A study comparing affluent white and African American people found that the African American respondents had higher odds of developing hypertension, mental health issues, and obesity.

While Caryn says understanding why African Americans have poorer health outcomes than their white peers is important, she wants to do more with her research.

“For me, it’s just not enough to understand. I want whatever I do to contribute to coming up with solutions to achieve the best health for African Americans across the socio-economic spectrum, but particularly for higher socio-economic status African Americans who may have been overlooked by researchers and policy makers,” Caryn says.

As part of her New Connections grant, Caryn is researching health outcomes for African Americans in the suburbs, which is an understudied population.

“We think that if we’ve made it to the suburbs, we’ve made it in general. That’s not always the case. I’m looking at the suburbanization of poverty—how gentrification and displacement from urban areas has led to poverty in the suburbs,” Caryn said, adding that suburban African Americans are often segregated, living in less affluent areas outside city limits.

of concentrated suburban poverty. In Hempstead, which is 92 percent black and Latino, the median income is $52,000, but in mostly white Garden City the median income is $150,000. Even in the suburbs, place affects health, Caryn says. Living in pockets of concentrated poverty can affect health outcomes, such as obesity rates.

Her New Connections study is longitudinal, looking at how changes in demographics over time affect health outcomes in U.S. counties and considers the role of race and place along with urbanization.

“In the long term, I want my work to inform interventions, social policy, and social justice efforts. I would love for it to inform social justice efforts to not only improve health, but to address the social determinants that lead to disparate health outcomes for higher socio-economic status African Americans.”

Caryn’s commitment to social justice is evident through her research, and she says New Connections has helped encourage her to push her research beyond journals. “During the winter [2018] symposium, I connected with people doing similar research and having similar experiences—how do we get tenure, how do we deal with pressures? It was helpful to connect with other researchers about the difficulty of pushing research forward and having an impact.”

The Details

Title: Assistant Professor of African American Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park

New Connections Year: Current

New Connections Status: Junior Investigator

Recent Publications, Peer-Reviews Conferences and Invited Presentations:

  1. Bell, C. N., Thorpe, R. J., Bowie, J. V., & LaVeist, T. A. (2018). Race disparities in cardiovascular disease risk factors within socioeconomic status (SES) strata. Annals of epidemiology, 28(3), 147-152.
  2. Bell, C. N., Thorpe, R. J., & LaVeist, T. A. (2018). The Role of Social Context in Racial Disparities in Self-Rated Health. Journal of Urban Health95(1), 13-20.
  3. Bell, C. N., Bowie, J. V., Thorpe Jr, R. J., & Levine, D. M. (2017). A spatial analysis of race, local health-promoting resources and preventable hospitalizations. Preventive medicine105, 149-155.
  4. Thorpe, R. J., Bell, C. N., Kennedy-Hendricks, A., Harvey, J., Smolen, J. R., Bowie, J. V., & LaVeist, T. A. (2015). Disentangling race and social context in understanding disparities in chronic conditions among men. Journal of Urban Health92(1), 83-92.

Kimani Paul-Emile, JD, PhD

Kimani Paul Emile headshot
Kimani Paul Emile headshot




I wanted to do social justice work and was awed by what could be accomplished through the law.


“I wanted to do social justice work and was awed by what could be accomplished through the law.”

Kimani Paul-Emile knew she wanted to become a lawyer in high school after she saw the civil rights documentary Eyes on the Prize. “I wanted to do social justice work and was awed by what could be accomplished through the law,” she said. After completing college at Brown University, Kimani attended Georgetown Law Center and went on to a post-graduate fellowship at the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR).

As an African American woman and the daughter of immigrants, Kimani drew on her background in her work at CCR.  Representing immigrant women who worked in New York City sweatshops, she provided direct legal services, engaged in impact litigation, and spearheaded public education campaigns.

While at CCR, Kimani also worked on who were being prosecuted under child endangerment laws because they were addicted to drugs. The women were incarcerated during their pregnancies, shackled to hospital beds as they gave birth, and immediately separated from their babies afterward. The mothers were sent back to prison while the babies were given to foster homes or other family members. Charleston lacked drug treatment facilities equipped to meet the needs of low-income pregnant women and new mothers.

“All but one of the women targeted under the policy were black and it applied only to cocaine, so other women and those addicted to cigarettes or alcohol were not subject to the harsh policy,” Kimani said.

