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Baltimore couple wins Abell Award for urban policy

Stacy M. Brown | 7/21/2017, 6 a.m.
George Zuo, a doctoral candidate in economics at the University of Maryland in College Park, and his wife, Dr. Stephanie ...
George Zuo Courtesy Photo

George Zuo, a doctoral candidate in economics at the University of Maryland in College Park, and his wife, Dr. Stephanie Zuo, who graduated from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine earlier this year, have been awarded the Abell Foundation’s 2017 Abell Award in Urban Policy.

The award is given annually to students who author the most compelling paper that analyzes a serious policy problem facing the city of Baltimore and proposes feasible solutions.

“We were delighted to learn that we had won the award. We’ve been working on this since the fall, and we’ve learned and grown a lot throughout this process so winning the award was the icing on the cake,” said George Zuo, who along with his wife, said they witnessed first-hand the effects youth violence and recidivism which have remained consistent over the past five years in Baltimore City.

Dr. Stephanie Zuo

Courtesy Photo

Dr. Stephanie Zuo

Stephanie Zuo, a first-year resident at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine/Montefiore Medical Center Obstetrics and Gynecology program, helped her husband write a paper that proposed piloting cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) with youth offenders and those at risk of committing violence, working with the city’s Juvenile Justice Center and select public schools that rank in the lowest five percent for reading and mathematics scores.

Among their determinations: for many young people, one bad decision in the heat of the moment trapped them in a cycle of violence and incarceration for life. The couple proposed breaking the cycle and cited how Chicago has used CBT to reduce youth crime and recidivism in select neighborhoods since 2010.

“We believe all youth should have the opportunity to live meaningful lives, and keeping youth out of the criminal justice system is an important step towards achieving that,” George Zuo said. “This research on CBT was a perfect fit for our respective skillsets. Its implications for youth violence are enormous, and it’s surprising that it hasn’t gained more traction in the policy arena, especially in cities like Baltimore.”

Further, it changes the narrative that it’s too late to change the outcomes of teens who have grown up in disadvantaged neighborhoods, according to Zuo.

Officials at the Abell Foundation said the organization is dedicated to the enhancement of the quality of life in Maryland, with a focus on Baltimore city.

“We created the Abell Award in Urban Policy almost 15 years ago. The goal was to provide students in colleges and universities in Baltimore City with a way to engage in public policy work and reward them for doing so,” said Robert C. Embry Jr., president of the Abell Foundation.

“We also wanted to learn from their ideas around ways to improve the quality of life for people in Baltimore City and to share those ideas with others,” he said. “Over the years we’ve seen some great reports, on a wide range of topics, and many of the former winners have gone on to careers in public policy, a few even in Baltimore.

“I was particularly pleased that this year’s winners chose to tackle the urgent issue of youth violence. There is no more pressing issue in our city today, and we all benefit by learning about programs that have been successful in other cities,” Embry said.

As advanced graduate students, the Zuos researched their paper while engaged in challenging academic programs, Embry continued, “I applaud their commitment to Baltimore City and to the important work of public policy.”

The couple say they were happy to shed light on important research that has the potential to make a difference in Baltimore.

“Our work bridges the gap between that research and its potential implementation in our communities. We’re honored to be recognized for our efforts, but the real reward is being able to give this research the publicity it deserves,” George Zuo said.