Please welcome one of our newest faculty members, Dr. Jessica Barnack-Tavlaris, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology, to the School of Humanities and Social Sciences.
This is Dr. Barnack-Tavlaris’ first full-time teaching job, after 12 years worth of research experience with a focus on reproductive and sexual health and six years worth of experience as a lecturer and adjunct professor.
Her interest in health psychology stems back to her time as an undergrad at SUNY Fredonia in New York. From there, she went on to receive her masters from Connecticut College before earning her PhD in Experimental Health and Social Psychology from the University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee, and continued on to conduct postdoctoral research on cancer disparities at San Diego State University and the University of California at San Diego’s Comprehensive Cancer Center Partnership.
“I think it’s impossible to keep learning about health and ignore the disparities that exist in underserved populations,” says Dr. Barnack-Tavlaris. “The more I learn, it becomes so obvious.”
Dr. Barnack-Tavlaris is especially interested in the psychological factors that influence sexual behavior, particularly in underserved communities in the United States.
During her time in San Diego, she was able to collaborate with a group of Latina women who worked for the community health organization Por La Vida to develop an HPV educational program for an underserved Latino community within San Diego.
Research shows that HPV, or the human papilloma virus, can cause cervical cancer, and many underprivileged populations experience a disproportionate number of cervical cancer cases. The goal was to better educate members of the community on the possible implications of HPV, so that they would begin to engage in protective behaviors if they could.
Dr. Barnack-Tavlaris’ role was to help conduct formative research on the best ways to educate women in the community about this issue, and then work with the Latina leaders on developing the specific curriculum, which will soon be implemented in various community centers in the area that currently participate in cancer education efforts.
While in San Diego, Dr. Barnack-Tavlaris also conducted a separate research endeavor, working with the Samoan and Somali communities there on a photo voice project, in which participants were given cameras and asked to go into the community and take pictures in response to research questions, identifying various environmental and cultural barriers to physical activity in their communities.
Dr. Barnack-Tavlaris hopes to continue research efforts like these, in which she works alongside the members of the community in which she is conducting research, while here at TCNJ.
She also has experience teaching at the college level, serving as a lecturer at UW—Milwaukee while earning her doctorate and an adjunct professor of psychology at both the University of San Diego and National University while completing her postdoctoral fellowship.
“It’s most rewarding,” she says of teaching, “when I’m mentoring students in research and see them get excited about it, and passionate about the topics.”
At TCNJ, says Dr. Barnack-Tavlaris, “through my teaching and research, I want to encourage students to think about all the different factors that influence health behavior, and [for them to] understand and appreciate all the factors that influence health disparities.”
She very much enjoys the teaching and mentoring aspects of her work in addition to the research, and believes that students need take a stake in the issue of health disparities, because through dedicated people, our society can change the unfortunate fact that some U.S. communities do not have healthy environments.
“I want to see them develop a passion to continue that type of research,” she says, “because I think it’s really important, and will become even more important as we see different changes in our health care system over the years.”