After several years at the Center for Constitutional Rights, and then the Brennan Center for Justice as an associate counsel, Kimani looked for a change of direction. “I had become disillusioned with the law, particularly its ability to bring about the structural changes necessary to create meaningful race and gender equality,” Kimani explained. “I was frustrated because I felt at times that the law was as much the problem as the solution, so I decided to go back to school in order to step back from the practice of law and create a space to research and write about the historical contingencies of law, and how the law can both facilitate and alleviate inequality.”

After finishing her PhD, Kimani became a law professor at Fordham University, where she continues to teach and research issues that emerge at the intersection of law, biomedical ethics, and health for marginalized Americans.

“That South Carolina case stayed with me. It is the nexus of several vectors of inequality: race, gender, and socioeconomic status. It also had the added element of biomedical ethics, which was unfamiliar to me at that time. It led me to health law, discrimination in clinical care, disparity in health outcomes, and biomedical ethics.”

Motivated by the health law and bioethical ethics concerns raised by the South Carolina case, Kimani applied for a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) New Connections grant. Her RWJF-funded research looked at recently released incarcerated people, their experience with employment discrimination, their subsequent struggle to access healthcare, and how that influenced their health.

“Getting that grant opened up so many opportunities for me,” Kimani said. “It came at a time when I was an untenured junior faculty member, so getting the grant gave me the time and space to think deeply about the issues that I cared about. I’ve gotten many grants since then, but I see the New Connections grant as foundational because of the support provided by the New Connections team.”

Recently, Kimani has turned her scholarship toward patient-clinician relationships.  She is lead author on a co-authored article, “Dealing with Racist Patients,” which has nearly 140,000 hits on the New England Journal of Medicine’s website.

“I call it one of medicine’s open secrets,” Kimani quips. “When patients demand a physician of a race or ethnicity different from the one assigned, their demands are often accommodated. I thought this was a curious and disturbing phenomenon and quickly found that it was much more prevalent than people cared to admit.”

The paper lays out the challenges in dealing with this racism and discrimination in clinical medicine and offers guidelines for dealing with these cases when they arise. She is currently working on a follow-up article with researchers at the University of California, San Francisco.

When patients demean healthcare workers, it poses clinical, legal, ethical, and policy challenges. According to Kimani, “demeaning patient behavior can threaten the therapeutic alliance necessary for patients to accept treatment and for healthcare workers to provide highest quality care. When directed at one member of the healthcare team, demeaning behavior can be painful and degrading and exact a heavy emotional and psychological toll. These encounters can also have a corrosive effect on healthcare workers who witness them, who may not know what to do or how to respond. Moreover, demeaning behavior can undermine team cohesion and collegiality and disrupt the learning environment, particularly when team members have differing perspectives on how these situations should be handled.”

Kimani hopes her research will be used to devise policies and protocols that balance the rights and interests of the multiple stakeholders, including patients, providers, and healthcare institutions. The goal of her research team is to share the resulting policies to hospitals across the country.

In another recent paper, “Kimani examines race-based anti-discrimination law in the U.S., comparing it to the more robust legal framework for disability discrimination.

“To be black in America means to face a series of disadvantages in almost every area of life, and the laws forbidding race discrimination have, for the most part, failed,” observes Kimani. “A fundamental problem is that, with few exceptions, anti-discrimination law requires the smoking gun of overt racism: evidence that the policy in question was intended to discriminate.”

Kimani maintains that “this is a particularly bad match with how race discrimination actually works in our society. Although overt racism remains, most disadvantages that blacks face spring from other sources, including implicit bias and structural inequality. Another mismatch between the law and reality springs from the fact that once a court finds discrimination based on race, the law has been interpreted to demand a remedy that is ‘colorblind.’ This precludes the government from taking account of race, even to make up for past state-sanctioned racial discrimination.”

Kimani, however, notes that “not all anti-discrimination laws have these flaws. The Americans with Disabilities Act, which forbids discrimination based on disability, takes a different approach entirely. Unlike race law, disability law rarely requires aggrieved parties to show that the exclusion or harm that they have suffered was intentional—a showing of disparate impact is almost always enough. Rather than focusing on malicious intent, disability law accepts the impact of even neutral actions or policies, directly confronting the ways in which social structures and institutions can cause disadvantage.”

Though Kimani acknowledges that broader anti-discrimination policy may not come out of Congress in the near future, she remains optimistic. “Today, we’re seeing an increase in the visibility and power of progressive social movements from #MeToo and #Timesup, to March for our Lives, and Black Lives Matter. I see promise for the future.”

