FIU Stempel College Impact Report 2021

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OUR STEMPEL COLLEGE Nestled in the vibrant city of Miami, Florida, is Stempel College. Within these pages, we tell the stories that inspired us in 2021. Stories that show determination and commitment from our faculty, students and staff in a time of tremendous uncertainty. Stories that highlight the promise and opportunity our research is contributing to public health. These are the stories that make us who we are—a public health school dedicated to advancing excellence in health for all.

Message from the Dean.................................................... 3 About Stempel College...................................................... 4 Responding to the Pandemic........................................... 6 Student Success................................................................. 8 Research.............................................................................. 10 Global Initiatives................................................................. 15 Faculty Spotlight................................................................. 18 Alumni................................................................................... 19


“As one of the TOP 50 COLLEGES OF PUBLIC HEALTH among public universities in the nation, we are empowering our faculty and students to push the limits of science to make discoveries that positively impact communities worldwide.” —Dr. Tomás R. Guilarte Dean of Stempel College


DEAN’S MESSAGE As we approach 2022, I catch myself reflecting on the growth of Stempel College since I first began my tenure as dean. I came to Stempel College six years ago because I saw potential. When I met with the students, I saw determination. When I spoke with the faculty, I saw commitment. And when I learned about the impactful work the Stempel College community is doing and wants to do, I was sold. I often say that Stempel College was a diamond in the rough and, if cut at the right angles, it would shine. And shine it has. In just five years, Stempel College has quadrupled its research funding, opening doors for our researchers to find solutions to some of the world’s most pressing public health challenges. Our students are graduating and securing positions at top agencies, academia, non-profits, for-profits and tech companies. As one of the top 50 colleges of public health among public universities in the nation, we are empowering our faculty and students to push the limits of science to make discoveries that positively impact communities worldwide. Innovative ideas help shape the future. I invite you to explore this year’s Impact Report, highlighting our faculty and staff’s extraordinary work to take public health to the next level. I am proud of our impact and know that it’s only the beginning of what is possible here at Stempel College. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused so much uncertainty. But it’s clear – now more than ever – how critical it is to educate, train and empower future public health professionals to meet the needs of communities in the United States and abroad. I want to personally thank deans and program directors of public health from across the nation and the world for coming together in this unprecedented time. Through connecting and sharing information, we are giving students the best possible college experience and the tools needed to build a future that serves the greater good.

Dr. Tomás R. Guilarte Dean, Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work Professor, Department of Environmental Health Sciences Professor, Cognitive Neuroscience & Imaging Director, Brain, Behavior & Environment Member, Biomolecular Sciences Institute 3

FIU is a Top 50 public university located in a city rich with diverse communities, making us uniquely situated to address health disparities and global health challenges. Our Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work (Stempel College) students learn from renowned faculty on the frontlines of social change, community engagement and research. By exploring the interconnectivity of the social, biological, environmental and cultural elements of health, Stempel College students, faculty, staff and alumni are a force for positive change.



award actions in FY 20-21, the most actions awarded in Stempel College’s history




616 641 119 BACHELOR’S



Public Health Biostatistics Environmental Health Sciences Epidemiology


Health Policy and Management Health Promotion and Disease Prevention 3% Asian

3% Two or more races


8% International 12%


bachelor’s degrees are awarded to minorities





Dietetics and Nutrition



Social Work






among public universities U.S. News & World Report



International Disaster Preparedness

among public universities U.S. News & World Report

Affiliated Research Centers Center for Research on U.S. Latino HIV/ AIDS and Drug Abuse (FIU-CRUSADA)



of bachelor’s or master’s graduates were employed or continuing their education within one year of graduation


of Ph.D. graduates were employed within one year of graduation

Center for Latino Health Research Opportunities (CLaRO) Center for Statistical Consulting and Collaboration (FIU-STATCONSULT) Community-Based Research Institute (CBRI) Global Health Consortium (GHC) Research Center in Minority Institutions (FIU-RCMI) 5

PA N D E M I C R E S P O N S E In 2021, the world was in a different place than it was at the start of the pandemic. COVID-19 vaccines were available, but some media platforms spread misinformation about the vaccine, creating doubts in the minds of the public. Stempel College faculty helped combat the misinformation through media interviews, town halls with community members, collaborations with local governments and more. Stempel College students rolled up their sleeves in support – from volunteering at a vaccine clinic to helping manage COVID-19 testing sites.

