Jennifer A. Lawlor
32, Academic Researcher
Dr. Lawlor is a community-engaged researcher and evaluator. She has dedicated her career to helping communities understand, share information, and move to action on complex social issues. She holds an M.A. and Ph.D. in ecological-community psychology and is well-published in her field, having written 18 articles. In her research and evaluation work, she has partnered with community organizations to address issues across a diverse set of contexts, including: improving early childhood outcomes, food systems, early childhood, sexual violence prevention, and K-12 education. Below is a description of her career trajectory.
Dr. Lawlor’s career began as a Graduate and Family Support Intern at a middle school in Chicago while she was a student at DePaul University. In the four years she worked there, Dr. Lawlor learned about community change from the teachers, families, and local organizations that came together to address complex challenges, like educational achievement, gang violence, youth development, and food security. A common theme in this work was that no single person or organization ever worked alone.
This inspired Dr. Lawlor to pursue a master’s degree and Ph.D. to research how community groups work together to manage complex problems. She graduated in 2015 with a Master of Arts in ecological-community psychology and in 2019 with a Ph.D. in ecological-community psychology from Michigan State University. She also completed a specialization in quantitative methods and evaluation science and a certificate in global urban studies. During her graduate studies, she was extensively involved in building a community of graduate students and helping others achieve their goals. For example, facilitated a writing group to support her peers in completing academic milestones and submitting publications.
She also served as an instructor and designed a community-engaged service-learning course to introduce undergraduate students to the field of community psychology. She partnered with local organizations focused on food access and security during course development. Each student completed eight hours of service and used this experience as a primary case for understanding the principles and theories of community psychology.
During her time at Michigan State University, Dr. Lawlor partnered with communities to improve early childhood education, transform food systems in urban areas, unpack the barriers to educational attainment, and improve access to information for k-12 educators. She often worked in high-conflict settings with historical power dynamics. For example, Dr. Lawlor served as part of an evaluation team for a project identifying leverage points in the Flint, MI, food system during the ongoing Flint water crisis.
Next, Dr. Lawlor served as a research fellow in the University of Michigan’s School of information. There, she helped develop innovative prototype technology to support information exchange among communities working on similar problems within education.
She then served as an associate researcher in the Center for Community Health and Development at the University of Kansas, a World Health Organization Collaborating Centre. There, she managed a portfolio of research and evaluation projects in partnership with communities across the United States. She used participatory research and evaluation strategies to identify pressing community questions, capture relevant data, and generate insights that inform community action. Dr. Lawlor currently works as a network data scientist for Visible Network Labs, where she supports communities in mapping their partnerships and identifying how to best use them to achieve their goals.
Within academic research, community engagement and partnership can be challenging to publish, and this work is often very time-consuming. Many scholars cannot invest in community partnerships in their work because of the time it takes to move to publication. However, Dr. Lawlor has maintained a commitment to mutually beneficial, rigorous research with community partners while regularly publishing and disseminating this work for the benefit of others.
Her countless volunteering activities, including with Girls on the Run, demonstrate her dedication and commitment to empowering young women and girls to take ownership of their futures. She is also a member of the Women in Network Science organization and works to empower and make space for women in quantitative research fields. She actively supports this community by serving as a member of the organization’s communications committee. In her role, she elevates the work of women and non-binary scholars in this space through actively promoting others’ accomplishments and sharing information about opportunities to build community.