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Deep Commitments to Students and Community Drive Winners of Leadership Award

April 5, 2024
Originally published by Bass Connections


Nicole Schramm-Sapyta and Maria Tackett are the winners of the 2024 Bass Connections Leadership Award. This award recognizes outstanding faculty and staff team leaders for their creativity, intellectual vision and commitment to student mentoring on year-long Bass Connections project teams.

Schramm-Sapyta and Tackett co-lead the Mental Health and the Justice System in Durham County team, a project that has been running since 2020 and which will continue next year. This project also includes an annual Data+ component, which has provided students with meaningful summer research experiences for the last four years. 

In partnership with many agencies in Durham County, this team is using data to explore associations between healthcare utilization and interactions with the criminal justice system, particularly for individuals with diagnosed severe mental illness and substance use disorder. Over the past four years, the team has examined these questions using a rich data set from the Durham County Detention Facility and Duke Health that has been anonymized by Duke’s Analytics Center of Excellence (ACE).

In 2023-2024, team members have applied statistical methods to analyze the impacts of Durham County’s 2019 cash bail reform and to examine insurance coverage and health care costs to identify better ways to support frequent visitors to Duke Health with mental health or substance-related needs. Members of the team have also conducted focus groups to better understand individuals’ experiences.

Letters of support from student team members describe how the duo consistently work together to develop a strong team culture and an adaptive interdisciplinary approach, while always keeping their methods and goals rooted in community-informed outcomes. Student team members describe how the team leaders mentor students who are new to the research process, build knowledge through journal clubs and help students navigate roadblocks that are inherent to applied research.  

Schramm-Sapyta is an Associate Professor of the Practice in the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences. Her research focuses on mental health and addiction. Tackett is an Assistant Professor of the Practice of Statistical Science. Her research focuses on technology and active learning techniques to enhance student learning and motivation in the classroom. 

Both winners will receive a monetary prize.

Student Testimonials

[Drs. Tackett and Schramm-Sapyta] perfectly embody the Bass Connections model. My experiences meeting and working with [them] face-to-face have accelerated my growth as a student in statistics, as well as my understanding of research ethics and qualitative research methods. In our lab, excellence and community-informed discussions are not just standards we are expected to meet – they are the culture we inevitably build while following the incredible examples of phenomenal leaders ... When I first joined their team, I was very sensitive to how we partnered with Durham, especially with regard to the vulnerable nature of the folks we were working with. Dr. Tackett and Dr. Schramm-Sapyta go to incredible lengths to ensure that we are serving the needs of the county, and they have routinely introduced me to community stakeholders and voices that have been critical in informing each step of our research process. –Will Lieber, Undergraduate Team Member

From the beginning, Dr. Tackett and Dr. Schramm-Sapyta were extremely organized and had plans for each week. However, they still allowed us to be creative and delve into the field of data science and criminal justice ourselves. Along with our data analysis, the entire group read the book “Homeward” (about the reality of the criminal justice system) together to ensure that we were not forgetting that we were working with real people, not just data points … Another thing I appreciate about Dr. Tackett and Dr. Schramm-Sapyta is how they have incorporated interdisciplinary instruction into the team. Our team is made up of students with many different majors and backgrounds. Dr. Tackett and Dr. Schramm-Sapyta, themselves, also have different areas of expertise. However, through our journal clubs and conversations with each other, each individual on the team can say that they have learned something through this project. –Irene Biju, Undergraduate Team Member

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