RESEARCHERS HELP INFORM POLICYMAKERS ON THE STATE OF COVID-19 When the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic struck South Florida, elected officials turned to FIU. Dr. Mary Jo Trepka, chair and professor of the Department of Epidemiology, Dr. Zoran Bursac, chair and professor in the Department of Biostatistics, and Dr. Gabriel Odom, assistant professor in the Department of Biostatistics, began collaborating with Baptist Health South Florida and the Florida Department of Health to attempt epidemiological modeling of the virus spread in our region. They met weekly with local political

From left to right: Dr. Mary Jo Trepka, Dr. Zoran Bursac and Dr. Gabriel Odom

leaders, walking county and city mayors through the numbers and explaining what they meant for each of their cities. They also answered questions about how to explain the state of the pandemic to the public. Trepka, Bursac and Odom spent hours each week curating data, giving interviews to local media outlets, participating in town halls and writing reports on daily COVID-19 testing, vaccinations, hospital use and deaths. This information is available to the public at

VOLUNTEERING AT FIU’S COVID-19 VACCINE CLINIC In early 2021, Anny Rodriguez received an email from FIU asking for student volunteers. The university had just received the first batch of vaccines from Miami-Dade County through the Florida Department of Health to help vaccinate the FIU community and needed volunteers to help run its vaccine clinic. For Rodriguez, saying yes to the request was a no-brainer. She had just started a Ph.D. degree program in epidemiology and saw it as an opportunity to gain firsthand experience in her field. “There was a tremendous effort to combat what was happening,” she said.

“Being a volunteer showed me what it is that I’m studying and the impact that I can make.” —Anny Rodriguez Student at Stempel College, Department of Epidemiology


Volunteers run the clinic, ensuring people get vaccinated quickly and efficiently by FIU volunteer nurses and doctors. From checking people in for their appointments to scheduling their next one, volunteers play different roles to ensure the clinic runs smoothly. FIU has administered nearly 16,800 first, second, and third shots, as well as boosters, to the university community.


NEW DATA-DRIVE INDEX COULD HELP COUNTRIES REOPEN SUCCESSFULLY DURING THE PANDEMIC When is it safe to reopen countries amidst pandemic lockdowns? It’s a big question in the age of coronavirus because public health recommendations are not readily available on this topic, says Dr.

Stempel College’s School of Social Work, like

Nasar Ahmed, professor in the Department of Epidemiology. While

similar programs across the nation and world,

recommendations are available about how to reopen, there isn’t

faced the continuing challenge of online classes

much information on when to reopen. To help fill this need, a group

and how best to handle field practicums. With

of experts and researchers comprised primarily of FIU professors,

128 students in internships in spring 2021, the

students and alumni developed a data-driven tool, the LSR index,

Office of Field Education worked quickly with

to assist countries in making decisions about when to reopen. The

students and agencies to develop telehealth

LSR index provides guidance for the reopening of any country or

and training opportunities. Field coordinators

area – and is particularly valuable for low resource countries. Two

reached out to community partners and explored

crucial data points are necessary: daily COVID-19 infection rate

social work needs in which interns could assist

and daily recovery rate. “The LSR index is simple and feasible,”

via telehealth. Student interns assisted with

Ahmed explains. “It’s a flexible tool kit that can be easily adapted

crisis resource lines and checked in on clients via

for low-middle income countries.”

telephone for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Miami.

