New Participants in RWJF Health & Society Scholars Program to Study Impact of Social Factors on Nation’s Health

    • April 10, 2013

Princeton, N.J.—The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health & Society Scholars program has selected 12 new scholars who will look beyond the traditional explanations of health care and biology to examine how social factors impact the population’s health.

“These new scholars will continue to advance the program’s decade-long mission to answer the questions critical to guiding health policy and improving our nation’s health,” said Jo Ivey Boufford, MD, co-director with Christine Bachrach, PhD, of the national program office for the Health & Society Scholars program, and president of the New York Academy of Medicine.

The Health & Society Scholars program aims to uncover and then act on determinants that can reduce population health disparities, and to encourage better health outcomes. For example, some of the new scholars will study the role of human happiness and aging on health, or the role of public health policies in reducing obesity. Previous cohorts of scholars have discovered how health is influenced by financial debt, sexual orientation, race, environment, poverty, and many other societal factors.

Health & Society Scholars receive a stipend of $80,000 annually. During their time in the program, they participate in intensive seminars, produce scholar-directed research and analysis, and receive focused training in the skills necessary for effective leadership, program implementation, and policy change.

The new Health & Society Scholars will serve in one of four nationally prominent universities: Columbia University; Harvard University; the University of California, San Francisco/Berkeley; and the University of Wisconsin.

The Health & Society Scholars program's 2013–2015 participants are as follows:

  • Parissa Jahromi Ballard, PhD, will investigate whether civic engagement promotes physical and psychological health among adolescents, under what conditions, and by what mechanisms. (University of California, San Francisco/Berkeley)
  • Natalie Brito, PhD, plans to extend her current research examining how early environmental variations shape cognitive development, by connecting her previous work in memory and bilingualism with research into socioeconomic disparities. (Columbia University)
  • Merlin Chowkwanyun, PhD, does work that centers on three themes: the history of public health and health policy, racial inequality, and social movements. His dissertation examined the development of post-World War II medical care and environmental health hazards in four regions (Los Angeles, Cleveland, Central Appalachia, and New York). He is developing a database featuring thousands of previously unseen corporate documents that have emerged in recent environmental health lawsuits. (University of Wisconsin)
  • Sarah K. Cowan, PhD, studies secrets—when and why people conceal information about themselves and others—and the effects of these acts of concealment on social influence, behavior, and attitudes. She will specifically examine the revelation and concealment of cancer diagnosis. (Columbia University)
  • Lindsay Till  Hoyt , PhD,  examines positive health across adolescence, a sensitive period of development when individual experiences can have longstanding effects on lifelong health. She is interested in seeking new methods to measure and promote positive health for youth. (University of California, San Francisco/Berkeley)
  • Adam Lippert, PhD, is a sociologist and demographer interested in how the environments in which people live, work, and play impact physical and mental health throughout the life course. He is also interested in using GIS-based techniques to illustrate and analyze the spatial association between aerial-level disadvantages and high-priority population health issues. (Harvard University)
  • Katherine A. Mason, PhD, will investigate the experience of illegality as a social determinant of health among undocumented immigrants (primarily Chinese) in the United States. She has conducted ethnographic fieldwork on the professionalization of public health in China following the 2003 SARS epidemic. Mason is currently completing a book based on this research, entitled After SARS: The Rebirth of Public Health in China’s ‘City of Immigrants.’ (Columbia University)
  • Keely A. Muscatell, PhD, is a social neuroscientist whose research elucidates the neurobiological mechanisms that link the social environment and health. She plans to investigate how other social-environmental factors, such as experiencing discrimination or being of low socio-economic status, are represented by the brain and translated into physiological changes that affect health. (University of California, San Francisco/Berkeley)
  • Tova  Neugut, PhD,  focuses on the role that expectant and new fathers play in the health and well-being of their partners and children, and the influence of parenthood on men’s health. She will investigate the opportunity to improve individual and family health through appropriately timed and tailored interventions with fathers during the transition to parenthood. (University of Wisconsin)
  • Selena Ortiz, PhD, uses frame analysis, a social-science research method that analyzes how people understand situations and activities, to study how the public understands major social health issues and how public health can effectively address those issues. She will examine how frames influence health care decision-making processes throughout the life course, including disease prevention and treatment-seeking behavior. (Harvard University)
  • Jayanti Owens, PhD, examines the causes of gender, racial/ethnic, and immigrant educational and labor market inequality. Her future work will investigate social and medical explanations for the rise in the diagnosed prevalence of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) among children in the United States. (University of Wisconsin)
  • Jessica A. Williams, PhD, is a health services and health economics researcher. Her research investigates the relationships between health-related employer support, employee pain, future medical expenditures, and productivity at work. She plans to continue her research in work and health with a particular emphasis on developing interventions that improve both the psychosocial work environment and employee health behaviors. (Harvard University)

The Health & Society Scholars program is overseen by a national advisory committee of individuals from various disciplines and experiences related to population health. The advisory committee is chaired by Jonathan Samet, MD, MS, a pulmonary physician and epidemiologist, who is currently Professor and Flora L. Thornton Chair for the Department of Preventive Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California.

Media Contact:

Christine Clayton | RWJF | | (609) 627-5937
Barrett Whitener | IQ Solutions | | (240) 221-4347

About the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation focuses on the pressing health and health care issues facing our country. As the nation’s largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to health and health care, the Foundation works with a diverse group of organizations and individuals to identify solutions and achieve comprehensive, measurable, and timely change. For 40 years the Foundation has brought experience, commitment, and a rigorous, balanced approach to the problems that affect the health and health care of those it serves. When it comes to helping Americans lead healthier lives and get the care they need, the Foundation expects to make a difference in your lifetime. Follow the Foundation on Twitter ( or Facebook (