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Nancy Rumbaugh Whitesell, PhD 


Dr. Whitesell

Summary of Resea​rch and Teaching Interests:

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 both young children (birth to five years) and young adolescents (10 to 14 years). 

Through her leadership role in the Tribal Early Childhood Research Center, she collaborates with early childhood programs in tribal communities around the country, including Home Visiting, Head Start, and Child Care programs, to facilitate research-to-practice connections and to engage community stakeholders in research. She is currently leading the Multi-site Implementation Evaluation of Tribal Home Visiting (MUSE) to study the implementation of home visiting within 17 tribes and urban Indian organizations communities around the country. Dr. Whitesell’s current adolescent work is an intensive partnership with one Northern Plains reservation focused on developing and evaluating a family-based program for prevention of early substance use and promotion of positive adolescent development.

Dr. Whitesell co-directs the Native Children’s Research Exchange (NCRE)​, a national organization of researchers and students in both academic and community settings who use developmental science to understand child and adolescent development and apply this knowledge to intervention efforts. NCRE hosts national conferences at the Centers for American Indian and Alaska Native Health on the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus and provides mentoring to postdoctoral and graduate student researchers through the NCRE Scholars program. 

Two distinct areas of methodological expertise inform Dr. Whitesell’s work. 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 appropriate and resulting data are reliable and valid, interpretations are grounded, 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.

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 initiation 

Current Research Projects: 

  •  Administration for Children and Families, Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation: Multi-Site Implementation Evaluation of Tribal Home Visiting (MUSE) (2016-2021, Principal Investigator): 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.

  • ​Administration for Children and Families, Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation: Tribal Early Childhood Research Center (2016-2020, Co-Principal 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.

  • ​National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Drug Abuse: Culturally Grounded Early Substance Use Prevention for American Indian Families (2013-2019, Principal Investigator): The study utilized a rigorous process of community engagement to select and adapt an evidence-based early substance use prevention program for middle-school youth on a Northern Plains American Indian reservation. The culturally grounded program, Thiwáhe Gluwáš’akapi, is based on the Iowa Strengthening Families Program for Parents and Youth 10-14 and is being implemented with families around the reservation. A Multiphase Optimization Strategy design is utilized to evaluate the effectiveness of components of intervention to inform evidence-based revisions to the program to support effectiveness within this culture and context.

  • ​National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Drug Abuse: Native Children’s Research Exchange Scholars:  Mentoring Program for Career and Research Development of American Indian/Alaska Native Scholars (2017-2019, Co-Principal Investigator): This contract extends work started in 2011 under an earlier NIDA contract to support intensive career development activities for doctoral-level researchers and graduate students studying substance use and abuse in AIAN communities.   

  • ​Administration for Children and Families, Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation: The American Indian and Alaska Native Head Start Child and Family Experiences Survey (AI/AN FACES) (2015-2019, Co-Investigator): This contract is to help lead the AI/AN FACES Workgroup in planning the first national study of Head Start programs in tribal communities (Region XI), coordinating in-person and phone meetings, facilitating conversations across diverse groups of stakeholders and lending scientific and cultural expertise to the study design, implementation, analysis, reporting and dissemination.

Courses Taught:

  • ​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​ 

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