FIREFIGHTER STUDENTS AWARDED FOR THEIR EFFORTS RESPONDING TO COVID-19 As the COVID-19 pandemic gripped the nation, firefighters studying at Stempel College’s Academy of International Disaster Preparedness balanced schoolwork and responsibilities within their respective fire departments. Two months into their studies, they jumped in to support the COVID-19 response, helping run testing sites, coordinating with local, regional and federal partners, and responding to emergency calls. And they did this all while maintaining high GPAs. At the Spring 2021 commencement ceremonies, they were honored as FIU’s Real Triumphs Graduates, a recognition given to high-achieving students at the university.



PH.D. CANDIDATE WINS AWARD FOR RESEARCH ON CHILDHOOD DYSTONIA-PARKINSONISM Doctoral student Alexander Rodichkin won a top honor in a graduate-level competition organized by the Metals Specialty Section at the virtual annual meeting of the Society of Toxicology. His poster presentation took second place in the Metals Specialty Section among students from the United States and abroad. The entry describes his three-year study on the pathophysiology of toxic brain manganese concentrations in a mouse model of childhood dystonia-parkinsonism that occurs in humans as a result of a genetic mutation. His work examined the behavioral, neurochemical and neuropathological consequence of toxic brain manganese concentrations resulting from the global deletion of the manganese transporter gene SLC39A14. He showed that this animal model expresses many of the neurological characteristics of the human disease.



FIU EPIDEMIOLOGY STUDENT WINS OUT TO INNOVATE SCHOLARSHIP Amelia León, a master’s student of epidemiology, is the winner of a 2021 Out to Innovate $8,000 graduate scholarship, made possible by an Innovation Generation grant from the Motorola Solutions Foundation. The scholarship is awarded to talented LGBTQ students in STEM fields. León, who goes by pronouns they/them/their, researches experiences of intimate partner violence in transgender and cisgender women at the Southern HIV & Alcohol Research Consortium (SHARC) Lab. They are also the lead organizer for Reflect Collective, an organization that raises awareness of sexual assault within the LGBTQ community and supports survivors.

“This scholarship means multiple things to me because I am a transqueer student and also because I’m a survivor working for survivors through my nonprofit.”

“I enrolled in my master’s degree in epidemiology to study the epidemiology of sexual assault, the underlying causes and how to prevent it and treat it if it does happen,” León said. “I don’t think that current treatment methods used today are appropriate or humane, in my opinion.” León will graduate in 2022 and has their eyes set on medical school.

—Amelia León Student at Stempel College, Department of Epidemiology

STEMPEL COLLEGE DIETETICS AND NUTRITION STUDENTS WIN NATIONAL SCHOLARSHIPS Two Stempel College students were awarded national scholarships from the

“I hope to use my knowledge and experiences to improve the nutrition, health, and well-being of people.” —Lukkamol Prapkree Ph.D. candidate, Department of Dietetics & Nutrition

Academy of Nutrition Dietetics Foundation. Ph.D. candidate Lukkamol Prapkree and master’s student Maria Aguado are enrolled in Stempel College’s Dietetics and Nutrition program, which ranks fourth in the nation for dietetics and nutrition majors, according to College Factual. “Our students are very competitive nationally, and it’s no surprise these two talented students received these scholarships,” said Dr. Evelyn Enrione, interim chair of the Dietetics and Nutrition program. Prapkree received $1,000 for the 2021-2022 academic school year. After graduating in Spring 2022, she plans to pursue a career as a registered dietitian in clinical or community settings to help improve people’s health and wellness, prevent nutrition-related diseases and delay disease progression.




people worldwide

Stempel College is home to the Brain, Behavior & the Environment (BBE) program,

currently suffer from

a research and educational center that looks at how environmental factors impact

Alzheimer’s disease

the brain. The BBE is an emerging preeminent program at FIU and works to enhance

or a related form of

science, research and education throughout the university. Since the program’s

dementia; an estimated 7

inception, BBE researchers have secured grant funding, primarily from the National

million to 10 million have

Institutes of Health, to examine both the causes and possible preventive and curative

Parkinson’s disease.

therapies for neurodegenerative disorders.

