The University of Massachusetts Amherst
University of Massachusetts Amherst

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Current and Past Family Research Scholars

Assistant Professor, Environmental Health Sciences


Urban growth in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) is largely unplanned and marked by significant environmental pollution, including air and noise from diverse sources. Yet, there is little information on urban air and noise pollution impacts in the SSA setting to support policy and behavioral decisions. Children are affected by these exposures in uniquely damaging ways that present future health and socioeconomic risks to survivors. This CRF work will fill research data gap by quantifying the effects of long-term maternal and early prenatal exposures to air and environmental noise pollution on neurodevelopment in infants and toddlers in Accra, Ghana.

Unlike in high-income countries, cities in SSA are dotted with diverse and complex emission sources that influence the air pollution mixture and environmental noise levels. Emerging data in SSA cities show that there are large exposure disparities in relation to neighborhood and socioeconomic factors, with potentially huge impacts on health inequalities. One critical subpopulation that is of great concern but has been largely overlooked when it comes to SSA’s poor urban environmental health risks is children. This is likely because of the limited availability of data. Thus, rigorous scientific research in this geography is needed to support public health policies in this context, where exposures are high and vary widely, but with little epidemiologic data.

My long-term goal is to generate relevant data in SSA to start making case for environmental health relevant policies that aim at reducing air and noise pollution and their associated health impacts. I hope to leverage the accountability and support of the CRF program to develop highly competitive grants to support the above goal.

Assistant Professor, Health Policy and Management


Laura Attanasio, PhD, is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Health Promotion and Policy. Her research addresses issues of quality, equity and decision making in perinatal healthcare. Her recent work has examined preferences and attitudes around birth mode, including for women with prior cesarean births, as well as healthcare utilization in the postpartum period.

Addressing the persistently high rates of severe maternal morbidity among women of color is an urgent public health priority. Nearly a third of US births occur via cesarean; for people giving birth who have had a prior cesarean, maternal morbidity rates are highest among those who have an unplanned repeat cesarean.  There is a higher risk of unplanned cesarean delivery among Black and Latina women, but little is known about why this occurs.

Dr. Attanasio plans to investigate reasons for racial and ethnic disparities in chances of vaginal birth after cesarean for women with a prior cesarean delivery who do not have a planned repeat cesarean. The goal of this research is to contribute to a better understanding of the circumstances associated with unplanned cesarean delivery for women with a prior cesarean in order to identify potential interventions to improve the quality of care for this population.

Associate Professor, Psychological and Brain Sciences


The goal of Dr. Galano's research is to examine how trauma socialization – that is, how parents communicate information about trauma, fear, and threat – contributes to maladaptive outcomes in young children exposed to intimate partner violence (IPV). The knowledge gained from this research can be directly translated into family-based intervention strategies aimed at reducing the negative impact of IPV exposure in early-life. Given that IPV exposure in early-life can lead to chronic mental health conditions and later violence involvement (e.g., teen dating violence, youth violence), this research is vital to improving health and preventing violence exposure throughout the lifespan. As a CRF scholar, I aim to use feedback from peers and outside experts to further develop my project and create a strong grant proposal to fund this work.

Associate Professor, Sociology


Joshua Kaiser, J.D. Ph.D, is an Assistant Professor of Sociology. As a sociologist, criminologist, and legal scholar, he studies the reciprocal relationship between state power and intersectional inequalities across time and place. His research thus far has analyzed the multidimensional (racial, gendered, and criminal) experience of genocide in Darfur and elsewhere; the sectarian displacement, criminal entrepreneurship, and legal cynicism caused by the Iraq War; and the ways in which the American penal system continually legitimizes and reinforces race, class, and other inequalities by reifying social stereotypes and assumptions into law.

Dr. Kaiser will assemble and analyze a novel dataset of penal policies in order to answer enduring questions about how punishment produces socioeconomic inequalities among individuals, families, and communities in the United States. In particular, the project will analyze a comprehensive dataset of patterns in U.S. “hidden sentence” law, a subset of U.S. penal law whose origins and historical trajectory remain prohibitively difficult to ascertain using traditional methods of legal history. Using this new dataset, the project will answer three previously theorized but unanswered questions about punishment and socioeconomic inequalities: (1) to what extent formal mechanisms of penal exclusion (i.e., hidden sentences) are causally relevant to social inequalities in individuals, families, and communities, (2) how important formal exclusion is relative to informal exclusion from social stigma and discrimination, and (3) to what extent such penal inequalities are limited to formally incarcerated people or applicable to the overall—much larger—population of criminalized Americans.

Associate Professor, Psychological and Brain Sciences


Dr. Mercado’s research examines parent-adolescent relationships as a source of resilience among Latinx youth, who consistently report elevated levels of depressive symptoms relative to youth of other racial and ethnic backgrounds. The sharp rise in xenophobia instigated by anti-immigrant policies in recent years has made experiences of discrimination a salient stressor for Latinx youth, putting them at risk of poor health outcomes. Dr. Mercado will spend her year with CRF writing an NIH grant proposal that is aimed at uncovering the family level processes, ranging from shared emotions and stress physiology to shared cultural practices, that disrupt the link between discrimination and psychopathology in Latinx families. This research is critical for improving mental health disparities within Latinx communities and informing the development of culturally tailored family interventions.

Assistant Professor, Biology


Multiple system atrophy (MSA) is a neurodegenerative disease caused by misfolding and aggregation of the neuronal protein a-synuclein in the brain. Patients typically develop this movement disorder in their 50s and 60s and live with symptoms for 6-10 years before ultimately succumbing to disease. MSA patients often exhibit similar symptoms to the related disorder Parkinson’s disease, but they are unresponsive to the therapeutic interventions that help Parkinson’s patients manage their symptoms (i.e., dopamine replacement therapy and deep brain stimulation). The combination of the quickly progressing nature of MSA and the lack of treatment options qualifies patients to apply for Compassionate Allowance to accelerate review of Social Security Disability applications (Parkinson’s patients are also eligible for Disability, but not Compassionate Allowance). This federal support is important for families and caretakers of MSA patients as the disease progresses and shuts down the body’s ability to regulate day-to-day functions. Unfortunately, there are currently no tests available to definitively diagnose MSA in a living patient, which results in many misdiagnosed MSA patients failing to qualify for Social Security and healthcare benefits to support their care. My laboratory is focused on using our expertise in MSA pathogenesis to develop diagnostic tools for MSA patients. We have some exciting and promising ideas for how to accomplish this objective, and my goal as a Family Research Scholar is to secure the federal funding required to pursue the project. We hope that in the near future, our research will translate into important clinical tools that directly benefit MSA patients and their families.