New service program unites scholars and practitioners to tackle social problems

Stanford Impact Labs and the Haas Center for Public Service have selected three faculty members to receive funding and support to work inside public service organizations on complex social problems: HENRY LEE, associate professor of pediatrics; LATHA PALANIAPPAN, professor of medicine; and TERESA LAFROMBOISE, professor of education.

Teresa LaFromboise, Latha Palaniappan and Henry Lee are the first cohort of Stanford’s Scholars in Service program. (Courtesy Haas Center for Public Service)

The new competitive program places faculty with government and nonprofit organizations and provides funding and staff support for up to one year. The program allows researchers and practitioners to exchange ideas, generate new research insights and find practical, evidence-based ways to make progress on pressing social issues.

Lee, Palaniappan and LaFromboise will build on their existing partnerships with nonprofit organizations to connect research and practice to reduce disparities in health outcomes for mothers and newborns, use contactless mobile technology to prevent chronic disease across India and expand suicide prevention programs at the Zuni Pueblo and Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico.

Reducing race and wealth disparities in health care for mothers and newborns

For more than two decades, the California Perinatal Quality Care Collaborative has facilitated collaboration among California hospitals’ neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) to improve patient care, serving as a model for other states.

By conducting virtual site visits and interviews with medical staff, Lee will seek to understand the barriers, in and outside the NICU, to reducing disparities; to learn from high-performing NICU teams about how they work to address what they perceive as gaps in care; and to develop and share strategies to assist NICUs in performing quality improvement, advocacy and other activities to reduce disparities for newborns at a large scale.

It builds on Lee’s work in this area, including a recently published paper on how to ensure hospitals’ COVID-19 policies allow parents and caregivers equal ability to visit infants in the NICU, regardless of families’ race or ethnicity, spoken language or socioeconomic status.

Using mobile technology to prevent chronic disease

Palaniappan, who is also an internist and clinical researcher at the Stanford Medical Center, will partner with Arogya World, a nonprofit based in Bangalore, India. She will study how mobile phones and other widely available technologies can be used to prevent chronic diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease, particularly in resource-constrained environments.

The use of contactless mobile technology, such as text messaging, has already been shown to be successful in affecting self-reported behavior changes.

The next step is using mobile phones to monitor clinical measures, such as blood pressure and blood glucose levels, in addition to self-reported measures, in order to guide public health interventions and improve health outcomes. This remote approach is far more cost-effective and scalable than traditional health research, which requires in-person visits to collect data.

Palaniappan will work alongside staff at Arogya World. They will learn from each other about the kind of research that would be most useful and the practical ways to apply it. Palaniappan’s research will be shaped and informed by Arogya World’s practical experience, and in turn, Arogya World hopes Palaniappan can help strengthen its research and impact evaluation capacity. By working together, they hope to identify evidence-based ways that contactless mobile technology can prevent chronic disease.

Drawing on Native American cultural practices to prevent suicide

Teresa LaFromboise is a counseling psychologist by training and a professor of education in developmental and psychological sciences. Through the Scholars in Service program, she will partner with the RMP Foundation, which is dedicated to improving the health and well-being of all people, especially throughout Native communities, on suicide prevention efforts.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among American Indian/Alaskan Native adolescents and young adults, whose suicide rate is 2.5 times as high as the national average across ethnocultural groups and has been exacerbated in recent years by the opioid crisis.

LaFromboise and staff from the RMP Foundation will work with the Zuni Pueblo and Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico on suicide prevention among adolescents. LaFromboise will use the American Indian Life Skills Development (AILS) curriculum she designed and has used in training with people from more than 100 tribal nations. She will train others to use the curriculum, rigorously evaluate its use in middle and high schools and develop a guide that teachers and behavioral health practitioners can use.

In addition, her research and curriculum will be informed by the people in the Zuni Pueblo and Acoma Pueblo. She hopes to learn more about the ways cultural and spiritual practices of American Indian/Alaskan Native communities can help address mental health challenges, and how traditional healers and mental health professionals can collaborate to prevent suicide.

While the projects were expected to begin in fall 2020 and spring 2021, the timelines may be adjusted due to the global pandemic and its devastating impact, in particular, on tribal communities.

Applications for the 2021-22 program are now being accepted.

If you are having thoughts of suicide, go to or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK).