Seed Funding 2012

Youth-Nex has awarded funding to four teams of researchers who will study a range of issues from how innovative school architecture can affect healthy eating to increasing bullying awareness through student video production. This is the third time the center has seeded University faculty research promoting positive youth development in the past three years. Patrick Tolan, center director, said projects were also chosen because of their collaborative nature and potential for growth. “We are already seeing external funding applications growing out of the first rounds. We think there is great potential for similar success from this excellent set of seed grants which also represent multidisciplinary efforts across U.Va.,” said Tolan.

Impact of School Architecture on School Practices and Healthy Eating

Co-PIs: Matthew Trowbridge, M.D., M.P.F., Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine, Terry T-K Huang, Ph.D., M.P.H., Professor and Chair of Health Promotion & Social and Behavioral Health, College of Public Health, University of Nebraska Medical Center

Researchers are working with architects to create a school environment that improves student well-being. Dr. Matthew Trowbridge of U.Va.’s Department of Emergency Medicine and Terry Huang of the University of Nebraska’s College of Public Health will evaluate whether innovations such as a teaching kitchen, soil lab and nutrition resource library will impact the eating behaviors of school children at Buckingham Elementary in Dillwyn. The researchers collaborated with VMDO Architects of Charlottesville to develop a set of healthful eating guidelines for school architecture based on public health evidence and theory. The set of specifications call for innovations like kitchens conducive to preparing fresh and organic food; design that encourages relaxation and socialization at meal times; and signage and programming that reinforce nutrition education. “We wanted to create optimal school environments to promote healthy eating behaviors,” Trowbridge said. “Opportunities to directly concentrate on children’s learning environments are long overdue in the fight against obesity, which has been a priority public health issue for 20 years. But prevention has met with only limited success.” 

Funding will allow the researchers to evaluate application of the recommendations in a real-world environment for the first time at Buckingham Elementary this fall. “School-based obesity prevention programs have received considerable attention, but the physical environment of the school has not,” Trowbridge said. “This also provides an opportunity to pilot the concept of linking obesity prevention to green buildings. This focus on the environment and policy-based intervention will be critical in making a significant impact on childhood obesity trends.” To effectively implement these environmental components, the researchers and VMDO worked together as the school was rebuilt from the ground up. Maggie Thacker, VMDO’s director of marketing and business development, said that their objectives have been multifaceted. “Our goal is to embrace the whole child,” she said. “Environmental stewardship, eco-literacy, sustainable design, health and well-being, movement and activity – each of these educational opportunities are interwoven throughout the school’s interior and landscape, making a rich experience for students and teachers alike.”

Throughout the site, Thacker said that the school fosters teachable moments within the landscape, boasting walkable paths; vegetable, fruit and nut gardens; science garden labs; a composting station; and a “frog bog,” to name a few of the school’s features. “There is a long history in developmental psychology research that the role of classroom design can impact social behaviors,” Trowbridge said. “This project takes well-established theoretical frameworks from these educational research fields and applies them to health promotion.” Researchers hope the project will encourage teachers, staff and the community to engage more deeply in teaching children about healthful food and eating. They also hope to inspire more collaboration of this type. “It’s an amazing building and it’s an incredibly positive statement of hope and investment for kids in this rural school district who typically haven’t received this kind of support,” Trowbridge said. “Youth-Nex has allowed for a real-world implementation and evaluation of these highly collaborative and cutting-edge guidelines.”

VMDO Architects' Project Description


Fast Company Feature - 'How Smarter School Architecture Can Help Kids Eat Healthier Food
Charlottesville's CBS channel 19 featured an interview with Dr. Trowbridge about the project.
ABC News - 'Fighting Childhood Obesity One School Cafeteria at a Time'

Brittin, J., Sorensen, D., Trowbridge, M., Lee, K. K., Breithecker, D., Frerichs, L., & Huang, T. (2015). Physical Activity Design Guidelines for School Architecture. PLoS ONE​, 10(7), 1-30.
Huang, T. T. K., Sorensen, D., Davis, S., Frerichs, L., Brittin, J., Celentano, J., Callahan, K., & Trowbridge, M. J. (2013). Healthy Eating Design Guidelines for School Architecture. CDC Preventing Chronic Disease, 10, 1-12. 
Healthy Eating Design Guidelines for School Architecture Poster

