Community Systems Research Institute (CSRI) to Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation (PIRE)
In 1996, Dr. Knowlton Johnson, at the time a professor at the University of Louisville, formed Community Systems Research Institute (CSRI) in Louisville, KY with assistance from colleagues from University of Louisville and Spalding University. Linda Young, formerly Director of PIRE’s Survey Research Center at PRC in Berkeley, and Dr. Price Foster, Chair of CSRI Board, were also key to growing the work of CSRI. In 2000, CSRI joined PIRE to become the PIRE Louisville Center.
PIRE Louisville’s Center Directors and Center Focus over the years
Linda Young, 2000-2006 & 2009-2011
The PIRE Louisville Center was formally established in March 2000 with Ms. Linda Young as its first Center Director (CD). During the first six years of Ms. Young’s time as CD, the Louisville Center established strong relationships with international, federal, state, and local agencies as partners with a shared interest in promoting and evaluating evidence-based systems and practices primarily related to prevention and treatment of substance use and addiction. These partnerships included the U.S. State Department International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL) division, the KY Division of Substance Abuse, and numerous county-based school systems, local community agencies, and regional coalitions.
During the early 2000s, the center was focused on expanding PIRE capacity and services by providing technical assistance and training on implementation and evaluation of programs designed to improve public health and education policies and practices for both adults and youth. Our international work included partnerships with public health officials and practitioners in Peru, Brazil, Thailand, and El Salvador. Between 2000 and 2006, with funding provided to states by the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention (CSAP), the Louisville Center provided prevention technical assistance and program evaluation support in KY and TN. In addition, the center received funding from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Agency (SAMSHA) to establish the Southeast Center for the Application of Prevention Technology. A separate award from the Department of Education supported the establishment of the Character Education Technical Assistance Center. As a result of this substantial growth in Louisville Center programming, the number of Louisville scientists and technical assistance staff increased to 42. In collaboration with Dr. Price Foster, faculty at the University of Louisville Justice Administration Department, PIRE obtained funding from the KY Department of Corrections, and a Louisville team explored problems associated with jail incarceration and overcrowding by interviewing a third of the county-level managers of KY’s jail system.
Between 2006 and 2008, Ms. Young became PIRE’s Chief Operating Officer and stepped down from her position as PIRE Louisville CD. After the departure of Dr. Zimmerman in 2008, Ms. Young returned to her former position as Louisville Center Director in 2009. During her second tenure in this position and until she semi-retired in 2011, the center’s capacity and growth continued as center scientists expanded into research specifically targeting marginalized and high-risk youth populations. Three projects funded by the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) focused on assessing the impact of youth mentoring by volunteers affiliated with Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Kentuckiana. The issue of school safety became a priority for both OJJDP and the Department of Education and the PIRE Louisville Center partnered with two local school systems to assess the strategies that were developed and implemented to encourage a safer school environment.
Toward the end of Ms. Young’s tenure as Center Director, inhalant use by Alaska teens was the focus of a study funded by the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) and an INL-funded evaluation of substance use treatment programs in Afghanistan was underway. A partnership with the University of Louisville School of Dentistry faculty and staff resulted in a project funded by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) to address a critical need to train caregivers of intellectually and developmentally disabled (IDD) adults living in residential care facilities on methods to improve oral hygiene. In 2011, Ms. Young was succeeded by Dr. Bill Scarbrough.
Rick Zimmerman and Pam Cupp, 2006-2008
After Ms. Young became PIRE’s Chief Operating Officer in 2006, Dr. Rick Zimmerman became Center Director and Dr. Pam Cupp was appointed Deputy Center Director. Both were University of Kentucky Senior Scientists who had joined PIRE in 2005. Under their leadership, the center successfully expanded into new and important areas of research related to sexual risk taking and HIV prevention. New projects funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) supported HIV/STD prevention and intimate partner violence prevention projects aimed at high risk populations in South Africa, Liberia, Thailand, and Chicago.
