This is the fifth in a series of articles highlighting new faculty members from each college at Washington State University.

Teaching underserved high school students in Indianapolis, Indiana sparked a passion that brought Jennifer Duckworth to the Evergreen State.

After a postdoctoral research fellowship at the University of Washington’s Center for the Studies of Health and Risk Behaviors, she is back teaching, while finding ways to make a difference for underserved populations throughout Washington.

Duckworth is an assistant professor in the College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences. She’s one of three new members of the Department of Human Development and is eager to plug into WSU’s extension network and partner with colleagues in the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine and elsewhere in prevention science in which she specializes.

“Ever since my own experiences attending and teaching in lower income urban schools, I have been interested in better understanding under-researched and underserved populations, such as first-generation college students, community college students, and racial and ethnic minority groups,” Duckworth said. “In my experience as a teacher, many of my students struggled with mental health issues and engaged in risk behaviors. The opportunity to work with young adults from underserved groups and applying my research was really what drew me to WSU.”

Duckworth earned her Ph.D. at Indiana University, where she began to refine her research and explore associations between childhood weight status and risk behaviors such as substance abuse and sexual behaviors. Her latest publication focuses on physical and mental health issues faced by community college students.

Duckworth said she is grateful to be in Washington, where the state government has shown a commitment to prevention science. And at WSU she’s able to divide her time between teaching and research, which was important for her.

“Many positions in academia are either very research-focused or very teaching-focused” Duckworth said. “At WSU I’m able to do high-quality, engaging instruction, and important research that is interesting and applicable. It’s exciting that I can do both.”

Engaging with large classes over Zoom and via email this semester presents challenges, but Duckworth said most students have remained engaged, and several undergraduates have reached out with interest in getting involved in research. She looks forward to expanding her work, connecting with schools and communities around the state and advancing WSU’s land grant mission.

“Everyone talks about how strong the community is in Pullman and I’m hoping to get very involved,” Duckworth said. “The HD department is so connected and collaborative. It’s been nothing but positive and supportive in the midst of challenging times.”