UM Professor Receives Grant for Native Youth Mental Health Intervention

October 30, 2019

UM’s Jingjing Sun (in dress) and her research team MISSOULA – American Indian and Alaska Native populations experience higher rates of mental health disparities than the rest of the U.S. population, with suicide as the second leading cause of death in 2014, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. So far there is little understanding of a culturally responsive approach to address this issue.   

Thanks to an American Indian/Alaska Native Clinical and Translational Research Program $200,000 grant, the University of Montana’s Dr. Jingjing Sun will help develop culturally appropriate trainings by examining Social Emotional Learning interventions for Native children.

The AI/AN CTRP is a joint partnership, in cooperation with the National Institutes of Health, with three primary goals of reducing health issues within Native communities, fostering research for healthier communities and creating equitable research collaboration. It funds 15 to 20 investigators annually through development awards, pilot awards, diversity awards and community grants, and most recently Early Stage Investigator Career Awards, all of which have served tribal communities in Alaska and Montana.

Sun was selected as one of two recipients of the ESI Career Award after she completed a Development Award last year.  

Sun is an assistant professor of educational psychology in the UM Phyllis J. Washington College of Education’s Department of Teaching and Learning. She will use the grant to engage with the school district and community of Arlee, a Native community of the Flathead Nation, to develop each phase of the study. Collaborating with UM associate professors Anisa Goforth and Lindsey Nichols, Sun also will work with children, educators, parents and caregivers in Arlee.

Sun’s mentorship team includes Dorothy Espelage from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Douglas Kominsky from Montana State University, Niki Graham from UM and a community advisory board composed of educators, tribal leaders, school administrators and mental health professionals from the Arlee School District.

The team is developing a culturally appropriate, multilayer program through community-based participatory research that includes SEL trainings for children, educators and community members.

Research completed during this project will help design and conduct mental health interventions through SEL with other Native American communities in Montana. The project ultimately seeks to improve the understanding of SEL as a comprehensive program that draws upon Native traditions and values and encompasses multilevel training for children, educators, parents and caregivers on AI/AN children’s mental health development.

“This award recognizes Dr. Sun’s strong potential as a promising young investigator and her dedication to equitable and sustainable community-research collaboration,” said Adrea Lawrence, dean of UM’s education college. “The grant will help us better understand the critical role that culturally responsive SEL practices can play for children in schools and their communities.”

To learn more about SEL interventions or UM’s Department of Teaching and Learning, call Sun at 406-243-4285 or email


Contact: Jingjing Sun, assistant professor, UM Phyllis J. Washington College of Education Department of Teaching and Learning, 406-243-4285,