Published: May 4, 2020

The Renée Crown Wellness Institute has announced the recipients of its inaugural seed grant program. Jill Litt, Kalonji Nzinga, Beth Osnes, and Steven Voida will lead research teams that inquire about different facets of wellness, while addressing practical questions facing youth, educators, and families. Consistent with the Crown Institute’s mission, the selected projects promote the wellness of young people and the systems and adults who support them through interdisciplinary research-practice partnerships.

Sona Dimidjian, the Crown Institute’s founding faculty director, expressed her excitement about the launching of the seed grant program. “I am delighted to see the interdisciplinary engagement of faculty from so many units on our campus. At this time in our world, the research they will conduct in partnership with youth in our state is both critical and inspiring.”

The grantees hail from four departments on the CU Boulder campus. Jill Litt, associate professor of environmental studies, will implement a project called “Designing Nature-Based Social Prescriptions with Teenage Mothers to Address Social Connection.” Litt’s team will partner with community, education, and social service agencies in the metro Denver area to promote connections to social support and nature among mothers between the ages of 14 and 22. This program will serve as a model to inform interventions to reach young parents at high risk for social isolation.

Kalonji Nzinga, assistant professor of education, leads the Lyrapeutic Storytelling Project, which will investigate how learning environments rooted in hip-hop-based education and critical literacies can facilitate opportunities for marginalized youth to learn and share wellness narratives that are endogenous to their cultural communities. This work will be done as part of a broader collective that includes professors Adam Bradley and Arturo Aldama, CU Boulder student group Shades of Honey, the Denver arts collective Tribal Zyphers, and teachers from North High School in Denver.

Beth Osnes, associate professor in theatre and dance, will pilot the SPEAK Vocal Empowerment Program in local high school health classrooms. The SPEAK Program, which draws on methods from participatory theater and youth action research, is gender-informed and designed to support young people of all genders in using their voices for self and civic advocacy. Participating students will develop and refine, with feedback from the public, strategies and solutions to the problem of sexual violence in their community.

Steven Voida, assistant professor and founding faculty in the Department of Information Science, will launch an investigation focused on how people use online platforms to manage their chronic mental health conditions. The research will result in the implementation and evaluation of a novel health and wellness technology platform that connects people with each other and information while protecting their agency, autonomy, and privacy. The goal is to develop a non-clinical and community-based resource for the long-term management of chronic conditions that augments, but does not replace, medical treatment options.

Ben Kirshner, a member of the executive committee who chaired the seed grant competition, is looking forward to the interdisciplinary intellectual community that this group will build. “Wellness is a broad concept that should be explored from a variety of disciplinary perspectives, which is why I’m so excited about this seed grant and the opportunities it provides us to bring together scholars from diverse disciplines to make progress on these important questions.” 

Although the projects reflect distinct disciplinary orientations, common themes animate their work. For example, they share a commitment to collaboration with practitioners and youth to carry out research that addresses practical questions alongside scientific ones. They adopt complex frameworks that explore individual, social, and environmental dimensions of wellness. And they prioritize values related to equity, belonging, and participation.