ANN ARBOR — Though much of the world shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic, a lot of academic work continued. And for Shanice Battle, her work only continued thanks to an award from the Institute for Social Research’s Next Generation Initiative.
Battle was connected to ISR from 2018 through 2021 while finishing her PhD through the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health, working with ISR-affiliated researchers Philippa Clarke and Maggie Hicken.
“I was doing research on how the structural factors within a neighborhood environment influenced depression in adults, specifically depressive symptoms,” she said. “Through their guidance and mentorship, I created a measurement of exposure to neighborhood structural conditions using census data and combined several tract indicators into a single index measuring exposure to neighborhood vulnerability.”
Battle’s research and work on her dissertation was powered in part by an award from the Angus Campbell Scholars Fund. Funding from the award meant Battle was able to attend several key conferences and access key training that supported the survey methodology and structural equation modeling she needed to complete her research.
It also helped her offset some of the most negative aspects of the pandemic, which entered its most severe phase just as Battle began a critical period of work.
Abruptly shifting to a remote work environment, Battle was able to purchase crucial equipment that allowed her to connect with her scholarly support system, including a new laptop and monitor setup to better participate in her now exclusively online working and meeting environment, in addition to making her work a less physically taxing experience.
“Once everything shut down, I couldn’t come on campus and do any kind of data analysis any more, so I couldn’t use the dual-screen setup I’d used there,” said Battle. “Because I ended up hunched over a laptop at home, I developed a muscle condition where I actually had to go through physical therapy to correct it. But with the money, I was able to afford treatment, a new desk, and a new (larger) laptop.”
Battle’s award ultimately helped her to offset much of the stress associated with completing her dissertation , and she’s parlayed her PhD into a position at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as an Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) fellow. Working in the CDC’s office of Minority Health and Health Equity, she has continued to pursue research projects on understanding the impact of social context and mental health in addition to leading outbreak investigations. When there’s an outbreak, Battle reports to the scene to investigate and implement control measures in a way that considers health equity and cultural competence.
“For example, I recently traveled to St. Croix in the U.S.Virgin Islands where I did a study on dengue virus and how to implement an equitable and effective vaccine policy for school aged children there.”
She’s also working on a paper examining institutional mistrust and its association with the decision to get — or not get — a COVID-19 vaccination. The paper brings her work full-circle in a way, touching on the pandemic that shaped her dissertation as well as some of its subject matter. It also highlights some of her non-academic work at the University of Michigan, which Phillipa Clarke, one of her mentors, says was a defining feature of her time as a Wolverine.
“While a student at U-M, Shanice’s commitment to racial and gender equity extended beyond her research by promoting equity for women in the academy more generally,” Clarke said. “Her work took important steps to refocus the scholarship on women’s mental health away from individual or physiological attributes by looking “upstream” to the social, political and economic vulnerability of women in society.”
Battle’s success is a result of her own hard work, assisted by a supportive community and financial contributions that eased some of her burden. It’s that legacy of support that ultimately means the most, on top of the valuable resources she was able to access through the Next Generation Initiative.
“Not only the Angus Campbell award itself, which was important, but the meaning behind ithe award the person’s legacy it was built upon was impactful,” Battle said. “It definitely made a huge difference in my experience as a graduate student.”