The Details

Title: Professor of Law, Associate Director and Head of Domestic Programs and Initiatives at Fordham Law School’s Center on Race, Law & Justice, and Faculty Co-Director of the Fordham Law School Stein Center for Law & Ethics

New Connections Year: 2011

New Connections Status: New Connections Alumna

Recent Publications, Peer-Reviews Conferences and Invited Presentations:

  1. Blackness as Disability?, 106 GEO. L.J. 293 (2018)
  2. Dealing with Racist Patients, 374 N. ENGL. J. MED. 708 (2016) [co-authored]
  3. Foreword: Critical Race Theory and Empirical Methods, 83 FORDHAM L. REV. 101 (2015)
  4. Beyond Title VII: Rethinking Race, Ex-Offender Status, and Employment Discrimination in the Information Age, 100 VA. L. REV.893 (2014)
  5. Patients’ Racial Preferences and the Medical Culture of Accommodation, 60 UCLA L. REV. 462 (2012)
  6. The Regulation of Race in Science, 80 GEO. WASH. L. REV. 1115 (2012)
  7. Making Sense of Drug Regulation, 19 CORNELL J.L. & PUB. POL’Y 691 (2010)

Kelsie Okamura, PhD




I noticed early on in my childhood that there was a disparity between some of the kids I grew up with because of the supports that were afforded to me versus some of the other families that were struggling.

“I noticed early on in my childhood that there was a disparity between some of the kids I grew up with because of the supports that were afforded to me versus some of the other families that were struggling.”

During her time as an undergraduate at the University of Hawai‘i, Kelsie Okamura studied Psychology because she genuinely wanted to help people. Kelsie grew up in the rural plantation town of Waipahu, on the island of O‘ahu. She could see the sugar mill from her grandparent’s backyard. It was a lower and middle-class community—an environment that could not always promote children’s physical and psychological health.

“I noticed early on in my childhood that there was a disparity between some of the kids I grew up with because of the supports that were afforded to me versus some of the other families that were struggling,” Kelsie said.

Though Kelsie’s interest in Psychology was broad, she quickly found a way to translate her childhood experiences of youth health disparities when she was hired by a Professor as a research assistant studying Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and youth evidence-based practices.

The research clicked with Kelsie, and after she finished her undergraduate studies, she continued with the research, following the professor and the study to UCLA. Kelsie then returned to Hawai’i to earn her Master’s degree and PhD in Psychology, focusing on therapists’ characteristics of evidence-based implementation, such as knowledge. In her post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania, however, Kelsie studied evidence-based implementation from a systems approach, researching the intersection of implementation and policy context. She returned to Hawai‘i in 2017 and is now an Evaluator at Hawai‘i’s Department of Health in the Child and Adolescent Health Mental Division and just finished teaching her first Child Treatment graduate level course at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa.

Kelsie is fascinated by Clinical Psychology and community health. Her research has focused mostly on evidence-based practice because of its clinical innovation in implementing treatments for young children and teens in communities nationwide.

“We have these best practices in community health, but often we’re asking a lot of the kid, the ecology and the family around them. Accounting for the context in which some of these practices are being implemented is really important. That’s the thrust behind my research—understanding context and communities and how that impacts implementation.”

Contexts are crucial to providing the right supports through youth psychology, Kelsie says. There are state and city government cultures, social contexts, and organizational and therapist contexts. Most important, though, is the context of an individual child and his or her family. “We’re learning that youth and families are very complex in community mental health. There are many cultures that intersect here—school, friendships, ethnicity, and community. Having a genuine curiosity about youth and family perspectives can help with understanding some of the reasons youth behaviors are maintained and treatment can be tailored to address these challenges. In Hawaii, we have a wonderful amalgamation of cultures and races that influence symptoms, so approaches have to be tailored to meet their needs.”

As part of the 2017 New Connections cohort, Kelsie’s work expands on the systems-based research she conducted at the University of Pennsylvania. Working with an interdisciplinary team of researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, University of San Diego, and the University of Hawai‘i, Kelsie is using systematic review software to summarize the implementation strategies of evidence-based practices in youth mental health systems.

In studying systems across the U.S., Kelsie hopes to empirically “unearth” the best  implementation strategies for youth mental health systems. Mental health systems often choose implementation strategies because of political mandates, finances, or proximal factors, but these may not be the treatments that work best within a given system. Kelsie says her research takes a “deeper dive” into where and why systems have worked.

One such system is the state of Washington, which has implemented evidence-based policies on everything from behavioral health to criminal justice. The state implemented the Washington State Institute for Public Policy (WSIPP), which, with attention to evidence-based practices, pinpoints what services work for citizens to craft more effective social policies. For example, in 2012 the WSIPP reviewed its programs in juvenile rehabilitation, child welfare, and child mental health along with national research on evidence-based practices. The state used the information from this review to increase the number of children accessing evidence-based treatment and improve training, data maintenance, and overall program operation. Kelsie says systems like Washington provide a model for policymaking and evidence-based practices.

