Division of Community Health and Research (CHR) Interests/Activities

EVMS Pediatrics' Community Health and Research (CHR) division is all about creating and sustaining partnerships to address health challenges in our diverse region, in which low-income neighborhoods where children have little chance of graduating from high school are adjacent to affluent communities with high-achieving students, where inner-city Norfolk children experience as many barriers to receiving quality health care as children on the rural Eastern Shore, where hurdles exist to translating the intellectual capital and research of seven Hampton Roads institutions of higher education into practice. The goal of CHR is to work with stakeholders from organizations across the region to improve children’s physical and emotional well-being, addressing the social determinants that serve as a barrier to their academic achievement and bright futures.


Associate Professor Kelli England Will, PhD, MS, LCP, CPST, conducts research involving design and evaluation of large-scale behavior-change programs that benefit the health and safety of children, teens, and young adults. Her areas of expertise are injury control, health behavior theory, substance abuse prevention, and risk communication. Dr. Will received her B.S. and M.S. in Experimental/General Psychology from Old Dominion University and earned her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from Virginia Tech. Dr. Will’s focus centers on using behavioral theory, psychological principals, and best practices in public health and risk communication to devise novel program approaches that motivate behavior change among hard-to-change populations. Her research is community-engaged and applied in large-scale settings, such as schools and organizations. She places heavy emphasis on translation of research to practice. Dr. Will has led teams awarded more than 30 initial and competing continuation grants from federal, state, and private agencies for this work. Recent projects funded by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Virginia Highway Safety Office, and Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth are focused on messaging and intervention approaches in motor vehicle safety (teen distracted driving and child restraint use; see www.carsafetynow.org), and on the development of effective countermeasures to combat e-cigarette and tobacco use among teens and young adults. Dr. Will is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, a Nationally Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician, and a Delegate of the American Academy of Health Behavior. She is involved in child injury prevention at the regional, state, and national levels, serving on a number of health and safety boards, coalitions, and committees.

Instructor Patti Kiger, MEd (PhD-c) is the founding director of the Eastern Shore Healthy Communities, a multi-sector health partnership addressing obesity and resulting chronic diseases. She co-led an Eastern Shore-based team in the national Action Communities for Health, Innovation and Environmental Change (ACHIEVE) initiative (2010-2013). ACHIEVE community stakeholders include elected officials; public health directors; parks and recreation; YMCAs; and health coalitions- education, business, health, planning, and transportation sectors coming together for policy, systems and environmental (PSE) change. She has leveraged this network to continue to address obesity through a “Livable Communities” approach in grants supported by the Virginia Department of Health (VDH), Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth (VFHY), Institute of Medicine, and Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters. She developed and facilitates BMI data collection in schools on the Eastern Shore as well as in Norfolk and Portsmouth to enable tracking outcomes. She serves on the VDH Health Commissioner’s Minority Health and Health Equity Advisory Committee as well as the statewide Prevention Connections Board of Directors. Through a grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Academic-Community Partnerships Program she is linking EVMS researchers with rural stakeholders to develop a Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR) agenda to address obesity on the Shore.

