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A cross-divisional department spanning

Research Areas

Social and Behavioral Sciences


Understanding how people think, feel, or behave in specific situations, and how they interact and organize to influence the world around them is critical to building effective public health systems.

In the Department of Environmental Health and Engineering, our research explores how social systems, community values, historic inequities, and psychological states affect public health policies, programs, and outcomes. We often collaborate with community members in their neighborhoods, workplaces and recreational spaces, to identify priority health concerns and to develop potential solutions, and are uniquely focused on mental and behavioral aspects of public health systems research in preparedness and emergency response.

Research Highlights

How to Steward Medical Countermeasures and Public Trust in an Emergency: A Communication Casebook for FDA and its Public Health Partners

How FDA and other U.S. government officials convey information about medical countermeasures (MCMs) will affect uptake, compliance, and ultimately survival in the aftermath of a natural disease emergency or a chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear (CBRN) attack. Moreover, effective communication regarding MCMs has the potential to strengthen psychological resilience as well as engender public trust in science, government, and public health.

Agricultural Exceptionalism at the State Level: Characterization of Wage and Hour Laws for U.S. Farmworkers

Farmworkers continue to belong to particularly vulnerable social and economic groups. U.S. states can establish their own labor protections that go beyond federal laws and regulations. Though agricultural exceptionalism is understood at the federal level, little is known about agricultural exceptionalism in state labor standards.

Persistence of Livestock-associated Antibiotic-resistant Staphylococcus aureus Among Industrial Hog Operation Workers in North Carolina Over 14 days

Changes in swine production practices may affect the health of persons living near or working in production sites. Among these practices, the use of antibiotics to prevent disease and promote animal growth rather than to treat infections is extremely common, with the majority of antibiotics sold in the USA used non-therapeutically via supplementation of water and feed consumed by food animals. There is evidence that routine, non-therapeutic uses of these drugs increase the risk of development and propagation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria,  and studies have shown that antibiotic-resistant bacteria can be transmitted to humans working in production sites and mobilised from these sites via multiple environmental pathways.

Associated Faculty

Jacqueline Agnew, PhD

Risk factors of particular interest to Agnew are age and occupational stress. She has also studied psychosocial work stressors, and ergonomic factors on musculoskeletal symptoms in garment workers, a group that is a typical example of aging American workers in physically demanding and stressful manufacturing jobs.


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Dan Barnett, MD

Barnett's research interests include best practice models to enhance all-hazards public health emergency readiness and response. Specific areas of focus include disaster response surge capacity; design and evaluation of preparedness curricula for public health workers; mental health aspects of public health emergency response; public health readiness exercises; and organizational culture change issues facing health departments in building a ready public health workforce.


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Shima Hamidi, PhD*

Dr. Hamidi has expertise in geospatial data, built environment, housing and transportation and their connections to public health.


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Chris Heaney, PhD*

Heaney's research focuses on environmentally-mediated impacts on health and well-being, specifically community land use, waste disposal, and food production practices, and integrates the academic disciplines of environmental microbiology, molecular biology, immunology, epidemiology, and community-based participatory research (CBPR).


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Paul Locke, JD, DrPH

Locke’s research and practice target the intersection of environmental health sciences, policy and law in the areas of radiation policy and law and toxicity testing. His areas of study include alternatives to animals in biomedical testing and toxicology, radon risk science and policy, radiation risk analysis, uranium mining, high-level radioactive waste disposal and the application of low dose radiobiology to policy making.


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Roni Neff, PhD*

Neff's research focuses on food system environmental sustainability and resilience, including equity issues. Her current COVID-19 projects include a U.S. national and Maryland survey related to food security and access, serving on the executive team for the National Food Access and COVID Research Team (NFACT); performing a survey of U.S. food system workers, and supporting a food system indicator project. 


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Monica Schoch-Spana, PhD

Schoch-Spana is a medical anthropologist whose areas of expertise include community resilience to disaster, public engagement in policymaking, crisis and risk communication, and public health emergency preparedness.


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*Denotes faculty who are accepting PhD students.