In 1998, Scott Harpin, PhD, MPH, PHCNS-BC, was a new nurse working in a med-surge floor of a hospital in Minneapolis, but felt a call to redirect his efforts to healthy youth development and prevention for at-risk youth. “I picked up a few shifts working with foster care kids and realized I had a strong interest in helping at-risk youth from a preventive standpoint, so they can avoid pitfalls that lead to poor outcomes as adults.”
A friend invited Harpin to shadow her at her nursing job at St. Joseph’s Home for Children, a Minneapolis-based program that offers shelter, mental health care and residential treatment for at-risk and foster care children. “I knew right away that my calling was to work with kids who were so severely vulnerable but very resilient and still have plenty of hope for a healthy future.”
Harpin, an assistant professor in the College of Nursing since fall 2011, worked for 12 years as a St. Joe’s intake nurse for children entering child protective services, staying on part time during his masters’ and PhD studies at the University of Minnesota. “I saw a lot of kids grow up in the system, coming into our care with abuse, trauma and serious illness. Some healed and matured into strong adults; some weren’t so lucky,” Harpin said. “I grew more and learned more from having known them than I ever could have anticipated.”
Because he was working in the clinical setting while he was doing his advanced degrees, Harpin was able to put everything he learned to work immediately to his clinical practice, and vice versa. “It was quite the learning lab. I didn’t just apply how I delivered care to kids. I had grad school projects that contributed directly to my work to build programs, design health education classes, consult on county and state level advisory boards, and work with systems-level policy.”
During that time, Harpin testified at the Minnesota state capital against a law that was going to eliminate support for adolescent rights to consent for their own health care. Harpin remained involved in systems-level policy change, working with a teen health issue during each legislative session since, and currently lectures to students on policy issues that effect child or public health laws.
In his role in CU’s College of Nursing, Harpin’s research focuses on health outcomes for vulnerable youth and young adults. He teaches nursing, community health nursing, leadership and advocacy and on the professional role of nurses.
“Since I started at the University of Colorado, I’ve been able to direct the trajectory of my research toward better understanding the lives of at-risk adolescents,” Harpin said. He partners with two local community organizations, Urban Peak and the Denver Health Foster Care Clinic; each are surveying street youth and kids with serious mental health issues.
In 2012, Harpin was selected as one of 15 U.S. fellows for Building Careers for Research in Child Maltreatment and Intimate Partner Violence, an interdisciplinary training program for early career scholars funded by the National Institute for Child and Human Development. Harpin is also a Clinical Faculty Scholars Program Fellow through the Colorado Clinical & Translational Sciences Institute (CCTSI).
These fellowships give him intense content guidance and mentorship as he further establishes his research program. Harpin said he’s found many partners across campus and across Denver who are interested in collaborating to building a research program to help understand the lives of at-risk adolescents, and how to develop and study interventions to help them based on that research.
“Kids especially are incredibly resilient, and if given the right resources and possibilities, they have a chance of turning things around early,” Harpin said. “I want the research and projects I’m involved in help redirect their trajectory early enough for them have a real chance of a successful, supported, healthy life.”