Dr. Jennifer Felner is an Assistant Professor at the SDSU School of Public Health and an Undergraduate Program Director. She received her Bachelor’s Degrees in Economics and French from Auburn University in Auburn, Alabama. As an undergraduate economics major, Dr. Felner developed a fascination with theory and policy-level solutions to social inequities which led her to public health soon after graduation. She pursued a Master’s of Public Health (MPH) at Emory University with an emphasis on Behavioral Sciences & Health Education. After receiving her MPH, Dr. Felner worked in a public health practice at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta in Atlanta, Georgia, before returning to obtain her PhD in Community Health Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago in 2017.
As a public health educator in Atlanta, Dr. Felner’s main duties involved developing and implementing programs to prevent child maltreatment and commercial sexual exploitation of children and youth. However, the limited attention to the root causes of these forms of violence in scientific research at the time made it difficult for her to develop effective, evidence-based prevention programs. This gap in the literature was one of the key reasons Dr. Felner decided to return to school to obtain a PhD, with the hope that one day her work might inform structural-level interventions to promote well-being among children and youth.
Dr. Felner’s current research broadly focuses on health equity promotion among communities of young people, particularly LGBTQ+ youth and transitional-aged youth experiencing homelessness. Her multi-method research projects have focused on addressing (in)access to resources, exposure to stigma, and limited economic and social mobility among youth, as well as substance use inequities and HIV prevention and treatment needs among youth and young adults.
Much of Dr. Felner’s work involves participatory action research approaches in which she partners directly with young people to design research projects, gather and analyze data, and disseminate findings to promote social change. She believes that young people have important ideas and skills to contribute to research and that interventions that are not youth-informed will fail to yield the sustainable health improvements necessary to promote health equity.
Currently, Dr. Felner is working on several projects related to health equity among youth, including a pilot project to identify structural drivers of substance use and mental health inequities among LGBTQ+ adolescents funded by the SDSU HealthLINK Center for Transdisciplinary Health Disparities Research. Dr. Felner is partnering with Dr. Audrey Beck (Sociology) and a team of undergraduate and graduate students on this work.
In addition, Dr. Felner is partnering with faculty and students across campus, including Dr. Jerel Calzo (Health Promotion and Behavioral Science), Dr. Megan Welsh (Criminal Justice), and Dr. Madison Swayne (City Planning), to identify opportunities to increase access to bathrooms, showers, and other critical resources for people experiencing homelessness in the San Diego region. Her op-ed in the San Diego Union-Tribune co-authored with Dr. Welsh and Mitchelle Woodson of Think Dignity highlights the urgency of this work, as do recent interviews with NBC 7 San Diego and The Voice of San Diego. She is looking forward to directly engaging young people experiencing homelessness in this work as it evolves.