Lauren Wakschlag, PhD, professor and vice chair for Scientific & Faculty Development of Medical Social Sciences (MSS) and director of the Institute for Innovations in Developmental Sciences, has been awarded the Paula H. Stern Award for Outstanding Women in Science and Medicine by the Northwestern Medical Women Faculty Organization (WFO).
The award – established in honor of Stern’s 50 years of scientific accomplishments and dedicated service – is given annually to a Feinberg faculty member who has exhibited successful basic, translational or clinical research, strong leadership at a local, national and/or international level in her field, and is an exemplary role model who inspires and mentors trainees and/or junior investigators.
As a developmental/clinical psychologist, Wakschlag’s research has pioneered methods for distinguishing normative development in the first years of life from mechanisms and markers of clinical risk from the prenatal period through age 5. Specifically, her work aims to characterize the phenotype of emergent mental health problems in early childhood for translation to earlier identification and prevention.
During the award ceremony, several of Wakschlag’s colleagues praised her research, which has created the only transdiagnostic, developmentally-based screening and clinical decision tools to mark mental health risk as early as toddler age for integration in routine pediatric care, ensuring they get appropriate care as early as possible before disease onset. She and more than three dozen colleagues from Feinberg, the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, as well as and national and community partners are poised to conduct their first real-world clinical implementation trial of these methods.
“I knew of Laurie long before I knew Laurie,” said Rinad Beidas, PhD, the Ralph Seal Paffenbarger Professor and chair of the Department of Medical Social Sciences, during a speech at the award ceremony. “As a child psychologist, I closely followed Laurie’s groundbreaking scientific work in child development and mental health. Her work significantly influenced my perspective on how to become the best clinician-scientist possible.”
David Cella, PhD, professor of Medical Social Sciences and founding chair of the department, recounted how Wakschlag has contributed as “the heart” of the department from its inception and how she spearheaded the creation of the Institute for Innovations in Developmental Sciences, or DevSci, which has united nearly 200 hundred investigators and 125 trainees across schools, departments and disciplines at the University.
Wakschlag, who currently directs the institute, also serves as vice chair for Scientific and Faculty Development in the Department of Medical Social Sciences.
During her acceptance speech aptly entitled “It takes so many villages,” Wakschlag shared her journey of becoming a developmental/clinical psychologist and investigator and the role of her family in fostering this journey, including the challenges and opportunities presented as she did so raising three young children, two of whom have developmental disabilities.
Wakschlag also shared her experiences in her leadership role in the nascent department at Feinberg and founding DevSci, and the collaborative network which has grounded and driven her scientific and leadership efforts. Wakschlag emphasized the importance of “lifting while we climb,” that the most impactful work occurs at the boundaries of disciplines and that the “work” of translation is hard but essential for equitable and impactful clinical science and research.
“What a privilege to be part of Paula Stern’s legacy and the legacy of the many exceptional women scientists who came before me,” Wakschlag said. “I am so grateful to the Department of Medical Social Sciences, to Feinberg and to Northwestern for being such an amazing, nourishing, nurturing place.”