In a recent paper published in Frontiers in Public Health, Kelsie’s team analyzed the cost effectiveness of implementing evidence-based practices, which can be expensive, as implementation of new practices requires training therapists. Due to their cost, evidence-based practices are not always mandated or incentivized by states, but the cost metric analysis developed by Kelsie’s team identified a range of costs for the implementation of different practices, meaning some less expensive practices can be more easily implemented in systems than previously thought. Kelsie hopes this analysis, along with greater community input, can better inform policymakers and lead to policies that incentivize evidence-based practice more frequently.

“We’re noticing that trauma-focused cognitive behavior therapy has been implemented across various systems, and that likely has to do with Congress and other initiatives,” Kelsie said. “It’s those bigger, systematic, federal changes that trickle down into state and city level systems. It’s nice to see that policy is driving this implementation.”

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network, which was initiated by Congress in 2000 to create trauma informed systems, is the energy behind the recent push for trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy. The Philadelphia Alliance for Child Trauma Services (PACTS) has been successful in implementing these treatments, training therapists and increasing rates of screening and diagnosis of PTSD. From 2014 to 2016, the percentage of children with PTSD treated by the PACTS network jumped from four percent to 31 percent. In Hawai‘i, Kealahou Services—which operates under the Hawai‘i Department of Health’s Child and Adolescent Mental Health Division where Kelsie is a lead evaluator—is a leader in trauma-informed and culturally appropriate care for girls struggling with diverse trauma issues and at risk for further victimization. The program’s gender and culturally responsive care has not only improved client outcomes after 6 months but contributed to other Hawaiian health organizations by providing trauma-focused training.

While her New Connections grant has afforded Kelsie the time to focus on this study, it has also helped her identify colleagues with whom she could collaborate, such as with another cohort member from Hawai‘i, Lehua Choy. “It’s nice that we keep in touch. It’s nice to have someone to reach across to.”

The Details

Title: Lead Evaluator, State of Hawai’i Department of Health’s Child And Adolescent Mental Health Division

New Connections Year: Current

New Connections Status: Junior Investigator

Recent Publications, Peer-Reviews Conferences and Invited Presentations:

  1. Okamura, K. H., Orimoto, T. E., Mah, A. C., Slavin, L. A., Rocco, S., Shimabukuro, S. K., Michels, M. S., & Nakamura, B. J. (under review). The Help Your Keiki website: Increasing youth and caregiver awareness of youth psychosocial mental health treatment. Hawaiʻi Journal of Medicine and Public Health
  2. Becker-Haimes, E. M., Okamura, K. H., Baldwin, C. D., Schmidt, C., Wahesh, E., & Beidas, R. S. (under review). Understanding the landscape of behavioral health pre-service training to inform evidence-based practice implementation. Psychiatric Services
  3. Okamura, K. H., Jackson D., & Nakamura, B. J. (under review). Multilevel predictors of specific practices derived from the evidence-base in youth community mental health. Evidence-Based Practice in Child and Adolescent Mental Health.
  4. Becker-Haimes, E. M., Williams, N. J., Okamura, K. H., & Beidas, R. S. (under review). Interactions between clinician and organizational characteristics as predictors of evidence-based practice use. Administration and Policy in Mental Health and Mental Health Services Research.
  5. Okamura, K. H., Skriner, L., Becker-Haimes, E. M., Adams, D. R., Becker, S., Kratz, H. E., Jackson, K., Berkowitz, S., Zinny, A., Cliggitt, L., & Beidas, R. S. (under review). Perceptions of evidence-based practice among consumers receiving Trauma Focused-Cognitive Behavior Therapy. Evidence-Based Practice in Child and Adolescent Mental Health.
  6. Okamura, K. H., Orimoto, T. E., Nakamura, B. J., Chang, B., Chorpita, B. F., & Beidas, R. S. (revise and resubmit). A history of youth psychosocial treatment outcome literature: Looking back to move forward. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology.
  7. Okamura, K. H., Hee, P. J., Jackson, D., & Nakamura, B. J. (2018). Furthering our understanding of therapist knowledge and attitudinal measurement in youth community mental health. Administration and Policy in Mental Health and Mental Health Services Research. DOI: 10.1007/s10488-018-0854-1
  8. Okamura, K. H., Wolk, C. L., Kang-Yi, C. D., Stewart, R., Rubin, R. M., Weaver, S., Evans, A. C., Cidav, Z., Beidas, R. S., & Mandell, D. S. (2018). The price per prospective consumer of providing therapist training and consultation in seven evidence-based treatments within a large public behavioral health system: An example cost-analysis metric. Frontiers in Public Health, 5(356), 1-8. DOI: 10.3389/fpubh.2017.00356

Kevin Ahmaad Jenkins, PhD

Kevin Ahmaad



It’s a sobering thing to watch people around you not only get sick, but pass away from things that could be preventable.

