TRIP Director - Despina Stavrinos

Dr. Despina (Dessie) Stavrinos

Given that injuries are the leading cause of morbidity and mortality among children and young people between 1 and 19 years of age, and because so many childhood injuries and deaths are preventable, I have chosen to pursue research within the broad context of unintentional injury control among children. I have had the privilege of pursuing exceptionally relevant training opportunities in an effort to prepare myself for a meaningful, research-oriented career focusing on preventing and controlling injuries in the pediatric population. Because of several unique opportunities to participate in a variety of cutting-edge research activities involving applied developmental psychology, I have been able to define an independent research pathway that I plan to follow in the future. Below, I will attempt to summarize, albeit briefly, my more meaningful research experiences and will highlight how each relates to my current and future research endeavors.

I began my child-focused research career as an undergraduate research assistant at the University of Alabama (UA) where I was part of the NIDA-funded Coping Power Program (PIs: Dr. John Lochman and Dr. Michael Windle), a preventive intervention targeting middle-school aged children. I acquired additional research experience as an undergraduate in a cognitive neuroscience laboratory led by Dr. Joan Barth and Dr. David Boles at UA. My responsibilities included data collection for a study investigating the development of hemispheric lateralization in early childhood. From these two experiences, I acquired the beginnings of that which was to become a solid foundation in basic research skills, research design and statistical analysis. Moreover, these experiences stimulated my interest in acquiring additional training in behavioral science through the pursuit of a graduate degree in the area of developmental psychology. Following completion of a Bachelors of Science in Psychology (University of Alabama, 2003), I began graduate studies at the University of Alabama at Birmingham in a Developmental Psychology doctoral program.

My current research interest in the cognitive aspects of pediatric unintentional injury has its genesis in several research experiences in which I participated during my doctoral training. Initially, I was fortunate to receive financial support through a CDC Maternal and Child Health Bureau Training Grant, which provided me with an opportunity to acquire applied experience at a university-based clinic for children with developmental disabilities, a population identified to be at increased risk for unintentional injury. Subsequently, I was entrusted with significant data collection responsibilities on a NICHD-funded study examining cognitive development in prematurely-born, school-aged children (Principal Investigator: Dr. William Andrews). As a side-project, I used factor analysis to confirm a unitary model of executive functioning with respect to inhibition and working memory (Stavrinos, Biasini, & Andrews, 2006).

As a research assistant in the UAB Youth Safety Lab (Director: Dr. David Schwebel), I was given opportunities to assume lead responsibilities in several CDC-funded studies. These involved the examination of pedestrian injury risk factors in a virtual pedestrian environment across a number of conditions and in various populations, including (a) cell phone distraction in early adolescents (Stavrinos, Byington, & Schwebel, 2009) and adults (Stavrinos, Byington, & Schwebel, under review), (b) text messaging and portable music player distraction (ongoing), (c) heavy backpack use (Schwebel, Stavrinos, & Dulion, 2009), and (d) those with certain personality characteristics (Schwebel, Stavrinos, & Kongable, 2009).  Our work on cell phone distraction and pedestrians, published in Pediatrics in 2009 (Stavrinos, Byington, & Schwebel, 2009), was reported by over 1000 media sources, including most major news outlets (e.g., CNN, MSNBC, ABC, and CBS news) and major periodicals (e.g., New York Times, US News and World Report, Forbes Magazine). Because of this study, it was my further good fortune to receive the Injury Prevention Award from the CDC-NCIPC and the Society of Pediatric Psychology. My dissertation, which was funded by the CDC, the Society for Public Health Education, the American Psychological Foundation, and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Center for Child Injury Prevention Studies (CHOP-CChIPS), merged my cognitive, developmental, and injury research experience into a single study by examining the role of executive function on increased risk of pedestrian injury among children with and without ADHD.

I completed a 2-year internship at the CDC-funded UAB Injury Control Research Center and the DOT-RITA funded UAB University Transportation Center (UAB UTC) in 2009. Under the mentorship of Center Director, Dr. Russ Fine, I had the opportunity to work in a multi-disciplinary Center environment that was both collaborative and innovative in its approach to advancing traffic safety and injury control. During my time at the Center, I acquired significant experience in grant writing and research evaluation, and increased my management-oriented acumen through experience with business-related aspects of conducting research and operating research centers.  After being awarded a PhD in Developmental Psychology by UAB in May 2009, I accepted a postdoctoral fellowship at the UAB UTC where I continued to develop and extend the spectrum and content of my organizational and administrative skills, thus enhancing my overall research efforts.

In 2011, I accepted a one-year appointment in the Departments of Medicine and Psychology at UAB and in July 2012, I became an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology, where I am teaching the Department’s first ever online statistics course and I am continuing to acquire extramural funding that will underwrite some rather ambitious and challenging research objectives.

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