Current Research Projects

Active Research Projects in the School of Social Work at the University of Pittsburgh, FY 2015

Gerald Cochran, PhD
Valire Copeland, PhD

Shaun Eack, PhD
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James Huguley, PhD
Lovie Jackson Foster, PhD

Catherine Greeno, PhD
John Wallace, PhD
Anita Zuberi, PhD
Academic Journals in the School of Social Work at the University of Pittsburgh


Gerald Cochran, PhD, Assistant Professor in the School of Social Work at the University of Pittsburgh serves as the Principal Investigator of the project “A Pharmacy Based Brief Intervention for the Non-Medical Use of Prescription Opioids: An Adaptation”.  This project has been funded by the Staunton Farm Foundation for a total award of $20,000, June 2014-June 2015.

This project proposes to employ the ADAPT-ITT framework to adapt the traditional SBIRT intervention for delivery in the pharmacy setting for patients at-risk or engaged in NMPO. This will be accomplished through convening a one-day scientific working session wherein topical and methodological experts will gather to systematically formulate strategies, recommendations, and approaches to adapt the traditional SBIRT model. Following the one-day scientific working session, this project also proposes to develop a procedures manual and publish a peer-reviewed article reporting the adaptation process as well as the adapted SBIRT intervention. A final step of the current project will be to incorporate the adapted pharmacy-based SBIRT model for NMPO into a research protocol in order to test its feasibility and efficacy.

Gerald Cochran, PhD, Assistant Professor in the School of Social Work at the University of Pittsburgh serves as the Principal Investigator of the project, “Opioid Painkiller Pilot Investigation Project”.  This project has been funded by the University of Pittsburgh, Central Research Development Fund, for a total award of $15,000, July 2014 through June 2016.

 The Opioid Painkiller Pilot Investigation (OPPI) project proposes to accomplish 3 goals: Goal 1 of the OPPI project will demonstrate patients at-risk or engaged in NMPO can be identified in the pharmacy setting. Goal 2 of the OPPI project is to validate a brief NMPO screening tool for the pharmacy setting, and Goal 3 of the OPPI project will assess patients’ opinions regarding the acceptability of pharmacists possibly engaging them about opioid medication misuse.

Gerald Cochran, PhD, Assistant Professor in the School of Social Work at the University of Pittsburgh serves as the Co-Principal Investigator with Dr. Julie Donohue on the project, “The Influence of Formulary Management Strategies on Opioid Medication Use”. This project has been funded by the CDC for a total award of $399,898, September 2014 through September 2016.

This study will examine the effect of formulary management strategies on patterns of problematic prescription opioid consumption and overdose in the Pennsylvania Medicaid program. Medicaid is an important payer for prescription opioids and covers a vulnerable population at high risk of opioid misuse. Pennsylvania has the 4th largest Medicaid program in the country and has long-standing contracts with several managed care organizations, each of which develops its own formulary and approach to managing drug utilization. As such, we can take advantage of rich cross-sectional and longitudinal variation in formulary design in an insurance program covering more than 2 million people annually between the years 2007-2012. With these data, the study will:

  1. identify patient- and provider-level risk factors associated with opioid overdose and trajectories of opioid consumption that precede overdose in Medicaid and
  2. examine effects of formulary/utilization management tools on overdose and problematic use.

Valire Copeland, PhD, Associate Professor in the School of Social Work at the University of Pittsburgh serves as a Co-Principal Investigator on the project “Leadership in Public Health Social Work Education”; the Principal Investigator is Mark Friedman, Graduate School of Public Health, University of Pittsburgh. This project has been funded by HRSA from September 2014 through August 2017.

The goals of this training grant are to 1) recruit and train 30 students (50% from disadvantaged communities) to become public health social work leaders, 2) provide these students with field placements – with a focus on disadvantaged communities with diverse populations - to prepare these individuals for positions as program directors, community service administrators, policy analysts, and other leadership positions, 3) provide a curriculum to support leadership in public health social work through an integrated joint degree program for MSW/MPH or MSW students with a COSA Public Health Concentration to include an Integrated Seminar to provide students with hands-on leadership experiences, and, 4) develop PHSW competencies and a model for joint degree programs. Actions plans, time-lines, outcomes, and plans for sustainability, dissemination of products, evaluation, and organizational capacity are outlined in this application.