NEUROINFLAMMATION PROTEIN LINKED TO WORSE SURVIVAL IN MEN WITH GLIOBLASTOMA Researchers discovered a new link that could bring the scientific and medical community closer to understanding why glioblastoma, the most common malignant brain tumor, is deadlier in males than females. A new study by Stempel College, Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Institute and the National Cancer Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health, revealed for the first time a connection between translocator protein 18 kDa (TSPO), a widely used biomarker of neuroinflammation, and survival outcomes in glioblastoma patients. Findings suggest that a variation in the protein’s structure correlates with worse survival outcomes in males than females. The study was published in the September special issue “Infiltrative Gliomas: Emerging Insights into Pathophysiology, Diagnosis, and Management” of the Cancers journal.


Stempel College researchers who worked on the Glioblastoma study (from left to right): Dr. Tomás R. Guilarte, Dr. Diana Azzam and Dr. Arlet M. Acanda de la Rocha





FY 2020-21 award actions

140% In research growth (award actions) since FY-2016-17



Rank in NIH funding among public schools of Public Health



Amount of NIH funding Stempel College contributes to FIU research

Proposal success rate

In 2022, Stempel College and Emory University will kick off the Social, Environmental, and Biological Determinants of Dementia Disparities Conference Series.

“This is a fascinating observation because

The series aims to address scientific

glioblastoma has sex-specific differences,”

issues associated with mitigating the

said Diana Azzam, assistant professor of environmental health sciences, who was

disproportionate impact of ADRD among ethnic minorities in the United States. It is supported by a grant from the

corresponding author of the study. “It’s

National Institute on Aging at NIH and

more frequent in males than females, and

is among the first of its kind to focus

the survival outcome of males is worse than

on social, environmental, psychological

females. In the future, this can potentially help

and biological determinants affecting

patients receive personalized treatments for the disease.”

brain health and disease experienced by understudied populations.


PROFESSOR SETS EYES ON CREATING A CENTER IN SOUTH FLORIDA THAT SUPPORTS 9/11 SURVIVORS In the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center that killed 2,753 people, more than 100,000 responders and recovery workers from every U.S. state – along with some 400,000 residents and other workers around Ground Zero – were exposed to a toxic cloud of dust. In a piece published in The Conversation, Dr. Roberto Lucchini, professor in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences and former director of the WTC Health Program Data Center in Mount Sinai, shared the impact the toxic air had on first responders. What began as a severe and persistent cough turned into devastating health conditions years later. “We see that they are forgetful. They are having memory problems. They are now in their 60s, and this is an earlier time than the average age when these sorts of symptoms can come out,” said Lucchini, who is conducting research to better understand whether this cognitive impairment is related to the 9/11 toxic dust exposure. He hopes to one day open a center in South Florida to respond to the needs of first responders, who are increasingly relocating to Florida after retirement.

“My aim is to create evidence to help young people be aware of risks associated with the use of novel tobacco products and guide regulatory bodies to consider effective ways to reduce tobacco use morbidity and mortality.” —Dr. Wasim Maziak Professor, Department of Epidemiology

STEMPEL COLLEGE PROFESSOR WORKS ON SOLUTIONS TO THE TOBACCO EPIDEMIC AMONG YOUTH Dr. Wasim Maziak, professor in the Department of Epidemiology, has dedicated his career to researching novel tobacco products and ways to respond to them. His efforts over the years have landed him prestigious fellowships, grants and awards. In 2021, Maziak was awarded the Faculty Award for Excellence in Research & Creative Activities by FIU’s Faculty Senate. Recently, Maziak has received several awards from the National Institutes of Health to study e-cigarettes, helping build FIU as a national hub for regulatory and policy research related to e-cigarette use. In partnership with the University of Miami, Maziak’s team received a $2.6 million grant from the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) to develop and test health warning labels for e-cigarettes.



