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Nancy Rumbaugh Whitesell, PhD 


Dr. Whitesell

Dr. Whitesell's work focuses on child and adolescent development within the contexts of American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) communities. Her research projects apply developmental science to inform preventive interventions to improve outcomes for children birth through adolescence.

Dr. Whitesell’s major current projects include prevention development, implementation evaluation, measure development and mentorship initiatives:

  • ​A randomized controlled trial within a Northern Plains reservation funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to evaluate Thiwáhe Gluwáš'akapi, a family-based program for prevention of adolescent substance use developed with partners in this community (R37DA047926; Whitesell, PI).
  • The Multi-site Implementation Evaluation of Tribal Home Visiting (MUSE), funded by the Administration for Children and Families (ACF). MUSE is a stakeholder-engaged study of implementation of home visiting within 17 tribes and urban Indian organizations around the country (HHSP2337004T; Whitesell, PI).
  • The Native Children’s Research Exchange (NCRE) is a national organization of researchers and students in academic and community settings who use science to support the health and well-being of children in Native communities. NCRE hosts conferences that facilitate the exchange of research findings and the establishment of collaborative relationships among researchers. Dr. Whitesell co-directs NCRE with Dr. Michelle Sarche.
  • The NCRE Scholars Program is a mentoring program funded by NIDA to support the career development of early stage American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian investigators (R25DA050645; Whitesell and Sarche, PIs). 
  • The Tribal Early Childhood Research Center, funded by ACF to collaborate with early childhood programs in tribal communities around the country, including Home Visiting, Head Start, and Child Care programs The TRC facilitates research-to-practice connections, engages community stakeholders in research, and provides training to community partners and early-career researchers. Dr. Whitesell is Associate Director and Director of Research and Measurement of this Center (90PH0027; Sarche, PI). 

Two distinct areas of methodological expertise inform Dr. Whitesell’s work across these projects. The first is Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR) approaches that engage AIAN community partners in all aspects of research, from the identification of study goals through the interpretation of data and dissemination of findings. This approach helps to ensure that research is relevant to local communities, methods are both culturally and scientifically rigorous, resulting data are reliable and valid, interpretations are complete and correct, and local capacity for research is developed. 

Dr. Whitesell’s second area of expertise is in statistical methodologies that support the application of rigorous research methodologies to the questions identified with community partners. Her expertise in latent variable statistical methods, including measure development (e.g., factor analysis, latent class models), structural equation modeling and longitudinal modeling (e.g., latent growth curve modeling) serves to support more accurate understanding of developmental processes that, in turn, inform intervention efforts.

General Research Interests: 

  • ​​Child and adolescent development within American Indian and Alaska Native cultural contexts
  • Culturally appropriate measurement of child and adolescent outcomes
  • Cultural and contextual influences on child and adolescent development
  • Promotion of successful early development
  • Prevention of early substance use 
  • Implementation of evidence-based programs within American Indian and Alaska Native communities

          Current Research Funding: 

          1. ​Evaluation of an optimized intervention to prevent early substance use among American Indian youth: Examination of expanded impacts on youth and parents National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Drug Abuse (R37DA047926; Whitesell, PI; 2019-2024). A randomized controlled trial of the Thiwáhe Gluwáš'akapi program, a family-based substance use prevention program for young adolescents developed as part of a previous grant (R01DA035111). This study also examines effects of the program on youth suicide and adult substance use outcomes.
          2. ​​​Multi-Site Implementation Evaluation of Tribal Home Visiting (MUSE) Administration for Children and Families, Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation (HHSP2337004T; Whitesell, PI; 2016-2022). This study engages in a collaborative, community-based approach to design and conduct a multi-site evaluation of implementation quality and program outcomes in American Indian and Alaska Native Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting programs and to disseminate findings. This is a partnership with James Bell Associates, with a subcontract to the University of Colorado.
          3. The Native Children's Research Exchange Scholars Program: Preparing the Next Generation of American Indian and Alaska Native Substance Abuse and Addiction Scientists National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Drug Abuse(R25DA050645; Whitesell & Sarche, PIs; 2019-2024). This project supports the development of the next generation of American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian substance abuse and addiction scientists, sustaining a program that has mentored 15 early career Native researchers since 2012 and expanding to support an addition 20 Scholars over 5 years. The program provides intensive mentoring to small cohorts of Scholars in connection to the Native Children’s Research Exchange (NCRE) network through the creation and implementation of Tailored Career Development Plans, support of publishing and grant writing efforts, a Grantwriting Workshop and course in the Responsible Conduct of Research with Indigenous Communities. The program also engages these early career investigators in efforts to engage potential researchers earlier in the educational pipeline.
          4. Tribal Early Childhood Research Center Administration for Children and Families, Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation (90PH0027; Sarche, PI; 2016-2020; Role: Co-Investigator). This project continues and extends the work of the Tribal Early Childhood Research Center, formed in 2011 with earlier funding from ACF, to consult with early childhood programs in American Indian and Alaska Native communities, build Communities of Learning to conduct research and measure development, train the next generation of researchers to work effectively with early childhood programs in AIAN communities, provide forums for tribal voices in research and disseminate this work broadly.
          5. The American Indian and Alaska Native Head Start Child and Family Experiences Survey (AI/AN FACES) Administration for Children and Families, Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation (15JTPO045; Sarche, PI; 2015- 2020; Role: Co-Investigator). This work helps lead the AI/AN FACES Workgroup in planning, implementing, and disseminating findings from AI/AN FACES 2015 and AI/AN FACES 2019. We work to facilitate conversations across diverse groups of stakeholders and provide scientific and cultural expertise to inform study design, implementation, analysis, reporting and dissemination.


          • ​Latent Variable Methods (CBHS 7010/BIOS 6628)
          • Advanced Seminar in Community & Behavioral Health (CBHS 7670); Co-Instructor 


          • ​Baylor University, BA, Psychology, 1981 
          • University of Denver, MA, Developmental Psychology, 1987 
          • University of Denver, PhD, Developmental Psychology, 1989​ 

          Colorado School of Public Health

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