Jenna Riis is captivated by the intersection between the esoteric and the pragmatic, the abstract and the concrete. She is especially interested in merging hard sciences like neurobiology and statistics with social policy issues related to health and education disparities. And Riis knows from experience that when these things come together, good things can happen for the world.
Her first job out of college was with the interdisciplinary Division of Cognitive and Behavioral Neurology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, where she assisted with research on aging and dementia. “We were constantly working to apply new research findings to both clinical practice procedures and to hot-button issues such as driving regulations for the elderly and privacy protections for the memory-impaired,” she says.
As an MHS student at the Bloomberg School, Riis did an internship at Children’s Hospital in Boston, where she helped plan a study using neuro-imaging techniques to evaluate the treatment of adolescents addicted to alcohol and opioids. She also interned at the Majority Health Office of the U.S. Senate with the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, working on a food safety bill, the response to the H1N1 epidemic and a health care reform bill. “I have seen science be contaminated, politicized, glorified and vilified,” she says. “I have also seen the responsible use of scientific research findings in the crafting of effective policy and legislation.”
Riis is interested in discovering the long-term consequences of early childhood psychosocial and environmental stressors on the brain. Poverty, violence, poor nutrition, pollutants, maternal depression and other stressors can also affect the body’s neuroendocrine, immune, pulmonary and cardiac systems. She wants to apply her findings about how early development shapes physiology and health to inform and design public policy and health programs.
Early Childhood Mental Health Specialist, New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene