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Three UPenn SON Hillman Scholars Receive Fall Pilot Awards

University of Pennsylvania Hillman Scholars, Charisse Ahmed, Cassis Boateng, and Kierra Foley applied for pilot awards this fall and were approved for funding by the Hillman Scholars In Nursing Innovation National Program Office. Read the full article for details on their projects.

Good things come in threes! In late November three University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) School of Nursing Hillman Scholars, Charisse Ahmed, Cassis Boateng, and Kierra Foley, were notified that their small grant proposals were approved, and they would be awarded pilot grants from the Hillman Scholars In Nursing Innovation National Program Office (NPO). The NPO announces requests for proposals each fall and spring to which the Hillman Scholars at UPenn and the University of North Carolina can apply.

Charisse Ahmed’s proposal, “Designing Intervention Prototypes to Address Behavioral Barriers to Antiretroviral Therapy Adherence among Adolescents Living with HIV in Eswatini,” continues her work in Eswatini, a lower middle-income country in sub-Saharan Africa. The targeted problem is low adherence among adolescents living with HIV (ALHIV) to antiretroviral therapy (ART). For this project Charisse will utilize the NUDGE (Narrow, Understand, Discover, Generate, Evaluate) approach to identify behavioral barriers to ART adherence among ALHIV in Eswatini and then design intervention prototypes for increasing adherence. To accomplish this, she will work with expert clients, who are lay health workers also living with HIV, but are ART-adherent. The expert clients will help Charisse identify the barriers to adherence of ART and would also be the individuals delivering the interventions designed during this project. Charisse intends on writing a manuscript of this project and submitting for publication in 2022.

Cassis Boateng’s proposal is titled, “How Black Male Survivors of Gun Violence Perceive Spirituality and Use in Their Recovery Process.” It furthers his research on the use of spirituality in the recovery process for Black men who are victims to gun violence in Philadelphia. Earlier this year, Cassis completed a project using existing qualitative data on this topic and applying the five steps of Design Thinking for Health, available at The Design Thinking project involved analyzing interview transcripts of Black men in Philadelphia who had been victims of gun violence. He was able to identify numerous ways in which these individuals used spirituality in their recovery process. The purpose of the new pilot project is for Cassis to interview Black men who are victims of gun violence himself, which will allow him to dig deeper and elicit rich data regarding spirituality and the recovery process. His goal is to one day develop an assessment tool that nurses can use in practice on Black men who have suffered from gun violence to help provide them with spiritual care.

Kierra Foley also completed Design Thinking project this year and will use this pilot award to further that work as detailed in the project proposal, “Piloting an iOS App to Reduce Social Isolation in Sexual and Gender Minority Elders.” The result of Kierra’s Design Thinking project was a concept for a mobile application, named Staying Fabulous, which is designed for sexual and gender minority (SGM) elders. Kierra met with elders in the SGM community and used their input to inform the app’s concept. The SGM older adults Kierra spoke to expressed they do not feel popular SGM dating apps are for older adults as they sometimes experience agism while using those apps. Additionally, they oftentimes feel that SGM events are geared towards younger SGM persons. This can lead to feelings of loneliness, which is associated with increased morbidity and mortality. Kierra’s solution to the problem is to develop an app that not only operates as a traditional dating app, but also includes a function for making platonic friends, an event calendar that is co-maintained by the LGBT Elder Initiative, and a message board section that is meant for discussing topics such as sports, food, hobbies, makeup, fashion, pop culture, politics, and religions, etc. This pilot grant will allow Kierra to develop Staying Fabulous and start testing it.

Congratulations to all three scholars! We wish great success to you in your work and look forward to reading the resulting publications from these projects.