“Since the 1990s, there has been an increase in cases of chronic kidney disease (CKD) that are not associated with traditional risk factors such as diabetes and hypertension and which disproportionately affect younger men who work in agriculture.” CORN FARMING LED THIS FIU PROFESSOR TO STUDY THE IMPACT OF PESTICIDES ON

—Dr. Michael Anastario Assistant professor, Department of Health Promotion and Disease Prevention

HISPANIC FARMWORKERS Dr. Michael Anastario is an author, sociologist and assistant professor in the Department of Health Promotion and Disease Prevention. At one point in his life, he worked side-by-side with corn farmers in El Salvador. In 2014, Anastario traveled to the Central American country to conduct ethnographic field research in an agrarian community, staying five years. The experience led him to discover how extreme heat and pesticides negatively impacted the people he was working with – many were dying at a young age or experiencing severe side effects. As a result, today Anastario is working on a pilot study supported by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD) under the Research Center in Minority Institutions (FIU-RCMI) examining exposure to toxic agrichemicals among migrant Hispanic farmworkers in Immokalee, Florida.


2021 HEALTH EQUITY SYMPOSIUM This fall, FIU-RCMI hosted the 2021 Health Equity Symposium, which highlighted community-university partnerships established to address health equity during

At the Research Center in Minority Institutions

COVID-19. Attendees learned about best practices for establishing new collaborations

(FIU-RCMI), researchers mentor the next

between researchers and community organizations. They also heard from keynote

generation of health disparities researchers and

speaker, Dr. Eliseo J. Pérez-Stable, Director, National Institute on Minority Health

form lasting community-university partnerships promoting health equity for medically underserved

and Health Disparities (NIMHD) and FIU-RCMI funded researchers working toward eliminating health disparities and promoting health equity.

populations in South Florida. “We are devoted to the elimination of health disparities plaguing minority communities,” said Dr. Eric F. Wagner, principal investigator of the FIU-RCMI, director of the Community Based Research Institute, and professor at the School of Social Work. The FIU-RCMI began in 2017 with a $13.1 million grant—subsequently increased to more than $15 million— from the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities. Since then, the FIU-RCMI has experienced tremendous growth, bringing together researchers and trainees from various disciplines to help identify and eliminate health disparities. 13



Health disparities has become one of the common threads running across classrooms and research in numerous disciplines at FIU, ranging from epidemiology to medicine and sociology. Faculty and students at Stempel College are particularly passionate about understanding the barriers that impede certain populations from accessing appropriate health care. Through the Health Inequities and Disparities Program led by Dr. Mario De La Rosa, endowed university professor in health equity and professor in the School of Social Work, researchers primarily from Stempel College are working on projects revolving around the

If we don’t have healthy communities and individuals, our society as a whole will not work well. We need a society that protects and takes care of the people who are most in need.” —Dr. Mario De La Rosa Endowed university professor in health equity

impact of HIV, substance abuse and ethnicity on health; developing culturally appropriate substance abuse and HIV prevention and treatment programs; and partnering with community stakeholders in South Florida, the Caribbean and beyond to reduce substance abuse and HIV. The program works in concert with several key centers at Stempel College, including the Research Center in Minority Institutions (FIU-RCMI) and the Center for Research on U.S. Latino HIV/AIDS and Drug Abuse (CRUSADA). The college created a concentration in health disparities within the doctoral program in public health in the Department of Health Promotion and Disease Prevention with funding from a National Institute of Minority Health and Health Disparities Endowment grant. The Health Disparities concentration, led by department chair Elena Bastida and assistant professor Mariana Sanchez, allows doctoral students to specialize in the area.



STEMPEL COLLEGE’S I N T E R N AT I O N A L W O R K S P A N S L AT I N A M E R I C A , THE CARIBBEAN, ASIA AND EUROPE. THE FUTURE IS GLOBAL COVID-19 has not slowed down Stempel College’s international outreach. Since the start of the pandemic, the college has signed 15 agreements with universities and other institutions from the United States and countries like Antigua, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Italy. The agreements pave the way for increased collaborations between students and faculty on research projects, credit and non-credit courses, events and more. Helping to foster these partnerships and opportunities is the Global Health Consortium, a collaborative platform that works to create solutions to the global health challenges of today.