Bill Scarbrough, 2011-2019
During his eight-year period as Center Director (September 2011 – September 2019), Dr. William Scarbrough led the Louisville Center with three primary goals: (1) Grow Louisville Center revenue and reduce expenditures, (2) Share successful contract business development practices, and (3) Develop new areas of work for PIRE, across centers. Dr. Scarbrough’s focus on these goals led to a 5-year strategic planning retreat to plot a new business development course with all Louisville Center staff, requiring the regular tracking of proposal efforts, expanding and developing new areas of work that leveraged Louisville Center strengths in education, health care services, international health and development, and health communications, and continuing the tradition of support and mentorship for NIH researchers in the Louisville Center.
During these eight years, Dr. Scarbrough helped secure more than $32 million in funding from a variety of new sources and led projects with the U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs (special education evaluation), National Eye Institute (National Eye Health Education Program health communications evaluation), Metro United Way of Louisville (early childhood education evaluation), Children International (international health and development research for children and young adults), a joint project of the U.S. Department of Education Office of 21st Century Learning Centers and National Aeronautics and Space Administration Office of Education (21st Century Learning Centers STEM education evaluation), Hope and Healing International (international health and development evaluation for disabled populations), U.S. Veteran’s Administration Office of Patient Centered Care and Cultural Transformation (health care services evaluation), NIH Office of Research on Women’s Health (health communications evaluation for women’s health), Barbara Bush Foundation (adult literacy strategic planning), and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Office of Minority Health (health insurance communications evaluation for minority populations).
Other important outcomes during Dr. Scarbrough’s tenure as the Louisville Center Director include moving from the legacy office space to a location centered in downtown Louisville, streamlining the administrative processes and costs of the Louisville Center, and increasing the full-time scientists and support staff count from 12 to 24.
Center Director: Melissa Abadi, 2019-current
Dr. Melissa Abadi began her tenure as Louisville’s Center Director in October 2019. She joined PIRE as an Associate Research Scientist in 2006 after earning her Ph.D. in Communication from the University of Kentucky. She was promoted to Research Scientist in 2014, and to Senior Research Scientist in 2018. Throughout her time at PIRE, Dr. Abadi’s key research focus has been on the role of social-environmental factors and situational contexts on substance use-related attitudes, intentions, and behaviors, particularly among vulnerable and disparate populations. Her research has also focused on developing and rigorously evaluating health messages, intervention, training, and course curriculum materials. She has successfully directed large research projects with hard to reach and underserved populations, including rural populations, youth and young adults, Veterans, individuals in international drug abuse treatment centers, and those with intellectual and developmental disabilities. She has managed and directed various health-focused field teams, collaborating with multidisciplinary research teams and state agencies, law enforcement, coalitions, schools, universities, local nonprofits, medical offices, hospitals, and health agencies.
As Louisville’s current Center Director, Dr. Abadi aims to continue to grow the center’s revenue and capacity through building local and statewide partnerships and enhancing collaboration across PIRE centers. Additionally, her focus is on increasing the Louisville Center’s engagement and visibility in the scientific community through publications and conference presentations, development of strong mentoring plans for early and mid-career scientists, and strategic planning for obtaining new funds, particularly in emerging and evolving areas of research, including tobacco regulatory science, tobacco and polydrug use among youth and young adults, women’s health issues, aging, and healthcare services and systems change.
Most recently, Dr. Abadi, with guidance from PIRE Board Member Dr. Pebbles Fagan, has founded a PIRE-wide Tobacco Regulatory Science (TRS) Initiative and Workgroup, and led a strategic planning meeting in February 2020 with attendance from all PIRE centers. The goal of this initiative is to significantly increase the number of funded scientific projects focused on tobacco regulatory science. To achieve this goal, educational resources and webinars will be offered across PIRE throughout the TRS initiative and strategic efforts will be made to leverage PIRE’s unique and diverse tobacco research capacities. The focus is on identifying compelling research themes and strong scientific teams capable of submitting competitive grant applications while leveraging Louisville Center’s strategic location in a tobacco growing state with high youth and young adult use rates.
Dr. Abadi plans to work with other center scientists to build similar strategic efforts to expand new areas of research across PIRE. She has a strong commitment to the Louisville Center’s growth and sustainability, as well as to the expansion of research and collaboration with local and statewide partners, with the goal of bettering the health of Kentuckians.