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CRF Announces Six Faculty to Join Family Research Scholars Program

2016-17 Family Research Scholars

The Center for Research on Families at the University of Massachusetts Amherst is pleased to announce the 2016-2017 Family Research Scholars. Six faculty members were selected to participate in the fourteenth cohort of the FRS Program on the basis of their promising work in family-related research. The new Scholars are Prof. Ezekiel Kimball, Prof. Sofiya Alhassan, Prof. Mariana Pereira, Prof. Louis F. Graham, Prof. Alexandra Jesse, and Prof. Brigitte Holt.

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 family.

The 2016-2017 cohort represents an array of disciplines and research interests, including scholars from four colleges (Social & Behavioral Sciences, Natural Sciences, Education, and Public Health and Health Sciences) and five departments.



Sofiya Alhassan (Associate Professor, Kinesiology) studies pediatric obesity and the effects of physical activity interventions for youth. Dr. Alhassan will be developing a grant proposal for a project entitled, “Effects of a Mother-Daughter Physical Activity and Sedentary Behavior Intervention on the Health of African-American Girls.” She is seeking to investigate the effects of a culturally relevant intervention designed to increase physical activity and decrease sedentary behavior in African-American girls. Her project will examine the effectiveness of this intervention delivered both individually to young girls as well as to mother-daughter dyads, to determine whether parent involvement can result in even stronger health benefits.

Louis F. Graham (Assistant Professor, Health Promotion and Policy) studies mental and sexual health among ethnic minority and sexually marginalized groups. His proposed project, “Interpersonal Relationships and Mental Health Among Black Sexually Marginalized Men,” involves a qualitative investigation of the social support networks of sexually marginalized black men in Detroit. With an innovative methodological approach, Dr. Graham will propose to use group interviews to explore how the social support dynamics of sexually marginalized black men affect their mental health and stress levels. 

Alexandra Jesse (Assistant Professor, Psychological and Brain Sciences) investigates speech perception, with a special emphasis on audiovisual speech perception. She will be developing a proposal entitled, “Mitigating Hearing Loss Through Prosody,” which seeks to test the effects of residual hearing in hard-of-hearing individuals on their ability to engage in social aspects of language processing. Specifically, Dr. Jesse will be examining how individuals with residual hearing in one ear, and a cochlear implant in the other, are able to perceive stress, rhythm, and the intonation of spoken language that allow one to effectively communicate. 


Brigitte Holt (Associate Professor, Anthropology) studies skeletal manifestations of historical changes in socio-economic structures and systems. She will be using her CRF fellowship to support the development of her project titled, “Aging, Bone Strength, and Physical Activity in a Nonmechanized Horticulturalist Population.” Her proposed project aims to explore factors affecting bone structure in vivo among physically active Tsimane forager-horticulturalists of lowland Bolivia. This research is designed to test whether higher physical activity levels lead to greater bone strength, and whether greater bone strength protects against age-related bone loss and fragility fracture. 


Mariana Pereira (Assistant Professor, Psychological and Brain Sciences) examines the relationship between neurobiology, parenting, and postpartum depression and will be developing a grant proposal titled “Molecular and Neurochemical Mechanisms of Postpartum Depression.” She is planning to examine the molecular and neurobiological underpinnings of the cognitive and motivational symptom dimensions that are central to postpartum depression and likely lead to deficits in parenting. She will also propose to study the gene expression signature and therapeutic efficacy of novel treatments that are specifically targeted toward ameliorating these core cognitive and motivational symptoms of depression.

Ezekiel Kimball (Assistant Professor, Educational Policy, Research and Administration) is broadly interested in how student success is defined, operationalized, and fostered in higher education institutions. His proposed project, “Academic Self-Concept and Parental Involvement in the Postsecondary Outcomes of Students with Disabilities,” seeks to determine whether parental involvement moderates the effect of academic self-concept on educational outcomes. Dr. Kimball is studying this issue because of the established connection between academic self-concept and use of academic services, and disparities in educational and economic outcomes for students with disabilities.

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 nationally and internationally prominent family researchers with UMass Amherst faculty and students, to provide advanced data analysis methods training and consultation, and to disseminate family research findings to scholars, families, practitioners, and policy makers.