ABOUT INTERDISCIPLINARY
RESEARCH LEADERS

Interdisciplinary Research Leaders is a leadership opportunity for teams of researchers and community partners, including community organizers and advocates. These teams use the power of applied research—informing and supporting critical work being done in communities—to accelerate that work and advance health and equity. Their innovation helps build a Culture of Health, one that enables everyone in America to live longer, healthier lives.

[Pictured Left to Right]

HEIDI BONNER, PhD, Associate Professor, East Carolina University; Research Fellow, John F. Institute for Public Safety
DIONNE SMITH COKER-APPIAH, PhD, MAED, Assistant Professor, Georgetown University Medical Center
MYSHA WYNN, MA, Founder and Executive Director of Project Momentum, Inc.

THE EXPERIENCE: INTERDISCIPLINARY RESEARCH LEADERS

Over the course of the three-year program, fellows will:

  • Receive annual support of $25,000 per person and a one-time research grant of up to $125,000 per team—for salary, research costs, and more.
  • Hone high-level leadership skills through networking, an advanced curriculum, and mentorship from national experts in research, community action, health equity, public policy, and advocacy.
  • Advance a team research project with support from national program advisers.
  • Continue working in their home communities and apply knowledge to local needs.
  • Gain insights that fundamentally change their understandings of their communities, their work, themselves, and how all three relate to one another.
  • Become part of a national group of leaders spanning sectors and disciplines.
  • Explore one of two annual themes. The 2021 themes are “structural racism in health care” and “structural racism and community health and well-being.”

THE RESULT: ENHANCED LEADERSHIP SKILLS

Upon completion, fellows will have the tools to:

  • Engage in change leadership for the promotion of health equity and social justice.
  • Improve facilitation of rigorous, action-oriented research that benefits community members and advances health equity goals, prioritizing ethical research and community standards.
  • Lead and collaborate across sectors, professions, and disciplines.
  • Understand the policy process and how best to communicate research evidence to inform policy and influence systems and institutions.
  • Integrate equity, Culture of Health, and related concepts into current work, including understanding of constraints to action, such as structural racism.
  • Frame issues and build public support to address them.
  • For community partners: increase capacity to partner with researchers and to find, understand and interpret findings and leverage them for action.
  • For researchers: Increase expertise in authentic community engagement and enhance competencies in rigorous qualitative and quantitative methodologies critical to effecting change.

Interdisciplinary Research Leaders is a program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, led by University of Minnesota.

The Robert Wood Johnson foundation

These programs continue the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s legacy of supporting the development and diversity of leaders. Initially focused on health and health care, the programs have been expanded, because we know that building a Culture of Health requires all of us in every sector, profession and discipline working together.

For more than 40 years, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has worked to improve health and health care. It is working with others to build a national Culture of Health, enabling everyone in America to live longer, healthier lives.

PROGRAM LEADERSHIP

Vanya Jones
VANYA JONES CO-DIRECTOR, INTERDISCIPLINARY RESEARCH LEADERS; ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, JOHNS HOPKINS BLOOMBERG SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH

Vanya Jones is an Associate Professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in the Department of Health, Behavior and Society. She is an injury prevention researcher that partners with individuals, communities, and governmental offices to create sustainable public health change approaches. Her academic career merges health education and program development to reduce the burden of unintentional and intentional injuries for underserved populations (children and older adults) and communities with limited resources. She received her undergraduate degree from Bowling Green State University, an MPH from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), and a PhD from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

 

Toben Nelson
TOBEN NELSON CO-DIRECTOR, INTERDISCIPLINARY RESEARCH LEADERS; ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH

Toben Nelson is a Social Epidemiologist who works on community-based health promotion and evaluation of strategies to improve population health. He is an Associate Professor in the Division of Epidemiology and Community Health at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health and works with the Alcohol Epidemiology Program and Minnesota Population Center. His research focus is on policy approaches to prevention of alcohol-attributable harm, injury, and violence; physical activity promotion and social determinants of health. Dr. Nelson received his ScD from the Harvard School of Public Health and MS in Kinesiology from the University of Wisconsin- Madison.

