Education and Human Development

Research acceleration seed grants

CEHD’s research acceleration seed grant program supports developing interdisciplinary research in the college’s research priority areas:

  • Education research / Educational equity
  • Healthy lifespan development
  • Children’s mental health / Child welfare research
  • Autism / Developmental disabilities

Proposals are funded in two categories

  • Jump start projects are in the early stages of project development to obtain pilot data for future grant submissions. They must include collaborations across program, center, or departmental lines. CEHD provides $25,000 in funding for one year, while applicants must provide a 1:1 match.
  • Developmental projects are intended to grow existing interdisciplinary partnerships and support novel studies that break new ground or extend previous work in new directions. An emerging track record (e.g. pilot data) is expected with clear plans for growth and sponsored support.

Applications for the Fall 2022 application cycle (awards beginning in 2023) are due December 9, 2022, with a nonbinding intent to apply document due November 11, 2022. See the full RFP for details and submission instructions.

CEHD Research Acceleration Program

Quote from Frank Symons

The CEHD Research Acceleration Program is designed to seed and support early stage interdisciplinary research aligned with Collegiate research priority areas including education equity and outcomes, children's mental health and child welfare, healthy lifespan development, and autism and developmental disabilities.

Funded projects help to leverage existing partnerships and create new opportunities - within the College, across the University, and multiple diverse community partners. Our strategic goal is to strengthen future applications for external funding, by leveraging existing and creating new collaborations to drive discovery that makes a difference.

Frank Symons Associate Dean for Research and Policy

Past Awards

Developmental Projects

    The overarching goal of this project is to bridge two innovative federally funded projects and break new ground in the identification and presymptomatic treatment of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in infancy. We propose to recruit a community sample of infants enriched for risk of ASD/global developmental delay using a novel method of “phenoscreening” developed by our team. Leveraging an existing framework for detection of ASD risk based on neuroimaging, we will evaluate predictive accuracy in this sample and pilot test an infant intervention in the enriched risk subsample. This project will help launch a potentially ground-breaking program of research that will address a significant public health concern and further establish UMN as a premier center of autism research.

    Aim 1: Evaluate the predictive validity of MRI screening for ASD risk in a community sample of infants.We will extend a predictive MRI test for ASD, developed by our team in conjunction with a national network of collaborators, to a community sample of infants. While this existing test has shown excellent predictive accuracy in a high familial risk sample, its ability to detect risk in a community sample is unknown.

    Aim 2: Conduct a pilot and feasibility test of parent-led behavioral intervention for infants. The ultimate purpose of detecting ASD in infancy is to afford the opportunity to provide presymptomatic intervention. We will test the feasibility of a novel parent-led naturalistic behavioral intervention intended to enrich positive sensorimotor and social-cognitive development and therefore attenuate symptom expression/progression in high-risk children.

    Project team: Jason Wolff, Jed Elison, and Jessica Simacek

    Cancer remains a vital public health concern in the U.S. Research evidence has shown physical activity provides many health benefits after cancer diagnosis and plays an important role in reducing all-cause, cancer-related death and cancer events in elderly cancer survivors. Adopting a physically active lifestyle may decrease cancer risks, and improve cancer prognosis and subsequent quality of life. However, most cancer survivors did not achieve recommended physical activity levels of 150 min/week of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity. To this accord, it is imperative to develop innovative and effective physical activity interventions for disease prevention and management in cancer survivors. One promising area of technology for increasing health behaviors is mobile health, such as smartphone app, wearables, and social media, in improving the quality of healthcare. However, to our knowledge, few studies have integrated these mobile health approaches to promote physical activity and prevent chronic diseases in elderly cancer survivors.

    Therefore, the purpose of this project is to examine the effects of combination of a smartwatch and a Facebook health education intervention on cancer survivors’ physical activity and other health outcomes through personalized exercise prescriptions, as compared to smartwatch only, Facebook only, and attention control conditions. We will randomize 176 cancer survivors from Minnesota to 4 groups for a 6-month intervention period. The primary outcome is physical activity and secondary outcomes include cardiovascular fitness, body composition, quality of life, blood pressure, beliefs, and social support. If successful, it can significantly impact the development of novel programs for cancer survivors.

