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Arnold School of Public Health


I Am Public Health: Danielle Schoffman

January 5, 2015 | Erin Bluvas, bluvase@sc.edu 

In America’s battle against climbing obesity rates and other health complications associated with poor nutrition and physical inactivity, Danielle Schoffman’s research offers a possible answer: using mobile technology (e.g., apps and physical monitoring devices) in a family setting to improve healthy behaviors.

A fourth year doctoral student in the Department of Health, Promotion, Behavior, and Education (HPEB), Schoffman has been working toward these solutions since she took her first public health course, “Obesity in America,” as an undergraduate student at Stanford University. After that turning point, she pursued research projects and work experiences with the potential to impact public health on a broad scale, developing particular interests in nutrition and physical activity. Schoffman also wanted to explore how she could advance health outcomes even further by combining her research interests with the technology that seemed to dominate the San Francisco area where she grew up.

She came to the University of South Carolina to investigate the intersection of nutrition and physical activity with technology through her doctoral program. Schoffman found mentors in dissertation chair Brie Turner-McGrievy (HPEB) and co-chair Sara Wilcox (exercise science), who also supervises Schoffman’s graduate assistantship at the Prevention Research Center she directs.

“They have taught me to push myself and take measured risks in my research,” Schoffman says of her mentors. “By observing them, they have also shown me what it looks like to achieve high levels of success in many areas of their careers—continuing highly productive research programs, engaging in university and professional communities with service and leadership, maintaining reputations for being great colleagues and collaborators, and balancing all of this with their family lives. They are truly impressive and inspirational to a young researcher who is wondering if this sort of multitasking is possible.” 

With their support and her own initiative, Schoffman has built an impressive portfolio of achievements (e.g., 11 publications with five more under review, Presidential Fellow, Dean’s Award for Excellence in Leadership). Schoffman also exemplifies that spirit of service she professes to admire. She has already served as president for the Graduate Student Association, which led to invitations to join numerous USC health committees. She also serves as the student chair and representative for two national health organizations.

And amidst these many accomplishments, she has managed to develop a unique research perspective. Building on her 2013 publication (Mobile apps for pediatric obesity prevention and treatment, healthy eating, and physical activity promotion: just fun and games?), Schoffman used a $5,000 SPARC award to conduct a pilot study where she tested commercially available mobile apps and physical activity monitoring devices with parent-child dyads. Using this pilot study as a springboard, she plans to more fully explore these relationships with her dissertation project.

Specifically, Schoffman will look at the ways in which mobile technology (i.e., apps and physical activity monitoring devices) can be used in a family setting to support behavior change and improved communication. “I am interested in outcomes related to healthy eating, increased physical activity and improved parent-child communication about health,” Schoffman explains. Her study, which begins in early 2015, is a three-month randomized trial of two remotely-delivered programs: information delivered via email and apps. [To learn more or determine eligibility for participation, visit http://mobilefamilyresearch.com.] Having benefited from such rich mentorship experiences herself, Schoffman is paying it forward by mentoring an undergraduate student who was recently awarded a Magellan grant to assist with the project.

After she graduates, she plans to continue her training with a postdoctoral fellowship focusing on behavioral intervention research. “My ultimate goal,” Schoffman says, “is to pursue a tenure-track faculty position at a strong research university with support for technology-based research projects.” By all accounts, she is well on her way.