March 2022

Meet Devon Hensel

Devon Hensel, PhD, MS, BA, holds joint appointments as Associate Research Professor of Pediatrics in the IU School of Medicine, as well as an Associate Professor of Sociology in the IUPUI School of Liberal Arts. She has a broad background in behavioral science, adolescent development, gender and sexuality, innovative research methodology/data collection approaches and longitudinal, multi-level and complex data analysis. Dr. Hensel has collaboratively authored over 100 peer-reviewed publications, and this body of work has been cited over 1,400 times in Google Scholar. In 2016, Dr. Hensel was elected into the Society for Pediatric Research, and in 2017 she was elected as a Fellow in the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine. Dr. Hensel has also been an invesigator in several NIH funded research grants.

In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her husband, two children, and two dogs. She also enjoys dining at new restaraunts around Indianapolis. She can also be found traveling around the country as a national judge for synchronized skating.

"Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly." - Robert F. Kennedy

Dr. Hensel

Q and A with Dr. Hensel

As a Medical Sociologist, my work is broadly focused on understanding how the health and well-being of individuals and groups are socially organized. I was incredibly fortunate to have two mentors – my major professor, and Dr. Dennis Fortenberry in Adolescent Medicine.

My entire research career is anchored by the idea that health and well-being – be it sexual/reproductive, social, mental, emotional or physical – is a fundamental human right. I am driven by the idea that engaging person-centered methods is the only way that we can understand what the most pertinent barriers and solutions to health are in a specific community.

Locally, one current project – funded by the 2021 Charles R. Bantz Award – with my Co-PI, Dr. Victoria Wilburn, is examining daily triggers to drug use among students attending a recovery high school in Indianapolis. This study is intended to understand the daily factors that stand in the way of adolescent behavioral health.

Globally, I lead the United States arm of the International Sexual Health And REproductive Health Study – a multi-country study to understand the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on sexual and reproductive health in diverse low-income, middle-income, and high-income countries. We are driven to understand how different isolation measures implemented by governments across the world –in response to the COVID-19 pandemic— have affected family structures, relationships, and access to sexual and reproductive health services.

By far the best part about my research is seeing research findings translate into real-world solutions to pressing health behavior issues.

Learners of all levels play a vital role in the success of my research.  I am passionate about providing students with opportunities to explore the questions they have about how human behavior is organized, and to help them understand different ways of asking and answering those questions. I have used both undergraduate and graduate students as research assistants on my research team as part of formal coursework, independent studies and funded positions. Many of these learners have presented their work at local, national and international research meetings, and have received internal and extramural funding for their research.

Community members – be they individuals, couples, families or organizations - are at the heart of what research questions my research team asks and the specific research methods we use to answer those question. Maintaining active relationships with community members before, during and after a research study helps me to understand and address any barriers to participation, contextualize important findings and understand what work still needs to be done.

For example, in my work to understand the triggers to drug use among students attending a local recovery high school, my Co-PI and I worked closely with the Executive Director, the Advisory Board and the students to understand how to engage students as participants in ways that would allow them to take part in the study, but without interrupting their school day.

In other study examining the intersection of incontinence and well-being among adults with spina bifida, we heard from the community that research participation usually required coming to a clinical site for in-person enrollment and data collection. We designed a first-of-its-kind study that entirely uses electronic platforms – recruitment, enrollment, data collection, compensation and exit were all completed using different virtual tools. This design added no extra burden to participants and reached individuals who might otherwise not have been able to be participate.

The next steps are always figuring out the focus of the next study. I always tell my students: "If I have done my job, the best research leaves more questions than it answers."

Conversation with Dr. Hensel

On Friday, March 25, 2022 from 12 noon to 1:00 p.m. Dr. Hensel gave a virtual presentation about her work on “Using Innovative Methods to Decrease Participation Barriers in Community-Based Research.” During this presentation, Dr. Hensel reviewed how two different community-based studies leveraged innovative recruitment, data collection, and retention methods to decrease barriers to study participants.