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University of Iowa News Release

Sept. 30, 2003

UI Doctoral Student To Help Study Bully Behavior, Health Problems

The National Institutes of Health has awarded a three-year, $74,436 grant to a University of Iowa College of Education graduate student to allow her to help examine whether children characterized as bullies are at a greater risk for health problems than their peers.

Sandra Cortina, (click here for high resolution photo) a fourth-year doctoral student in the college's counseling and psychology program, said the National Research Service Award will fund a research assistantship for her and cover her tuition, a stipend, travel expenses to conferences and research costs. The grant provides $33,083 for each of the first two years and $8,270 for the third year.

Cortina said she was surprised to win the grant award.

"Most NIH grants go to researchers in medicine," she said. "I feel pretty fortunate my proposal was accepted."

But her Ph.D. adviser, Daniel Clay, Ph.D., the associate professor in the College of Education's Psychological & Quantitative Foundations Department with whom she will be working, said Cortina's solid proposal earned her the grant.

"This award speaks to Sandy's potential as a professional and her commitment to serve underserved children," Clay said. "It is also a reflection of her hard work and perseverance. She will no doubt be a leader in our field."

A native of San Antonio, Texas, Cortina said she's long been interested in studying peer relationships among K-12 students as well as the impact that verbal and physical aggression have on such relationships.

"Bully behavior is a manifestation of stress," Cortina said. "Like all stress, it can be compounded and lead to other problems, including physical ailments. Unfortunately, the United States is a little behind on bully research."

Clay and Cortina plan to recruit 150 to 250 subjects for the project through the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. They will examine reported health ailments among school-age children as well as school absences, medical care use and costs and other physical and psychological symptoms of stress.

Cortina said she's hopeful the study, a pilot project, will lead to funding for a more in-depth, longitudinal study and help bolster her nascent career in counseling psychology. Her dissertation, which is separate from her bully research, will examine the level and quality of service provided by pediatric health-care workers to low-income, bilingual children.

"One result of that research might be to develop a way to provide medical residents with an additional year of training in pediatric psychology so they are more sensitive to these children," Cortina said.

Cortina, who holds a bachelor's degree in psychology from Trinity University in San Antonio, expects to graduate with a Ph.D. in counseling psychology from the UI in May 2006.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Stephen Pradarelli, 319-384-0007, stephen-pradarelli@uiowa.edu.