Donna Coffman, Ph.D. | The Methodology Center

Donna Coffman, Ph.D.

Donna Coffman, Ph.D.Research Associate Professor, College of Health and Human Development

Principal Investigator, The Methodology Center


The Methodology Center

The Pennsylvania State University

400 Calder Square II

State College, PA 16801




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Ph.D., University of North Carolina, 2005 (Quantitative Psychology)

M.A., James Madison University, 2001 (Psychological Sciences)

B.S., James Madison University, 1999 (Psychology) 


Research Interests & Collaborations

My research is primarily in the area of statistical methodology, especially in the integration of statistical methodology and behavioral science. Specifically, I am interested in developing methods for strengthening causal inferences from observational data and in mediation analysis, including innovative applications of these methods. More recently, I have begun to focus on advancing and applying statistical learning methods for large, complex data to address cutting-edge research questions in the behavioral health sciences.


I am currently developing and applying methods for analyzing data from biosensors, ecological momentary assessments, and genomics. My aim is to identify momentary risk states for physical inactivity and stress. On this project, I am working with Runze Li, Vasant Honovar, Joshua Smyth, and Noelle Leonard. I collaborate with Debashis Ghosh on extending statistical learning/data mining methods to estimate propensity scores in the mediation context. Debashis and I also collaborate on a project using the least absolute shrinkage and selection operator (LASSO) for variable selection in propensity score modeling. I collaborate with Stephanie Lanza, Bethany Bray, and John Dziak on a project to extend causal inference methods to latent variable exposures and outcomes. I collaborate with Kari Kugler and Megan Schuler on projects to estimate multi-level propensity scores. Finally, I collaborate with Angela Henneberger on using propensity score models to model peer influence and selection effects in social networks.




Recent Grants 

Novel methods to identify momentary risk states for stress & physical inactivity
Big Data to Knowledge (BD2K): K01ES025437
2014-2017; Role: Principal Investigator


Dyadic influence in genomic medicine: Couples beliefs, disclosures, & wellbeing.

National Human Genome Research Institute, R21 HG007111
2014-2016; Role: Investigator


Social ecological determinants of young adult sexual risk behavior.
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development R03 HD079711

Role: Principal Investigator

Recent Honors

2014: Early Career Award from the Society for Prevention Research

Recent Publications

Zhu, Y., Schonbach, M., Coffman, D. L., & Savage-Williams, J. (in press). Variable selection for propensity score estimation via balancing covariates. Epidemiology. 

Ghosh, D., Zhu, Y., & Coffman, D.L. (2015). Penalized regression procedures for variable selection in the potential outcomes framework. Statistics in Medicine

Scalco, M.D., Trucco, E.M., Coffman, D.L., & Colder, C.R. (2015). Selection and socialization effects in early adolescent alcohol use: A propensity score analysis. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology.

Jones, J., Hartman, T. J., Klifa, C. S., Coffman, D. L., Mitchell, D. C., Vernarelli, J. A., ... Dorgan, J. F. (2014). Dietary energy density is positively associated with breast density among young women. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2014.08.015

Van Hook, J., Bachmeier, J. D., Coffman, D. L., & Harel, O. (in press). Can we spin straw into gold? An evaluation of immigrant legal status imputation approaches. Demography.

Coffman, D. L., Melde, C., & Esbensen, F. - A. (2014). Gang membership and substance use: Guilt as a gendered vausal pathway. Journal of Experimental Criminology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1007/s11292-014-9220-9 

Conroy, D. E., Ram, N., Pincus, A. L., Coffman, D. L., Lorek, A. E., Rebar, A. L., & Roche, M. J. (2014). Daily physical activity and alcohol use across the adult lifespan. Health Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/hea0000157

Zhu, Y., Coffman, D. L., & Ghosh, D. (2014). A boosting algorithm for estimating generalized propensity scores with continuous treatments. Journal of Causal Inference. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1515/jci-2014-0022

Butera, N. M., Lanza, S. T., & Coffman, D. L. (2014). A framework for estimating causal effects in latent class analysis: Is there a causal link between early sex and subsequent profiles of delinquency? Prevention Science, 15(3), 397-407. doi: 10.1007/s11121-013-0417-3 PMCID: PMC3888479

Crowley, D. M., Coffman, D. L., Feinberg, M. E., & Greenberg, M. T. (2014). Evaluating the impact of implementation factors on family-based prevention programming: Methods for strengthening causal inference. Prevention Science, 15(2), 246-255. doi: 10.1007/s11121-012-0352-8  PMCID: PMC3859719

Crowley, D. M., Jones, D. E., Coffman, D. L., & Greenberg, M. T. (2014). Can we build an efficient response to the prescription drug abuse epidemic? Assessing the cost effectiveness of universal prevention. Preventive Medicine, 62, 71-77. doi: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2014.01.029. PMCID: PMC4131945 

Ford, D. W., Hartman, T. J., Still, C., Wood, G. C., Mitchell, D. C., Bailey, R., Smiciklas-Wright, H., Coffman, D. L., & Jensen, G. (2014). Diet quality and body mass index are associated with healthcare resource use in rural older adults. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2014.02.016

Ford, D. W., Hartman, T. J., Still, C., Wood, G. C., Mitchell, D., Erickson, P., Bailey, R., Smiciklas-Wright, H., Coffman, D. L., & Jensen, G. (2014). Body mass index, poor diet quality, and health-related quality of life are associated with mortality in rural older adults. Journal of Nutrition in Gerontology and Geriatrics, 33(1), 23-34. doi: 10.1080/21551197.2014.875819

Ford, D. W., Jensen, G., Still, C., Wood, C., Mitchell, D., Erickson, P., Bailey, R., Smiciklas-Wright, H., Coffman, D. L., & Hartman, T. J. (2014). The associations between diet quality, body mass index (BMI) and health related quality of life (HRQOL) in the Geisinger Rural Aging Study (GRAS). Journal of Nutrition, Health, & Aging, 18, 167-170.

Smith, R. A., Wienke, S. E., & Coffman, D. L. (2014). Alpha-1 couples: Interpersonal and intrapersonal predictors of spousal communication and stress. Journal of Genetic Counseling, 23(2), 212 - 220. doi:10.1007/s10897-013-9639-6 PMCID: PMC3921266

Solmeyer, A. R., Feinberg, M. E., Coffman, D. L., & Jones, D. E. (2014). The effects of the Family Foundations prevention program on coparenting and child adjustment: A mediation analysis. Prevention Science, 15(2), 213-233. doi: 10.1007/s11121-013-0366-x PMCID: PMC3683104

Lanza, S. T., Coffman, D. L., & Xu, S. (2013). Causal inference in latent class analysis. Structural Equation Modeling, 20(3), 361-383. PMC Journal-In Process

Lippold, M., Coffman, D. L., & Greenberg, M. T. (2013). Investigating the potential causal relationship between parental knowledge and youth risky behavior: A propensity score analysis. Prevention Science. doi: 10.1007/s11121-013-0443-1  PMCID: PMC4039612

Solmeyer, A. R., Feinberg, M. E., Coffman, D. L., & Jones, D. E. (2013). The effects of the Family Foundations prevention program on coparenting and child adjustment: A mediation analysis. Prevention Science. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1007/s11121-013-0366-x PMCID: PMC3683104

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