2018 Tucker Design Award: Natural Stone Institute
2017 James D. MacConnell Award Finalist: Association for Learning Environments
2014 Education Facility Design Excellence Award: AIA Committee on Architecture for Education (CAE)
2014 Education Sector - Design Is ... Award: Shaw Contract Group
2014 Excellence Award (Inaugural Award): Center for Active Design
2014 Honor Award For Design Excellence in Architecture: AIA Central Virginia
2014 Innovation Gold Award: Virginia Chapter of the Association for Learning Environments 
2014 Juror’s Choice For Outstanding Project of the Year: Greater Virginia Green Building Council
2013 Award For Excellence in Architecture: AIA Virginia
2013 Outstanding Project: Learning By Design
2013 Project Of Distinction / Lee J. Brockway Award: Association for Learning Environments
2012 Prize for Design Research and Scholarship: AIA Virginia
2012 Gold Design Award: Virginia School Boards Association
2012 People's Choice Award: Virginia School Boards Association
2012 3rd Place in Childhood Obesity Challenge: American Journal of Preventative Medicine

Promoting Positive Youth Development Through Homegrown Video Production

Co-PIs: Michael J. Kennedy, Ph.D., Curry School of Education, Dewey G. Cornell, Ph.D., Curry School of Education

Michael Kennedy, an assistant professor at the Curry School, will instruct and guide students to produce their own videos on bullying prevention. He hopes to help students at Charlottesville area schools both understand themselves, and understand themselves as agents of change.  Kennedy also he hopes the students will progress in the '5C's' of Positive Youth Development — Competence, Confidence, Connection, Character, and Caring.

'We hypothesize that if we get that movement toward greater understanding,... in caring competency and the rest of the C’s, it will be captured on video because the medium is so powerful.' Kennedy, an educator and a filmmaker, ultimately also predicts a change in the students' understanding of bullying. 'A more sophisticated video shows deeper understanding of the issue,' he said. “when students make progress in each of the 5 C's, it can result in a 6th C — 'Contribution.'”


Fall 2013 Youth-Nex Works in Progress presentation on preliminary findings (Works in Progress Archive). AUDIO & SLIDES VIDEOS: Imma Be & Choices.

Engaging Students in Environmental Service: Development and Early Phase Research on a Community Service Learning Intervention

PI: Sara E. Rimm-Kaufman, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Education Co-Investigator: Eileen Merritt, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Research Associate, Curry School of Education

When educators Sara Rimm-Kaufman and Eileen Merritt had the realization that kids were eager to be engaged in important problems outside of school, they devised a plan to take them outdoors. The researchers will work with a group of middle-schoolers at Albemarle County’s Community Public Charter School tackle a local environmental problem selected by the students. “Many students do not have opportunities to spend time outdoors engaged in solving real-world problems,” said Merritt, whose career has focused on helping connect students with nature.

The goal will be to increase the children’s interest in science, knowledge of the environment and civic engagement through participation in a community service-learning project, Rimm-Kaufman said. Additional expertise in planning the curricula will come from Karen McGlathery, an environmental scientist in the College of Arts & Sciences. “We want students to choose from a set of environmentally oriented projects and engage in those projects with supportive adults, and see the link between their actions and a change in their community,” Rimm-Kaufman said. One idea is to help provide a natural buffer between pollutants from an airport runway and the nearby Rivanna River.

Ashby Kindler, the principal of the charter school, and science teacher Kathryn Durkee will also collaborate. According to Rimm-Kaufman, “This grant aligns well with the school’s mission to reach students who may be disengaged from school and help them become independent thinkers, problem-solvers and active citizens.”


Merritt, E. G., Rates, C., Greiner, J., Baroody, A., & Rimm-Kaufman, S. (2017). “We Need Trees to Line the River to Save Our Little Friends”: Environmental Literacy Development through Service-Learning. Children, Youth and Environments, 27(1), 67-90.

Spring 2014 Youth-Nex Works in Progress presentation on findings (Works in Progress Archive). AUDIO & SLIDES.

