Department News

Hudziak Wins $1.8 Million Grant from Conrad Hilton Foundation

July 11, 2017 by Jeffrey R. Wakefield

James J. Hudziak, professor of child psychiatry and pediatrics at the University of Vermont Larner College of Medicine

The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation has awarded a three-year, $1.8 million grant to James J. Hudziak, a professor of child psychiatry and pediatrics at the University of Vermont Larner College of Medicine, to determine if the UVM Wellness Environment, or WE, in concert with a health promotion and disease prevention app he developed will promote wellness among college students, in the process reducing their use of alcohol and other drugs.

The grant will also be used to test the effectiveness of the S-BI-RT (for screening/brief intervention/referral to treatment) model designed to help students who are abusing alcohol and other drugs adopt healthier behaviors.

“We’re grateful to the Hilton Foundation for supporting the University of Vermont’s deep commitment to promoting health and wellbeing in college students during a period in their lives when their developing brains put them at risk,” Hudziak said. “Our hope is that the research program will provide educators around the country with evidence they’ll find useful in promoting health and reducing alcohol and drug use on their own campuses.”

“We are pleased to partner with the University of Vermont Foundation to strengthen the evidence regarding the value of integrating SBIRT into a student wellness community,” said Alexa Eggleston, senior program officer at the Hilton Foundation. “We are confident that this work will help promote health and wellness and reduce youth substance use in the university environment.”

The UVM Wellness Environment is an incentivized health promotion, substance-free community located in two UVM residence halls that motivates students to engage in a range of healthy behaviors and requires them to take a neuroscience course taught by Larner College of Medicine faculty showing the impact of healthy and unhealthy behaviors on the brain. 

Hudziak launched the WE program two years ago. Its enrollment has grown from 120 in the fall of 2015 to over 1,200 today.

The WE app, initially developed for participants in the WE community, enables students to benefit from a series of health promotion activities in mindfulness, yoga, fitness, nutrition, hydration and sleep. It also includes a nightly survey that captures information about their daily habits – how much they slept, exercised, meditated; how healthy their food choices were; if they used alcohol, other drugs or cigarettes and in what quantity; and how much time they spent on the Internet, for example. The survey also asks students to note their dominant mood of the day. Students use their iPhones to take the survey.

The study will compare a sample of 1,000 students living in WE using the app with 1,000 UVM undergraduates using it who are not in the program.

The study has two goals, Hudziak said. For the first group, it will test the effectiveness of the WE program in concert with the app in promoting greater student engagement in health, potentially reducing their use of alcohol and other drugs as a result. For the non-WE students, it will gauge the effectiveness of the app alone in achieving those objectives.

The results of both groups will also be compared with the overall UVM student population in areas like retention, alcohol and drug violations and grade point average. 
In addition to funding the sophisticated data analysis Hudziak plans, the Hilton Foundation grant will also help support upgrades to the app and help the WE program purchase apparel and other items that are used to incentivize healthy student choices in the program. 

Hudziak is the Thomas M. Achenbach chair of Developmental Psychopathology at UVM’s Larner College of Medicine and is the director of the Vermont Center for Children, Youth, and Families. Known internationally for his work in the psychiatric genetics and developmental neuroimaging of child and adolescent behavior, Hudziak has published over 180 peer-reviewed papers and is the creator of a health promotion and illness prevention treatment program called the Vermont Family Based Approach.

The Conrad Hilton Foundation was created in 1944 by international business pioneer Conrad N. Hilton, who founded Hilton Hotels and left his fortune to help the world’s disadvantaged and vulnerable people. The Foundation currently conducts strategic initiatives in six priority areas: providing safe water, ending chronic homelessness, preventing substance use, helping young children affected by HIV and AIDS, supporting transition-age youth in foster care, and extending Conrad Hilton’s support for the work of Catholic Sisters. In addition, following selection by an independent international jury, the Foundation annually awards the $2 million Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize to a nonprofit organization doing extraordinary work to alleviate human suffering. In 2016, the Humanitarian Prize was awarded to The Task Force for Global Health, an international, nonprofit organization that works to improve health of people most in need, primarily in developing countries. From its inception, the Foundation has awarded more than $1.5 billion in grants, distributing $109 million in the U.S. and around the world in 2016. The Foundation’s current assets are approximately $2.6 billion.