Valire Copeland, PhD, Associate Professor in the School of Social Work at the University of Pittsburgh serves as the Principal Investigator on the training project, “Integrated Behavioral Healthcare Social Work Field Placement Project”. This training program has been funded by the National Council for Community Behavioral Health for $10,000 from April 2013 through April 2015.

Valire Copeland, PhD, Associate Professor in the School of Social Work at the University of Pittsburgh serves as a Co-Investigator on the training project, “The Uclid Center at the University of Pittsburgh”.   This program has been funded by HRSA and is managed by the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh and Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.


Shaun Eack, PhD, Associate Professor in the School of Social Work at the University of Pittsburgh, serves as the Principal Investigator of the project “Social-Cognitive Rehabilitation and Brain Function in Early Schizophrenia”. This project has been funded by the National Institutes of Health for a total award of $663,508, September 2012 through May 2016. 

The purpose of this grant is to examine the neurobiologic effects of Cognitive Enhancement Therapy, a novel social and non-social cognitive rehabilitation program, on social-cognitive brain mechanisms in individuals with schizophrenia.  In addition, this project seeks to validate and translate for use in clinical trials two novel functional magnetic resonance imaging paradigms for assessing social-cognitive brain processes supporting perspective-taking and emotion regulation in schizophrenia.

Shaun Eack, PhD, Associate Professor in the School of Social Work at the University of Pittsburgh, serves as the Co-Principal Investigator with Dr. Nancy J. Minshew, School of Medicine, for the project “Adapting Cognitive Enhancement Therapy for ASD”.  This project has been funded by the National Institute of Health for a total award of $644,278, May 2011 through April 2015. 

This project proposes the first step in adapting, piloting and preliminarily testing of the efficacy of Cognitive Enhancement Therapy (CET) for young transitional age high functioning adults with ASD to improve adaptive functioning and adult life achievement in this population. CET is a neurodevelopmentally-based, social-cognitive and neurocognitive rehabilitation program originally developed for schizophrenia that has demonstrated significant improvements in cognition and important functional outcomes.

Shaun Eack, PhD, Associate Professor in the School of Social Work at the University of Pittsburgh, serves as a Co-Principal Investigator with Dr. Nancy J. Minshew, School of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh for the project, “A Randomized Trial of Cognitive Enhancement Therapy for Adults with Autism”.  This project is funded by the Department of Defense for a total award of $1,412,388, September 2011 through September 2015.

The purpose of this project is to conduct a randomized-controlled trial of Cognitive Enhancement Therapy (CET) in adults with high function autism spectrum disorders. Specific aims are to evaluate the efficacy of CET for improving cognitive and behavioral outcomes in autism spectrum disorders, to examine the 6-month post-treatment durability of CET effects in adults with autism, and to examine the impact of CET on neurobiologic processes and brain connectivity in these disorders.

Shaun Eack, PhD, Associate Professor in the School of Social Work at the University of Pittsburgh, serves as a Co-Principal Investigator with Dr. Matcheri Keshavan at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center for the project, “Brain Imaging Cognitive Enhancement and Early Schizophrenia”.  This project has been funded by the National Institutes of Health; the total anticipated award for the University of Pittsburgh is $1,490,000, June 2012 through March 2017. 

The purpose of this grant is to examine the effects of a novel cognitive rehabilitation program, Cognitive Enhancement Therapy (CET), on the brain in individuals with early course schizophrenia. Specifically, an 18-month clinical trial of CET will be conducted and use integrated neuroimaging techniques to repeatedly assess brain function, structure, and connectivity during the course of CET treatment, as well as the predictive contribution of brain reserves to treatment response.

Shaun Eack, PhD, Associate Professor in the School of Social Work at the University of Pittsburgh serves as a co- investigator on the project, “Improving Teacher Responses to Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder”; the Principal Investigator of this project is Dr. Nancy Minshew, University of Pittsburgh.  This project was funded by the Commonwealth of PA, July 2013 through June 2015. 

Shaun Eack, PhD, Associate Professor in the School of Social Work at the University of Pittsburgh serves as the Principal investigator of the project, “Durability of Neuroplasticity Changes for Cognitive Enhancement Therapy in Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder”. This project has been funded by the Autism Research Institute for $29,700 for June 2014 through May 2016.

