UIC Applied Health Sciences Magazine - Winter 2023

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UIC Applied Health Sciences

The other side

Kathy Pisabaj almost died in a random shooting. She uses her traumatic experience to help others


Gift funds help create a more just and inclusive world

Brothers in art: BVIS alumni spread faith, hope and inspiration



"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly."

— Martin Luther King Jr., letter from the Birmingham jail, April 16, 1963

The “inescapable network of mutuality” mentioned by Dr. King is fundamental to the nature of our college.

As teachers, clinicians and researchers from different but related professions, we work together to help individuals, communities and society. We seek solutions to problems so tightly connected and intertwined—poverty, illness, discrimination, lack of education—that each must be considered within the context of the others.

This means the act of healing is carried out in different and complementary ways. We’re proud to highlight some of them in this issue of UIC Applied Health Sciences magazine.

Recent nutrition graduate Kathy Pisabaj, a survivor of gun violence, transforms her trauma into activism and empathy. Alan and Aaron Hicks, twin brothers who have built a career together, create Afrocentric art to inspire and uplift. Joy Hammel leads a network of research centers collaborating to understand disparities affecting the lives of people with disabilities, producing data that will empower them to advocate for change.

We’d like to introduce you to some of our alumni working in the Illinois Medical District, who use their skills and training to bring health care equity to Chicago’s underserved populations. “I am often asked what gets me out of bed every day. It is knowing that I get to impact someone’s life,” says Patrick Kania ’11 MS BVIS.

I invite you to learn about our gift funds that support students from underrepresented communities, as well as those dedicated to moving us forward to a more just and inclusive world. Consider making a contribution!

As Dr. King said, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." We cannot afford to be complacent.

UIC Applied Health Sciences Magazine

Winter 2023




Sonya Booth, Laura Fletcher, UIC News contributors


UIC Creative and Digital Services, UIC Office of Strategic Marketing and Communications

©2023 University of Illinois Chicago. All rights reserved. Published by the Office of the Dean, UIC College of Applied Health Sciences, 808 S. Wood St., 169 CMET, Chicago, IL 60612-7305.

Views expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editor, the college or university.

Telephone (312) 996-6695

Fax (312) 413-0086

E-mail eachavez@uic.edu

Website ahs.uic.edu

You might notice abbreviations throughout this issue. They correlate to academic units and programs in the College of Applied Health Sciences.

AT Athletic Training

BHI Biomedical and Health Informatics

BHIS Department of Biomedical and Health Information Sciences

BVIS Biomedical Visualization

DHD Department of Disability and Human Development


EP Disability Studies

Exercise Physiology

HI Health Informatics

HIM Health Information Management

KINES Kinesiology

KN Department of Kinesiology and Nutrition

MLS Medical Laboratory Sciences

NUT Nutrition

OT Department of Occupational Therapy

PT Department of Physical Therapy

RS Rehabilitation Sciences

UIC Applied Health Sciences

The other side Nutrition alumna, a gun violence survivor, wants to use her traumatic experience in helping others

On the cover: Kathy Pisabaj '22 BS NUT at a July 2018 anti-violence demonstration that shut down the northbound Dan Ryan Expressway. She wears a halter top to show scars from the injury.

MAGAZINE Art as healing Biomedical visualization alumni, twin brothers, use what they learned in the classroom to
faith, hope and inspiration Disabling participation disparities Highlights from alumni who serve in the Illinois Medical District Scholar and citizen Marie Lynn Miranda named UIC chancellor Features 9 3 22 5 7 Conscious capital Gift funds advance the college's work to create a more just and inclusive world 20 Notebook People @UICAHS

First-year figures

The number of first-year undergraduates enrolled in the College of Applied Health Sciences for fall 2022 showed a 21.7% increase over last year, according to enrollment data from the first 10 days of class.

Total UIC incoming freshmen enrollment increased by 1.6% to 4,244.

There are 202 first-year undergrads, compared to 166 in 2021. The total number of new students increased to 585, compared to 579 in 2021.

The number of applications for undergraduate first-year students also increased: 919 for fall 2022, compared to 734 applications in fall 2021.

“We had an increase in the number of applications and as a result, we admitted a larger class,” Doran said.

Enrollment figures also showed a 26% increase in new professional students (112 in 2022, up from last year’s 66). However, this primarily reflects a change in student classification from graduate to professional, as the Department of Occupational Therapy transitioned from a master’s to an entry-level OTD program, Doran said.

Total AHS enrollment was down slightly, to 2,051 as compared to 2,121 in 2021.

Doran said she’s seen a lot of positive energy with the new school year.

After the uncertain years of the COVID-19 pandemic, “it’s a good sign that students are eager and interested,” said Eileen Doran, AHS associate dean for student affairs.

Fellow scientist

Giamila Fantuzzi, KN professor and director of graduate studies, was elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science for her distinguished contributions to the field of adipose cell and cytokine biology, particularly in the study of inflammation and inflammatory pathologies.

Fantuzzi will be honored at the annual AAAS Fellows Forum in Washington, D.C., this spring.

