Sheila Ohlsson Walker’s research at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Arizona State University focuses on how information from the fields of neurobiology, genetics, epigenetics, and endocrinology can be applied to enhance educational outcomes, promote healthy behavior, reduce rates of chronic disease, and optimize health and learning throughout life. Dr. Walker is currently exploring the biological embedding of chronic stress and how environmental factors can significantly enhance or degrade health and academic performance, with an emphasis on high-poverty educational and family contexts. Her research also addresses the preconception, prenatal and early childhood origins of health and neurodevelopment, and understanding how biosocial research on adverse childhood experiences and toxic stress can be harnessed to facilitate early intervention, resilience and enhanced quality of life.
Dr. Walker’s most recent work builds upon her doctoral research at the intersection between biology and behavior on the Twins Early Development Study – the largest longitudinal twin study to date on children’s cognitive abilities, behavior and language development. Her research examined the relative influence of “nature” and “nurture” on characteristics relevant for education. Dr. Walker subsequently taught an undergraduate course at Georgetown University on how health and human development are shaped by the dynamic interaction between genetics and the environment.
Prior to entering academia, Dr. Walker was a mutual fund portfolio manager in Denver, Colorado. She attended the University of Colorado on a tennis scholarship, played professional tennis in Europe after graduation, and continues to compete at a national level. Dr. Walker received her doctorate in Behavioral Genetics from Kings College London in 2005. She serves on the national board of LIFT, a nonprofit dedicated to poverty alleviation, and is engaged with various organizations focused on improving education and health for children. Dr. Walker is a former trustee of The Beauvoir School in Washington, DC, and Advisory Board Member of Outward Bound USA. She is married, has three sons, and lives in Washington, DC.