Faculty Perspectives: Eve Puffer

Eve Puffer headshot.

Eve Puffer, Associate Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience

Bass Connections Project Teams: Displacement, Resettlement and Global Mental Health; Global Mental Health-Integrative Training Program; Global Mental Health Program; Coping with COVID-19: Using Behavioral Science and Digital Health to Promote Healthy Families; Coping Together: Reducing Mental Health Disparities for Latinx Families

Eve Puffer has been leading Bass Connections teams since the program’s inception in 2013. While much of her work is dedicated to global mental health, her most recent projects have involved taking interventions she previously developed and adapting them for use right here in Durham. She shared her perspective and advice during a Bass Connections team leader orientation in January 2023.

From Kenya to Carolina

In the 11 years that I’ve been a faculty member at Duke, a huge part of my research has involved Bass Connections project teams. As an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience in Trinity College and in the Duke Global Health Institute (DGHI), most of my research spans both of those worlds, and the teams I’ve led have done the same. I’ve been able to work with faculty from both Trinity and DGHI, as well as students who are interested in psychology, global health and many other disciplines across campus.

Eve Puffer and Tuko Pamoja participants smile together.
Eve Puffer and Tuko Pamoja participants

In 2020, Bass Connections put out a special call for projects related to COVID-19. One project I had led prior to that time had focused on a culturally appropriate family therapy intervention called Tuko Pamoja to be implemented in Kenya. When the pandemic started, I had some funding from DGHI to take that intervention and adapt it to North Carolina. I proposed a Bass Connections team building on that existing project and was able to get a lot more faculty and students involved. 

This 2020-2021 project involved adapting intervention materials from Kenya to North Carolina and delivering the intervention in collaboration with our community partners. It’s so important to make sure students know that this is a real-world project with real people involved, rather than a class in the typical sense. 

The team I’m leading now focuses on adapting that intervention again specifically for Latinx families here in Durham. This distinct offshoot of the same project was made possible through the Bass Connections structure and funding. 

Structuring Your Team

The previous team and the current team have a lot of similarities in the way that we set them up. For example, our first team had a postdoc project manager who was paid to work on the Bass Connections project as well as the parts of the same research funded by DGHI. Our current team has a paid graduate student project manager. We have found that teams run more smoothly when we have a project manager — whether an advanced student or a postdoc — who feels a sense of responsibility to the team and uses their intellectual and organizational gifts to move things forward.

When we selected students for the team, we tried to match the tasks we anticipated with the skills that the applicants said they had. For example, for a virtual intervention, we needed people to work on animations and virtual health technology. Those things don’t really fall under the psychology or global health disciplines, but we recruited students from disciplines like computer science who had those specific skills. 

Our first team was a combination of two clinical psychology Ph.D. students, a master’s student from the global health program, and five undergraduates with varying majors. The whole team met weekly for an hour and a half. The first half hour was about bringing the whole team together for updates on our work, and those updates then led to our next set of tasks. Rather than set subteams, we created temporary small groups that would each focus on a specific task until it was finished. This way, we could build together toward our overall goals.

Making Connections

For our current team that’s adapting the same family program for Latinx families, I have the privilege of co-leading with Gabriela Nagy. We both have complementary expertise in this project: she has done a lot of work with Latinx families, and I’ve done a lot of work on family interventions. Thus, we brought together students who have those types of interests and the right skills — such as fluency in Spanish — to complete the necessary tasks. 

As a continuing team, we’ve found it helpful to include students who have worked with us before. This allows some students who are already integrated into these projects, especially the graduate students from our first team, to guide incoming students. Through the Bass Connections application process, we were able to find new students that we otherwise would not have crossed paths with. 

See other faculty perspectives and learn how you can get involved in Bass Connections.