A native of Italy, Fantuzzi’s background includes biology, neuroimmunology, endocri-

“We’ve had great turnout at our new student events,” Doran said. “Our student organizations are returning with a lot of enthusiasm to get students involved. It’s really exciting.”

nology and infectious diseases. Her research concerns the molecules involved in the regulation of obesity and inflammation, particularly in diseases like acute pancreatitis.

Fantuzzi is listed among the Top Italian Woman Scientists, a ranking of distinguished female Italian biomedical researchers.

“Dr. Fantuzzi is a role model for women and scientists around the world and her election as AAAS fellow recognizes her contributions and influence,” said Carlos Crespo, AHS dean.

2 NOTEBOOK AHS News and Notes
UIC students commute across the east campus quad. Giamila Fantuzzi Photo: Ian Battaglia

Disabling participation disparities

Lex Frieden, disability policy and advocate researcher at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.

The project focuses on disparities for people with disabilities in the three areas related to the ADA: community living, community participation and economic equity.

Through focus groups, town halls and surveys, ADA PARC centers will conduct participatory action research “to check that we’ve got our finger on the pulse of what the biggest issues are in the disability community that they’re facing right now,” Hammel said.

UIC collaborators include the Great Lakes ADA Center, led by director Robin Jones, and DHD faculty members Yochai Eisenberg, Sarah Parker Harris and Robert Gould.

Depending on where they live in the U.S., people with disabilities are three or more times more likely to live in poverty than people without disabilities.

This information, and more, is available from ADA PARC (the Americans with Disabilities Act Participation Action Research Consortium), a UIC-based national research center that just received a new $2.5 million grant from the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research.

The funding will be used to gather and analyze new data about the participation disparities experienced by people with disabilities; improve and expand the existing website for disseminating that data; and train people from diverse disability communities to use the information as advocates in talking with policymakers.

The participatory research will be done in collaboration with the 10 Americans with Disabilities Act centers that represent all states and territories in the U.S., as well as the ADA Knowledge Translation Center.

“As major civil rights legislation, the ADA has had an impact over time. But we’re able to show that there are still significant disparities that need to be addressed at the national, state and city level,” said Joy Hammel, professor of OT, DHD and RS, who is co-principal investigator with

Researchers in the UIC College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs are updating and expanding the website and ensuring its accessibility for diverse people and communities.

Right now, the disparities data and website provide information on people with disabilities as compared to people without disability for over 50 different indicators related to the ADA, Hammel said.

Over the next five years, ADA PARC will study and analyze additional findings specific to people with disability as related to race, ethnicity, age, economic status, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity.

The goal of ADA PARC isn’t only to gather, analyze and publish data online. The project will train 200 peer equity navigators: people in the disability community, from all over the country, who will use the information in advocacy with politicians, policymakers, funders and others. ADA PARC will track how the data is used, as well as its impact in reducing disparities and improving opportunities for societal participation.

“The project is right in line with our vision for the college and the university, the focus on community engagement, community participation and social justice issues,” Hammel said. “It helps to highlight these disparities, but also offers innovative ways to address them and make real-life social action and justice-based changes in society.”

Joy Hammel


Since 2014, Richard Severin ’22 PhD RS, clinical assistant professor of physical therapy, has been a longstanding advocate for blood pressure management in PT practice.

Severin’s campaign moved an important step forward at the American Physical Therapy Association House of Delegates meeting in August, when the APTA adopted a resolution publicly supporting blood pressure management as part of the reimbursable scope of PT practice. This will allow state chapters to work with state policymakers to formalize this into law.

“Blood pressure control is a major problem in health care,” Severin said.

Driving discovery

“Adding non-pharmacologic management of blood pressure disorders to the physical therapy scope of practice would be a new opportunity for PTs to improve the health of patients in their communities across settings and the continuum of care.”

The American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association have recommended exercise and lifestyle changes to manage blood pressure, but there’s limited health care infrastructure for it, Severin said.

Physical therapists already incorporate exercise and lifestyle changes into their practice when they encounter patients with blood pressure disorders. Adding it to the reimbursable scope of practice would mean patients with hypertension, for example, could see a physical therapist specifically for that problem without a physician referral.

“This improves patient access to care,” said Severin, who is also coordinator of the bariatric surgery rehabilitation program in the PT Faculty Practice Clinic.

The thirty-seven posters presented came from all departments in the college. For the first time, undergrads were invited.

AHS Research Day, which began in 2014, fosters interdisciplinary collaboration by providing an opportunity for faculty, staff and students to learn about research in other departments. It’s also a way for members of the AHS community to meet and socialize.

The event was organized by AHS Office of Research faculty and staff, including Philip Clifford, professor and associate dean for research; Michelle Belcher, grants and contracts specialist; Faith Thurmond, executive director of research operations; and Sandra Rahbe, regulatory support coordinator.

After a two-year break due to the COVID-19 pandemic, AHS graduate and undergraduate students presented their work at AHS Research Day Nov. 2.

are vital
photos of the event at go.uic.edu/2022AHSResearchDay.
Richard Severin
DHD students, faculty and staff pose for a group photo during this year's event.

