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About the Lab

In the Rural Health Disparities (RHD) Lab, we conduct research on rural-urban and within rural health disparities in the US that have implications for policy, practice, and implementation. A key focus of the lab is on how place helps shape health outcomes. This includes accounting for differences in policy contexts, environmental exposures, built environments, economic contexts, and measures of rurality in explaining health disparities across place. To do this, we use spatial and multi-level modeling techniques of primary and secondary data. Current research activities in the RHD Lab are in the following interrelated topical areas:

  • Rural Health and the Built & Social Environment
  • Rural Health in a Changing Climate
  • Fundamental Determinants of Racial, Ethnic and Spatial Disparities in Rural Health 

In addition, the RHD Lab also creates space for graduate and undergraduate students interested in rural health disparities to develop their skills, network with scholars, and explore academic and non-academic careers related to rural health equity.


Get Involved

Current Graduate and Undergraduate Students:

  • Sign-up to receive emails about rural health research opportunities, rural health in the news, and recent activity in the Lab. To sign up, please email Dr. Danielle Rhubart at to be added to the email list.
  • Join the RHD Lab as an undergraduate research assistant to get experience. Undergraduate RAs can volunteer with the lab or receive credit via BBH 494 or honor’s thesis credit. To submit an application, please download the 
     and submit it to ***The RHD Lab is no longer accepting applications for the 2022-2023 academic year.***

Our research lab values diversity, equity and inclusion and is made stronger when different backgrounds and perspectives are part of our team. Please consider applying.

Lab Members


Dr. Danielle Rhubart is an Assistant Professor of Biobehavioral Health and Director of the Rural Health Disparities Lab.  She was trained as a Rural Sociologist and Demographer and studies rural population health and the social determinants of health. She uses large datasets to determine how place shapes health and well-being differently across groups of people. Her research has been published in Public Policy and Aging Report, Population Research and Policy Review, and Population and Environment, and as research reports and briefs at the Carsey School of Public Policy (University of New Hampshire), the Lerner Center for Public Health Promotion (Syracuse University), and the Center for Rural Pennsylvania.


Postdoctoral Scholar: 

Dr. Jennifer Kowalkowski is a Postdoctoral Scholar with the Rural Health Disparities Lab. She is a Registered Nurse with a Ph.D. in Nursing Science and a minor in Population Health from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her research focuses on how structural factors, including the nursing workforce, influence health and well-being across the lifespan. She uses mixed-methods, including grounded theory and social network analysis, to examine differential effects of policies, health systems, social structures, and the natural and built environments across the rural-urban continuum. Her research has been published in Transcultural Journal of Nursing, Western Journal of Nursing Research, and presented at both national and international rural health conferences. She has also published reports at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the Wisconsin Center for Nursing, and the Rural Wisconsin Health Cooperative.


Graduate Research Assistants: 

Yiping Li is a graduate student in the Biobehavioral Health doctoral program. She completed her bachelor's degree in biotechnology at Penn State and master’s degree in public health at Cornell University. Her current research interest is about how the social determinants of health affect population health.  She would like to analyze the impacts of culture, geography, and ethnicity on health behaviors by both quantitative and qualitative methods, and apply the results in health policy implementations.


Undergraduate Research Assistants:

Hannah Dauser is a fourth-year student pursuing a degree in psychology with a minor in sports studies. She loves to play with her three dogs and enjoys spending her spare time exercising and finding new healthy recipes.

Melanie DeCecco is a fourth-year student pursuing a degree in Biobehavioral Health with a minor in Health Policy and Administration. She spends her free time running, reading, and is an active volunteer for Penn State’s THON.  

Tarya Pillay is a fourth-year majoring in Biobehavioral Health with double minors in Biology and Bioethics & Medical Humanities. She is also pursuing an IUG Master of Public Health in Epidemiology and Biostatistics. She is community service chair of the BBH Society and in her free time, she enjoys reading and baking with her roommates.

Logan Wincott is a third-year student pursuing a double major in criminology and sociology. She enjoys spending time outdoors, socializing with friends, and is an active member of the Penn State Mock Trial Association.



Last Name
Assistant Teaching Professor of Biobehavioral Health
Summary Statement

Dr. Rhubart is a rural sociologist and demographer with expertise in the social and structural determinants of health disparities and rural population health.

  • Biobehavioral Health - BBH