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Rachel Brettler
Through my coursework I have studied a lot about the fundamentals and theories behind child maltreatment. My work in this study gives me the opportunity to meet people who have been through it and put a face to the data.
Rachel Brettler
Biobehavorial Health

Penn State senior Rachel Brettler, who is majoring in Biobehavioral Health and minoring in Human Development and Family Studies, is being mentored by renowned faculty experts, as well as gaining real-world research experience through her role as an undergraduate research assistant in the multiyear Child Health Study.


The Child Health Study is a five-year longitudinal research project being conducted in the Center for Healthy Children, where researchers are studying Pennsylvania children ages 8-13 who are victims of abuse. 


Led by Jennie Noll, founder and director of the Center for Healthy Children, the Child Health Study seeks to uncover the implications of child maltreatment as it relates to a child’s health and development. The data collected will be used to develop and implement various interventions for the prevention and treatment of child maltreatment and abuse.


Undergraduate students like Brettler, along with graduate students,have the opportunity to work under guidance from experts like Noll, getting experience that helps prepare them for  careers. 


Certain victims of abuse who are open to talking about their experiences and invited to the center for interviews and clinical tests under strict privacy guidelines. Brettler aids in the process of helping connect these individuals with the center. 


“My role this past summer as an undergraduate research assistant has been to recruit participants and help work with the child participants and their caregivers to collect data,” she said.


The study involves interviews, health screenings, monitoring, and education about emotional and behavioral well-being, as well as physical health and well-being. 

Brettler said this research experience has required her to use and develop skills from both her major and minor; from Biobehavioral Health in the areas of medical data collection and public health, and from Human Development and Family Studies by examining a child’s transition to adolescence and adulthood, and how he or she fits into society and the community. 



“Through my coursework I have studied a lot about the fundamentals and theories behind child maltreatment,” Brettler said. “Meeting people who have been through it is quite interesting. There are a lot of untold stories out there. Through my work I get to put a face to the data and build a more complete picture of a child’s life, and how that child’s health might be affected by what he or she has been through.”

Brettler said the support she has received from faculty and staff throughout her research experience has helped her to grow, both personally and professionally. 

“I feel encouraged and appreciated for the work I do, and feel that I've been given the autonomy and responsibility to challenge myself,” she said. “Overall, this experience has shown me why Penn State is consistently ranked among the best for public research - we care about the work we're doing and the people involved in our projects.”

Brettler was able to be involved in the project through a College of Health and Human Development Smith Endowment. She was one of many students in the college to receive funding to support research projects. 

The Center for Healthy Children is the first national center for child maltreatment research. For more information visit