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Research Opportunities on the Cities Project



The Cities Project includes a series of studies conducted with urban youth and their families and with urban schools and partner organizations. The overarching goals of these studies are: 1) to understand how stressful life experiences affect the mental and physical health and academic engagement and achievement of youth and 2) to develop prevention and intervention programs that will minimize negative health and academic outcomes and maximize positive health and academic outcomes for youth exposed to stressful life experiences, especially for those youth exposed to the severe and chronic stressors associated with urban poverty.


Basic Research Projects

Since 1996, members of the Cities Project team have been engaged in research designed to answer the following questions: 1) What types of stressful life experiences do young people face? 2) How can we best measure and conceptualize those stressful life experiences? 3) Which types and what magnitude of stress exposure are associated with positive and negative health and learning outcomes for most individuals of a given age? 4) Are there particular risk cut-points above which stress exposure typically leads to negative outcomes? 5)  Are there particular competence cut-points below which insufficient stress or challenge is present to promote learning and adaptive coping? 6) Are there types of stress exposure that promote positive outcomes in some domains but negative outcomes in others? 7) Do specific types of stressors predict specific types of outcomes? 8) What biological, cognitive, and emotional processes mediate the relationship between stressful experiences and health and learning outcomes? 9) What factors strengthen or weaken those relationships? 10) What factors promote growth despite high rates of stress exposure? 11) Can severity or type of stressful life experience change the manifestation of psychological distress? 12) How do stressors and protective factors interact with one another over time and across development? Studies examining these questions have been funded by grants from the William T. Grant Foundation, the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression, and the National Institute of Mental Health. Current research focused on these questions is funded by a grant from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.


Intervention Development Projects

We are using the results of our basic research studies (described above) to guide the development of two new prevention programs (described below). For example, some of our findings suggest that individually-based coping strategies (e.g., actively doing something to try to change the problem) are not effective for urban youth exposed to severe and chronic stress, unless youth are supported by adults and connected to protective settings (e.g., positive schools, churches, community organizations). For this reason, both of the interventions described below not only teach research-based strategies for managing stress but also connect youth with supportive adults and protective settings.


Cities Mentoring Project: In collaboration with research partners at the University of Virginia (Dr. Patrick Tolan), the University of Illinois at Chicago (Dr. David DuBois) and Loyola University (Dr. Noni Gaylord-Harden) and with community partners at Wentworth Elementary School, Banneker Elementary School, St. Mark United Methodist Church, Saint Sabina’s Church, and Elijah’s House, we are developing and piloting an intervention called the Cities Mentoring Project. The goal of this program is to prevent the negative behavioral and health effects urban poverty often has on young people and to promote academic engagement and achievement. This intervention includes three primary components: 1) a coping curriculum designed to help participants develop effective coping strategies and the ability to match those coping strategies effectively with particular stressors; 2) a mentoring component that will pair urban youth with DePaul undergraduate students who will help them practice their newly developing coping skills in real life situations; and 3) a protective settings component that will connect participating youth with a safe haven in which to further develop their coping skills. Youth will enroll in the 6th grade and remain eligible for program services for eight years, so that we can see them through their first year of college or their first year on a job. This intervention development project is funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education.


Cities Mother-Daughter Project: In collaboration with research partners at the University of Chicago (Dr. Kathryn Keenan, Dr. Alida Bouris), Clark University (Dr. Esteban Cardemil), and Vanderbilt University (Dr. Velma McBride Murry) and with community partners at Jenner Elementary School, Manierre Elementary School, and Wayman AME Church, we are developing and piloting a preventive intervention called the Cities Mother-Daughter Project. This intervention is designed to prevent depression (and other mental and physical health problems) and to promote academic engagement and achievement in low-income urban girls. It will include training in 1) research-based strategies for managing stressful experiences and for matching particular types of coping strategies with particular types of stressors; and 2) research-based strategies for managing and communicating negative thoughts and feelings. These trainings will be administered through the mother-daughter relationship. In other words, mothers will learn to serve as therapists and coaches to their daughters. In addition, mothers and daughters will be connected to positive community organizations, which will provide additional support in areas they identify as important. The program will last approximately 10 weeks. This intervention development project is funded by a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health.


Research Team Opportunities and Requirements

Opportunities: Current opportunities for research team involvement include: 1) mentoring a young person; 2) tutoring a group of young people; 3) curriculum development; 4) measurement development; 5) data collection; 6) data analysis; 7) liaison work with partner schools, organizations, and our community advisory board; 8) writing of manuscripts for publication; 9) grant writing; 10) lab management; 11) development of social media.


Requirements: All research team members must make a commitment to remain with the project through the end of Spring quarter and must arrange their course schedule so that they can attend weekly “big picture meetings” with Dr. Kathryn Grant on Mondays between 11 a.m. and 12:30 p.m..  During these “big picture meetings” students learn about what is going on with the project as a whole and discuss professional development issues.  All research team members also will participate in another meeting that is related to their specific role on the project.  Those meetings will be run by the graduate student who leads that particular team.  That graduate student will provide training and support around the student’s particular role on the project and will provide additional guidance around professional development issues. 


Course Credit: Research team members may take an independent study or experiential learning course with Dr. Grant each quarter they are involved with the project to earn course credit for their participation. 


Contact Person:  Kathryn Grant (773-325-4241; kgrant@depaul.edu)