Notable leader

Timotheus “T.J.” Gordon Jr. ’19 MS DHD, a DHD research associate who works toward self-advocacy and racial equity in disability culture, was included on the Crain’s Chicago Business list of Notable Black Executives and Leaders for 2022.

The list includes not only corporate and nonprofit leaders, but several Chicago disability advocates.

“I’m proud to see more recognition of works and creations of local Black people with disabilities,” Gordon said.

Gordon’s awards, accomplishments and activities are many.

He is co-lead organizer of the Chicagoland Disabled People of Color Coalition, which promotes disability pride, self-advocacy and inclusion in communities of color throughout the Chicago area. The group was recently awarded a seed grant from the Crossroads Fund.

He was a 2022 Disability Lead fellow and an Association of University Centers on Disabilities Leadership Institute fel-

Scholar and citizen

Claire van den Helder, a master's student in disability studies, is one of 12 students selected for a Netherland-America Foundation Fulbright award for the 2022-23 academic year.

After she became disabled, van den Helder met disability activists on social media who inspired her to learn more about disability social movements and resistance.

“The experiences of disabled people lead to unique understandings of what it is to be human, and what it is to be a citizen. I am interested in their approaches in social movements and resistance because I believe that their unique

low. In March 2022, he was among Black Chicagoans honored by the City of Chicago Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities in celebration of Black History Month.

He was appointed by Gov. JB Pritzker to the board of directors of the Statewide Independent Living Council of Illinois, which supports independent living for people with disabilities.

Gordon‘s essays and reviews on disability and race have appeared in the anthology “All the Weight of Our Dreams: On Living

Racialized Autism” and the Disability Visibility Project’s “ADA 30 in Color,” among others. He appears in the 2020 documentary “Code of the Freaks,” which was co-written and co-produced by DHD professor Carrie Sandahl.

experiences can give us new perspectives on citizenship,” she said.

Van den Helder was interviewed by Fay Hartog-Levin, former U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands, for a profile in the Netherland-America Foundation’s December 2022 newsletter.

"The disability rights movement has made an important impact on U.S. society, legislation and policy that just cannot be ignored by any serious scholar concerned with disability. Theory and research on disability in the U.S. has developed in a unique way because of this history. No place other than the U.S. to study it!" van den Helder said.

She received a bachelor’s degree in cultural anthropology and development sociology from Leiden University.

Read the full interview at go.uic.edu/ClaireInTheUS

Claire van den Helder Timotheus "T.J" Gordon, Jr.

Fasting and female hormones

A study led by Krista Varady, professor of nutrition, found that intermittent fasting did not change the levels of certain kinds of female reproductive hormones and caused a decrease within normal ranges for another hormone.

“I think this is a great first step,” said Varady about the eight-week study, funded by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

The study followed a group of pre- and post-menopausal obese women who maintained an intermittent fasting diet that involved eating during a four-hour or six-hour period each day without calorie limits, then consumed only water until the same time next day.

The researchers compared the differences in hormone levels with those of a control group that followed no diet restrictions.

They found that levels of a protein that carries reproductive hormones throughout the body was unchanged in the dieters after eight weeks. The same was true for steroid hormones related to the production of testosterone and estrogen.

However, another hormone, DHEA, that fertility clinics prescribe to improve ovarian function and egg quality, dropped by about 14% but remained within normal range.

Women in the four-hour and six-hour dieting groups lost 3% to 4% of their baseline weight compared with the control group, which had almost no weight loss. The dieters also saw a drop in insulin resistance and biomarkers of oxidative stress.

“We’ve observed thousands of pre- and post-menopausal women through different alternate-day fasting and time-restricted eating strategies. All it’s doing is making people eat less. By shortening that eating window, you’re just naturally cutting calories,” Varady said.

“Much of the negative information on intermittent fasting reported has come from studies on mice or rats. We need more studies to look at the effects of intermittent fasting on humans.”

NOTEBOOK Read the study at go.uic.edu/FastingAndFemaleHormones.
Krista Varady (right) weighs a research study participant.

Marie Lynn Miranda named UIC chancellor

Throughout her career, Miranda has worked to make higher education more inclusive by increasing faculty and student diversity. Before joining Notre Dame in 2020, she held leadership and faculty positions at Rice University, University of Michigan and Duke University.

At Notre Dame, she is founding director of the Children’s Environmental Health Initiative. The program uses spatial design of environmental health research to study problems including childhood lead exposure, racial residential segregation and the social and environmental stressors of segregated neighborhoods that drive health and educational disparities.

Marie Lynn Miranda, a researcher who uses her knowledge of mathematics and statistics to study environmental and public health with a focus on children’s health, has been named UIC chancellor.

Miranda will take office July 5; her appointment was approved Nov. 17 by the UI Board of Trustees. She succeeds former chancellor Michael Amiridis, now president of the University of South Carolina.

