SUNY Oswego, SU Recruit Veterans for New Trauma Research Program

OSWEGO — SUNY Oswego’s department of psychology is teaming with Syracuse University’s department of public health, food studies and nutrition to offer undergraduate military veterans a program in trauma research training.

A two-year, $228,750 grant from the National Science Foundation Research for Undergraduates program will fund the research training, which will start in spring 2012. It will include an online research methods course and a four-week summer institute at SUNY Oswego, concluding the following academic year with research, analysis, writing and conference presentations. The program will repeat in 2013-14.

“I’ve been working on a proposal for a trauma studies program for about six years,” said Dr. Karen Wolford, chair of Oswego’s psychology department and co-principal investigator for the grant with Dr. Brooks Gump of SU. “In the last few years, I came across a call for proposals to establish an undergraduate research site with a focus on underrepresented groups. Our idea was to focus on research mentoring for veterans who will be studying the impact of trauma in other veterans.”

Ten undergraduate veterans a year each will receive a $3,000 stipend and intensive mentoring in trauma research. They will develop as many as five separate studies a year aimed at exploring psychological and physiological variables that could help determine which trauma victims are vulnerable to post-traumatic stress disorder.

“We know from previous research that combat, accidents, natural disasters tend to have lasting effects from the trauma,” Wolford said. “A majority will heal on their own. But there remains a significant group of individuals that will not heal on their own. What the field hasn’t been able to do is to predict the vulnerable group and to facilitate healing and/or prevent PTSD in that group.”

Skilled researchers

Gump, a former SUNY Oswego faculty member who is an associate professor in SU’s David B. Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics, said equipping veterans to do research makes sense.

“In some ways, veterans are uniquely qualified to generate hypotheses and research related to trauma,” Gump said. “Our program is designed to give them the tools to conduct this research. Toward this goal, SUNY Oswego and Syracuse University have unique and valuable assets that we have brought together. I’m excited about this new collaboration between these two institutions.”

Wolford and Gump are skilled trauma researchers, as are other members of the team.

Gump, who directs the new program, conducts research on how environmental chemicals affect responses to stress. He is interested in the potential of analyzing biomarkers in the blood as an indicator of stress levels.

Wolford’s research interests include emotional variables and stress, and she helped develop a statewide grief-counseling curriculum that included a unit on support and supervision for grief counselors dealing with the 9/11 aftermath. She is interested, for example, in extending her studies of dispositional optimism — whether a naturally sunny outlook buffers an individual from PTSD.

Other faculty who will participate are Dr. Dessa Bergen-Cico, an SU assistant professor, who does research with veterans who exhibit symptoms of PTSD and related substance-abuse problems; Dr. John Schwoebel, a visiting assistant professor of psychology at SUNY Oswego, who explores the cognitive effects of trauma, including their impact on decision-making; Dr. Roger Brooks, assistant professor of psychology at Oswego, who has a variety of research interests, including the ethnocultural aspects of trauma; and Dr. Matthew Dykas, also an assistant professor of psychology at Oswego, who is interested in how family relationships are affected by and modify the experience of trauma.

Recruitment begins

Wolford said the program already is recruiting undergraduates with military service — with an emphasis on women and other minorities — and at least 50 other veterans as participants in the program’s studies.

“We’re very excited about this,” Wolford said of the program. “We hope the research training opportunity will enhance graduate school admission for veterans participating in the program, as well as enhancing the public’s understanding of the effects of trauma on veterans, who have served this country so well.”

If the program proves beneficial to the veterans who complete it, Wolford said, “then we can try to reapply for renewal and a larger area grant that can serve more veterans and have more veterans in the subject pool.”

For more information about the program or an application, visit The application deadline is Jan. 10.