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Teaching Adolesence

Emerging Scholar Spotlight: Traci Kennedy

December 2016

Traci M. Kennedy is a postdoctoral associate at the University of Pittsburgh’s Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic. She earned her PhD in Clinical Psychology from the University of Michigan in 2013 with a certificate in Development, Psychopathology, and Mental Health. Broadly, Traci’s research centers on understanding the roles of chronic stress and contextual factors on youths’ well-being. Her work seeks to elucidate ways in which environmental risk and protective factors interact with individual-level factors (e.g., temperament, beliefs, values) as development unfolds. In particular, Traci is interested in the complex and dynamic impact of community violence exposure on adolescents’ well-being over time. More recently, Traci has begun examining risk and protective processes involved in the prospective link between ADHD and substance use through adolescence and into early adulthood. Her research is characterized by a strengths-based, resilience-focused approach, a multicultural lens, a developmental framework, and the purposeful selection of analytic methods that are best suited to answer these complex developmental questions.

As an undergraduate psychology major at the University of Pennsylvania, Traci became interested in the role of poverty-related stress on children’s development and well-being through her mentored research with Sara Jaffee, PhD. Her honors thesis, recognized by the Morris Viteles Award for excellence in undergraduate psychology research, examined children’s overestimation of school violence as a factor in their own externalizing behaviors.

Traci refined these interests further as a graduate student at the University of Michigan under the mentorship of Rosario Ceballo, PhD. Funded by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, Traci conducted research on the relation between Latino adolescents’ community violence exposure and their psychological well-being. In particular, she focused on the protective effects of cultural values, such as familismo and respeto, in buffering these associations. Over the course of her work, she became increasingly interested in the complex measurement issues that arise in studying community violence exposure, as well as the dynamic and multidimensional ways in which violence exposure impacts young people. These realizations prompted Traci to gain expertise in advanced longitudinal modeling techniques, as well as to embrace the complementary strengths of qualitative research to understand how adolescents experience and are affected by exposure to violence. Thus, Traci’s dissertation tested the theory that youth may become desensitized to violence exposure over time by identifying a quadratic association between community violence exposure and internalizing symptoms (reflecting potential emotional desensitization), alongside a linear association with aggression and externalizing behaviors. Traci also pursued these interests internationally by designing a qualitative study of children’s and adolescents’ exposure to violence in Colombia. In collaboration with Enrique Chaux, EdD, Traci conducted 80 qualitative interviews that help elucidate the complex findings in her and others’ quantitative work. Traci has presented her work on these projects at SRA and SRCD conventions, as well as at other national conferences. She continues to collaborate on projects examining the role of community violence exposure on Latino youths’ well-being, including an ongoing study utilizing daily dairy methods to more accurately assess adolescents’ day-to-day experiences with neighborhood stressors.

Traci also has a keen interest in pediatric psychology, which she has pursued in both her research and clinical work. Through her predoctoral clinical internship at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Traci expanded her child/adolescent clinical skill set to pediatric psychology, gaining experience in the assessment and treatment of youth with various medical concerns. She also collaborated on a research project examining peer victimization among youth enrolled in a school-based violence prevention program. This training instilled a deep appreciation for fast-paced, interdisciplinary practice and research, which led Traci to complete a clinical postdoctoral fellowship at the Johns Hopkins Hospital. After completing her clinical training, Traci worked as a pediatric psychologist at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia where she contributed to multidisciplinary treatment for youth with Amplified Musculoskeletal Pain Syndrome (AMPS). While refining her clinical skills further in this position, Traci contributed to research seeking to understand the complex interplay among physical health symptoms, psychological well-being, and family functioning. She helped design and implement a longitudinal study examining how these factors change over time, both with and without treatment. One particularly intriguing focus of this research is on youths’ resilience in the face of chronic pain and the role of benefit-finding in promoting adaptive functioning.

In pursuit of additional advanced research training, Traci is currently completing a postdoctoral research position at the University of Pittsburgh with Brooke Molina, PhD and Andrea Howard, PhD. Her current work focuses on longitudinal modeling of individuals’ development from childhood through adulthood. Traci is working with data from the Multimodal Treatment Study of ADHD (MTA) and the Pittsburgh ADHD Longitudinal Study (PALS), examining the contextual factors in the development of substance abuse among those with ADHD from childhood through adolescence and adulthood. She is particularly interested in the roles of peer and family influences, as well as contextual stressors.

Alongside her research and clinical interests, Traci avidly enjoys teaching and mentoring. After completing a specialized certificate program in teaching and being honored with an Outstanding Graduate Student Instructor Award at the University of Michigan, Traci has since pursued rewarding teaching opportunities in such courses as Cultural Psychology, Developmental Psychology, and Psychopathology. Perhaps most rewarding, Traci has enjoyed supervising individual students’ research and capstone projects, as well as mentoring trainees at various stages of their professional development. Traci has embraced advocacy and community service activities as a way to bridge her research and clinical work to the community. As a volunteer with the Big Brothers, Big Sisters organization, Traci enjoyed mentoring her Little for several years. At The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Traci contributed to global health initiatives, including collaborative programming with community health workers and healthcare partners in the Dominican Republic serving young children. Currently, Traci volunteers with Casa San Jose, an organization that serves the social, educational, and mental health needs of recently immigrated Latino youth and their families. Indeed, most of Traci’s excitement during her training – and now early in her career – has emerged from the dynamic balance among the domains of research, practice, teaching, and advocacy. Outside of her professional activities, Traci enjoys spending time with family, running, traveling, writing, music, delicious food, and learning to root for Pittsburgh sports teams. She looks forward to contributing to research and practice on adolescent development as she continues to evolve and refine her interests as an early career professional.


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