Miranda, a leader in geospatial health informatics, is professor of applied and computational mathematics and statistics and former provost at Notre Dame University. As Notre Dame provost, she led the university’s academic response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Improving health literacy

Over her career, Miranda has been principal investigator or co-principal investigator on grants totaling over $75 million in research funding.

She earned a bachelor’s at Duke and a PhD and master’s from Harvard University. She is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

“It is an honor to be chosen to lead one of the country’s great urban universities and to serve this global city and its people,” Miranda said. “I look forward to learning from and working with students, faculty and staff as we work collaboratively with our community partners to meet the pressing challenges and opportunities before us.”

Ashley Brondell, a clinical care provider and master’s student in health informatics, is one of 15 health information students in the country to win a $7,000 college scholarship from the American Health Information Management Association Foundation. The foundation is dedicated to improving health information literacy.

“As an aspiring health information professional, I understand and know the challenges faced by many providers and patients when it comes to health literacy,” wrote Brondell in her scholarship essay.

“Digital health literacy is crucial for patients when using online portals and telehealth platforms; patients deserve clear and easy access to their personal health information and reliable resources on how to use that information to make those same informed health decisions.”

"On behalf of the faculty and students, we congratulate Ashley in receiving this award and are enormously proud of her achievement and scholarship in the health informatics field," said Miriam Isola, BHIS clinical assistant professor and health informatics program director.

Marie Lynn Miranda will take office July 5 as UIC’s 10th chancellor. Photo: Mike Fan

Two to tango

For more than 15 years, kinesiology professor David X. Marquez has conducted research on the effectiveness of regular physical activity in maintaining health and cognitive function for older adults, particularly Latines.

Marquez has found that older Latines are less likely to pursue leisure-time physical activities than older nonLatine whites. Walking and dancing are the physical activities older Latines say they enjoy most, but they are often discouraged from walking by the weather and the urban environment.

To promote physical activities among older Latines, Marquez co-developed a Spanish-language program with Miguel Mendez, BAILAMOS (Balance and Activity In Latinos, Addressing Mobility in Older Adults), that uses Latin dance as a way to be active.

“Dancing is a highly relevant cultural activity that many Latinos have done in their lives, whether it’s family parties or going clubbing back in the day,” said Marquez, director of the Exercise Psychology Laboratory. But “for many older Latinos, it’s just not available now for the most part.”

In an earlier study, Marquez found that participants who attended Latin dance classes conducted through BAILAMOS showed improvements in mobility, quality of life, enjoyment of physical activity and cognition.

Now, in new research funded by a two-year, $500,000 grant from the National Center for Chronic Disease

Prevention & Health Promotion, Marquez will study the effectiveness of BAILAMOS and another program, Fit and Strong!, in improving memory and cognition for Latines age 65 and older.

Fit and Strong!, a nearly 20-year exercise program developed by public health professor Susan Hughes, has already proven effective in improving mobility for older adults with arthritis.

The new study, which will compare the two programs, is aimed at older Latines who report memory or cognition concerns—mild cognitive impairment—but not dementia.

Latines have a greater risk of developing chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease that also put them at greater risk for Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, explained Marquez, who is also visiting associate professor at the Rush University Alzheimer’s Disease Center.

“We want to learn if these two programs can positively influence cognitive function.”

Another goal for the study is to determine the feasibility of online programs for this population group.

“Hopefully we can have greater reach and greater adherence to the program, because it will be available to people almost no matter where they are,” Marquez said.

Funding for the study comes from the Dementia Risk Reduction Research Network, administered under the UIC Policy Practice and Prevention Research Center.

To read additional news and notes, visit ahs.uic.edu/news/archive.


Art as healing

Biomedical visualization alumni, twin brothers, use what they learned in the classroom to spread faith, hope and inspiration.

“Hanging at the shop,” a painting in the Black Culture Collection by Alan and Aaron Hicks.

aron and Alan Hicks ‘85 BS BVIS are almost certainly the only identical twins to graduate from UIC’s biomedical visualization program.

In their studio, Twin Hicks, the brothers create Afrocentric murals, portraits and religious imagery—artwork displayed in churches, schools, public buildings and homes, as well as films like “Coming to America 2” and “Equalizer 2.” Their art can be seen in the Chicago church that gospel great Mahalia Jackson attended.

They’re planning new art for the historic Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, to be rebuilt after it was destroyed by flames last April. A mural the brothers painted in the South Side church in 2008 was the only wall left after the blaze.

“It amazes me that the mural was still standing after the whole church burned down,” Alan said.

“Even though that mural can’t be saved, we can do a new one, we can make it better and have more of an impact than what this mural had,” he told the Chicago Sun-Times after the fire.

The brothers paint in similar styles, although Alan is left-handed and Aaron, right-handed.

“If you didn’t study us closely, you couldn’t tell. But if you followed us, you could see the slight difference in our artwork,” Alan said. “We definitely have an influence on each other, when it comes to our style and the medium we work in. But Aaron might see something a little bit different than I do.”

“As much as we're twins, we are individual artists,” Aaron said. “We come together as it relates to business and projects. If we’re doing a mural or a portrait that has several people in it, he may do some and I may do the others. Or I might work

out an outline for a painting and we’ll collaborate on finishing it.”

