In January 2018 the Columbia-Bassett track of Columbia University’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons established a research program under the direction of Robert C. Whitaker, MD, MPH, Allison N. Herman, M.Ed., MPH, and Tracy Dearth-Wesley, PhD, MPH. The program provides opportunities for Columbia-Bassett students to participate in research related to a major thematic area within their curriculum—the role of life experiences, both positive and negative, in shaping health and well-being over the life course. These research opportunities are primarily in the summer following the first year of the pre-clinical phase of the curriculum, and in the scholarly project program in the differentiation and integration phase of the curriculum. 

The long-term goal of our research program is to identify potentially modifiable factors that support flourishing with adversity. By flourishing, we mean aspects of eudaimonic or psychological well-being, such as self-acceptance and a sense of purpose. Life inevitably involves adversity, and it often includes some events and circumstances that are traumatic insofar as they are experienced as emotionally threatening and can have enduring effects on health and development. Some of these traumas are transmitted across generations and involve longstanding social inequities. We are specifically interested in how human connection in varied social contexts (family, school, workplace, and community) contributes to flourishing with adversity. 

We primarily conduct epidemiologic studies using existing population-based data. We aim to carry out solution-oriented research by identifying potentially modifiable conditions under which positive outcomes occur. Positive outcomes are more than the absence of injury or poor health, and the conditions that favor positive outcomes are more than the absence of individual or social risk factors. Our current studies focus on: 1) the role of safe, stable, and nurturing relationships (i.e., being safe and seen by others) in flourishing with adversity, and 2) the conditions in education, healthcare, and human service organizations that support the development of safe, stable, and nurturing relationships. 

Our research program is actively involved in developing and delivering the Life Experiences Curriculum. We inform the curriculum through our current work in the areas of adverse childhood experiences, social determinants of health, trauma-informed healthcare and education, and human flourishing. For students who participate in the research program, the mentoring relationships we provide are aligned with the emphasis in the Life Experiences Curriculum on promoting safety through the process of inquiry and dialogue, which we view as an essential part of becoming a clinician scholar. 

Columbia-Bassett Research Staff

  • Robert C. Whitaker, MD, MPH

    • Director of Research and Research Education at Columbia-Bassett

    Robert C. Whitaker, MD, MPH, serves as director of research and research education at Columbia-Bassett and is a professor of clinical pediatrics at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. Prior to joining Columbia-Bassett, Dr. Whitaker held faculty positions in pediatrics at the University of Washington (Seattle Children's Hospital) and the University of Cincinnati (Cincinnati Children's Hospital), where he was involved in clinical care and teaching as well as research. For more than a decade, he taught epidemiology and conducted research at Temple University (College of Public Health). He also held previous appointments as a senior fellow at Mathematica Policy Research, a senior visiting research scholar at the Center for Health and Wellbeing at Princeton University, and a visiting research scholar at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He attended Williams College (BA, chemistry), Johns Hopkins University (MD), and the University of Washington (MPH, health services), where he was also a Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholar.

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  • Tracy Dearth-Wesley, PhD, MPH

    • Senior Research Associate

    Tracy Dearth-Wesley, PhD, MPH, is a senior research associate in the Columbia-Bassett research program. Prior to this role, Dr. Dearth-Wesley held research associate and research specialist positions in government agencies (Global Micronutrient Laboratory, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and academic centers (Center for Obesity Research and Education, Temple University; Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill). She attended Duke University (BA, psychology), Emory University's Rollins School of Public Health (MPH, international health), and the Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (PhD, nutritional epidemiology). 

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  • Allison N. Herman, MEd, MPH

    • Research Associate

    Allison N. Herman, MEd, MPH, is a research associate in the Columbia-Bassett research program. Before joining Columbia-Bassett, Allison worked in various research associate and coordinator positions at Temple University and the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, in addition to working in health prevention and promotion with Temple University students through its Wellness Resource Center. She has participated in Safe Zone training and also completed a three-course sequence to become a trauma-competent professional through Lakeside Global Institute. She attended Temple University (BA, psychology; MPH, social and behavioral sciences) and Lehigh University (MEd, human development).  

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