Health Equity, Opportunity and Education Laboratory

General Laboratory Description

Dr. Harris directs the Health Equity, Opportunity and Education Laboratory, or the HOPE lab, whose mission is to engage in collaborative, community-engaged, people-centered, justice-oriented research to eradicate injustice and advance health and educational equity, improve opportunity, develop resources, and implement change in our communities. Through research in our primary foci, the HOPE lab seeks to understand the interdependence of health, development, education, occupation, participation and opportunity across the life course. Chronic diseases exert disproportionate influences on youth, impacting development, education, participation and life opportunity. The HOPE lab is particularly interested in disrupting patterns of systemic injustice by addressing the complications of chronic diseases, the unidentified impacts these conditions have on everyday functioning for youth in community and educational contexts, and developing and implementing interventions to support youth with chronic diseases.

The HOPE lab incorporates the use of geospatial methods to explore the ways in which health disparities, race, income, social processes and in- and out-of-school factors operate differentially across space to impact outcomes and opportunity. Seeking to ensure just approaches in our work, the lab focuses on mixed methods collaborative research, using community engaged research principles and pairing quantitative analysis with qualitative methods, as well as incorporating methods of implementation science and the development of research community partnerships to address the translation of our findings to practice.

General Description of Student Activities

Collaboration and team science are central components of research in the HOPE lab. Students and trainees will have the opportunity to build their research skills through participation in a variety of lab activities including literature reviews, data collection, data management and analysis, quantitative and geospatial analysis, scientific writing, and presentation of results in collaboration with others in the lab. We encourage student and trainee engagement in all phases of the research process from intervention development through implementation and dissemination of findings. Students should consider the HOPE lab if they are interested in understanding the interdependence of health, development, education, occupation, participation, and opportunity and the role of place in these relationships. Participation in weekly lab meetings will help students build their understanding of social determinants of health and well-being, as well as their clinical and behavioral research skills. Students may work on existing lab projects or collaborate with Dr. Harris to identify or develop a related project that fits within the scope of the lab and timeline of the research experience. Time requirements are in line with the Program in Occupational Therapy expectations.

Examples of Projects

  • Pediatric occupational therapist perceptions of their role in supporting youth with asthma in clinical practice
  • Impact of asthma on occupation and participation
  • Examining the relationship between early child health and school readiness
  • Asthma guideline adherence in K-12 schools
  • Examining the spatial relationship between contextual factors, health-care utilization and education in asthma and sickle cell disease
  • Implementation of coordinated chronic disease management in schools for youth with asthma
  • Leveraging mHealth to Mitigate the Impact of COVID-19 in African American Communities
  • Evaluation of implementation of COVID-19 testing and vaccination in K-12 schools
  • Impact of public health and financial crises (i.e., COVID-19) on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in private institutions.
  • Feasibility of housing assessments and interventions to address environmental injustice and mitigate the impacts of asthma

PhD Mentor Information

Dr. Harris is a health and social scientist with a background in education, public health, and speech, language and hearing sciences. She joined the Program in Occupational Therapy as a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Allison King’s lab and continues to work with Dr. King on projects examining the educational impacts of sickle cell disease. Dr. Harris’ research is funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) and National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS), including a KL2 Career Development Award through the Washington University Institute of Clinical and Translational Science, Clinical Research Training Center to examine the barriers and facilitators of school-based chronic disease management.

Dr. Harris’ research examines equity in health, education, and opportunity in communities impacted by systems of oppression, the interdependence of chronic disease, opportunity and educational outcomes for youth in urban and suburban contexts, and the use of dissemination and implementation science to advance health and educational equity in school and community settings. Using mixed methods, and geospatial analysis, her work incorporates neighborhood and environmental factors to examine health disparities, inequity, and educational outcomes among youth, specifically among populations with sickle cell disease and asthma.

Dr. Harris earned her bachelor’s degree in Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences from the University of Kansas and her master’s degree in Speech-Language Pathology from Northwestern University. She served several years as a clinical speech-language pathologist providing services in both medical and educational settings. Dr. Harris earned her PhD in Education from Washington University in St. Louis, with concentrations in the Social Context of Urban Education, Public Health, and Child Development. Dr. Harris was a recipient of the Lynne Cooper Harvey Fellowship, a graduate certificate in American Culture Studies, and an Excellence in Educational Research Award.

Research Foci

  • Further defining the cyclical and intergenerational nature of the relationship between health, education and opportunity for individuals from birth through adulthood;
  • Understanding and addressing the relationships between chronic diseases, such as asthma and sickle cell disease, on educational outcomes, occupations, participation and opportunity for school-aged youth;
  • Conducting regional analyses of healthcare utilization patterns among youth with chronic diseases;
  • Understanding how systemic racism and specifically efforts to support and resist equity in educational settings operates to limit achievement and opportunity for historically and currently oppressed youth; and
  • Understanding the role of place, specifically neighborhoods and environmental characteristics, in health and educational equity.

Research Projects

  • Health and School Readiness: This study interrogates a large, nationally representative dataset to examine the relationship between early child health outcomes, health-care access and utilization, family and neighborhood vulnerability, and educational outcomes among youth.
  • Equity in Independent Schools: This is a research-school partnership to identify and measure racial, gendered, and socioeconomic disparities in achievement and engagement, as well as the social and cultural processes that enable these disparities.
  • School-Based Asthma Management: This study is a research-school partnership to (1) understand the impacts of chronic diseases on academic achievement and attainment, engagement and participation for youth, and (2) develop and adapt interventions to support school-aged youth with asthma and other chronic diseases and aligned implementation strategies.
  • DEI in Independent Schools: This study examines the nature of racial equity work in independent schools (IS), the professional experiences and perceptions of diversity practitioners (DEI practitioners) in IS, and the impact of public health and financial crises like COVID-19 on the roles and initiatives of DEI practitioners.
  • Asthma and Environmental Injustice: This study examines the effectiveness and feasibility of housing assessments and interventions to address environmental injustice and mitigate the impacts of environmental conditions on asthma.
  • mHealth to Mitigate COVID: This study tests the hypothesis that mHealth technology, introduced via faith-based communities, will serve as a feasible and acceptable platform to increase prevention of COVID-19 and improve access to critical diagnostic testing.
  • Asthma, Occupation and Participation: This study examines the impact of asthma on occupation and participation, as well as pediatric occupational therapy clinician perceptions of their role in supporting youth with asthma in clinical practice.