Penn Doctoral Students and Postdoc Appointed Health Policy Research Scholars

Two doctoral students from the University of Pennsylvania were selected by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation as inaugural Health Policy Research Scholars. They are Jasmine L. Blanks Jones and Sondra Calhoun. 

In addition, Riana Elyse Anderson, a Postdoctoral Fellow with the Racial Empowerment Collaborative housed in Penn’s Graduate School of Education, will join the Culture of Health Leaders, another one of the four new leadership development programs launched this year by the Foundation. 

Blanks Jones, from Penn’s Graduate School of Education, is specializing in education, culture and society. Her grant will allow her to continue her work in Liberia and the United States, investigating ways to engage youth in public-health issues. Her main intervention is using international public-health case studies to find best practices in civic development that influence health choices, making health a shared value. 

“The arts are also a powerful tool to engage people on these sensitive issues while educating them about how to prevent the spread of life-threatening ailments and helping people to seek resources without shame in order to live fuller lives,” Blanks Jones said. “Within the RWJF Culture of Health framework, my contributions will be best realized in the area of Making Health a Shared Value.” 

Calhoun, from the Penn School of Veterinary Medicine’s V.M.D.-Ph.D. program, is focusing on epidemiology. Her grant will support interdisciplinary research into antibiotic use and into stewardship in veterinary medicine, helping her translate her expertise in science into practices that protect the health of companion animals and their owners. 

Blanks Jones and Calhoun are part of a group of 40 diverse first- and second-year doctoral students from multiple disciplines that make up the Health Policy Research Scholars section of the program. 

“The whole idea of Health Policy Research Scholars,” said Calhoun, “is to bring in people who aren’t traditionally part of the health policy conversation and enable them to not just do research but to take the next step and get it in the hands of policymakers. Antibiotic resistance and stewardship is a huge issue that will only become more important in the coming years. By taking a One Health approach to my research I’m hoping to shed light on this issue that touches not only cats and dogs but humans, too.”

Created for people who are traditionally underrepresented in doctoral programs and led by Johns Hopkins University, the program’s intent is to diversify the next generation of leaders, ensuring that policies and solutions are inclusive and relevant to the communities being served. 

Riana Elyse Anderson’s work examines the sociocultural and culturally specific risk and protective factors related to the psychological well-being of black families

She will participate in leadership-development training and will collaborate with leaders from across the country in solving persistent challenges and in advancing a “Culture of Health,” which places well-being at the center of every aspect of life. 

Her grant will allow her to continue the family-based intervention she developed for black youth in Philadelphia called “Engaging, Managing and Bonding through Race,” or EMBRace. This intervention facilitates coping and communication practices for reducing racial stress and trauma, Anderson said. 

“Racial stress and trauma are largely ignored within the clinical realm, so it is important that issues relevant to urban black youth and their families have a place within psychological practices,” Anderson said. “As a RWJF Culture of Health leader, I can push to change the social determinants of disparities and well-being in our communities.” 

The doctoral students and postdoc are among 150 participants across four new programs that will receive professional coaching, mentoring, networking opportunities and advanced leadership seminars to develop skills needed to work across sectors and make an impact. 

The full list of participants is at, and additional information is available at

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