As far back as they can remember, the two wanted to be artists. Their guidance counselor at Thornton Township High School in Harvey suggested a career in medical art.

They were in the final bachelor’s-degree class of what was then called Biocommunication Arts, which required two years on the Urbana-Champaign campus and two in Chicago. (The program then became master’s level.)

Aaron remembers dissecting cadavers in anatomy class, working side by side with medical students.

“You learn to look at the body with great respect,” he said. “Understanding how the body works, learning, from the inside, how to illustrate it, gave me more confidence.”

After graduation, the brothers worked for more than a decade at Richard Rush Studios, a leading producer of health education exhibits, which was eventually purchased by General Exhibits and Displays. After that firm closed, they signed with two nationwide in-home art sales companies, Personal Preference and Artistic Impressions.

“People loved our artwork; it was distributed across the country,” Aaron said. “At company conventions, people would come from far and wide to see us and get autographs.”

Then those companies folded, and Aaron and Alan decided to take charge of their own sales. In the days before the power of social media, this meant traveling to sell their work at art shows in cities like Philadelphia, Baltimore, New Orleans and Atlanta.

“That was a lot of hard work, packing up, getting on the road.

But that was the going thing at the time,” Aaron said.

Now the brothers focus on selling their work on Instagram and their website, twinhicks.com, which offers their original prints and paintings of Black life and family, religious themes, commissioned portraits and merchandise featuring their artwork.

They have created at least eight commissioned murals in churches and schools, including the Barack Obama School of Leadership and STEM in Chicago Heights, and the Michelle Obama School of Technology and the Arts in Park Forest. Their largest mural, about 94 feet by 11 feet, is located on Main Street in downtown Park Forest.

For the most part the brothers work separately, each in his own home studio. When they paint a mural, though, it’s a collaboration. Preparation is the hardest part: coming up with concepts, doing sketches for the client, measuring and planning, figuring out costs. Then they create a mock-up and place it on the wall to determine layout, colors, paint and materials. The painting process itself is the easiest part, unless it means working high up on scaffolding or a lift.

The Hicks brothers didn’t stay with biomedical art, but they say the knowledge and skills they gained from their studies in art, photography and anatomy have served them well.

Their work may not relate to medicine, but it provides spiritual healing.

“There’s a message in the religious images that people get encouragement from,” Alan said.

“We’ve had people call us and be in tears from the spiritual images we’ve painted. That makes us feel good.”


Twin brothers Alan (right) and Aaron (left) Hicks have been artists since childhood. Their work includes portraits and paintings that reflect their religious faith and Black culture. They’re also known for their murals on the walls of churches, schools and public buildings. These big jobs require a lot of design, planning and preparation, and they sometimes enlist the help of friends and family.

In 2008, Twin Hicks was hired to restore a mural at the historic Antioch Missionary Baptist Church in Englewood. They repainted the human figures in the artwork as Black, instead of the original artist’s White, to reflect church membership. When the church was destroyed by fire 14 years later, “it just amazes me that the mural was still standing,” Alan says. They are planning to create a new mural when the church is rebuilt.

Photo: Chicago Fire Department

“Knight in Shining Armor” by Alan and Aaron Hicks. Sold online through the Twin Hicks website, the brothers’ Afrocentric merchandise, paintings and portraits are displayed in homes and churches all over the country. Their paintings also appear in several films, including “Coming to America 2” and “Equalizer 2.”

The other

Nutrition alumna, a gun violence survivor, wants to use her

traumatic experience in helping others.

On Feb. 25, 2018, her life and all of her dreams almost came to a sudden end.

But on Dec. 10, 2022, Kathy Pisabaj ’22 BS NUT walked across the stage at commencement towards the bright future she has been working for in clinical pediatrics, with the knowledge and empathy that come from heart-wrenching experience.

Pisabaj spent that day four years ago at church, then with friends and family. Her boyfriend was driving her home.

Without warning, she became one of the nearly 3,000 Chicagoans who were victims of gun violence in 2018. In that weekend alone, four people were killed and 22 wounded. Pisabaj’s shooter has not been apprehended.

“It feels like they just do not investigate a normal person being shot, especially those of us who are Black and brown. Justice is not being served to us,” Pisabaj said in an essay published Oct. 11 online at CNN.com.

After a week in the hospital, Pisabaj began the hard work of getting her life back. She temporarily paused her studies at Wright Community College and postponed her application to UIC for a year.

Besides physical injuries, she had post-traumatic stress disorder. She needed a therapist, but struggled to find one.

As she healed, Pisabaj became active in Everytown for Gun Safety, spreading the message of gun violence prevention at Lollapalooza

Kathy Pisabaj at a July 2018 anti-violence demonstration that shut down the northbound Dan Ryan Expressway. She wears a halter top to show scars from the injury.



and other events. At Wright, she founded the first Illinois chapter of Students Demand Action.

“It helped me get through what happened and use it to create something better,” she said.

