Past Research: Professor Sommer focuses on the changing nature of adolescence in sub-Saharan Africa, and the intersection of gender, sexuality and education in public health outcomes for young girls and boys growing up today. Her dissertation explored how the onset of puberty and menstruation specifically, may be interrupting girls’ attendance, participation and completion of schooling in Tanzania. Specifically, Dr. Sommer applies qualitative and participatory methodologies to working with adolescents and their families and communities. Dr. Sommer’s dissertation findings were published in peer reviewed journals, and a girl’s puberty book developed and published in Tanzania for girls aged 10-14 years old. With support from the Nike Foundation, 16,000 copies were distributed across Tanzania. The Ministry of Education in Tanzania subsequently approved the girl’s puberty book for its curriculum in primary schools across the country, and UNFPA has funded a major reprinting and distribution of the books, with UNICEF planning to support additional copies.
Recent Research: Since joining Columbia’s faculty in 2008 as an Assistant Professor of Sociomedical Sciences, Dr. Sommer has continued to focus on the changing nature of adolescence in sub-Saharan Africa, and follow up on the findings from her research with adolescent girls in East Africa. She is aiming to develop an intervention project in northern Tanzania that would implement the recommendations made by Tanzanian girls on how to make primary and secondary schools more girl-friendly, utilizing a quasi experimental design to evaluate the impact of the interventions on girls’ knowledge, attitudes, and self-efficacy around managing menses in school. A forthcoming peer-reviewed publication will describe the intersection of globalization and girls’ experiences of growing up in Tanzania today. Dr. Sommer also serves on the research team of Dr. Munoz-Laboy’s NIH-funded challenge grant study examining the social network factors of drug use and sexual risk behavior among formerly incarcerated Latino men that will be utilized to develop a foundation for a network-based intervention to reduce HIV and sexually transmitted infections for this population. Dr. Sommer is currently co-editing with Dr. Richard Parker the Routledge International Handbook on Global Public Health, to be published in 2010.
Future Research: Building on her prior work in Tanzania with adolescent girls, Dr. Sommer is developing a project to explore the changing nature of puberty for early adolescents in Tanzania, both boys and girls. This project will bring together qualitative and quantitative methodologies, aiming to capture social, cultural, and demographic aspects of young adolescents’ lives today. Dr. Sommer is also exploring the potential for collecting the data to develop girl’s puberty books in additional countries, with requests for books having been received from UNICEF in a number of sub-Saharan African countries. Lastly, Dr. Sommer will begin a collaboration with the International Center for AIDS Care and Treatment Programs (ICAP) based at Columbia University, exploring the potential for building nursing research capacity in selected African countries.
Department of Sociomedical Sciences
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