Instructor Amy Paulson, MPH, AE-C,has over 19 years of experience in public health program management and is Executive Director of the Consortium for Infant and Child Health (CINCH), an award winning regional health collaborative to improve children’s health, and an Instructor in Pediatrics.  She holds Bachelor’s degrees in Business in Health Care Administration and in Psychology, both from Appalachian State University, and a Masters of Public Health from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and is a nationally certified asthma educator.  Mrs. Paulson launched the regional Healthy Hampton Roads initiative, co-led the Portsmouth-based CDC ACHIEVE and directed the CDC Norfolk REACH initiatives which focused on bringing major policy, systems and environmental change with a special emphasis on populations experiencing health disparities, in addition to multiple healthy communities’ projects and associated follow-on grants to expand this work. She also serves as the director of multiple ongoing regional projects focusing on promoting breastfeeding in business, childcare and public settings in collaboration with the US Office of Health and Human Services and Carolina Global Breastfeeding Institute. Grant funding support has come from the Office of Women’s Health, Virginia Department of Health and the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth. With support and collaboration from the American Lung Association (ALA) Mrs. Paulson developed and expanded the Allergy and Asthma School Nurse Expert program into 7 area school systems with more than 20 trained school nurse champions to improve asthma management in schools. She also serves as an instructor for the ALA’s Asthma Educator’s Institute. She has led subcontracts from the Virginia Department of Health’s CDC funded Tobacco Use Control Project focusing on implementing smoke free public housing, smoke free places, city tobacco tax pricing strategies and promotion of the state fax referral program by medical providers. She serves as a consultant and trainer for coalitions and healthy community initiatives across the region, state and country. For her efforts in support of the health of children in the Hampton Roads, Mrs. Paulson was named WHRO Community Impact Awardee in the category of Regionalism and Outstanding Volunteer by the National ALA. Recent CINCH and associated healthy city collaborative activities include numerous initiatives to promote physical activity and healthy eating, tobacco use prevention and reduction and asthma management throughout the region.

Instructor Matt Herman, MPH, CHES, joined the Pediatrics faculty in 2014 as Assistant Director of the Consortium for Infant and Child Health (CINCH). He has over 10 years of experience in coalition advancement and program development, implementation and management. Matt, who received his MPH from EVMS in 2009 moved to Seattle where he worked as a health educator and wellness consultant for the YMCA and Washington Health Foundation. Since his return to Norfolk in 2011 he has collaborated with the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority (NRHA) on behalf of EVMS on several projects, including the HUD-supported initiative, “Norfolk HEADWAY: Improving Asthma in Low Income Children,” for which he managed and coordinated all activities, played a major role in creating a Community Advisory Board of public housing residents, led community survey data collection, provided both community and one-on-one asthma education to families. He also developed and coordinated a community-specific health behavior survey completed in 6 NRHA residential housing communities. Concurrently, he coordinated an American Academy of Pediatrics Grant on Tobacco Cessation in NRHA Communities, which educated adults and adolescents on tobacco risks. Additionally, Matt was instrumental in the development of a smoke-free housing policy that will affect over 3,000 households in 11 NRHA communities. In his new role, as the Assistant Director of CINCH, he will work with CINCH on obesity and respiratory health related initiatives and programs in the Hampton Roads region.

Assistant Professor Andrew Plunk, PhD, MPH, came to CHR in September 2014 from the Washington University School of Medicine, where he completed a post-doctoral fellowship and also served as coordinator for the Center for Clinical Research Ethics in the Washington University Institute of Clinical and Translational Sciences. Dr. Plunk investigates drug use and the efficacy of drug policy by making novel use of existing data, including the US Census, insurance claims databases and large population-based surveys. His epidemiological research focuses on adolescent and young adult alcohol and tobacco use and the impact of adolescent drug use on education, particularly when mediated by social factors known to promote health disparity. Recent studies have investigated binge drinking behavior and how it affects mortality, the efficacy of the 21 drinking age and the impact of education policy on substance abuse and high school dropout. Dr. Plunk also conducts studies related to research ethics; recent work includes assessing the impact of industry-funded clinical trials on physician decision-making. Additionally, he regularly collaborates with other researchers who are exploring research ethics topics or those interested in using community engagement or CBPR strategies. Dr. Plunk’s research is currently funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth.