This project funds the imaging costs for a 1-year post-treatment follow-up study of the neuroplastic effects of a highly novel cognitive rehabilitation intervention for adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).  Adults with ASD experience significant deficits in social and non-social cognition and information processing. Unfortunately, interventions for autism have largely focused on the preschool years and behavioral methods. Few treatments are available for adults with ASD, and even fewer focus on the remediation of cognitive and social-emotional deficits in a way designed to improve complex adaptive behavior essential for success and achievement in adult life.  We are now completing the first randomized-controlled trial of Cognitive Enhancement Therapy (CET) in verbal adults with ASD (17-35 years old) and are observing major gains in social and non-social cognitive function, as well as critical functional outcomes, such as employment.

Donations

Please consider making a donation to the ASCEND Program to support our research.  We currently receive donations for the two primary conditions we study – autism spectrum disorder and schizophrenia.


James Huguley, PhD, Research Associate in the School of Social Work at the University of Pittsburgh, serves as the Principal Investigator of the project “Problems and Remedies Regarding Racial Disproportionality and School Disciplinary Problems in Greater Pittsburgh and Beyond”. This project has been funded by The Heinz Endowment for a total award of $48,309, September 2014 through September 2015. 

This project will examine the existing literature on the mechanisms of the school-to-prison pipeline, how they interrelate to affect student justice-system involvement, this overall process’s relation to racial disproportionality in school discipline, and the degree to which local school discipline policies and practices are equipped to remedy racial inequalities in these areas. Ultimately this effort will produce a set of best practice, advocacy, and policy recommendations specific to the greater Pittsburgh social, cultural, and political context. These recommendations will in turn assist in the design and support of local efforts to dismantle the prison-to-school pipeline and racial disproportionality in ways that might make greater Pittsburgh a model for urban regions nationally.

James Huguley, PhD, Research Associate in the School of Social Work at the University of Pittsburgh serves as the Principal Investigator of the project “Black High-Achieving Adolescents in STEM Fields:  Planning the STEM Star Imitative in Greater Pittsburgh.” This project has been funded by The Heinz Endowments for a total award of $44,000, September 2014 through September 2015.

Efforts to increase participation in STEM careers in the United States have been hampered by racial inequalities in educational outcomes, whereby African Americans perform less well in secondary school, particularly in mathematics. Disparities in college-level STEM enrollment and persistence are said to be largely tied to these gaps in secondary school preparation. Yet while remedies have been elusive in K-12 education, a substantial body of literature on college students has documented the essential components of highly effective initiatives for developing Black high achievers in post-secondary STEM programs.  Accordingly, this planning initiative is designed to collaborate with said college-based STEM programs in order to adapt their core features for implementation at the secondary level.  Collaborative activities include site visits to successful programs, sharing of best practices, and consulting on program development. We expect the planning and exploration proposed here to result in the implementation of a pilot program in a greater Pittsburgh school district for the fall of 2016.

James Huguley, PhD, Research Associate in the School of Social Work at the University of Pittsburgh serves as the Principal Investigator of the project “School Cultural Factors as Moderators of Racial Achievement Disparities in High School Mathematics Achievement: An Integrated Structural Model.” This project has been funded by the American Educational Research Association for a total award of $20,000, January 2014 through January 2015. 

The current study seeks to better understand these disparities in their distinct contexts using multilevel multiple group structural equation modeling (SEM). More specifically, the study proposed below will estimate how racial differences in the network of relationships between family economic background, high school mathematics course taking and achievement, and post-secondary school completion are moderated by the school contextual factors of school professional climate and the quality of student-teacher relationships—factors that in turn create variation in how SES predicts achievement across school settings. These findings will help bolster the prominence of equity interventions in school reform discussions by helping policy-makers and practitioners produce situationally tailored and equity-oriented school culture reforms that will narrow racial achievement gaps in their particular institutional settings.