Pisabaj refused to give up her dream of becoming a clinical nutritionist. As a teen, she had been diagnosed with an eating disorder and was referred to a dietitian who helped her have a better relationship with food. She became fascinated by nutrition science.

“Nutrition is such a broad subject. The importance of dietitians really becomes clear when we realize how much misinformation there is, especially from the internet,” she said.

When she started nutrition studies at UIC, “I knew this is where I wanted to be. I just loved all of it.”

During her clinical rotations at inpatient, outpatient and community health settings, Pisabaj saw a need

for the cultural knowledge she brings as a Spanish-speaking Latina.

“I saw so many times, because of cultural barriers, that people didn’t understand their illness and the nourishment they need,” she said.

“I think it's so important to diversify the field. I'm passionate about that.”

Pisabaj worked three jobs to pay for college: babysitting, Uber Eats delivery and nutrition lab technician at Lurie Children’s Hospital.

Pisabaj believes her experience will make her a better practitioner, especially with patients who have suffered trauma. She remembers the nurse who stayed by her side when she was brought to the hospital that night.

“He made me feel like we had been friends forever. He made me less scared; he helped me calm down. When anyone I know goes to the hospital, or they're receiving hard news, I try to portray him,” she said.

With Kathy Pisabaj (in cap and gown) are (L-R) her sisters Elaine and Hillary, mother Yolanda, sister Maria, her fiance Moises and her brother Narciso. Kathy Pisabaj in the Nutrition Culinary Lab. "I loved all of it," she says of her nutrition studies.

Pisabaj tries to remain hopeful that gun violence will not be a threat for the next generation. Her advice for now: get involved with anti-violence and gun safety organizations. Show kindness to others.

“If we get to the basics, understanding one another, empathizing with the next person, I think that can help minimize all of the hate and the anger and the violence,” she said.

Pisabaj still has fear and anxiety. “PTSD is something that I deal with,” she said.

“But there’s another side of me that says, ‘OK, I'm going to enjoy today and the people around me, because I know that life can literally end at any moment.’”

Kathy embraces her mom while wearing the graduation cap she decorated with these words in Spanish: "For my mother who came with nothing and gave me everything."


The organization Every Town for Gun Safety, where Kathy Pisabaj is a volunteer, connected her with CNN.com to write an essay about her experience as a survivor of gun violence. Here is an excerpt; read the complete essay at go.uic.edu/PisabajCNN.

My nephew was in fifth grade when I was shot. He had an assignment to write a book on anything he wanted, and he decided to write about gun violence prevention and dedicated it to me. It was both heartwarming and heartbreaking. He was learn ing about advocacy and activism—and would come with me to protests and marches—but he shouldn’t have had to write about gun violence. He should have written about Pikachu, his favorite Pokémon character.

We live in a world that has become so unkind. If it’s not happening to you, then it’s not hap pening. We’re desensitized to other people’s hurt. Gun violence continues to tear apart communities and devastate lives like mine every single day.

People need to start being kind to one another and show compassion and empathy …. We need to get back to these basics so together we can end this cycle of violence.

How a bullet fired by a stranger almost killed and forever changed me

UIC Assistive Technology Unit Fund

The UIC Assistive Technology Unit (ATU) helps individuals with disabilities achieve maximized independence.

Provides clinical services via the largest mobile assistive technology program in the U.S. During the 2022 fiscal year, the ATU provided over 2,600 services to nearly 1,200 individuals. Over 95% of all services take place in community-based settings.

Trains individuals to be leaders in assistive technology interventions, assessments and policies via the UIC Assistive Technology Certificate Program, which boasts a 100% RESNA ATP certification pass rate.

Conducts research in establishing performance test methods to evaluate devices used by individuals with disabilities.

With your support, the ATU can achieve even greater impact.

Donate to the ATU annual fund online at ahs.uic.edu/support or by contacting Kristen Kepnick at kkepnick@uic.edu or 312- 996-8219.


Conscious capital

The UIC College of Applied Health Sciences is at the forefront of many issues in the headlines today. Thanks to the generosity of our donors, we have established gift funds that provide financial support to students from historically marginalized communities as well as to those who dedicate their lives and scholarship to creating a world in which every person can live a healthy and self-determined life.


Supports DHD undergraduate students who have a documented physical disability.


Supports AHS students who are Chicago Public School graduates, and/or first-generation college students, and/or have demonstrated experience in or commitment to working with historically underserved or underprivileged populations, and/ or those who contribute to the diversity of AHS.

“Education is important to my family and me. Though my parents did not have the opportunity to study up to the bachelor’s degree level, they ensured all eight of their children earned a bachelor’s degree. Your kind contribution gave me a boost as I continue to keep my family’s legacy alive."


Supports DPT students who have caregiving and living expenses beyond the standard cost of attendance, such as childcare expenses.



Supports graduate and professional OT students who demonstrate an interest in or a commitment to serving African Americans or African American communities.

Supports the collaborative work between DHD and the Chicagoland Disabled People of Color Coalition.

