Assistant Professor Shannon Roberts of the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering (MIE) Department is part of a four-person team of researchers from three UMass schools and colleges that is receiving a $25,000 seed grant from the Elaine Marieb Center for Nursing and Engineering Innovation and the Institute for Diversity Sciences. The new seed grant is an effort to help support multidisciplinary research and promote social justice. The team’s collaborative research is titled “Black Maternal Mobility in Western Massachusetts: The Experience of Transportation Among Black Pregnant Women.”

Roberts is collaborating on the project with Dr. Lucinda Canty and Dr. Favorite Iradukunda from the Elaine Marieb College of Nursing and Dr. Lindiwe Sibeko from the Department of Nutrition in the School of Health and Public Sciences. The project aims to gather timely and important data to increase awareness of the challenges experienced by Black pregnant women and ultimately improve the quality of care by boosting the mobility for this vulnerable population.

The team's research will study how Black women are disproportionately affected by maternal mortality and morbidity compared to other women in the United States, thus highlighting the need for targeted research and interventions to address the issue.

The four researchers also explain that there is a wide gap in knowledge about how transportation influences the experience of care during pregnancy. The UMass team will concentrate on the effects of transportation mobility on Black maternal health in Western Massachusetts.

As the abstract of the project states, “The purpose of this study is to investigate the transportation needs of pregnant Black women and identify the factors that may contribute to the racial disparities in maternal health outcomes. Relying on a community based participatory research approach, we will use mixed methods – interviews, ride-alongs, and secondary data analysis – to better understand the transportation needs of Black women in Western Massachusetts and lay the foundation for future studies.”

For the project, Roberts is focusing on the ride-alongs as well as secondary data analysis. “For the ride-alongs,” she says, “research assistants will travel with the Black pregnant women to and from their prenatal appointments to understand the lived experience of how they use the transportation system to serve their needs.”

Roberts will also play a role in secondary data analysis to uncover (from previously collected surveys, interviews, and complaint logs) the unique transportation challenges and innovative solutions for Black pregnant women when it comes to traveling for prenatal appointments.

As the researchers conclude, “The end goal is to use this information in future grant proposals focused on developing interventions and suggesting solutions to transportation issues as it relates to accessing maternal healthcare facilities for Black pregnant women.”

The Roberts Research Group studies “Human Factors in Transportation Safety” and various other related transportation issues. (May 2023)