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PhD student in UTSA Psychology Department Receives Prestigious Fellowship & Award

November 6, 2017

Jessica Perrotte, a PhD student in UTSA’s Psychology Department, was recently awarded a multi-year research training fellowship from NIH’s National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) through the Ruth L. Kirschstein Predoctoral Individual National Research Service Award program (F31). These are highly competitive awards. According to NIH’s RePORT tool, Perrotte is only the 4th student in any college of UTSA to receive a NIH F31 award since 2001, and is the first to ever receive such an award from COLFA. Ms. Perrotte also recently won an American Psychological Association Dissertation Award to help support her research in this area.

As part of her appointment as a fellow, NIAAA will provide Perrotte with a stipend, partial tuition support, and discretionary funds for the period of the award while she completes her doctoral degree. During this time, she will engage in multiple research projects and training activities, including her dissertation project.  This training plan was one of the many strengths of the application noted by the reviewers.  In addition, reviewers were enthusiastic about the range of expertise represented by her mentorship team (primary mentor, Dr. Michael Baumann, and co-mentors, Drs. Sandra Morissette and Ray Garza of UTSA’s Psychology Department, and Dr. Suzy Gulliver of Baylor Scott & White Health and Texas A&M Health Science Center), as well as consultants (Drs. Byron Zamboanga of Smith College, Kim Fromme of UT Austin, and Rebecca Weston of UTSA’s Psychology Department) she assembled to guide her training.

Perrotte’s main interests concern changes in behavior during early adulthood, particularly those experienced during college. Research suggests the habits formed during this period of life have a large impact on downstream health and happiness.  The primary research project Perrotte proposed for the award follows a cohort of college students during their first year.  She aims to examine the extent to which changes in students’ endorsement of certain cultural beliefs and behaviors, particularly Latina/o students, relate to changes in alcohol use. This goes far beyond existing research, which has mostly kept to very general beliefs or behaviors and single-questionnaire approaches.  By identifying specific beliefs and behaviors, Perrotte’s work will provide a more detailed and nuanced understanding of alcohol use among college students. Also, by following people over time, she will be able to better tease out which behaviors and beliefs precede changes in drinking and which result from it. These are issues of key concern to NIAAA as well as to universities.  Furthermore, Perrotte’s focus on Latina/o students is particularly important to universities with large Latina/o enrollments, such as UTSA.

Alcohol use researchers have long been calling for studies like Perrotte’s to better understand the development of drinking behavior during college and related downstream health problems. This award will help Perrotte – and UTSA – heed that call.

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