Chicagoland DPOCC was founded by Timotheus “T.J.” Gordon Jr. ’19 MS DHD and DHD research associate Jae Jin Pak to unify people of color who have disabilities, as well as to raise awareness about their unique challenges. To learn more, visit chicagolanddpocc.wordpress.com

Gift funds help advance the college’s contributions to creating a more just and inclusive world.
A note from Johanna Mireles ’22 BS DHD.


Supports AHS students who are blind or visually impaired.


Supports DHD doctoral students and faculty whose work will have a positive impact on the lives of people with disabilities through evidence-based global research, scholarship, practice, education and policy.

“This award helped advance my research to analyze blind people's knowledge, beliefs and experiences, and explore how these could be leveraged to translate into an increased sense of empowerment, self-determination and the capacity to engage in activism and advocacy in the face of overt and covert discrimination and exclusion of the approximately 300,000 blind people in Zimbabwe.”


Supports DHD and OT students who contribute to the diversity of each unit and/or students who aim to serve or conduct research in Black and Latine communities and/or are involved or interested in UIC student organizations that promote Black and Latine interests in society.


Supports AHS students with a demonstrated interest in, involvement with or commitment to the transgender identifying community and/or the broader LBGTQI+ community.

“I am thankful to my academic college for giving me the knowledge, strength and monetary support necessary to complete my degree. I’ve dedicated countless hours to making my surroundings as an AHS student as inclusive and engaging as possible. To know that AHS has numerous opportunities to give back to marginalized students at UIC is undoubtedly inspiring.

Zoë Bridges, BS student in disability and human development


Supports DHD graduate students who research race and disability.


Supports OT graduate students who are veterans with honorable discharge from a branch of the U.S. Armed Forces and/or work with veterans.


Supports BVIS students who may be first-generation college students; have graduated from the Chicago Public School system; are members of a federally recognized Native American tribe; or meet other such criteria that would contribute to the diversity of the student body.

“Thank you again for your incredibly gracious gift to me and the college. In addition to the finances, the encouragement and inspiration from your story helps energize me to make an impact through my work in occupational therapy, especially with the veteran community.”

Visit ahs.uic.edu/alumni/give-to-ahs to make your gift. Contact Kristen Kepnick at kkepnick@uic.edu for more information on how to establish a gift fund.

PEOPLE AHS Alumni Highlights

Editor’s note: for this section of UIC Applied Health Sciences Magazine, we feature AHS alumni who use their education, training and experience to serve in the Illinois Medical District, one of the largest urban medical districts in the U.S. The Illinois Medical District includes UIC and UI Health. Learn more at medicaldistrict.org

Diyana Ivanova ’11 BS KINES

Optometrist, John H. Stroger, Jr. Hospital of Cook County

“Stroger Hospital is a unique place with a mission to provide care regardless of patients’ ability to pay. This aligns with my life and career goals and aspirations to provide excellent health care to patients of all socioeconomic backgrounds regardless of their legal status or ability to afford care. I believe every person should have access to excellent health care in a compassionate and nonjudgmental way. My education in the AHS program provided me with a solid base for my advanced education. I have built everything on that foundation. I would like to tell AHS students and alumni that optometry is an amazing, rewarding career. It is dynamic, fruitful and gratifying, as we make a difference in people’s life daily. We perceive and experience the majority of our world through our eyes, they are truly the window to the soul."

Anita Sanchez ’01 BS EP, ’05 DPT Physical therapy specialist, UI Health Outpatient Care Center

“UI Health is dedicated to the pursuit of health equity. Exercise improves quality of life and many health conditions. My role is to prescribe exercise, provide hands-on care, help develop the next generation of physical therapists, and promote health literacy among our patients and their respective communities. As a provider I help advance health equity. I chose AHS for its location, diversity and affordability. UIC’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program is a top-ranking program where I had access to research and esteemed educators. I am fortunate that AHS has a strong partnership with Illinois Medical District programs and its reputation goes beyond Chicago. Physical therapy has the ability to change someone's life. It’s an honest and rewarding profession. The skill set I developed while pursuing an education at AHS is versatile and highly-sought after, and one from which I can pivot in many directions.”

Ashley Frank ’17 MS NUT

Clinical dietitian, Jesse Brown Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center

“I pursued a profession in dietetics to help others improve their health through nutrition. At the VA, I have the unique opportunity to do exactly that for our nation’s veterans. The IMD is a diverse community. I get to work alongside and care for diverse populations (this is something I really enjoy about working there!). Working in the IMD inspires me because it is a vibrant ecosystem of many entities, all striving to improve the health of individuals and communities. I quite literally would not be in my current role if it weren’t for the nutrition degree program at UIC. My program positioned me for success by empowering me with knowledge and a professional mindset that compelled my internship site to offer me a permanent


role. What I love most about having a degree in dietetics is the versatility that it brings. While many people choose to go the route of working in a clinical setting, the sky truly is the limit with a dietetics degree."

