Teachers College doctoral students Tiana D. Moore and Shanae Burch have been selected by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RJWF) as 2018 Health Policy Research Scholars. They are among 40 doctoral students across the country to receive the fully funded fellowship this year. Both will receive $30,000 per year for four years to support their research.

Moore, a Ph.D. student in Developmental Psychology and graduate fellow at TC’s National Center for Children and Families (NCCF), is investigating how the quality of housing and neighborhood conditions affect health and educational outcomes for children and their families. She is also exploring how the well-being of low-income, working adults and children is affected when they move to affordable housing.

“Housing is one of the most important social determinants of health, and certain features related to housing can adversely impact developmental outcomes for children,” said Moore.

Moore’s faculty advisor is NCCF Co-Director Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, TC’s Virginia & Leonard Marx Professor of Child and Parent Development and Education, and Professor of Pediatrics at the Vagelos College of Physicians & Surgeons. Brooks-Gunn is one of the few developmental psychologists in the country who study the effect of housing quality on child development – something that has interested Moore since she left the South Los Angeles neighborhood where she grew up.

“Tiana is a perfect choice for this prestigious program,” Brooks-Gunn said. “RWJF, as part of their Culture of Heath Initiative, is concerned about the housing crisis throughout our country and is committed to including housing as an aspect of community building.”

Moore holds a bachelor’s degree in Human Biology and a master’s in Sociology, both from Stanford University. She hopes to work in a federal policy position in children’s health and education.

Both Moore and Burch were attracted to TC and the RWJ Foundation fellowship program because of the interdisciplinary approach that both take to health education and health literacy.

Burch, a digital and performance storyteller pursuing a doctorate in Health Education, is researching ways to use the arts to educate and promote health literacy. Since growing up in Van Nuys, California and Minotola, New Jersey, Burch has earned a bachelor’s degree in acting from Emerson College and a Master of Arts in Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. An experienced actor and member of the Actor Equity Association, Burch is pursuing an interdisciplinary course of study that this year includes a Medical Anthropology course at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health and a course on narrative medicine at the Columbia School of Professional Studies.

“I am interested in connecting my arts and communication background to my commitment to addressing health disparities through education and policy work, first with post-doctoral training, and then as a professor and interdisciplinary artist,” she said. “My life's work, on and off stage, is to raise the level of conversations we have about wellness and activism and improve people’s lives.”  

John Allegrante, TC’s senior Professor of Health Education and Adjunct Professor of Sociomedical Sciences in the Mailman School of Public Health, and Burch’s faculty mentor, said he was “delighted” at her selection for RWJF’s “signature pre-doctoral fellowship program,” saying the foundation “could not have found a more promising student than Shanae in whom to invest.”

Allegrante said Burch’s theater arts and education background “uniquely position her to take full advantage of the leadership development opportunity this program affords bright and talented doctoral students from multiple disciplines. I fully expect that what she gains from this experience will only strengthen her capacity to contribute to our national efforts to improve health equity and eliminate health disparities and to advance the culture of health that RWJF seeks to achieve in the long term. I feel honored to be mentoring her.”

Moore and Burch are the second and third Teachers College students to receive the prestigious award. Andrea Duran, a doctoral student in the Movement Science and Education/ Kinesiology Program in Teachers College’s Department of Biobehavioral Sciences, was part of the inaugural group of Research Scholars in 2016. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation created the Health Policy Research Scholars program for second-year doctoral students in any academic discipline who want to apply their research to help build healthier and more equitable communities.