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With APF’s help, Dr. Jody Nicholson drew more attention to the risks of lead poisoning. (credit: Gene Bednarek/SILVER IMAGE)

In 2008, the American Psychological Foundation (APF) awarded its Elizabeth Munsterberg Koppitz Fellowship to Jody Nicholson, PhD, now a psychology professor at the University of North Florida. The grant funded her research project, "Get the Lead Out," which sought to identify efficient methods to reduce subthreshold lead levels among children in low-income families. A recent policy change from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will bring more awareness to the lower levels of lead exposure on which Nicholson's research was focused. She is encouraged that her past and future research will make a strong contribution to the literature with this recent policy change.

Nicholson talked with gradPSYCH about how the fellowship influenced her career.

Can you describe your research design for your project?

I randomly assigned families to four different groups that tested ways to reduce lead in their homes. My baseline control group was given Environmental Protection Agency brochures about lead reduction. Another group received cleaning kits, one group received a home risk inspection and the last group tested the interaction between the inspection and the cleaning kit. There were no differences among the groups, but all groups showed a significant decrease in the children's blood lead levels. Furthermore, 95 percent of all participants had reduced lead levels, and my project was able to keep all of the children at a level below what is considered lead poisoning. Now, I'm trying to tease apart what made these interventions effective to identify the most cost-effective method for helping families.

How does research in this area need to evolve?

There's a lot of wonderful research, but it doesn't come from the perspective I have as a developmental psychologist, such as considering barriers to intervention. Something I'm trying to develop right now is a measure of self-efficacy that helps parents control their children's environment and exposure to lead. We have to come up with very low-cost initiatives and figure out how we can educate parents better.

How has the fellowship helped your career?

I was encouraged that APF helped me see that I was a worthy investment. I also think it really helped on job interviews because potential employers appreciated my experience in community-based research, which the fellowship funded. Receiving this fellowship has given me the confidence, and feeling of responsibility, that my research can make an impact.

What's next for you?

This fall, I'm collaborating with a local Head Start program to integrate what my study's shown about how we can help parents reduce their children's risk. For this study, I'm developing a measure of self-efficacy to examine as a moderator and mediator for intervention effectiveness. The data I collect will be important for applying for external funding to continue to develop this line of research.

— Colleen Wilson

Is there an APF grant in your future?

Each year, the American Psychological Foundation awards more than 45 grants worth $700,000. Find out if there's one right for you.