    Project team: Zan Gao, Anne Blaes, and Rui Zhang 

    This project features a specialized smartphone technology called VIRA. This virtual platform is designed to help overcome limitations in the delivery of conventional in-person models of therapy that have compromised treatment of youth depression. VIRA consists of a linked set of mobile applications that

    collect real-life user data on a continuous day-to-day basis such as sleep, physical activity, social connections, communications, and mood;
    provide feedback to the youth with insights to sustain wellbeing and better manage suicide risk factors such as depressed mood, behavioral withdrawal, and poor sleep;
    provide practitioners the capacity to schedule notifications to their clients that when “pushed” on the client’s phone can act as reminders to complete self-care tasks, suggestions to use coping skills, and statements of encouragement and support
    This proposed project will solicit attitudes and opinions about the app from youth with a history of depression, their parents as well as health care providers who treat depressed youth. The significant aims of this project will address key issues regarding the integrity of VIRA technology such as the app’s ease of usability, tolerability, acceptance, potential value and ethical dilemmas that youth, parents, and providers should consider when the app is integrated into behavioral healthcare (for detailed specific aims see section 4. Findings on the perceived strengths and limitations of the app will inform existing features and characteristics as well as new or adjusted features for consideration. Findings may also highlight challenges that need further consideration and lead to adjustments in user education, training and implementation.

    Project team: Gerald August, Tim Piehler, and Mimi Choy-Brown 

    Jump start

    Education research and educational equity

      The proposed research jumpstarts a new interdisciplinary collaboration between FSOS and Computer Science to create a machine learning based computational model of social connections facilitated by an online platform specific to a school-based early childhood setting. This helps to identify the value of sociotechnological innovation as it extends relational, learning and engagement benefits parents experience through participation in early childhood settings. The “parentopia” platform was designed between 2013-2017 in collaboration with the St Paul Public Schools Early Childhood Family Education program. It is now used by over 450 families and early childhood teachers and staff, and parenting educators in 8 sites (5 in St Paul, and three in other school districts). Research to date has confirmed the platform’s popularity, ease of use and seamless integration into existing program infrastructure. The platform’s backend user data provides a detailed behavioral log of the users’ interactions on the platform, through communication mechanisms embodied within it such as posting, commenting, liking and direct messaging. Building on existing self-report data from parents and staff, this research will initiate the development of the computational infrastructure necessary for future research by creating the first supervised learning based machine learning model aimed at understanding social connections formulation and strength. This model will help quantify the benefits associated with the social ties and their strengths within the social network being nurtured with the aid of the platform, scalable to all program sites across the platform, and sustainable as additional sites are added to the platform. This will help explain the impact on social and program-based relationships of participants.

      Project team: Susan Walker (emeritus) and Lana Yarosh

      Building on the Reimagine Minnesota: A Collective Education Roadmap for Action (PDF) report (produced as a partnership with CEHD), and the recommendations for “Community Bridges” in particular, we are seeking to disrupt the narrative that families and schools are at odds and instead create opportunity for new narratives that recreates how families and schools work together to support their shared goal of healthy developmental trajectories for young people. The Reimagine report provides evidence-based solutions to contribute to transforming K-12 education in Minnesota.

      More specifically, this project is designed to identify the most pressing challenges facing families – food, parenting, health, finances, space, supervision, enrichment, schoolwork, technology/equipment, etc., giving families the opportunity to share the range of challenges they are experiencing, how equipped they are to deal with them, and what strategies they are using to manage school/learning/work from home. Further, we seek to capitalize on this moment in time and capture how the pandemic has changed the way families think about school, and family- school partnerships, and what new opportunities have been created for such partnerships. This project is aligned with the Education Research - Achievement Gap & Educational Equity priority area.

      Project team: Jodi Dworkin, Stacey Horn, Abby Gold, Mary Marczak, Jennifer Skuza, Patricia Olson, and Mary Jo Katras

      The Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement (CAREI), in collaboration with the Department of Organizational Leadership, Policy, and Development (OLPD), and the Minnesota Department of Education’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Center, seeks a CEHD “Jump Start” grant in the area of Education Research: Interventions/Outcomes for a pilot study of an intervention intended to build the self-efficacy of Minnesota school leaders in the area of Culturally Responsive School Leadership (CRSL). The specific aims of the proposed project are to:

      • Respond to the expressed need of Minnesota PK-12 school leaders for support in the area of Culturally Responsive School Leadership as evidenced by findings from the first biennial Minnesota Principals Survey administered by CAREI in Fall of 2021;
      • Collaboratively design a feasible, scalable, and effective intervention to promote CRSL in Minnesota schools, leveraging the perspectives of practicing school leaders from diverse Minnesota geographies as well as the organizational capacity of the Minnesota Department of Education’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) Center to promote and deliver professional learning opportunities for school leaders;
      • Pilot the CRSL intervention through the EDI Center among Minnesota school leaders who indicate low self-efficacy in carrying out CRSL practices and an interest in professional development in this area;
      • Assess the effectiveness of the intervention in terms of participants’ (1) change in CRSL self-efficacy and (2) change in reported use of CRSL practices both before and after the intervention, using a randomized controlled trial study design;
      • Refine, redesign, scale, and study the intervention with additional external funding.


