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Eleni Christofa Named 2022-23 CRF Family Research Scholar

Eleni Christofa

Eleni Christofa

Associate Professor Eleni Christofa of the Civil and Environmental (CEE) Department has been named a 2022-23 Center for Research on Families (CRF) Family Research Scholar.

Among other goals, Christofa’s research proposal for CRF will employ surveys and bicycle-simulator experiments to inform infrastructure improvements, educational campaigns, and practices that encourage adolescents to ride their bicycles to school, especially in socioeconomically disadvantaged communities.

The Family Research Scholars program is a year-long interdisciplinary program that provides UMass Amherst faculty the opportunities for peer mentorship and national expert consultation to prepare large grant proposals in support of their research. The CRF says that Family Research Scholars are each given a one course release to provide the valuable time required for their grant development. 

As Christofa explains her proposed research for CRF, “Safe Routes to School (SRS) programs introduce infrastructure elements, educational tools, or enforcement to improve safety for walking and biking to schools in an effort to increase physical activity among school-age children.”

These programs are very important, especially for adolescents, given the increasing obesity rates and traffic injury rates that are higher than other age groups. Christofa says that such health disparities are even more prevalent among adolescents in socioeconomically disadvantaged communities, further exaggerating already existing health inequities.

Christofa explains that there is a pressing need to understand how one’s choice to bicycle to school is affected by attitudes and prior experiences and whether improvements such as bike lanes can alter these preferences in socioeconomically diverse communities so that SRS programs are designed accordingly.

Existing research on the impacts of various bicycle infrastructure treatments on attitudes as well as bicyclist behavior is limited and not focused on socioeconomically disadvantaged adolescents.

As Christofa says, “The objective of this research is to understand the impact of bicycle infrastructure on parents’ and adolescents’ attitudes towards bicycling and unveil how these attitudes affect adolescents’ decisions to bicycle to school or translate to certain bicycling behaviors that could be compromising safety.”

According to Christofa, “The proposed work will engage participants from diverse communities via surveys as well as bicycling simulator experiments to obtain necessary data. This research will ultimately guide placement and design of bicycle infrastructure and educational campaigns that are in line with community expectations and attitudes, with the goal of achieving accessibility and health equity for all.”

Among other resources provided by the CRF program, Christofa will receive extensive feedback from faculty and peers, concrete instruction on the details of successful proposal submission, individualized methodology consultation, and information about relevant funding agencies.