 

Michael Oakes
MICHAEL OAKES FOUNDING DIRECTOR AND SENIOR ADVISOR, INTERDISCIPLINARY RESEARCH LEADERS; ASSOCIATE VICE PRESIDENT FOR RESEARCH AND PROFESSOR OF EPIDEMIOLOGY, UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA

Michael Oakes is Associate Vice President for Research and Professor of Epidemiology at the University of Minnesota. Prior to joining university administration and co-founding the IRL program, Michael was an active researcher on a wide variety of NIH, NSF and RWJF funded studies addressing a vast array of methodological, health, social and ethical topics. He has authored over 130 papers exploring problems at the intersection of social and health sciences and the second edition of his book, Methods in Social Epidemiology, was released in 2017.

Sarah Gollust
SARAH GOLLUST ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR OF CURRICULUM, INTERDISCIPLINARY RESEARCH LEADERS; ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH

Sarah Gollust is an Associate Professor in the Division of Health Policy and Management at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. Dr. Gollust is a social scientist studying the intersections of communication, politics and health policy. In her past research, she has examined the roles of news media and public opinion within significant health policy issues, including obesity, health disparities, the Affordable Care Act and cancer screening. She also examines how research is communicated in the policymaking process. She has received grants from the American Cancer Society, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the National Institutes of Health to support her work. Dr. Gollust was a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health & Society Scholar at the University of Pennsylvania from 2008 to 2010, and received her PhD in Health Services Organization and Policy from the University of Michigan.

Shalini Kulasingam
SHALINI KULASINGAM ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR OF RESEARCH, INTERDISCIPLINARY RESEARCH LEADERS; ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH

Shalini Kulasingam is an Associate Professor in the Division of Epidemiology and Community Health at the University of Minnesota. Dr. Kulasingam’s research interests include human papillomavirus (HPV), cervical cancer, cancer screening, vaccines, and decision and cost-effectiveness modeling. Her expertise centers on chronic diseases including cancer, infectious diseases including sexually transmitted infections, evaluation of screening tests, vaccination, decision modeling and cost-effectiveness analyses.

Kathleen Call
KATHLEEN CALL ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR OF COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT, INTERDISCIPLINARY RESEARCH LEADERS; PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH

Kathleen Call is a Professor in the Division of Health Policy and Management at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health and an investigator with the State Health Access Data Assistance Center (SHADAC) funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. She co-chairs the Health Equity Work Group in the School of Public Health and plays a role in the community engagement core of the Clinical Translational Science Institute. Her research focuses on the complexities of measuring health insurance coverage, including the discrepancy between survey and administrative data counts of insurance coverage, and how well health insurance translates into equitable access to health care. She is also interested in developing community-driven solutions to health insurance and health care barriers.

Joe Konstan
JOE KONSTAN ASSOCIATE SENIOR ADVISOR, INTERDISCIPLINARY RESEARCH LEADERS; PROFESSOR, ASSOCIATE DEAN FOR RESEARCH, COLLEGE OF SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING; AND PROFESSOR, COMPUTER SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING, UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA

Joseph Konstan is Distinguished McKnight Professor and Distinguished University Teaching Professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Minnesota, where he also serves as Associate Dean for Research in the College of Science and Engineering. His research addresses a variety of human-computer interaction issues, including personalization (particularly through recommender systems), eliciting online participation, designing computer systems to improve public health, and ethical issues in research online. He is probably best known for his work in collaborative filtering recommenders (the GroupLens project, which was awarded the ACM Software Systems Award and the Seoul Test of Time Award). Joe received his PhD from the University of California, Berkeley in 1993. He looks forward to interacting with IRL Fellows around issues of innovative social computing and collaborative technologies, integrating health research with engineering and computer science, and research methods for online studies.

Jan Malcolm
JAN MALCOLM Senior Advisor, Interdisciplinary Research Leaders; Minnesota Commissioner of Health

Jan Malcolm, a former Co-director of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Interdisciplinary Research Leaders (IRL) Program and on the adjunct faculty at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. Jan’s most recent leadership roles have been as Vice President of Public Affairs for Allina Health and CEO of the Courage Center, which merged with Sister Kenny in 2013 to become the Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute. She served as Minnesota’s Commissioner of Health from 1999-2003, and in that capacity led one of the top public health agencies in the country. Jan also was a senior program officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation on the public health and childhood obesity teams from 2003-2005.