And this global work is only just beginning. Stempel College’s latest hire Dr. Rajiv Chowdhury, former professor of Global Public Health at the University of Exeter and the University of Cambridge, will lead efforts to create a new Department of Global Health, helping build the next generation of global health professionals.

COVID-19 VACCINES: A GLOBAL EXPERTS’ SUMMIT In 2021, FIU hosted the COVID-19 Vaccines: A Global Experts’ Summit, a three-part virtual event that brought together researchers and public health experts who discussed the latest on COVID-19 in the United States and the changing landscape of the pandemic in Asia, Africa and the Americas. Thousands of people tuned in to hear experts from the World Health Organization, Stanford University, UNICEF and other institutions tackle topics like vaccine hesitancy, vaccine availability and boosters. The event was hosted by FIU’s Office of the President in collaboration with the Global Health Consortium at Stempel College, in partnership with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.



“Events like this are needed now more than ever so we can overcome the challenges brought on by this pandemic, build solutions and impact lives on a global scale.” —Dr. Carlos Espinal Director, Global Health Consortium

THE GLOBAL HEALTH CONFERENCE OF THE AMERICAS 2021 In December, public health experts and researchers gathered in Cartagena, Colombia, for the Global Health Conference of the Americas. Participants heard from renowned global health experts and speakers at the annual three-day conference and learned about the current data, comparisons and future plans for important topics such as COVID-19, immunizations, child and adolescent health, climate change and environmental health. The event was hosted by the Global Health Consortium and the Colombian Society of Pediatrics.

“Through international collaboration, we can strengthen

STEMPEL COLLEGE PARTNERS WITH SCHOOL OF MEDICINE IN COLOMBIA TO IMPROVE HEALTH AND WELL-BEING OF PEOPLE IN LATIN AMERICA AND THE CARIBBEAN Stempel College is partnering with the School of Medicine at Universidad de los Andes (Uniandes) in Colombia—the first collaboration of its kind established in the Latin

our capabilities to jointly

American region.

generate positive impact

Leveraging the facilities of Uniandes in Bogotá and Cartagena, the partnership will

to the Latin American

create collaborative spaces to bring together faculty and researchers from both

and the Caribbean

institutions to develop and implement innovative academic, research and human

region.” — Silvia Restrepo Vice president of Research and Creation, Universidad de los Andes

resource initiatives. The goal is to help improve the health and well-being of people in Latin America and the Caribbean. The partnership also opens the door for expanding educational opportunities for students, allowing them to participate in exchange programs, academic courses and scientific events. Key areas of focus include cybersecurity and health, COVID-19, antimicrobial resistance, environmental health, disaster management and more.



ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR TAPPED AS AN ADVISOR FOR THE WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION ON NEW NUTRIENT REQUIREMENTS FOR INFANTS Dr. Cristina Palacios, associate professor in the Department of Dietetics and Nutrition, has dedicated the past 20 years to helping families live happy and healthy lives. She jumped at the opportunity when she heard that the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) needed help revising nutrient requirements for children recently born to 36 months old. Palacios submitted her application and was chosen based on her expertise with the nutrients calcium, zinc and vitamin D. According to Palacios, due to a lack of data, most international health associations have based the infant nutrient requirements on what healthy infants consume rather than on functional outcomes related to health growth and development. However, as new data becomes available on infant outcomes,

“Now I have a way to translate my research into a practical recommendation that countries can apply to their nutritional programs. It will help ensure children receive the right amount of nutrients needed to thrive.” —Dr. Cristina Palacios Associate professor, Department of Dietetics and Nutrition

experts like Palacios review the information and provide recommendations for updates based on functional outcomes. Palacios shared that the rollout of the requirements could take some time—she and the team are reviewing years of evidence produced by various public health and medical experts.