Lovie Jackson Foster, PhD, Assistant Professor in the School of Social Work at the University of Pittsburgh serves as the Principal Investigator of the project “Ask Me.Hear Me”. This project has been funded by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation for a total award of $468,795, October 2014 through September 2017

This project will develop and evaluate the feasibility, acceptability, and effects of an innovative a brief, web-based adolescent mental health care engagement intervention, AskMe.HearMe, in primary care settings. AskMe.HearMe will comprise interactive patient mental health screening and a brief mental health education video on a tablet PC in the clinic, and a mental health education app patients can access via mobile phone or web link, a brief parent video on promoting and supporting adolescent mental health used in the clinic, and customized health care provider advice sheets. Our three-site pilot study will assess: Patient views on acceptability and feasibility of screening, mental health education, and patient-provider interaction; and effects on mental health literacy, perceived mental health need, and intention to use a referral, self-care improvement, service use, and follow-up visit attendance; parent video effects on promoting and supporting adolescent mental health; and provider acceptability and feasibility of screening, provider advice sheets, and patient-provider interaction; and effects on referrals, patient-provider communication, and scheduling follow-up visits. AskMe.HearMe, a potentially scalable intervention, can help adolescents obtain needed, effective care and reduce harms caused by the lack of efficient and acceptable screening methods. It is also designed to reduce racial disparities in patient mental health literacy, referrals, referral/service use; increase patient/family and provider comfort discussing mental health concerns; and reduce costs associated with chronic unmet mental health needs and serving youth in settings such as emergency departments, child welfare agencies, and juvenile justice facilities.


Catherine Greeno, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Pittsburgh, serves as the Principal Investigator for the training project Preparing Social Workers to Meet the Needs of Youth in Integrated Health Care Settings.” This program has been funded by HRSA for a total award of $1, 418,886, September 2014 through September 2017.

The purpose of this program is to place 93 second-year Masters of Social Work (MSW) students (31 per year) in newly created concentration field placements in integrated community health care settings working with children, youth, and transitional age young adults aged 16-25.  Youth are vulnerable to serious behavioral health disorders, which are often undetected, untreated, or under-treated, increasing the risk of negative outcomes for them and their families. Integrated care models to reach them are needed.   


John Wallace, PhD, Professor in the School of Social Work at the University of Pittsburgh serves as a Co-Investigator on the project “Drug Use and Lifestyles of American Youth”. This project was funded by the National Institutes of Health to Lloyd D. Johnston at the University of Michigan, from August 2012 through April 2017.

The goal of this study is to: 1) examine within and between group racial/ethnic differences and similarities in patterns, trends, and correlates of drug-related attitudes, beliefs and behaviors; 2) conduct racial/ethnic and gender specific analyses that seek to identify whether risk and protective factors found to be important for White males and females are also important correlates and predictors for non-white youth; 3) investigate the mechanisms through which individual and contextual-level religiosity influences substance use.

John Wallace, PhD, Professor in the School of Social Work at the University of Pittsburgh serves as a Co-Principal Investigator with Dr. Shannah Tharp-Taylor, Homewood Children’s Village on the project, “Healthy Learning, Healthy Living, Healthy Lives.”  This project is funded by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities for a total award of $761,469, January 2013 through November 2015.

The Healthy Living, Healthy Learning, Healthy Lives (HL3) Project equitably engages community and academic partners in an effort to investigate, ameliorate and ultimately eliminate, disparities in children’s health, with a particular focus on asthma, its correlates, consequences and co-morbidities. The Specific Aims of the project are as follows: 1) To strengthen and expand the health focus of an existing community-based participatory research (CBPR) partnership. 2) To use the HL3 CBPR partnership to plan and implement a multi-level (individual, family, school, neighborhood, policy) community assessment. 3) To use the results of the community assessment (Aim 2) to plan a multi-level pilot CBPR intervention. 4) To use the intervention plan (Aim 3) to implement a multi-level pilot CBPR intervention study. 5) To evaluate the process and outcomes of the HL3 Project’s three-year intervention planning process.


Anita Zuberi, PhD, Research Associate in the School of Social Work at the University of Pittsburgh, serves as the Principal Investigator for the project “Low Income Neighborhoods and Health”.  This project has been funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation through the National Opinion Research Center for $7,500 from October 2013 through June 2015. 


 Academic Journals in the School of Social Work at the University of Pittsburgh

Gary Koeske, PhD; Larry E. Davis, PhD, Dean; and Ralph Bangs, PhD serve as the editors of the journal: Race and Social Problems, published by Springer. This journal managed through the Center on Race and Social Problems at the University of Pittsburgh