“I returned to school late in my professional clinical career with a goal to work to improve access and the quality of health care for all people and highlight how occupational therapy is critical in achieving that goal. I will never forget coming to the UIC campus in 1983 for my occupational therapy degree. Walking through the west side of campus gave me a taste of what it would be like working within an interdisciplinary team of professions all with the goal of working to improve the health and quality of life of people and communities. Today, I still feel that culture of care from everyone you interact with as you move through this small section of the city of Chicago. UIC OT’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion broadened my own understanding of larger systemic issues that impact health care and health outcomes. This exposure prepared me to be a much better clinician and facilitated my clinical and research appreciation for and interest in the complex causes of health care disparities. To current AHS students, I would highlight the amazing value of occupational therapy for placing a unique immediate focus on a client’s functional and social needs, as well as the upstream issues that have a negative impact on them, and encourage active collaboration with occupational therapy if not already doing so.”

"At a young age, I knew that I wanted to go into medicine. I wanted to use my voice and my status as a woman of color in medicine to break down social constructs that have been built to further marginalize those in greatest need for medical care. Often times lack of knowing the system, lack of income, lack of access to information and language barriers make it so the gap between those who receive care and those who need it continues to grow. It always makes a world of difference when your provider is someone who you can relate to because they look like you and/or speak your language. The people at AHS really make it a priority for students to succeed by being accessible and creating academic content that is rigorous and stimulating, which allowed me to step confidently into a career in medicine. As we continue to move progressively as a society, transgender medicine has come to the forefront in endocrinology. As an endocrine PA, I’m grateful to be able to take care of patients at some of their most vulnerable times in life and really make a difference. It is an incredibly rewarding profession with flexibility and opportunities for roles in leadership, academia, research and pharmacology."



“I am an avid photographer and part of my responsibility is to take highly detailed and precise photos of all the patients for use in treatment, research and publications. Working in a clinical setting is truly rewarding. There are many good people in health care and it truly takes a village to help a patient. When you work in such an environment, it is no longer a job, it is a career. I take the same empathy and passion of being a father and bring that to the center each and every day. As a BVIS student, I learned how to be an excellent communicator, which in turn I use to create shared understandings among unique groups. For me, communication sparks innovative ideas that can help navigate research and practice down unexpected paths. I look forward to bringing my well-rounded academic background to help facilitate meaningful research and further grow my field’s knowledge base and that of our center. I am often asked what gets me out of bed every day. It is knowing that I get to impact someone’s life that day and help them look past their condition. I would argue that only in medicine can you have that kind of an impact."

’09 MS NUT

“Growing up, my parents adopted the religion of Sikhism. One of the most important aspects of Sikhism that was passed down to me was the concept of 'seva,' or service. I carry that with me in my personal life as much as possible, but I also get to carry it in my work life because service is in the fabric of UI Health's culture. I'm also a Kundalini Yoga instructor. One of the premises of Kundalini Yoga is that you create a pressure chamber through meditation, and that pressure chamber better prepares you and your nervous system to handle the pressures and challenges of everyday life. Ask anyone who's gone through the UIC nutrition program—it's no cake walk (no pun intended). But, like the yoga, it trained me to face the challenges I come across at work every day. We see very complex patients that require a lot of critical thinking. The complexity and critical thinking push me, but they don't push me over. The field of nutrition is constantly evolving and there's never a dull moment. Some of the emerging sub-fields within nutrition today weren't on our radar even a few years ago, and that's exciting because it means as a practice we are incorporating new learnings and adapting, not trying to stick to a script. If you're a knowledge-seeker, you're choosing a great career because there's always more to learn.”

Stay connected!

Exciting life change? New milestone? Ready to get involved? Contact Kristen Kepnick, associate director of engagement and participation, at kkepnick@uic.edu or 312-996-8219 to send us an update.


Share the love with a charitable gift annuity

Make a meaningful gift to the UIC College of Applied Health Sciences and provide a secure income for yourself and/or a loved one.

A charitable gift annuity (CGA) is a gift that gives back. When you establish a CGA with the University of Illinois Foundation (UIF) to support the UIC College of Applied Health Sciences, the foundation agrees to provide you and/ or a loved one with a lifelong stream of income in exchange for an outright gift. With new, higher payout rates, a CGA could be a good match for your gift planning.

Benefits and considerations

• The payment amount is fixed for life when you set up the annuity

• The payment rate is generally higher if you defer the start of payments

• Part of your gift qualifies for a charitable income tax deduction if you itemize

IRAs and CGAs—a powerful new union

If you are an IRA owner age 70½ or over, consider a new CGA funding option. Legislation passed in December 2022 now lets you make a one-time, tax-free distribution of up to $50,000 from your IRA to fund a charitable gift annuity or charitable remainder trust under specific conditions. The distribution counts toward your required minimum distribution if one is due. Contact UIF for more information.

* UIF is not able to offer CGAs in every state due to regulation requirements. We do not give tax or legal advice and recommend that donors consult their own professional tax advisor before making a gift.

Take the next step

For a free and no obligation charitable gift annuity illustration, contact Geoff Hammond at 217-332-5714 or gh15@uif.uillinois.edu, or visit uif.giftplans.org

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