      Project team: Katie Pekel, Sara Kemper, and Ellina Xiong

      Autism and Developmental Disabilities

        Autistic teens are vulnerable to sharp declines in social connections and a marked increase in depression, anxiety, and other co-occurring conditions (Cassidy et al., 2014; Rudacille, 2017). While there are intervention options available for autistic children, availability of community services and supports wane by adolescence. Moreover, autistic youth rarely experience critical relationships with caring adults who are also autistic. Without adequate guidance and role modeling, adolescents are at risk for thwarted development and negative life trajectories. This proof-of-concept project is a feasibility and pilot study of the Autism Mentorship Program (AMP), a youth mentoring program that pairs autistic teens and adults in one-to-one relationships.

        Aim 1: To determine uptake, degree of execution, ease of delivery, and barriers/facilitators associated with quality of implementation.

        Aim 2: To examine to potential impact of AMP on quality of the mentoring relationship, and pre- and post-test changes on targeted outcomes (i.e., quality of life, socio-emotional health, self-esteem, and social connectedness of autistic adolescents and adults).

        Upon successful completion, we will have validated the feasibility and promise of AMP. If expected results are realized, this project will provide necessary pilot data to seek funding to optimize the intervention and subject it to rigorous testing. This study can be expected to have a significant impact on the advancement of theory related to whether and how autistic individuals can form mentoring relationships and on the systematic development of AMP as an evidenced-based program.

        Project team: Lindsey Weiler, Rebekah Hudock, and Emily Goldberg

        The benefits of community participation among people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have been well documented across all age groups. They include enhanced physical and mental wellbeing, social inclusion, independence, self-worth, and quality of life. Research, however, is limited with respect to individual characteristics that predict the extent to which some individuals with ASD partake in such activities and why others do not. Additionally, most investigations of adult participation in community activities have based their conclusions on retrospective recall of the frequency and types of leisure activities outside of the participant’s leisure environment. Traditional methods of data collection of this type are subject to inaccuracies and biases, which are likely to be particularly heightened in research involving participants with ASD. This proposal reduces such recall and other biases by using ecological momentary assessment (EMA) methods, which collect “real-time” data within a participant’s natural environment. To address these gaps, a pilot longitudinal study will be conducted to implement an EMA data collection system via a smartphone with a community-based sample of adults with ASD who live independently. The specific aims of this project are to:

        1. Better understand the patterns of leisure activity (e.g., breadth and depth) in which adults with ASD who live independently engage;
        2. Examine the bi-directional relationship between levels of participation in leisure activity and perceived stress, anxiety, and self-regulation skills as well as how this may be moderated by specific personal characteristics/factors (e.g., co-occurring intellectual disability, trauma experiences); and
        3. Test the usability/utility feasibility of using EMA in research pertaining to adults with ASD.

        Project team: Renata Ticha, Wei Song, Viann Nguyen-Feng, and Brian Abery

        Children's mental health and child welfare

          Reflective supervision is a model of professional development increasingly recommended as best practice for social workers who engage with children (e.g. AAIMH, 2018). It involves collaborative discussions between a practitioner and a trained supervisor that encourage reflection on the perspectives and emotions of all involved in a case. Reflective supervision is thought to support good practice and mediate job stress that leads to burnout and turnover. Research is needed to substantiate these claims, but only a few self-report instruments exist to measure quality of reflective supervision (Ash, 2010; Shea et al., 2012), which are limited by reporter bias. We have developed the Reflective Interaction Observation Scale (RIOS), the first tool to code recordings of reflective supervision. The RIOS represents a substantial improvement in measurement because it is objective and captures the process of reflective supervision, thus enabling a better understanding of its quality. We have established reliability of the RIOS; the next necessary step is validation. We have 2 specific aims:

          1. Determine if the RIOS is correlated with previously-used self-report measures of reflective practice. The hypothesis is that RIOS scores will be positively, moderately correlated with these measures.
          2. Determine if the RIOS predicts job-related stress, and does so over-and-above the prediction from self-report measures. The hypothesis is that RIOS scores will be negatively associated with social workers’ job stress.

          If the RIOS correlates with other measures as expected, this will provide evidence of its validity. A valid tool is essential for enabling research-informed recommendations around supporting social workers.