Understanding and Supporting Safe Driving of ADHD Teenagers with Auditory Feedback

PI: Nathan Ka Ching Lau, Ph.D., Senior Scientist, Systems and Information Engineering Co-PI: Daniel J. Cox, Ph.D., Professor Departments of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences, Internal Medicine, and Ophthalmology

A systems engineer and cognitive behavioral therapist are combining efforts to design a tool that mitigates driving distraction through a Wii-like device that tracks eye, body, and head movement. Drs. Lau and Cox will seek to help adolescents with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) to drive safely by creating a negative feedback loop that detects driver distraction. Lau, from the University of Virginia's Department of Systems and Information Engineering, said that research in psychology, engineering and driving alone have contributed much independently, but the areas are not well integrated. There is also a lot of research being done on distraction, he said, but not much on device building. He envisions a time when we are not relying on medication for these youth. "This is an opportunity to collaborate to see if you can develop a tool or refine a tool through innovation. We can be a bridge between what psychologists know and how engineers use technology," he said. According to Lau, there are alarms to help truck drivers stay alert but there aren’t tools to help youth and specifically ADHD drivers. "The trick is also not to be too intrusive or annoying," said Lau.

Past Seed Funding Projects

  • 2018

    See more details about the projects here.
    Press release about funded studies.

    Roots and Wings: Promoting Positive Youth Development and Educational Equity in Charlottesville Middle Schools through Integrated Music Programming
    PIs: Emily Morrison & Jessika Bottiani

    Engaging Conflict-affected Youth in Thailand’s Deep South for the Promotion of Peace and Wellbeing
    PI: Amanda Nguyen

    The Voice Project: Facilitating Youth Voice & Critical Social Analysis Among Black Boys in their Transition to High School
    PIs: Chauncey Smith & Daniel Fairley

    Evaluating the Impact of Youth-Police Dialogues on Police: A Seed Funding Proposal for Survey Development
    PIs: Rachel Wahl & Jessika Bottiani

  • 2012

    See more details about the projects and results here.
    Press release about funded studies on UVA Today and Curry's website.
    Original RFP.

    Impact of School Architecture on School Practices and Healthy Eating
    PIs: Matthew Trowbridge & Terry T-K Huang

    Promoting Positive Youth Development Through Homegrown Video Production
    PIs: Michael J. Kennedy & Dewey G. Cornell

    Engaging Students in Environmental Service: Development and Early Phase Research on a Community Service Learning Intervention
    PI: Sara E. Rimm-Kaufman Co-Investigator: Eileen Merritt

    Understanding and Supporting Safe Driving of ADHD Teenagers with Auditory Feedback
    PI: Nathan Ka Ching Lau Co-PI: Daniel J. Cox

  • 2011

    See more details about the projects and results here.
    Press release about funded studies.
    Original RFP.

    Reducing Risky Behaviors Associated With 21st Birthdays
    PI: Ellen J. Bass Co-PIs: Susan E. Bruce & Erik W. Gunderson

    The Role Executive Function Plays in the Driving-specific Risk Behaviors of Novice Drivers
    PI: Daniel J. Cox Co-Investigator: Ronald E. Reeve, Joseph P. Allen, John Sirard, Richard Warren, & Arthur L. Weltman

    Languages Across Borders (LAB): Building Positive Cross-Linguistic and Cross-Cultural Networks in High Schools
    PIs: Amanda K. Kibler, Allison Atteberry, Christine N. Hardigree, & April S. Salerno

    Reproductive Health Among Sexual Minority Youth
    PI: Charlotte J. Patterson

    A Study of Positive Youth Development Among High School Students
    PI: Joanna Lee Williams

  • 2010

    See more details about the projects and results here
    Press release about funded studies.

    Supporting Food and Exercise Counseling for Overweight and Obese Children
    PIs: Stephanie Guerlain & Martha Hellems

    Improving Nutrition and Exercise Competence in Obese Schoolchildren via SALUD
    PIs: Amy Boitnott & Mark DeBoer

    Vascular Disease in Adolescent Type 1 Diabetic (DM1) Subjects
    PI: Eugene Barrett

    Statutory Rape or ‘Normal’ Teen Love?
    PI: N. Dickon Reppucci

    Motivating Youth Through the Humanities
    PIs: Andrew D. Kaufman, Julian Connolly, & Roger C. Burket