Assistant Professor Hongyun (Tracy) Fu, PhD, MA, joined CHR in October, 2014, returning to Norfolk where she received her M.A. in Sociology from ODU. She brings more than a decade of experience in international research and program interventions in HIV/AIDS prevention, sexual/ reproductive health, migrant/ immigrant health, behavioral treatment of illicit drug use and harm reduction. Prior to EVMS, she served as China Country Program Manager of the USAID-funded CAP-3D HIV Intervention Program and as Program Director for Population Services International (China) where she led implementation of public health programs using novel harm reduction and behavior change communication and social marketing approaches.  One essential component of the program involved the use of a web-based management information system and a package of routine behavioral tracking surveys in target populations to enhance evidence-based program design, monitoring and evaluation.  Dr. Fu received her doctorate from Tulane University’s Department of International Health and Development in 2008 with research that examined the health impact of Hurricane Katrina on Vietnamese immigrants in New Orleans and the more general influence of international migration on the mental health of Vietnamese immigrants.  Dr. Fu has been involved in research and intervention programs funded by NIH, USAID, UNFPA, the Global Fund and the Australian Injecting and Illicit Drug Users League. Her current areas of research focus are how the social, cultural and contextual environments affect drug/substance use, sexual/reproductive behaviors and health outcomes among women, youth and other vulnerable populations.  She is currently engaged in international research addressing synthetic drug use, sexual behaviors and HIV/STI risks/resilience among men who have sex with men and other young adults in Southwest China.  Locally, she focuses on research and programs promoting family and community based interventions to improve maternal and child health outcomes in Hampton Roads in collaboration with the March of Dimes, Norfolk Action Network and other partners.  

Associate Professor Kate Ferguson, EdD, MS, joined EVMS in 2009 as CHR Division Director. A microbiology researcher for over 20 years, she moved to primary care/community-based research in 2001. Since 2002 she has been the sole or major contributing author for successful grants totaling over $18 million from NIH, CDC, BHPR-HRSA, NSF, HUD, and the March of Dimes (MOD). She is past chair of the Virginia MOD State Program Services Committee which develops and oversees statewide initiatives and provides grant support to reduce prematurity and improve birth outcomes, and in 2013 was named to the MOD Hall of Fame for her efforts on behalf of mothers and babies. She was the project director for a recently completed HUD-funded initiative to reduce asthma morbidity in children residing in Norfolk public housing. She has conducted mixed methods program evaluation for numerous federal and state agencies, and is currently Program Evaluator (PI: Dr Bruce Britton) for a newly awarded 5 year grant (2015-2020) from Health and Human Services Bureau of Health Workforce- HRSA to train health care professionals to work in transformed, multidisciplinary health care systems incorporating Accountable Care, Population Health and Patient-Centered Medical Home models. She conducts faculty workshops in science and grant proposal writing, and teaches graduate grant writing, research methods, and statistics through secondary and adjunct appointments in the EVMS MPH Program and Old Dominion University Department of Biological Sciences. For her efforts as co-director of the EVMS Summer Scholars Program and focus on students and junior faculty she was awarded the 2015 EVMS Outstanding Mentor award.

Assistant Professor Paul Harrell, PhD, MA, is trained in behavioral psychology and epidemiology. Dr. Harrell uses this expertise to address issues in health psychology, primarily in relation to substance use, abuse, and dependence. In particular, he focuses on cigarette smoking, the leading preventable cause of death in the United States. His experimental models allow for safe, convenient, and ethical testing of theoretical processes in controlled laboratory settings. This approach is complemented by epidemiological research which seeks to extend these findings into ecologically valid settings, thereby enhancing translation into policy. Prior to joining CHR, Dr. Harrell completed a post-doctoral fellowship at Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health and additionally had experience as a fellow at Moffitt Cancer Center and Co-Investigator on a R01 from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (“Smoking Cessation Self-help for Dual Users of Tobacco Cigarettes and E-cigarettes”). He regularly collaborates with other researchers to better understand and address interrelationships between tobacco use and other psychological and public health issues. This has involved research in pharmacogenetics, cognitive performance, tax policy, neighborhood risk factors, alcohol, illicit drug use, driving behavior, and risky sexual behavior. In September 2015, he received a grant from the National Cancer Institute to lead a team working to enhance understanding of beliefs (expectancies) related to the use of electronic nicotine delivery systems (“e-cigarettes”).

Top of Page