Psychology professor Susan Wenze receives Fulbright grant to research postpartum mental health in Portugal

Psychology+professor+Susan+Wenze+is+one+of+21+to+receive+the+Fulbright+Portugal+Scholar+Award.+%28Photo+courtesy+of+Susan+Wenze%29+

Psychology professor Susan Wenze is one of 21 to receive the Fulbright Portugal Scholar Award. (Photo courtesy of Susan Wenze)

Associate professor of psychology Susan Wenze’s worldview changed after she took an introductory psychology course during her undergraduate years. Now, as a recipient of the Fulbright Scholar Award, Wenze will use her psychology expertise, particularly on postpartum mental health, to conduct research in Portugal.

“I always wanted a career where I would be contributing,” Wenze said. “Not just contributing to learning, but contributing to people’s well-being.”

Wenze applied to the Fulbright Portugal program hoping to experience something new. The program provides grants to students, scholars, artists and professionals to facilitate an international exchange of knowledge in order to improve lives globally.

“I love traveling. I’m very curious about other cultures and languages and food, and I love just learning whatever I can about other places,” she said. “I love being humbled in that way.”

However, she did not think that she would actually receive the award.

“My first thought was that I was imagining it and there was probably some other Susan Wenze out there who had applied for a Fulbright to Portugal and I got their letter,” she said.

Wenze will spend March through June at the University of Coimbra in Coimbra, Portugal.

She was drawn to the University of Coimbra because of the institution’s research focus, which aligned with the work that she has been doing at Lafayette on perinatal mental health and mental well-being among parents of multiple children.

“I knew of the research being done at the center where I will be working and it was really a perfect fit with the kinds of work I wanted to do over my sabbatical,” she said.

The center is focusing on testing mobile mental health intervention strategies in the population, something that Wenze was interested in but did not previously have the resources to pursue.

“That’s a massive undertaking that really requires a large research team, lots and lots of resources in terms of money and time that you really need to work collaboratively with folks in a bigger medical center setting,” she said. “That’s sort of some of the work that they were already doing [and] it made perfect sense in terms of my research trajectory.”

During her time in Portugal, Wenze will help pilot a study that evaluates the potential merit of a postpartum mental health support intervention in mothers who have given birth to twins, triplets and beyond.

“We’re really going to be addressing questions of feasibility and acceptability. So, you know, will people do the intervention? Do they drop out? How much time do they spend on the modules?”

The Fulbright Scholar Award is designed to build lasting international research connections. If the study conducted over the spring shows that the mobile program could potentially help mothers manage postpartum depression, stress and anxiety, Wenze and her collaborators at the University of Coimbra will continue down this research path.

“This is really tailored to building lasting research collaborations and professional collaborations with universities, nonprofit organizations and other kinds of organizations in other countries,” she said. “You’re bringing something for them, and they’re bringing something for you, and you establish lasting professional ties.”

Wenze plans on bringing the data that she will collect during her time abroad back to Lafayette. She will be enlisting the help of students to sort through and analyze the results.

“We’re gonna have a lot of data. I definitely think that there will be opportunities for students to get involved in data cleaning, data interpretation, writing things up and potentially helping to plan whatever comes next,” she said.

More information on Wenze’s research can be found at sites.lafayette.edu/wenzes/