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RTI International Names 2021-2022 Class of University Scholars

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. — The University Collaboration Office (UCO) within RTI International (RTI), a nonprofit research institute, welcomes RTI University Scholars, Sheresa Blanchard, Ph.D., from East Carolina University, Carmen Monico, Ph.D., from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, Nichola Lowe, Ph.D., from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Nina Smith, Ph.D., from North Carolina Central University.

The RTI University Scholars Program supports highly talented academics who take scholarly leave from their home institutions to collaborate with RTI researchers.

“The UCO continually strives to support RTI’s strategic initiatives; we saw the opportunity to leverage the RTI University Scholars Program and our region’s exceptional talent in support of the institute’s Equity, Racial Justice, and Transformative Research Initiative,” said the UCO’s project operations manager, Amy Vargas-Tonsi.

For the 2021-2022 cycle, the Program prioritized proposals that focused on research projects related to racial equity and policy.

“As our global society reckons with the consequences of colonialism and structural racism - the RTI vision of addressing the world’s most critical problems with science-based solutions in pursuit of a better future - has never been clearer and more in need,” said Stephanie Hawkins, director of RTI’s Youth Violence Prevention and Community Program and leader of the Racial Justice and Transformative Research Initiative. ‘The UCO facilitates so many important connections for RTI and I am delighted that we are using the collective brain trust of this region to focus on policy and racial justice.”

The 2021-22 scholars will spend up to one academic year at RTI. This cohort encompasses vast expertise in child and family wellbeing, immigration, and economic and workforce development through a racial justice and equity lens.

  • Sheresa Blanchard, an associate professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Science at East Carolina University and chair of the Inclusion, Equity & Social Justice Committee (IESJ) for the Division for Early Childhood (DEC), will collaborate with RTI’s Anne Wheeler, PhD. The collaborative project seeks to identify mechanisms to improve awareness and engagement of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) mothers in the Early Check Program and associated early identification and intervention programs. Blanchard “brings a strong commitment to serve and community engagement and an expert lens into how racism and bias impact health care and educational access for children with disabilities and their families,” said Wheeler.
  • Carmen Monico, an associate professor of social work and sociology in the Joint Programs in Social Work at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University and the University of North Carolina Greensboro, will collaborate with RTI’s Sara Jones and Wayne Pitts, PhD, to deepen the analysis of and recommend strategies to guide deportee reintegration into Guatemalan society and inform migration policies and programs. “Dr. Monico’s diverse experiences as a field researcher, policy analyst, and migration expert will be an invaluable resource for RTI,” said Pitts. “Her academic focus on migration in Central America aligns with the International Development Group’s work in addressing the drivers and resiliencies to migration in the region,” added Jones. In 2016, Monico was a U.S. Fulbright Scholar engaged in teaching at Universidad del Valle de Guatemala (UVG) and conducting research on educational opportunities for youth at risk in Guatemala that have played a role in discouraging migration.
  • Nichola Lowe is Professor in the Department of City and Regional Planning at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Upon her return from a visiting scholar appointment at Lund University in Sweden, Lowe and RTI’s Sara Lawrence will collaborate on a project that explores the potential for manufacturing extension providers to integrate worker- and technology-centered services to protect frontline workers from job loss through stronger promotion of job quality and racial equity standards. “Deepening ties with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Department of City and Regional Planning will not only strengthen the research bandwidth, capacity, and potential of our economic development business line,” said Rebecca Nicholson, Vice President, Environmental Engineering and Economics, “but with its multi-disciplinary nature, it can also strengthen our networks in transportation, land use and environmental planning, community development, and housing
  • Nina Smith, an associate professor in the Department of Human Sciences at North Carolina Central University and research affiliate of the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, will collaborate with RTI’s Anna Yaros, PhD. The collaborative project will use a preventive intervention lens to examine child wellbeing in families of color.“We are elated to welcome Dr. Smith as the first RTI University Scholar from NC Central. Her appointment will further strengthen the research ties and collaboration of the NCCU-RTI Partnership,” said Tamara Terry, Relationship Manager, NC Central-RTI International Partnership, University Collaborations, “Her expertise and commitment to racial justice and equity strongly aligns with RTI’s strategic Racial Justice and Equity goals and objectives.” Dr. Smith is the PI of a pilot project, COVID-19: Impact on Black Families, awarded through the Advanced Center for COVID-19 Related Disparities (ACCORD) and Julius L. Chambers Biomedical Biotechnology Research Institute (BBRI)

Since the program’s inception in 2014, RTI has appointed 36 University Scholars. Visit our webpage to learn about them and their collaborative research projects.