TRI-Lab: Teaching, Research, and Impact

The TRI-Lab at Brown is a new initiative that will bring together
students, faculty and community practitioners to engage with a complex social issue and collaboratively develop, refine and test solutions to the issue.


On this page: 

The heart of the Lab will be a year-long seminar in which participants explore the framework and context of the issue, creatively harness their multiple perspectives towards solutions, and find support for individual research. Prior to the seminar, Labs will sponsor conferences that connect the university and community around a social issue and cultivate interest. In the year following the seminar, Lab cohorts can apply for seed funding to continue to work together to build practice and knowledge around solutions.

The Lab model is been designed with input from faculty members, students and community practitioners. To date, we have met with nearly 150 stakeholders, all of whom expressed enthusiasm for the idea. 

Learn more about the TRI-Lab model.

Focus on Healthy Food Access (2014-2015) 

The Healthy Food Access Lab, planned to begin in Fall 2014, will investigate community-based and food systems approaches to increasing access to healthy food and reducing food insecurity. It will be co-chaired by Kim Gans, Professor, School of Public Health and Director, Institute for Community Health Promotion; and Courtney Bourns, Senior Program Officer, the Henry P. Kendall Foundation.

Focus on Climate Change and Environmental Justice (2015-2016)

 The Climate Change and Environmental Justice Lab, planned to begin in Spring 2015 ,will draw on Brown and partner organizations’ significant strengths around climate modeling, environmental sociology, and public health to investigate the potential impacts of climate change and sea level rise on vulnerable communities in Rhode Island. The Lab will be co-chaired by Timmons Roberts , Professor, Sociology and Environmental Studies; and Dr. Robert Vanderslice, Rhode Island Department of Health.

Focus on Healthy Early Childhood Development (2013-2014)

TRI-Lab will be piloted in academic year 2013-14 with a focus on healthy early childhood development, co-chaired by Stephen Buka, Professor and Chair of the Department of Epidemiology, and Elizabeth Burke Bryant, Executive Director of RI Kids Count. We expect this TRI-Lab to ask questions and develop interventions related to early education, home visiting, policy, legislation, cultural and language barriers, resource allocation, technology, behavioral economics, health communication, data access and usage, and more.

It is widely accepted that much of the adult disparities in health and wellbeing originate during early childhood, the most sensitive period of a human’s development.  Children most at risk of not achieving their full physical, social, academic and emotional potential are those living in poverty. There are over 77,500 Rhode Island children under age five. One in five RI children under age six lives in a family with income below the federal poverty threshold of $15,219 for a family of four with two children. (“Successful Start”, RI Kids Count, 2005) This initiative will place a high priority on children living in poverty, but will not be limited to this group.  The goal is to identify new ideas and approaches that can benefit all families with young children, with a particular emphasis on those with greatest need.

The problems facing Rhode Island’s most vulnerable and youngest children can be generalized throughout the nation, but our state’s size, scale and spirit of cooperation around this issue are unique.  Rhode Island has a longstanding community of interest around this topic including state agencies that administer programs for young children, community-based agencies, child care providers, education, health care and mental health professionals, child advocates, and parents.  The TRI-Lab will integrate this existing community of interest with Brown’s expertise, research and scholarship around early childhood development from fields including public policy, health, education, neuroscience, economics, and more.


Read biographies of co-chairs and participants in the first TRI-Lab.


Anna Aizer -- Associate Professor, Economics and Public Policy
Stephen Buka
-- Professor and Chair, Epidemiology
Patrick Vivier
-- Associate Professor of Health Services, Policy & Practice and Associate Professor of Pediatrics

Community Partners

Elizabeth Burke Bryant -- Executive Director, RI KIDS COUNT
Leanne Barrett
-- Senior Policy Analyst, RI KIDS COUNT
Kristine Campagna
-- Manager, Home Visiting and Early Childhood Development Screening and Follow-Up Programs, Rhode Island Department of Health
Leslie Gell
-- Executive Director, Ready 2 Learn Providence
Aimee Mitchell
-- Senior Vice President Programs and Operations/Head Start Director, Children’s Friend


Emily Davis '15, Cognitive Science
Research question: How does early childhood language development affect later school performance? What early interventions are most successful in improving the academic achievement of children who have speech and language disorders or are English Language Learners?

Nicole DellaRocco '14, Master’s degree, Urban Education Policy Research question:  How can educational theory be operationalized in the classroom, and can theory and practice be connected to improve student achievement, particularly for innovations that foster socio-economic growth in young children to provide core competencies needed to excel in elementary school?

