UMass Medical School has announced six members of the Medical School faculty who comprise the 2020-21 cohort of Dr. Marcellette G. Williams Distinguished Scholars, according to Chancellor Michael F. Collins and Dean Terence R. Flotte.
During her nearly quarter-century career at the University of Massachusetts, including many years as the senior vice president for Academic Affairs, Student Affairs and International Relations for the University system, Marcellette G. Williams, PhD, served as an influential champion for public higher education, academic excellence and faculty scholarship. In 2018, UMMS established the Dr. Marcellette G. Williams Distinguished Scholars Program to recognize her vibrant legacy and to honor members of the UMMS faculty whose scholarly achievements have reached the level of national distinction. Over the course of their five-year term, the Distinguished Scholars will receive an annual stipend of $60,000 that can be used flexibly to advance their scholarly work.
Given the success of the inaugural class of Distinguished Scholars, the program was expanded to recognize additional faculty members who have achieved prominence in their respective disciplines and who have great potential to accelerate their work during the next five years, with preference given to faculty members who can advance the institution’s strategic focus on diversity and inclusion.
2020 Marcellette Williams Senior Scholars
Maria Garcia, MD, MPH, professor of medicine and family medicine & community health; assistant vice provost of diversity and student success
As a leader across the three schools, Dr. Garcia desires to design and execute activities that create an inclusive learning environment for learners to thrive in achieving their goals while having their individual strengths and uniqueness nurtured. She helps provide holistic coaching and training around implicit bias, systemic racism and health disparities. As a Marcellette Williams Senior Scholar, Garcia intends to create a four-year longitudinal linguistic and cultural clinical immersion pathway, through which students may participate in a medical language course, shadow an interpreter or provider, complete an elective in a community site specific to their chosen language/culture, and participate in a month-long clinical/cultural immersion experience.
Sharina Person, PhD, vice chair and professor of population & quantitative health sciences
As a collaborative and experienced biostatistician for two decades, Dr. Person has led major research coordinating centers and methodology cores, co-authored more than 100 publications and played an integral role the awarding of more than $88 million of extramural grant funding. While she has served as a lead statistical investigator for research teams charged with collecting and analyzing high-quality data, she brings much more to team research, offering rich methodological insight which, as she says, “is often fueled by my passion and personal experiences as a member or having the characteristics of the communities we often study.” She now helps to lead the PQHS Quantitative Methods Core, which has assisted more than 600 investigators with grant preparation and statistical analysis, quality control, and data management on more than 500 grant applications.
2020 Marcellette Williams Scholars
Javier Irazoqui, PhD, associate professor of microbiology & physiological systems
Since joining UMMS in 2016 from Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Dr. Irazoqui has established a three-part mission in his lab: to increase understanding of host-microbe interactions in the context of the brain-gut-microbiota axis; to foster independent and original thinking among learners of all backgrounds and conditions; and to promote public awareness of scientific issues. While his research has long been funded by the NIH and the NSF, the support of the Dr. Marcellette G. Williams Distinguished Scholars Program will allow him to accelerate translation of the molecular mechanisms of innate immunity, inflammation and COVID-19. Specifically, promising collaborations with clinicians aim to address clinically relevant and currently unmet needs related to dermatological, gastrointestinal and other autoinflammatory disorders.
Ana Maldonado-Contreras, PhD, assistant professor of microbiology & physiological systems
Dr. Maldonado-Contreras’s laboratory is focused on developing rationally designed dietary interventions targeting microbiome-immune interactions to reduce inflammation. She leads three programs: one explores the perinatal diet and the early life microbiome; another investigates diet as a therapy for chronic inflammatory illnesses (since March, this work has expanded to establish a biorepository of samples from SARS-CoV-2 patients with a goal of understanding the immune role of the microbiome on SARS-CoV-2 infection); and the third analyzes culturally tailored dietary intervention for Latinx people. Through a multi-center research partnership, she has initiated studies to understand how Latinx, who are disproportionally affected by chronic diseases, might benefit from culturally tailored dietary interventions to improve the health of their microbiome.
Ken Peterson, PhD, MS, FNP-BC, assistant professor in the Graduate School of Nursing
Throughout his academic career as an educator and advanced practice nurse and through lived experience, Dr. Peterson explores the concepts of privilege, power, inequity and discrimination. As an assistant professor in the GSN and a family nurse practitioner and primary care provider for underserved families in our region, he aims to “move beyond the classroom” and begin to ameliorate the lack of evidence-based research addressing equity-oriented health care interventions. An ongoing pilot study explores factors of poor school attendance in pre-kindergarten to grade 2 children from urban, low income families residing in a Worcester housing project. Through the support earned as a distinguished scholar, Peterson hopes to advance this pilot and community-based research project to improve health care delivery and health equity for marginalized members of society.
Jaime Rivera, PhD, associate professor of pediatrics; director of the Transgenic Animal Modeling Core
As one of the leading researchers globally in early mammalian embryogenesis, Dr. Rivera aims to understand mammalian development, particularly the initial stages of embryogenesis. This basic knowledge has served as a platform from which to better understand the etiology of congenital disorders and a range of human genetic disorders, including rare diseases, infertility and pregnancy loss. In addition, for more than a decade, he has been an active participant and advocate for our campus community through service on the Council on Equal Opportunity and Diversity and the Minority Academic Advancement Committee, and in the Liaison Committee on Medical Education accreditation process. In the coming years, Rivera’s lab is poised to take advantage of new technologies and institutional research strengths at UMMS (including viral vector technology and RNA biology) as well as newly discovered regulators of early embryogenesis to deepen our understanding of embryos at a time when numerous critical developmental pathways are being established.