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CRF Announces Six Faculty to Join Family Research Scholars Program

The CRF FRS 2015-16 cohort

The Center for Research on Families (CRF) at the University of Massachusetts is pleased to announce the 2015-2016 Family Research Scholars.  Six faculty members were selected to participate in the 13th cohort of the Family Research Scholars Program on the basis of their promising work in family-related research.  The new Scholars include (clockwise in image): Linda Isbell, Rick Pilsner, Paula Pietromonaco, Sylvia Brandt, Lindiwe Sibeko, and Laura Vandenberg. 

The Family Research Scholars Program provides selected faculty with the time, technical expertise, interdisciplinary peer mentorship, and national expert consultation to prepare a large grant proposal for their research support.  The goal of the program is to bring together a diverse, multi-disciplinary group of faculty to foster innovation and collaboration across research areas related to the family.

The selected faculty for the 2015-2016 Family Research Scholars Program represents an array of disciplines and research interests across three Colleges (SBS, CNS & Public Health). 




Sylvia Brandt (Associate Professor of Resource Economics and Public Policy) studies how asthma impacts a child’s quality of life.  In her proposed project, “New Methods to Assess the Burden of Childhood Asthma in Massachusetts,” Brandt and a group of leading epidemiologists and policymakers in Massachusetts will conduct research which models the cost of traffic-related pollution attributable illness in approximately three Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) with the greatest proportions of the population within proximity to major roads. Brandt will attempt to find the cumulative monetized effects of asthma and other respiratory diseases caused by traffic pollution on maternal employment.


Linda Isbell (Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences) will be researching issues related to access to health care for individuals with mental illnesses. Mental illness is highly stigmatized in the United States, and so receiving proper care presents unique challenges. Isbell plans on studying the effects of mental illness on access to mental and physical healthcare, and creating a strategy to reduce stigmatization and improve healthcare access. In order to do this Isbell will implement patient- and family-oriented research approaches to "(1) systematically identify barriers to emergency treatment for  patients and families with mental health conditions, (2) examine the social cognitive and affective factors that impact treatment, (3) examine the implications of barriers and treatment decisions on social and psychological well-being of patients and their family members, and (4) use this information to develop a comprehensive educational intervention to reduce mental health stigma among Emergency Department (ED) providers."


Paula Pietromonaco (Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences) will be investigating the extent to which marital partners at midlife mutually influence (or “coregulate”) each other's daily physiological and psychological states. She will identify the interpersonal conditions under coregulation processes become stronger or weaker, and the extent to which these processes contribute to health outcomes over time. Research on coregulation is in its infancy, and little is known about how coregulation patterns might shape later health or how they operate in older couples. Examining these processes in older couples is particularly important because they are entering a life phase when health risks and diseases often begin to emerge.


Rick Pilsner (Assistant Professor of Environmental Health) will be examining the contributions of paternal environmental health to reproductive health and embryo development. Endocrine disrupting compounds (EDC), such as certain compounds found in plastics, can affect reproductive health and sperm quality. Compelling new data in animal models indicate that paternal environmental exposures or nutritional manipulations alter the sperm epigenome and subsequent phenotype of offspring; however, limited data of this relationship in humans exist.  Dr. Pilsner has established the population-based study, Sperm Environmental Epigenetics and Development Study (SEEDS), of 250 couples in collaboration with Baystate Medical Center to examine the relationship between paternal EDC exposure, sperm epigenetics, and embryo development.


Lindiwe Sibeko (Extension Assistant Professor of Nutrition) is planning on developing and implementing a community-based participatory research intervention aimed at increasing breastfeeding initiation and duration rates among African American women. Infant mortality rates of black infants are consistently double the rates of white infants across the country, and in Massachusetts.  Research suggests that the infant mortality gap in the black population can be significantly narrowed through increased breastfeeding. However, current estimates indicate only 45% of African American women report initiating breastfeeding, compared to 68% in the white population.  Local initiatives to increase breastfeeding rates among African American women have been largely unsuccessful. Sibeko seeks to understand the contextual factors contributing to breastfeeding disparities and in partnership with participants, develop a community-based, culturally relevant intervention to increase breastfeeding rates.


Laura Vandenberg (Assistant Professor of Environmental Health Science) will be analyzing the effects of hormones on maternal behaviors that are displayed soon after birth. Interactions between mothers and their infants have significant impacts on the emotional, mental, and physical health of offspring. Research has revealed that the female hormone estrogen is required for maternal behavior, but studies examining whether supplemental estrogens disrupt these behaviors have generated conflicting results. Vandenberg plans on administering estrogen and other environmental chemicals that mimic estrogen to pregnant and recently pregnant rodents to shed additional light on the effects of these chemicals on maternal behavior and other aspects of maternal health.

Throughout the year, Scholars will participate in an interdisciplinary seminar that includes concrete instruction on the details of successful proposal submission and the resources of the university, individualized methodology consultation, and information about relevant funding agencies. This process culminates in the submission of a research proposal to a major funding agency. For Scholars, the program offers extra time (through a course release), support and expertise. CRF’s mission is to increase research on family issues, to build a multidisciplinary community of researchers who are studying issues of relevance to families, to connect national and internationally prominent family researchers with UMass faculty and students, to provide advanced data analytic methods training and consultation, and to disseminate family research findings to scholars, families, practitioners, and policymakers.  

CRF is a research center of the UMass Amherst College of Natural Sciences and the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, and has affiliated faculty from departments across campus. For more information on the Family Research Scholars Program or the Center for Research on Families, please contact Director Maureen Perry-Jenkins at