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School & Program Updates

School & Program Updates

South Florida Encourages Scholars to Take Action in Adolescent Behavioral Health

Scholars of the Institute for Translational Research in Adolescent Behavioral Health (Institute) do more than submit research proposals addressing an adolescent behavioral health problem. They translate that research into action.

The Institute, a joint program between the University of South Florida’s College of Public Health and the College of Behavioral and Community Sciences, is a National Institute on Drug Abuse funded research education program allowing graduate-level scholars the opportunity to carry out their research in a tangible setting.

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“Institute scholars get an opportunity to apply their learning in real world settings,” said Dr. Tom Massey, multiple principal investigator and CBCS faculty member. “We provide the scholars knowledge regarding community-based research and scholars then have the opportunity to take what they have learned in the classroom and apply that knowledge in the community. The research projects are academically sound, but also very relevant and meaningful for the community agencies.”

“The best part about being a scholar at the Institute was the mentorship from Institute leaders and the supportive partnerships with community agencies,” said former Institute scholar Vickie Lynn, a doctoral student in the COPH’s department of community and family health, said. “Understanding the real world application of evidence-based interventions and program implementation is highly valuable in order to increase uptake of those interventions and reach the intended populations. It was an amazing experience to step outside the classroom and apply what I learned to a real world research project.”

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Scholars, in groups of two to three, work in a mentoring environment and are assigned to address a behavioral health issue faced by a community agency. They are paired with agencies based on individual research interests and compatibility to the issue the community agency is facing.

“Since my participation in the Institute, I have applied the knowledge I gained in implementation science to my current work providing training and technical assistance,” said former Institute scholar Nichole Snyder, CBCS Department of Child and Family Studies social and behavioral researcher. “The Institute also helped develop and refine research and presentation skills in both academic and community settings.”

Each fall semester up to 15 graduate level scholars are accepted into the program. Scholars can be from any college in the university. It is also open to individuals who are not students but want to earn the graduate certificate in Translational Research in Adolescent Behavioral Health. The Institute is able to provide funding to support tuition and fees for Institute coursework and related activities, including support to attend national conferences.

“This [program] is an added level of complexity to research education,” said Dr. Donna Burton, project director and CBCS faculty member. “It helps students to understand how research affects community-based organizations and agencies that are actually delivering services to populations of interest – in this case, youth and adolescents with substance abuse and other behavioral health issues and their families.”

Dr. Burton has worked with the Institute since its inception in 2009 and is now witnessing its fourth cohort of scholars.

“Perhaps the biggest ‘feather in our cap’ has been the ability to recruit some very excellent scholars who have grown in their commitment to learning the skills of research and understanding the nature and value of community based service learning,” Burton said. “We could have the very best research education program in academia, and it would be nothing without the hard work and commitment of our students.”

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According to Dr. Burton, the management of this program between the COPH and CBCS increases the variety of scholars enrolled in the program with respect to their degree programs, backgrounds and career ambitions, and also broadens scholar perspectives on health, public health and behavioral health issues.

“An area like translational research is so important for practitioners,” said Ms. Heather Williamson, graduate research assistant at the Institute and doctoral candidate in the COPH’s department of community and family health. “We always want to be up on the most current evidence-based practices and this program really lives and breathes that; it asks, ‘What do we know that works and how do we get that translated into the community and working with those families and adolescents?’”

The Institute has partnered with a variety of agencies, such as the Mendez Foundation, Hillsborough County Public Schools and BayCare Behavioral Health Services. All the agencies have one goal in common, however, and that is an urgency to address an adolescent behavioral health issue.

“I have had scholars mention that having the certificate gives them an edge when they applied for jobs,” Ms. Williamson said. “So, it’s a pretty nice thing to say you have a skill set and understanding for how to do that type of research, particularly for community agencies.”

The theme of this year’s World Mental Health Awareness Day is dignity. The Institute hopes to add to that mission.

“Behavioral health also takes a public health approach to addressing mental health conditions; looking at the big picture, beyond just the diagnosis, looking at what’s happened all around that individual and what we can do to best support that individual and their mental health,” Ms. Williamson said.

The Institute is accepting applications now for its fourth cohort of Institute Scholars. For more information on how to apply, please contact Dr. Donna Burton at or visit the USF graduate Innovative Education website.