Healthy Communities Research Institute Tackles Today's Pressing Issues

Kent State is home to a research institute that is committed to tackling some of the day’s most pressing issues, whether it involves the health issues left behind by the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, to eliminating racial disparities in maternal and infant health.

The Healthy Communities Research Institute conducts interdisciplinary basic and applied research that will lead to the discovery of practices to “enable people to thrive free of preventable diseases and injury.” And it provides opportunities for faculty and students to work together on meaningful research.

Jeff Hallam, Ph.D., director of the Health Communities Research Institute, said the institute started out as an initiative in 2017 and as a function of its accomplishments became an institute in 2021. Hallam is a professor in the College of Public Health and senior associate dean for research and global affairs.

“One of its main goals is to provide resources, not just financial resources, but guidance in terms of research activities, particularly from an interdisciplinary perspective,” Hallam said. “We provide funding to interdisciplinary teams to gather pilot data that lead to external grant proposals.”

Faculty involved in the research institute come from several areas at Kent State, including:

  • College of Architecture and Environmental Design
  • College of the Arts
  • College of Arts and Sciences
  • Ambassador Crawford College of Business and Entrepreneurship
  • College of Communication and Information
  • College of Education, Health and Human Services
  • College of Nursing
  • College of Podiatric Medicine
  • College of Public Health

Since 2018, the Healthy Communities Research Institute has provided more than $300,000 in seed funding by way of LaunchPad Awards, which are promising research projects proposed by interdisciplinary teams across the Kent State community.

Healthy Communities Research Institute was created in 2021

LaunchPad Awards support early research efforts in acquiring preliminary data upon which the team can build further research and propose more robust projects. The LaunchPad Awards represent 14 principal investigators from 12 different units on campus, Hallam said.

The Institute also started a small grant program in 2022, for faculty researchers who don’t need larger LaunchPad awards, but are conducting smaller pilot studies. The Institute also partners with the University Research Council.

In addition, Healthy Communities Research Institute also started a faculty exchange modeled after the Three-Minute Thesis, in which participants use one slide to present themselves to other faculty members.

Hallam spoke with Kent State Today about the institute's focus on providing funds for distinguished dissertation and thesis awards for doctoral students' community health-focused dissertation projects and workshops on qualitative research.

Hallam’s area of expertise is primarily focused on health behavior interventions and most recently on grief recovery or the knowledge, attitudes, beliefs and behaviors associated with grief recover and long term if they encounter grief again, how particular programs influence the participants' resiliency and ability to recover from grief.

In East Palestine, where a Norfolk Southern train derailed and caught fire in 2023, Hallam and the Ohio/Pennsylvania University Research Consortium held a public discussion this week. 

Healthy Communities Research Institute has worked issues involving the East Palestine train derailment

The consortium has representatives from area universities whose goal is to serve as an independent group of academics to assist with communicating objective data-informed summaries and conclusions. Kent State University has a group of faculty actively engaged in research in East Palestine. Hallam is the Kent State liaison to the Research Consortium for East Palestine, Ohio.

There is grief associated with the train derailment involving topics such as chemical contamination, whether residents will be able to move back into their homes or sell them, and how livestock have been affected. This grief is one of the areas that Hallam and researchers are studying.

“There’s an ecological grief component there,” Hallam said. “When you think about grief as a public health or community health issue, you have the trauma of the train derailment and the chemicals that were released into the soil, water, the air. The stress that is associated with that is real for the residents, whether they know what they were exposed to and what led up to it. And it’s going to be long term.”

All this focus on funding, facilitating faculty and student research and the many other programs sponsored by the Healthy Communities Research Institute work to bolster Kent State’s R1 designation, which recognizes Kent State’s excellence in obtaining grant dollars, providing research support staff (postdocs and non-faculty researchers) and awarding doctoral degrees.

POSTED: Thursday, April 11, 2024 04:28 PM
Updated: Monday, April 15, 2024 11:49 AM
April McClellan-Copeland