Kelly Rulison, PhD
Quantitative Methodologist in HHS Office of Research
Education and Training
My interdisciplinary training includes an undergraduate degree in psychology from the University of Rochester, a master's and doctoral degree in Human Development and Family Studies and a master's degree in applied statistics from The Pennsylvania State University , and a two-year pre-doctoral research fellowship as part of Penn State University’s Prevention and Methodology Training program .Research Interests
Broadly, my research focuses on the dynamic social processes and contexts that shape the development of health-risk behaviors during adolescence. Notably, rates of drug use and delinquency rapidly increase during adolescence. At the same time, adolescents spend increasingly more time with their peers in unsupervised settings and the nature of these peer relationships changes. These simultaneous changes in behavior and the peer context, however, are not conclusive evidence of a strong causal link between peers and health-risk behaviors. Before we can develop effective, and ideally optimized, interventions that can reduce the prevalence of health-risk behaviors as well as strengthen developmental assets, we must first identify the different mechanisms through which peers impact these behaviors. In addition, we must utilize methods that can capture the interdependent factors that shape health-risk behaviors over time and across different contexts (at school, at home, in after-school activities, and in the neighborhood). In response to these challenges, my research centers around three inter-related themes. These three themes, which draw on my training in human development, statistical methodology, and prevention science, are: (1) clarifying the role that peers play in the development of health-risk behaviors; (2) applying innovative methods to study how different levels of the peer context interact to shape the development of health-risk behaviors; and (3) exploring how we can optimize interventions to better promote the diffusion of healthy attitudes and behaviors and reduce the diffusion of health-risk behaviors.
I have translated these themes into questions such as:
- What are the social processes that underlie deviant peer influence and how do they unfold over time? (Development of Health-Risk Behaviors)
- How can statistical innovations in social network analysis, multilevel modeling, and latent variable modeling be refined to capture the interplay between peer networks and health-risk behavior? (Innovative Methods)
- To what extent can peer networks promote the diffusion of effects from universal family-based interventions and what models can capture these effects? (Innovative Methods and Intervention Research)
- How can interventions be optimized to maximize their public health impact? (Innovative Methods and Intervention Research).
Principal Investigator: Wayne Osgood (Penn State University)
Agency: National Institute for Drug Abuse, WT Grant Foundation
Aim: This project explores whether family- and school-based interventions had setting level effects on substance use through their impact on school friendship networks. This project includes friendship and substance use data from over 11,000 youth over five waves between 6th and 9th grade. Within the larger project, I am exploring how network-level mechanisms may promote the diffusion of effects from the family-based intervention through social networks.
In my role as quantitative methodologist for HHS, I collaborate with a number of different research teams across several departments. My work with these teams includes supporting the development of grant proposals, analyzing data, writing papers, and providing statistical consulting (e.g., how to frame testable research questions; how to respond to reviewer concerns; survey development; interpreting the output of an analysis). Currently, I am a co-investigator on several funded research projects:
- The Effect of Physical Activity on Cognition Relative to APOE amd BDNF Genotypes (2012-2014)
Principal Investigator: Jennifer Etnier (Kinesiology)
Agency: National Institute on Aging
Aim: The purpose of this study is to explore how different genetic factors are related to changes in cognition across an 8-month exercise intervention for older adults with a family history of Alzheimer’s disease. For more information on this project, see http://ure.uncg.edu/prod/cweekly/2012/10/23/jenniferetnier/
- Determining What Factors Influence Local Health Departments to Meet Their Responsibility for Improving Population Health (2011-2013)
Principal Investigators: Kay Lovelace, Bob Aronson (Public Health Education)
Agency: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
Aim: The purpose of this study is to determine what state and local factors influence local health departments to meet their responsibility for improving population health.
- Drug and Alcohol Prevention for Student Athletes (2011-2014)
Principal Investigators: Melodie Fearnow-Kenney, David Wyrick (Public Health Education)
Agency: National Institute for Drug Abuse
Aim: To move prevention science forward, we must move beyond questions of whether or not an intervention is effective and begin asking questions about whether the public health impact of the intervention has been optimized. The purpose of this study is to optimize a substance use prevention program (myPlaybook) that targets college student athletes. This project entails completing several different rounds of “component selection experiments” in which we evaluate the effectiveness of each program component and then revise any of the non-effective components.
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