It’s a sobering thing to watch people around you not only get sick, but pass away from things that could be preventable.”

Kevin Ahmaad Jenkins was 11 years old when his mother was diagnosed with renal disease. He vividly recalls a doctor telling his mother that she was “on his time now” and that if a kidney came in the middle of the night, he would not get out of bed to do the surgery.

“It was in that moment that I saw inequity happen,” Kevin says. “It’s a sobering thing to watch people around you not only get sick, but pass away from things that could be preventable.”

At 17, Kevin became a print journalist. During that time, he won two national awards and covered Destiny’s Child’s emergence on the national music scene. He still has a picture of himself with Beyoncé, both only 17 years old. As an entertainment journalist, Kevin became an announcer for the Durham Bulls minor league baseball team and the basketball, football, and band announcer for North Carolina Central University. He was also the first weekend lottery host in North Carolina.

In 2007, Kevin’s career took a “hard left.” As a broadcaster, Kevin often supported fundraisers and advocacy for public health, racism, and other community issues, but he felt he was not using his writing and academic skills to their fullest. He decided to pursue a Master’s degree in history at Florida A&M University, studying the health patterns and medical access of newly freed Black people in Florida in the late 19th century. For his PhD, Kevin drew from memories of his mother’s kidney disease and focused his research on racism in medicine and how it affects people of color today.

“274 people are killed every single day in health care that look like I do because of racism,” Kevin said, citing a 2009 paper that found that 100,000 Black Americans die prematurely every year due to health inequity. “[Racism] is not some kind of boogeyman, but something that is legitimately responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of people.”

As a 2017 New Connections Junior Investigator, Kevin is researching how psychosocial stress affects Black people living with chronic kidney disease. According to the National Institutes of Health, Black patients are four times more likely than their white counterparts to develop kidney failure, and research shows that racial inequity has resulted in poorer outcomes for Blacks, who are less likely to be evaluated for and undergo kidney transplant surgery. Kevin’s research through the grant seeks to connect the effects of mental health, stress, and racism on kidney disease.

Along with his New Connections research, Kevin is exploring various aspects of kidney disease, racism, and medicine through several other projects. The Center for Health Equity Research and Promotion, through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, recently awarded him a grant to examine experiences of race, racism, and psychosocial stress for Black men living with kidney disease, “to tie down what it means to deal with racism and stress and how that impacts people living with chronic disease,” Kevin says.

With his forthcoming book, Hue Process, Kevin hopes to tackle racism and medicine from a researcher’s perspective. He aims to help researchers understand racism, using statistical applied models, rather than theory alone, to quantify racism.

To bring his research to a wider audience, Kevin is developing a documentary with rapper Chubb Rock and other celebrities. “So much of our work gets caught in the tower and it never gets out of here,” Kevin says. “We’re bridging the gap to talk about health disparity in the Black community. We have to do stuff that’s going to get to the average person if we’re really serious about eradicating health disparities.”

Though Kevin has not yet completed his New Connections-funded research, he says the grant has already been influential in helping him do the work he loves.

“Every paper is like a track on an album, I feel like I’m dropping number one hits right now because of New Connections,” Kevin says. “It puts a lot of promise in front of me to know that my next steps are going to be some great ones.”

The Details

Title: Vice-Provost Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Pennsylvania

New Connections Year: Current

New Connections Status: Junior Investigator

Recent Publications, Peer-Reviews Conferences and Invited Presentations:

Brushwood, DB, Knox, C, Liu, W, Jenkins, KA. (2013). “Evaluating Promotional Claims as False or Misleading.” American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy.

Jackson, JL, Barnes, RJD, Jenkins, KA. (forthcoming) Contemporary African America.  New York University Press.

Jenkins, KA. (forthcoming) “A Son of Health Disparities.”  Annals of Internal Medicine.

Weech-Maldonado, R., Hall, A, Bryant, T, Jenkins, KA, Elliott, MN. (2012). “The Relationship Between Perceived Discrimination and Patient Experiences with Health Care.” Medical Care .