Catherine Heaney to receive Roland Prize for developing long-term community partnerships

The Miriam Aaron Roland Volunteer Service Prize recognizes Stanford faculty who engage and involve students in integrating academic scholarship with significant and meaningful volunteer service to society.

Courtesy Catherine Heaney Catherine Heaney

Catherine "Cathy" Heaney, associate professor (teaching) of psychology and of medicine, will receive the 2014 Miriam Aaron Roland Volunteer Service Prize for establishing meaningful long-term community partnerships and providing life-changing learning opportunities for Stanford students.

The Haas Center for Public Service awards the Roland Prize to members of the faculty "who engage and involve students in integrating academic scholarship with significant and meaningful volunteer service to society." It was created by alumna Miriam Aaron Roland and includes a $5,000 cash award. Heaney will be the 16th faculty member to receive the award since it was established in 2004.

Heaney teaches in the Stanford Prevention Research Center, the Department of Psychology and the interdisciplinary Program in Human Biology.

In a letter nominating Heaney for the award, Dr. Gabriel Garcia, a professor of medicine, who won the Roland prize in 2012, lauded her work.

"She understands deeply what defines a community, what constitutes a healthy community, and how students can learn and contribute to the health of all communities," wrote Garcia, who also is associate dean for MD admissions at Stanford School of Medicine. "If I were exploring a new collaboration with a community agency, I would always want her on my team, and so would my community partner."

Patricia Brown, former executive director of Redwood City 2020, a public-nonprofit partnership that serves children, youth and families, with which Heaney has worked over the last three years, echoed this sentiment: "Cathy understands what it takes to collaborate with community organizations, and she teaches those skills to her students so they have valuable learning experiences while providing needed services."

Heaney, who said she was "astonished but privileged and honored" to be chosen for the Roland Prize, said she enjoys introducing students to ways they can contribute to public health; watching students develop as they are exposed to new communities, people and ways of life; and serving communities.

"If students have this larger sense that we are all in this together combined with an understanding of the importance of empiricism and scientific inquiry to help us make policy decisions, then I'm doing my job," Heaney added.

An innovative social scientist with a commitment to occupational health

Heaney received her undergraduate degree from Harvard University and earned a master's in public health and a doctorate in health behavior and health education from the University of Michigan School of Public Health.

She has taught service-learning courses since she arrived at Stanford more than a decade ago. One of the first partnerships she established – with the San Mateo County Health Department – remains a strong collaboration today. In that course students learn about the challenges of conducting a community health survey.

Carol Boggs, former director of the Program in Human Biology, noted in an award nomination that Heaney has been an innovator and champion for service-learning in Human Biology, from advising students interested in community-based research to helping faculty interested in adding service-learning to their courses. Heaney also advises several student projects funded by Human Biology's Bingham Fund, ranging from student-run conferences and journals to photojournalism exhibits.

As a social scientist, Heaney's research focuses on work and health – specifically, how psychosocial stress at work influences an employee's health. She has served on the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Board of Scientific Counselors, contributed to the National Occupational Research Agenda and served on the editorial board of the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology from 2009 to 2013.

Heaney currently is working on a pilot project with Blue Shield of California to encourage the company's call center employees to use sit-to-stand desks to prevent the health risks associated with being sedentary for long periods of time. The project offers students a chance to conduct research and an eye-opening chance to see the work lives of other Americans, Heaney said. "It enables students to understand research as something that can both broaden your worldview and enable you to take an evidence-based approach to social change."

This emphasis on both rigor and relevance characterizes Heaney's approach as she is often asked to advise students on their honors theses. In award nomination letters, faculty and students cited Heaney's high expectations for students matched by her tremendous kindness and generosity in mentoring them.

Former student Autumn Albers, a 2011 graduate in human biology, wrote: "She helped make my honors thesis more than just another academic project I needed to check off my list at Stanford; it became a meaningful, transformative experience in which I learned how to combine my love for research with my love for helping others."

Provost John Etchemendy will present the Roland Prize, and David Demarest, vice president for public affairs, will present the 2014 Community Partnership Awards at a private luncheon on June 6. This year Raising Interest in Science and Engineering (RISE), Roadway Safety Solutions Team (RSST) and Special Needs Aquatic Program (SNAP) will receive community partnership awards.

Colleen SchwartzCoffey is communications manager for the Haas Center for Public Service.