Wichita State News
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Sabina Low, assistant professor of psychology at WSU, focuses much of her work on understanding and preventing bullying in schools.

Preventing bullying in schools is Sabina Low's great passion

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Sabina Low has always felt a strong pull toward advocacy and research.

Low, an assistant professor of psychology at Wichita State University, focuses much of her work on the role of familial and peer relations to promote optimal youth development.

It’s an interest that began one day when she was an undergraduate student at the University of Washington.

“I read an article in The Seattle Times about a teen-parenting intervention intended to improve the social-emotional outcomes of young children,” said Low. “This mapped onto my personality -- the advocate in me.”

Since then, Low’s interests have evolved to focus on the development of health-risk behaviors in adolescents. At WSU now for three years, Low is busy working on new research she believes could have a profound effect on reducing bullying in schools, a big problem for children and teens today.

“Bullying is a pretty hot topic right now,” she said. “There have been a lot of events that have triggered that interest. It’s very pervasive.”

‘A positive mark on humanity’

Low received her Ph.D. at the University of Denver. Afterward, while working on curriculum development for Second Step Middle School – a program that helps students learn skills to make good choices and stay engaged in school – she met Dorothy Espelage, an expert on bullying.

Espelage, a professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, turned her on to the study of different forms of aggression.

“I immediately saw how our interests complemented each other and ways in which I could expand my work,” Low said.

Since then, they have embarked on several prevention trials, as well as etiological studies that will help them understand the pathways toward bullying, harassment and dating aggression.

In January, Low had a paper published in the School Psychology Review detailing how elementary school students who participated in a three-month anti-bullying program in Seattle showed a 72 percent decrease in malicious gossip.

Low was the first author, along with Callie Brockman, WSU graduate student in clinical psychology.

Low also recently finished a study with similar positive results in California and submitted another paper to the School Psychology Review.

And she’s working with Wichita Public Schools on a three-year randomized controlled trial of a bullying prevention program for middle school students. Twelve middle schools in Wichita are participating, along with 24 in Chicago and Peoria, Ill.

Low said the goal with all of these projects is to reduce bullying and harassment and enhance academic engagement.

“It’s very costly to students and to schools,” she said. “This is a valid concern as to what’s happening in our schools. I think we’re a little bit stunned with the mystery on why we haven’t been moving the needle more on bullying.”

A passion to help

Low said she hopes the work she and others are doing will help them learn more about future prevention efforts.

It’s a subject Low is passionate about.

“I love to see research applied to enhance the well-being of our youth,” she said. “I enjoy surrounding myself with colleagues whose ultimate goal is to make a positive mark on humanity, and I hope to inspire a legacy of graduate students to do the same.”

Espelage said Low is “outstanding” at what she does.

“We have written over six grants together in the last two years, and it has been the most fruitful collaboration in my 14 years as a professor,” Espelage said. “She is a brilliant scholar who understands how to do solid, rigorous research without compromise."

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Created on Wednesday, March 02, 2011; Last modified on Thursday, March 31, 2011