F A C U LT Y S P O T L I G H T Welcome to our new faculty. They bring talent and skill to the college and are incredible additions to our Stempel College family.

Dr. Olatokunbo Osibogun is an assistant

Dr. Courtney Wilson received his doctorate

professor in the Department of

from the University of Florida’s Public

Epidemiology at Stempel College.

Affairs Program—Social Work track.

After pursuing her medical degree in

Dr. Wilson began his career working in

Igbinedion University Okada, Nigeria, she went to the School of Public Health at the

the mental health field in New York City, supporting patients with comorbid mental

University of Alabama at Birmingham to obtain a MPH. In

health disabilities. After completing his master’s

2019, she obtained her Ph.D. in public health from FIU

in social work at Touro College in New York City, he

and completed a NIDA T32 postdoctoral fellowship at FIU

focused on education and academic outcomes for

prior to her academic faculty position at the Department

minoritized youth. Over the years, Dr. Wilson has

of Epidemiology. Her research focuses broadly on

developed a particular interest in working with at risk

cardiovascular health promotion, tobacco use and

populations, communities, educational institutions, and

women’s health. Dr. Osibogun works with NIH-funded

city council members to increase interconnectedness,

cohort studies, including the Population Assessment of

civic engagement, and opportunities available

Tobacco and Health (PATH) Study and the Multi-Ethnic

to marginalized groups. His research focuses on

Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA).

incorporating geographic information systems in understanding social and economic barriers to

Dr. Melissa Ward is an assistant professor

academic success for marginalized groups.

at the Department of Epidemiology at Stempel College. Previously, she was a postdoctoral associate at the Community-Based Research Institute. A social epidemiologist by training, her research interests include disparities in access to substance abuse treatment, HIV care, and women’s health.

Berenice Castillo will be joining FIU’s School of Social Work in spring 2022, after earning her joint doctorate in social work & development psychology from the University of Michigan School of Social Work. Her research has focused on substance

Dr. Sofia Fernandez came to FIU’s School of Social Work after serving

examines Hispanic adolescent health disparities and

as a postdoctoral associate on FIU-

mechanisms to improve the health and well-being of

RCMI’s Investigator Development Core,

Hispanic adolescents who engage in substance use or

a program designed to provide early state investigators with pilot grant and training opportunities to pursue research careers in the health sciences. Dr. Fernandez earned her doctorate in social welfare from FIU’s School of Social Work in 2017. Her research focuses on utilizing community-based approaches to addressing health disparities among hard to-reach populations, primarily HIV. 18

use behavior over time in adolescents. Her dissertation

demonstrate externalizing behaviors.

ALUMNI We are proud of our Stempel College alumni family—now nearly 10,000 strong. Our alumni are making an impact across the globe, securing positions at leading organizations in health, government, academia, tech and more.



10,000 Alumni


U.S. territories



“I look forward to advocating for my early career peers’ interests at the national level, expanding career development opportunities for them, and helping with furthering the advancement of their careers.” — Sahar Ajabshir Alumna of Stempel College, Department of Dietetics and Nutrition

ALUMNA APPOINTED TO THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS FOR THE AMERICAN SOCIETY FOR NUTRITION Alumna Sahar Ajabshir was appointed to the Board of Directors for the American Society for Nutrition, a leading global authority in nutrition science founded in 1928. She will serve as the board’s Early Career Nutrition Representative. In 2013, Ajabshir graduated with a master’s degree in dietetics and nutrition, later earning a Ph.D. in the same discipline in 2018. Her mentor was Dr. Fatma Huffman, professor and founding director of the college’s dietetics and nutrition Ph.D. program. “Dr. Huffman is an icon of mentorship and leadership at FIU,’’ said Ajabshir. “I’m impressed by her profound dedication and enthusiasm in mentoring and helping students. She has an open-door policy and is always available and approachable to help and answer questions, both inside and outside the classroom.”