Zinzi Bailey
ZINZI BAILEY ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR OF RESEARCH LEADERSHIP AND PRACTICE, INTERDISCIPLINARY RESEARCH LEADERS; RESEARCH ASSISTANT PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI MILLER SCHOOL OF MEDICINE

Zinzi Bailey is a social epidemiologist focused on cancer health disparities, as well as the health impacts of and policy solutions for structural and institutional discrimination, especially at the intersection of public health and criminal justice. She is also interested in the use of data and indicators in equitable policy and management. She is currently a Research Assistant Professor at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine’s Jay Weiss Institute for Health Equity at the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center. Zinzi was the Director of Research and Evaluation at the Center for Health Equity in the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene from 2015–2017. She was a postdoctoral fellow at McGill’s Institute for Health and Social Policy from 2014-2015, and a Research Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management 2011-2014. She received her Doctor of Science degree in Social and Behavioral Sciences from Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, and her Master of Science in Public Health degree with a concentration in Global Epidemiology from Emory University. Zinzi serves as a member of the IRL Research Team and co-chair of IRL Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Taskforce.

Bonnie Austin Cluxton
BONNIE AUSTIN CLUXTON PARTNER, INTERDISCIPLINARY RESEARCH LEADERS, VICE PRESIDENT, ACADEMYHEALTH

Bonnie A. Cluxton is a Vice President at AcademyHealth, where she leads the organization’s strategic planning and staffs the Board of Directors and board committees. She currently conducts programmatic and grantmaking activities on a number of Robert Wood Johnson Foundation projects with an emphasis on facilitating the use of research in policy and practice. For fifteen years, Ms. Cluxton supported the RWJF Changes in Health Care Financing and Organization initiative, including serving for seven years as director. Prior to joining AcademyHealth in 2001, she worked for 10 years as a litigator at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, LLP. Her practice involved representing clients, including health care providers, in criminal investigations, civil suits and administrative proceedings. Ms. Cluxton received her M.P.H. from The George Washington University, her J.D. from the University of Notre Dame School of Law and her B.A. from Dartmouth College.

Hemant Persaud
HEMANT PERSAUD COMMUNICATIONS SPECIALIST, INTERDISCIPLINARY RESEARCH LEADERS; DIVISION OF EPIDEMIOLOGY & COMMUNITY HEALTH, UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH

Hemant Persaud (He, Him, His) earned his B.A. in French Studies with minors in Leadership, Retail Merchandising and Fashion Studies from the College of Liberal Arts in May 2019, and has his certificate in Fashion Industry Essentials from Parsons School of Design in partnership with Teen Vogue. He is currently pursuing a Strategic Marketing Postbaccalaureate from the Carlson School of Management. Hemant brings an array of experiences from fashion, diversity and inclusion, and communications in multiple roles. Previously, he worked as the Program Coordinator for the CFANS Office for Diversity and Inclusion (ODI), as well as the President’s Emerging Scholars Program (PES). Hemant is a strong advocate for folx like himself who hold one or more underrepresented identity(ies). He always brings his welcoming and positive energy to each space.

 

 

Ifrah Biyoow
IFRAH BIYOOW RESEARCH ANALYTICS SPECIALIST, INTERDISCIPLINARY RESEARCH LEADERS, DIVISION OF EPIDEMIOLOGY & COMMUNITY HEALTH, UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA 

Ifrah Biyoow is the Research & Analytics Specialist for the Interdisciplinary Research Leaders (IRL) program. Ifrah is a research professional interested in research methodology, social epidemiology, and leadership development. She has worked in the public health arena since 2009 in various capacities – researcher, data analyst, evaluator, and project coordinator. Ifrah is dedicated to promoting health and health equity through cross-disciplinary, collaborative approaches that incorporate scientific rigor, meet community needs, and focus on solutions and impact. In addition to her IRL role, she is working towards completing a doctorate degree in Epidemiology at the University of Minnesota.

