Dr. Whitesell's work focuses on child and adolescent development within the contexts of American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) communities. Her research projects apply developmental science to inform preventive interventions to improve outcomes for children birth through adolescence.
Dr. Whitesell’s major current projects include prevention development, implementation evaluation, measure development and mentorship initiatives:
A randomized controlled trial within a Northern Plains reservation funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to evaluate Thiwáhe Gluwáš'akapi, a family-based program for prevention of adolescent substance use developed with partners in this community (R37DA047926; Whitesell, PI).
The Multi-site Implementation Evaluation of Tribal Home Visiting (MUSE), funded by the Administration for Children and Families (ACF). MUSE is a stakeholder-engaged study of implementation of home visiting within 17 tribes and urban Indian organizations around the country (HHSP2337004T; Whitesell, PI).
The Native Children’s Research Exchange (NCRE) is a national organization of researchers and students in academic and community settings who use science to support the health and well-being of children in Native communities. NCRE hosts conferences that facilitate the exchange of research findings and the establishment of collaborative relationships among researchers. Dr. Whitesell co-directs NCRE with Dr. Michelle Sarche.
The NCRE Scholars Program is a mentoring program funded by NIDA to support the career development of early stage American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian investigators (R25DA050645; Whitesell and Sarche, PIs).
The Tribal Early Childhood Research Center, funded by ACF to collaborate with early childhood programs in tribal communities around the country, including Home Visiting, Head Start, and Child Care programs The TRC facilitates research-to-practice connections, engages community stakeholders in research, and provides training to community partners and early-career researchers. Dr. Whitesell is Associate Director and Director of Research and Measurement of this Center (90PH0027; Sarche, PI).
Two distinct areas of methodological expertise inform Dr. Whitesell’s work across these projects. The first is Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR) approaches that engage AIAN community partners in all aspects of research, from the identification of study goals through the interpretation of data and dissemination of findings. This approach helps to ensure that research is relevant to local communities, methods are both culturally and scientifically rigorous, resulting data are reliable and valid, interpretations are complete and correct, and local capacity for research is developed.
Dr. Whitesell’s second area of expertise is in statistical methodologies that support the application of rigorous research methodologies to the questions identified with community partners. Her expertise in latent variable statistical methods, including measure development (e.g., factor analysis, latent class models), structural equation modeling and longitudinal modeling (e.g., latent growth curve modeling) serves to support more accurate understanding of developmental processes that, in turn, inform intervention efforts.