          Project team: Alyssa Meuwissen, Traci LaLiberte, and Christopher Watson (emeritus)

          The proposed research will innovate our approach to addressing serious co-occurring substance use disorders and mental illness (SUDs-CODs) in adolescents. No evidence-based treatment options currently exist that include adolescents’ primary caregivers and are suited for intensive outpatient environments where such SUDs-CODs are commonly addressed. However, ap romosing adult intervention, Enhanced Illness Management and REcovery (E-IMR), has been developed by the Minnesota Center for Chemical and Mental Health (MNCAMH) to guide integrated care for adults suffering from SUDs-CODs. We propose to adapt the E-IMR intervention to target adolescents and integrate caregivers. This resource has significant potential to meet the treatment needs of adolescents diagnosed with SUDs-CODs. Our proposal includes three primary aims:

          Primary activities during the award period will include eliciting key stakeholder feedback in focus groups (including adolescents, parents, and clinicians), developing and adapting program materials, and revising and refining the resource components. Through a new research collaboration across multiple areas of CEHD and a community partner, the proposed research will utilize multidisciplinary expertise to address a substantial community practice need.

          Project team: Tim Piehler, Mimi Choy-Brown, Ann Becher-Ingwalson, Julie Rohovit, Ken Winters, and Nicole Morrell

          With the transition to online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, schools sought a way to maintain student safety through technological means. Districts around the country, including Minneapolis Public Schools, contracted with software companies such as Gaggle, which monitor and report on student activity and claim to keep students safe. However, the role of these technologies is increasingly being questioned by parents, teachers, and lawmakers. Concerns have been raised regarding student privacy, mental health, and disproportionate discipline in relation to surveillance software. The aims of this project are:

          Project team: Ceema Samimi, Alex Fink, Terresa Moses, and Catherine Squires

          Healthy Lifespan Development

            This application seeks funding to translate the biomechanical and biomedical engineering research into a medical device that can be adapted by rehabilitation clinics worldwide. Together with engineering laboratories in Italy and Singapore, the PI’s lab has been involved in the development of an upper limb rehabilitation robotic device called the WristBot. The WristBot is designed for the objective and standardized diagnostics and physical rehabilitation of motor and somatosensory deficits of the wrist/hand. Research and development (R&D) efforts have been funded through the NIH REACH and NSF I-corps programs. At this point, we have developed a second-generation prototype that requires additional work in order to commercialize the product. In January 2019, we will respond to a NSF program announcement to seek additional funds ($ 250K). If this application is successful, funds will become available in 8/2019. Support through the CEHD Jump Start program would allow us to bridge this time and continue our R&D efforts. Specifically, we need to address a range of key technological hurdles to fully align the device with clinical need. The following specific aims will be pursued:

            1. Reduce the footprint of the WristBot, so that it can become mobile within a clinic and can easily be transported between care environments (i.e. from clinic to in-home care).
            2. Improve the usability of the system control software to enable easy and fast access and operation for therapists without extensive technical training.
            3. Implement improved graphics and gamification procedures to the WristBot exercise modules, in order to a) make the exercises attractive and b) ensure patient compliance, andc)address the needs of diverse clinical populations (e.g. adults vs. pediatrics).

            Project team: Juergen Konczak, Naveen Elangovan, and Victoria Interrante

            This proposal addresses a current challenge in most societies, namely the rise of the aging population and their ever-increasing disabilities and related needs as at the same time, we witness the shortage of human workforce. The proposed project addresses risk-factors that can pose barriers to healthy aging, including a sedentary lifestyle and feelings of loneliness through the use of socially assistive robots (SARs) programmed to support a healthier, more active lifestyle (i.e., active aging). Further, COVID taught us that we cannot always rely on human workforce. Socially assistive robots (SARs) have the potential to provide an intelligent alternative to supporting healthy aging, decrease feelings of loneliness by regular monitoring.

            The aim of this project is to utilize technology to help older adults experience healthier ageing, providing them with a SAR in a goal setting program along with mentoring, with the intent to decrease the risk and effects of age-related disabilities. At first, the acceptability and likeability of Nao (SAR) will be evaluated through interaction sessions between the participants and Nao. Second, we plan to implement a quasi-experimental research design using a goal setting program delivered and monitored by Nao (SAR) to examine its preliminary effectiveness. The goal setting program will consist of Nao being trained by the project staff to interview older adults to set their own physical activity goals based on their interest in an individualized manner (i.e., individual choices and preferences for physical activities). Subsequently, the participants will receive a daily plan by Nao. Their progress will be monitored regularly, including the provision of visual real-time feedback.

            The project’s specific objectives are:

            • Exploring likeability and acceptability Nao by older adults;
            • Enhancing the physical activities of older adults;
            • Decreasing the feeling of loneliness among older adults.

            This study is conducted in two phases:

            Project team: Renata Ticha, Brian Abery, Vassilios Morellas, and Maryam Mahmoudi