Libby Fortner
LIBBY FORTNER ADMINISTRATIVE LEAD, INTERDISCIPLINARY RESEARCH LEADERS, DIVISION OF EPIDEMIOLOGY & COMMUNITY HEALTH, UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH

Libby Fortner is administrative lead for Interdisciplinary Research Leaders (IRL). Her work involves assisting with meetings and events; coordinating contracts, invoices, and other financial activities; and participating in a variety of special projects. Ms. Fortner has more than five years of experience in providing high-level support to faculty in the Division of Epidemiology & Community Health of the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota. She enjoys learning about how the IRL research projects are working to make our world a better place.

Mandy LaBreche
MANDY LABRECHE ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR OF OPERATIONS, INTERDISCIPLINARY RESEARCH LEADERS, DIVISION OF EPIDEMIOLOGY & COMMUNITY HEALTH, SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH, UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA

Mandy LaBreche is the Associate Director of Opersations of the Interdisciplinary Research Leaders program in the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota (UMN). Her work involves managing all program aspects, including logistics, operations, finances, and reporting. She has had diverse experiences, both domestically and abroad, working to address health disparities through collaborative research and programming. Prior to joining IRL, Mandy managed a National Cancer Institute-funded center to reduce cancer health disparities among southern California’s Pacific Islander population. She is constantly inspired by collaborative and creative work that sparks social change within communities.

Praise Mafe
PRAISE MAFE INTERDISCIPLINARY RESEARCH LEADERS, CURRICULUM COORDINATOR

Praise (Fiyinfoluwa) Mafe attended the University of Minnesota, majoring in Biology, Society and Environment. During her undergraduate career, Praise participated in MCAE, African Student Association, North Stem Alliance, and was a Community Advisor for three years. The skills and experiences gained in these roles framed her career path and led her to Interdisciplinary Research Leaders. Praise is excited and grateful to join IRL as Curriculum Coordinator because of the fascinating people and the amount of professional growth she will experience learning from the IRL team and fellows. In addition to her role with IRL, Praise is also a self taught beauty artist and hair stylist, using her talents to run her own business in Minnesota.

Our partners are instrumental in developing and delivering curriculum, providing mentorship and coaching, and extending the network of fellows.

National advisory committee

Magdalena Cerda
MAGDALENA CERDA
NATIONAL ADVISORY COMMITTEE, INTERDISCIPLINARY RESEARCH LEADERS
ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF MEDICINE

Magdalena Cerda is an Associate Professor in the Associate Professor in the Department of Population Health at the New York University School of Medicine. Dr. Cerda’s research focuses on the neighborhood causes and mental health consequences of violence, life course influences on substance use trajectories, and the emergence of new drivers and forms of substance use. Dr. Cerda holds a Bachelor of Science from Cornell University, Master of Public Health from Yale University, and a Doctorate in Public Health from Harvard University.

Wizdom Powell
WIZDOM POWELL
NATIONAL ADVISORY COMMITTEE, INTERDISCIPLINARY RESEARCH LEADERS
DIRECTOR OF HEALTH DISPARITIES INSTITUTE AT UCONN HEALTH

Wizdom Powell is Director of the Health Disparities Institute and Associate Professor of Psychiatry at UConn Health. Formerly, Dr. Powell was Associate Professor at Health Behavior at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Gillings School of Global Public Health and Research Associate Professor in UNC’s Department of Social Medicine. Dr. Powell also served as Associate Director of the Center for Health Equity Research, faculty member at UNC’s Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, and Director of the UNC’s Men’s Health Research Lab. In 2011-2012, she was appointed by President Obama to serve as a White House Fellow to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. In this role she provided subject matter expertise on Military Mental Health (e.g., PTSD, Suicide, and Military Sexual Trauma). Her community-based research focuses on of the role of modern racism and gender norms on African American male health outcomes and healthcare inequities. Read more about Dr. Powell.

Mike Fraser
MIKE FRASER
NATIONAL ADVISORY COMMITTEE, INTERDISCIPLINARY RESEARCH LEADERS
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ASTHO

Michael Fraser has served as ASTHO’s executive director since August 2016. Most recently, he served as the executive vice president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Medical Society in Harrisburg, Pa. During his tenure there, he worked with physician leaders to transform the organization into a dynamic, relevant, and effective membership organization representing all of the state’s physicians, and tackling critical issues such as the opioid misuse and drug abuse crisis. Read more about Dr. Fraser.