Hasina Maredia '14,  Health and Human Biology
Research question: What are the disparities in child development within Rhode Island?  What governmental programs are in place to reduce disparities and how effective are these programs?

John Molina '14, Doctorate in Medicine candidate at Warren Alpert Medical School
Research question:  How does socio-economic status affect maternal health outcomes and in utero exposures and how do differences shape early childhood health and education outcomes?  What early childhood interventions are most successful for closing the SES gradient for education attainment, and what inputs have a causal effect on improved outcomes?

Kate Nussenbaum '15, Cognitive Neuroscience, and Science and Society
Research question: How can cognitive neuroscience research on attention and learning be harnessed to help alleviate the socio-economic divide in cognitive growth?

Natalie Posever '14, Anthropology
Research question: Given that fetal development is influenced by a mother’s biological and social environment, how can we reduce the number of low birth weight babies?

Evelyn Sanchez '14, American Studies and Anthropology
Research question:  How does involvement in the public child welfare system affect the development of children’s mental, emotional and physical well-being?

Rachel Scagos '14 Master’s degree, Public Health
Research question:  How can data from the MIECHV program inform perinatal health and early childhood outcomes?

Alexandra Urban '15, Educational Neuroscience
Research question:  How can we support healthy brain development?  Can we stimulate strong neural growth through pre-schooling as well as classroom instruction?

Allison Wong '14, Dual degree candidate; Brown: Urban Studies, RISD: Fine Arts, Industrial Design
Research question:  How can we create opportunities to help children develop confidence and build skills that transfer to other contexts?

Planning Grants

The Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights will work with Brown faculty and community partners to develop a TRI-Lab Lab focused on issues of incarceration, race, criminal justice, and health. The planning effort will be led by Brad Brockmann, Executive Director, Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights.

In the News

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Read TRI-Lab's most recent newsletters:

Did you miss our TRI-Lab launch event? View a video of the event here, featuring remarks by Brown University President Christina Paxson, Rhode Island Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts, Dean of the College Katherine Bergeron, Professor of Epidemiology Stephen Buka, and Executive Director of Rhode Island KIDS COUNT Elizabeth Burke Bryant. 

Meet Our Staff

Allen Hance, Director

Allen Hance serves as the Director of the TRI-Lab at Brown.  Allen also holds an appointment as Adjunct Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies. Previous to TRI-Lab, he was Director for Natural and Physical Sciences in Brown’s Office of Corporate and Foundation Relations and also .  Prior to coming to Brown, Allen was the executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Trust, a public foundation based in Annapolis, MD that supports community-based solutions to environmental problems.  During that time, he also served as co-chair of the Chesapeake Bay Funders Network and chair of the Green Funders affinity group of the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers.  Previously, Allen was a senior policy analyst at the Northeast-Midwest Institute in Washington, DC, working on agriculture, ecosystem management, and nutrition and food system policy; a NOAA-Sea Grant legislative fellow in the U.S. House of Representatives; and a faculty member in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.  He earned a BA in philosophy at Dartmouth College, PhD in philosophy at Boston College, and MS in environmental policy at the University of Michigan.

Laura Pleasants, Program Coordinator

Laura comes to TRI-Lab from Brown’s Global Health Initiative, where she served as Program Coordinator for the Ghana-Brown Academic Partnership to Address HIV/AIDS. Laura brings experience in student international exchange and community service programming. A native of Rhode Island, Laura earned her BA in Sociology from the University of Pennsylvania and Master’s of Higher Education at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education.


Jeff Chapin, TRI-Lab Consultant

Jeff joined TRI-Lab after 10 years working at IDEO, a design and innovation consulting firm.  He has extensive experience in using design to address complex social and environmental problems at home and abroad, and he is excited to share design thinking methods with the students, faculty and community partners of the TRI-Lab.  Jeff's really looking forward to working with all the participants to shape projects related to healthy early childhood development and to work with teams to create near and long term impact. Jeff holds an undergraduate degree in engineering from Princeton University and a master's degree from the design program at Stanford University. He has previously taught at MIT, Stanford and TU Muenchen, and he runs a small design firm called CommonMade that focuses on social sector issues.

TRI-Lab's New Home

At the end of August, the TRI-Lab program moved into its new space at 10 Davol Square, in Providence’s downtown Jewelry District.  Designed to be the central hub for TRI-Lab activities, it will have flexible meeting areas for seminars, project team work, and community events as well as work space for TRI-Lab staff. Come and visit us down in Davol Square!


Learn More

If you have questions or would like to speak to someone about TRI-Lab, please contact:

Laura Pleasants, Program Coordinator
Email: or 
Phone: (401) 867-3735