ALUMNI ALUMNA LANDS JOB AT AMAZON AS A USER EXPERIENCE RESEARCHER Born in Benin City, Nigeria, Etinosa Oghogho moved to Miami, Florida, to pursue a doctoral degree in public health, focusing on health promotion and disease prevention. She graduated in Fall 2021 and landed a role with Amazon as a user experience researcher, conducting end-to-end research and studies design, recruiting and reporting. Oghogho credits Dr. Jessy Dévieux, professor in the Department of Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, for her mentorship. “She is amazing and a superstar mentor. She believed in me as a student and helped me navigate through my doctoral journey,” she said.

ALUMNUS STUDIES GENETIC FACTORS FOR ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE Families with a loved one battling Alzheimer’s disease bear witness to its devastating effects of memory loss, confusion and the inability to complete everyday tasks. Working to help find ways to prevent, treat and cure diseases like Alzheimer’s is Brian W. Kunkle. While Kunkle was pursuing a bachelor’s degree in geoenvironmental studies at Shippensburg University, his grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. “She was in her 60s. This really affected me,” he said. “It made me realize how devastating a disease like this can be because it lasts years

“Stempel College helped me get hands-on research experience while assisting great faculty. These opportunities helped me understand what it would be like to work at a health department and what I would be doing if I pursued the research side.”

families and caregivers.” In 2005, Kunkle was accepted to Stempel College, where he completed dual master’s degrees in epidemiology and environmental health and later a Ph.D. in public health. Today, Kunkle is an assistant professor in the Dr. John T. Macdonald Foundation Department of Human Genetics and the John P. Hussman Institute for Human

— Brian Kunkle

Genomics at the University of Miami. In this role, he directs analysts,

Alumnus of Stempel College, Department of

writes grants and research papers, and investigates the causes of

Epidemiology and Department of Environmental Health Sciences


beyond diagnoses and gets gradually worse. It is very tough on

complex diseases like Alzheimer’s disease.


A LIFE DEDICATED TO SUPPORT SEXUAL ABUSE SURVIVORS Venezuelan native Linda Guillotti has dedicated her college career to advocating for human and reproductive rights. In the summer of 2021, she graduated from FIU with a master’s in social work. Guillotti draws from her personal experience of sexual abuse and recovery to support other survivors who are struggling and feeling alone. “I’ve got this thing to want to help survivors overcome their trauma and their symptoms of PTSD,” she said. “Getting my master’s degree is just an extension of my life’s purpose, helping survivors of sexual violence.” Today, she works as a case manager at Survivor’s Pathway, supporting survivors of domestic violence, sexual abuse, human trafficking and multiple types of victimization. She also provides pro bono therapy sessions to help survivors of violent assaults.

“At this point, I’m ahead of my game. I found a job that is exactly what I wanted to do before even graduating.” — Linda Guillotti Alumna of Stempel College, School of Social Work

FROM STEMPEL DOCTORAL STUDENT TO CDC FELLOW Born in Nairobi, Kenya, Sandra Kiplagat moved to the United States to seek better educational opportunities – opportunities that would lead her to secure a fellowship with the Public Health Institute (PHI) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In 2018, she began her doctoral program at Stempel College, focusing her dissertation on

Kiplagat’s interest in maternal health helped her land a prestigious summer internship in

“Back in Kenya, I saw there were a lot of inequities, particularly with people who are living on the margins of society, and I wanted to help.”

2019 with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Last summer, she graduated from her

—Sandra Kiplagat

Ph.D. program and took on a role as a global epidemiology fellow in a program run by the

Alumna of Stempel College,

maternal health in rural India. Her research looked at diverse methodological approaches to identify women at high risk of having a pre-term or low-weight baby. “Through my research, we identified that women who were in socioeconomically disadvantaged groups had a higher risk of having a pre-term or low birth weight baby,” Kiplagat said.

PHI and the CDC, where she works with the global immunization team to study vaccine

Department of Epidemiology

safety and improve surveillance for vaccine safety activities.



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