Anthony Iton
ANTHONY ITON
NATIONAL ADVISORY COMMITTEE, INTERDISCIPLINARY RESEARCH LEADERS
SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT OF HEALTH COMMUNITIES, THE CALIFORNIA ENDOWMENT

Anthony Iton is the Senior Vice President of Health Communities at The California Endowment. His primary focus includes the health of disadvantaged populations and the contributions of race, class, wealth, education, geography, and employment to health status. Dr. Iton oversees the organization’s 10-year, multi-million-dollar statewide commitment to advance policies and forge partnerships to build healthy communities and a healthy California. Dr. Iton holds a Bachelor of Science in Neurophysiology from McGill University, Juris Doctor from the University of California, Berkeley, and Medical Degree from Johns Hopkins University.

Spero Manson
SPERO MANSON
NATIONAL ADVISORY COMMITTEE, INTERDISCIPLINARY RESEARCH LEADERS
DISTINGUISHED PROFESSOR OF PUBLIC HEALTH AND PSYCHIATRY, UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO, DENVER

Spero Manson is a Distinguished Professor of Public Health and Psychiatry, directs the Centers for American Indian and Alaska Native Health, and serves as the Associate Dean of Research at the School of Public Health at the University of Colorado, Denver. His research focuses on the assessment, epidemiology, treatment, and prevention of physical, alcohol, drug, as well as mental health problems over the developmental lifespan of Native people. Dr. Manson is widely acknowledged as one of the nation’s leading authorities in regards to Indian and Native health. Dr. Manson holds a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology from the University of Washington and a Master of Arts and Doctorate in Anthropology from the University of Minnesota.

Victor Rubin
VICTOR RUBIN
NATIONAL ADVISORY COMMITTEE, INTERDISCIPLINARY RESEARCH LEADERS
VICE PRESIDENT FOR RESEARCH, POLICYLINK

Victor Rubin is the Vice President for Research at PolicyLink, a national nonprofit institute for policy change. He leads, designs, and conducts knowledge-building activities to create a strong research base for PolicyLink. Dr. Rubin is an urban planner with broad experience in community development, education, and social policy and has guided PolicyLink analyses on the issues that include infrastructure, economic growth, healthy communities, and youth development. Dr. Rubin holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Chicago and a Master of City Planning and a Doctorate in Planning from the University of California, Berkeley.

Brian Saelens
BRIAN SAELENS
NATIONAL ADVISORY COMMITTEE, INTERDISCIPLINARY RESEARCH LEADERS
HEALTH PSYCHOLOGIST AND PROFESSOR OF PEDIATRICS, SEATTLE CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL AND UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON SCHOOL OF MEDICINE

Brian Saelens is a Health Psychologist and Professor of Pediatrics and Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Seattle Children’s Hospital and the University of Washington School of Medicine. He conducts research in environmental influences on physical activity and eating behaviors and on the psychosocial factors that influence individual choice for weight-related behaviors, which includes examining how the neighborhood environment impacts weight status, physical activity and dietary behaviors across the lifespan. Dr. Saelens holds a Bachelor of Arts from Cornell University and Doctorate in Clinical/Health Psychology from State University of New York at Buffalo.

MayKao Hang
MAYKAO HANG
NATIONAL ADVISORY COMMITTEE CHAIR, INTERDISCIPLINARY RESEARCH LEADERS
PRESIDENT & CEO, AMHERST H. WILDER FOUNDATION

MayKao Hang is the President & CEO of the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving lives in the greater St. Paul, Minnesota community and beyond through direct services, research, and community building. She has extensive experience in the public and nonprofit sectors, serving low-income and disadvantaged populations. Dr. Hang is committed to achieving an equitable society where everyone can prosper and believes that harnessing and building social and civic capital can transform the world. Dr. Hang holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Brown University, a Master of Arts in Social Policy and Distributive Justice from the University of Minnesota, and a Doctorate in Public Administration from Hamline University.

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