Lawrence academic researcher selected for prestigious national honor

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A Lawrence-based academic researcher has been selected to a prestigious program that recognizes 10 young leaders across the country every year.

Jennifer A. Lawlor, 32, was named a member of the Ten Outstanding Young Americans (TOYA) Class of 2022. The program, presented by JCI USA (the United States Junior Chamber), honors 18- to 40-year-olds who have led impactful work toward improving society.


Lawlor holds a master of arts and a doctorate in ecological-community psychology, and she has written 18 academic articles in her field. Centered on communication and problem-solving, she conducted research while partnering with community organizations to address issues such as improving early childhood outcomes, food systems, and K-12 education, and prevention of sexual violence.

Lawlor moved to Lawrence a little more than a year ago to work as an associate researcher in the Center for Community Health and Development at the University of Kansas. She recently transitioned to a role as a network data scientist at Visible Network Labs, supporting communities in mapping their partnerships and identifying how to best use them to achieve their goals.

One of her colleagues at KU nominated her for this honor, Lawlor said.

“Lawrence is a fantastic place to be a researcher, especially one with a focus on community health and community engagement,” Lawlor said. “There are so many folks at KU and in Lawrence in general who have shared their wisdom and experience with me to help hone my skills. This town gives me a lot to aspire to. I’m very grateful to be here.”

One of many projects Lawlor has contributed to includes working to identify leverage points in the Flint, Michigan food system during the ongoing Flint water crisis.

Past-selected members have been chosen from a wide range of fields, including business, economics, academics, humanitarianism, medicine and more. Lawlor has been recognized for her years of addressing complex social issues at the community level, according to a news release from the organization.

Outside of work, Lawlor has been dedicated to volunteerism. Through her involvement as an advisory committee member for Girls on the Run of Southeastern Michigan, a board member for the Ann Arbor Junior Chamber, and a member of the Women in Network Science organization, Lawlor aims to elevate and empower women, girls, and nonbinary scholars.

Lawlor has set herself apart from other researchers in her field by emphasizing community partnerships and coalitions in her research, according to the news release.

“Many scholars cannot invest in community partnerships in their work because of the time it takes to move to publication. However, Dr. Lawlor has maintained a commitment to mutually beneficial, rigorous research with community partners while regularly publishing and disseminating this work for the benefit of others,” the news release said of Lawlor.

Lawlor and the rest of the Class of 2022 will be honored at the 83rd annual TOYA awards ceremony on Sept. 17 in Virginia Beach, Virginia, as part of the JCI USA’s annual meeting, according to the release.

TOYA has been active since 1938. A few previous honorees include Bill Clinton (1979), John F Kennedy (1946), Dick Cheney (1976), Kurt Warner (2010), Wayne Newton (1977), Gayle Sayers (1969), Elvis Presley (1970), Michele Tafoya (2001), and Ruth Riley (2014).

To learn more about the program, visit this link. See the rest of the Class of 2022 at this link.

— Reporters Tricia Masenthin and Maya Hodison contributed to this article.

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