Dr. Scott Stoltenberg, assistant psychology professor at Black Hills State University, was recently awarded a three-year $200,000 research grant by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).

Stoltenberg is the principal investigator on the grant, entitled “Serotonin, impulsivity and health-risk behaviors,” which is focused on better understanding how a person’s genes might influence their involvement in behaviors that put one’s health at risk such as smoking, drinking and risky driving. Dr. Parthasarathi Nag, assistant mathematics professor at BHSU, and Dr. Cynthia Anderson, associate director of the Center for the Conservation of Biological Resources (CCBR) at BHSU, are co-investigators on the project.

Over the next two years, Stoltenberg and his research team will collect data from 500 volunteers, including the volunteers’ history of substance use, gambling, and driving as well as issues surrounding risky sex and traumatic experiences. Volunteers will also complete computer tasks to measure aspects of impulsive responding. Cheek cells will be collected from the volunteers to be used for genetic analyses to better understand how genetic differences in neurotransmitter systems might be associated with differences in behavior.

Data collection for this project will be done by Stoltenberg’s research team, which includes several undergraduate students who are enrolled in his course Special Topics in Behavior Genetic Research. Members of the research team will learn basic concepts and important issues in behavior genetics while gaining hands-on experience in how to conduct behavior genetic research. All of the research team members plan to attend graduate school or medical school.

This grant-funded research provides an exceptional opportunity for BHSU students to conduct high-quality research mentored by faculty members. Students on the team are involved with or exposed to virtually every aspect of a research project, from writing a grant proposal to collecting and analyzing data to presenting posters and writing papers. So far, all three of the students who have graduated from Stoltenberg’s research team have been accepted into graduate programs in clinical psychology.

Stoltenberg received his Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and post-doctoral training at the University of Michigan. He has been a member of the BHSU faculty since 2004. While at BHSU, Stoltenberg’s research program has been supported by a BHSU faculty research grant, a Governor’s 2010 Individual Research Seed Grant, and the South Dakota Biomedical Research Infrastructure Network (SD BRIN).

Nag received his Ph.D. in mathematics from Washington State University in Pullman. He has been a member of the BHSU faculty since 2004.

Anderson received her Ph.D. from Montana State University in plant pathology/plant sciences with emphasis on the molecular genetics of host-pathogen interactions. She has worked at BHSU since 2001.

In addition to their other duties at the university, Stoltenberg and Anderson serve as faculty members in the newly developed master of science in integrative genomics program at BHSU.