Robey Champine, assistant professor in MSU’s online Master of Public Health program, talks about working for the FBI, and how her experiences shaped her understanding of crime and disorder as public health concerns and informed her interests in trauma-informed approaches.
February 25, 2020
As a child, my career goal was to become an FBI Special Agent. From a young age, I was interested in crime and solving mysteries. This interest stemmed, in large part, from hearing about my cousin’s career in counterterrorism as a lead FBI Special Agent. He was an important mentor figure to me.
Early in my college years, I primarily viewed crime as a public safety concern and was focused on addressing risk factors for criminal behavior. However, my experience while earning my master’s degree in criminology changed my perspective. My coursework, coupled with ride-alongs with the Philadelphia police through some incredibly low-resource communities, marked a turning point for me. I began to see crime and disorder as key public health issues linked to deeply rooted systems of oppression and structural and social inequities. With this new focus, I returned to school to earn a master’s degree in public health. I then realized my childhood dream and worked for the FBI for two years.
Working for the FBI and Shifting My Perspective
During my time with the FBI, I served as a psychological and behavioral analyst. I realized that I wanted to do more applied research in partnership with communities and families—more specifically, by working with young people to prevent them from engaging in risk behaviors. So, I went back to school to earn a doctorate in child study and human development with an emphasis on positive youth development and strength-based approaches.
Strength-based approaches involve embracing and elevating young people’s talents and abilities to nurture their healthy development. Although developmental risk factors are important to address in childhood and adolescence, it is equally as important to identify and capitalize on the assets of individuals and communities to help reduce inequities and maximize young people’s potential for thriving. At the individual level, these strengths may include having confidence, a positive future orientation, and competencies in different domains—for instance, athletic, academic, or vocational. Community-level assets include mentors and programs.
During my postdoctoral training at the Yale School of Medicine Division of Prevention and Community Research, and the Child Health and Development Institute of Connecticut, I developed a strong interest in adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and trauma-informed approaches. According to research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 60 percent of adults have reported experiencing at least one type of ACE.
ACEs are potentially traumatic events that occur in childhood and adolescence and have the potential to negatively impact an individual’s cognitive, emotional, and behavioral functioning. ACEs include poverty, abuse/neglect, racism/discrimination, homelessness, and violence.
According to 2016 statistics from the American Institutes for Research (AIR), 90 percent of juvenile justice-involved youth have experienced trauma—often multiple traumas—from an early age, and 75 percent of adults receiving substance abuse treatment reported histories of trauma. In 2016, Child Trends, a research organization focused on improving the lives of children and youth, found that the most commonly reported ACEs were economic hardship, divorce or separation of a parent, and living with someone with a drug or alcohol problem.
Trauma-Informed Approaches on the Rise
In recent years, we have seen a surge in research on trauma-informed approaches. There has been an increase in awareness among researchers and practitioners and a push across disciplines to understand the potential signs and impacts of trauma and how to effectively respond through programs, policies, and practices.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA, 2014), trauma-informed approaches can be defined according to the “Four Rs”:
- Realization of trauma and how it can affect individuals, groups, and communities
- Recognition of the signs of trauma
- Response that involves applying the principles of a trauma-informed approach
- Resist re-traumatization of clients and program staff
In a recently published article in the American Journal of Community Psychology, my colleagues and I presented results from a systematic review in which we reviewed systems measures of a trauma-informed approach, the first comprehensive review of its kind. We identified 49 unique surveys that were developed to measure a trauma-informed approach in families, organizations, and communities. This review helped to clarify gaps in this work. It also highlighted the need for more attention on whether what we measure with these tools is linked to improvements in non-clinical youth, family, staff, and other stakeholder outcomes.
It is important to remember that ACEs are preventable and that all young people, regardless of their circumstances, have the potential to thrive. High-quality trauma-informed approaches can play a key role in this process.
Partnering with Communities to Address Public Health Needs
What drew me to join the faculty of MSU’s Master of Public Health (MPH) program is its emphasis on partnering with communities to address their public health needs and priorities in a manner that is culturally responsive and respectful. I especially value the program’s emphasis on community-based participatory approaches, in which stakeholders are actively engaged as partners in the processes of program development, implementation, evaluation, and research dissemination. This approach is highly consistent with my work, which is focused on partnering with underserved youth and families to develop and implement psychological and behavioral health interventions that are attuned to local structural and social determinants of health and that empower stakeholders to achieve positive change.
Preparing Public Health Leaders
In the MPH program, I teach graduate courses in social and behavioral aspects of public health and program evaluation, as well as mentor students’ independent studies and capstone projects. I integrate my diverse research experience in both my teaching and mentoring. One of the things that I have enjoyed most about working with the students in the program is the diverse backgrounds and skills that they bring, which I think helps to enrich the quality of class discussions and the work that they produce.
The MSU program enrolls a large proportion of students who are current public health professionals. We work closely with them to help foster their professional development by engaging them in coursework that integrates real-world experiences and facilitates the application of key concepts, theories, and methods in public health. Our goal is to enhance students’ capacities to serve as leaders in the field of public health through advancing public health research, policy, and practice.
If your passion lies with changing the world around you for the better, look no further.
Your path begins at MSU’s Master of Public Health online program.