Health Promotion Sciences Faculty & Staff
All graduate program courses are taught by UConn faculty members recognized for their cutting-edge research in health promotion sciences. Our Allied Health main office staff are also here to help answer any questions or point you in the right direction.
Dr. Bruce E. Blanchard, an Assistant Clinical Professor in the Department of Allied Health Sciences, is a certified medical laboratory scientist with a PhD in exercise science and a focus on cardiovascular risk factors. Integrating undergraduate and graduate student research, he offers training and expertise via various collaborative projects involving interdisciplinary teams that expand grant-funded efforts in health promotion. Former students who have worked under Dr. Blanchard's direction now actively contribute to healthcare and health promotion through clinical practice, research, and leadership. His current research interests and specialties include two main avenues of inquiry. First, research that examines established and emerging risk factors for cardiovascular disease and the metabolic syndrome in healthy and non-healthy populations, focusing on the roles that laboratory biomarkers (e.g. stress, inflammation, and the metabolic syndrome) and interventions/behavioral factors (e.g. diet and physical activity) play in modifying the risk of metabolic syndrome/cardiovascular disease. Secondly, studies involving hematological malignancies and genetic disorders with a focus on diagnosis, customized therapy/treatment, prognosis, and disease progression using numerous laboratory techniques. Dr. Blanchard has been recognized by the University for his outstanding mentorship and dedication to student success. His teaching interests and specialties are in the field of medical laboratory science with an emphasis on hematology, hemostasis, transfusion services, chemistry, and urinalysis/body fluids.
Dr. Kristen Cooksey Stowers is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Allied Health Sciences. She has a strong interdisciplinary background in health equity, agricultural economics, public policy, and medical sociology. Her program of research focuses on reducing inequities in diet-related health outcomes by improving macro- and micro-level food environments through sustainable policy solutions. She conducts community-engaged and mixed methods research to examine: (a) the impact of food swamp environments on racial, geographic and socioeconomic disparities in diet-related health outcomes; (b) the potential of inclusive public policy processes (e.g., zoning) to prevent disparities in diet-related health status regardless of racial/ethnic minority and citizenship status; and (c) the influence of micro-level food environments (e.g., food pantries, family child care homes) on health risks in food-insecure populations, communities of color, and other historically marginalized groups. Dr. Cooksey Stowers’ research has been funded by NIH (i.e., NIA, NHLBI), the USDA, the Food Trust Center for Healthy Food Access, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Reinvestment Fund. Her leadership experience includes service with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and an appointment as a Public Service Leader Scholar with the USDA in Washington, D.C. Since coming to Connecticut in 2016, she has worked with community partners and residents aiming to improve grocery store access in the North Hartford Promise Zone. She also serves as a board member of the Connecticut Food Bank advising on their Hunger to Health initiative with health care organizations throughout the state. She mentors both undergraduate and graduate students.
Dr. Michael Copenhaver is a Professor of Health Promotion in the Department of Allied Health Sciences and a Licensed Clinical Psychologies. He is also a Principal Investigator at the Institute for Collaboration on Health, Intervention, and Policy (InCHIP) with an active program of addiction-related research. Since coming to UConn in 2002, Dr. Copenhaver has been continuously funded by NIH grants involving the development and implementation of evidence-based HIV prevention strategies. His work emphasizes tailoring behavioral interventions for optimal use in community-based settings, like drug treatment programs where priority populations can be readily reached. His most recent randomized trial targets opioid-dependent adults using a bio-behavioral approach that integrates pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and an evidence-based behavioral intervention designed to prevent HIV among high-risk opioid-dependent persons in clinical care. He teaches research-focused courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels in addition to mentoring honors students and supervising independent studies. Dr. Copenhaver takes an active role in the PhD in Health Promotion Sciences program and also mentors students from other disciplines and programs at the Masters, PhD, and post-doctoral levels.
Dr. Valerie Duffy is a Professor and Director of the Graduate Program in the Department of Allied Health Sciences. She offers a wealth of experience in food, nutrition, health promotion, and public health nutrition. Her research program has two main areas fueled by extramural funding. First, her team aims to understand the influence of variation in chemosensory perception on food flavor, food preference, and consumption. Research in this area has recently focused on how this variation influences responses to flavored cigarettes, e-cigarettes, and bariatric surgery. The ultimate goal of these research projects is to understand how chemosensory variation influences individuals' ability to follow healthy diets for chronic disease prevention. Her second major area of research interest involves the formation of interdisciplinary teams to work with community agencies to promote health diets and weights of children and their families, particularly those of economic disadvantage. These efforts incorporate undergraduate and graduate student research and investigate the effectiveness of community-based interventions to improve diet healthiness for obesity prevention. Dr. Duffy and her students have published numerous papers and have presented at national and international meetings. She has received several awards for excellence in teaching, research, and service. Students who have trained in her lab are advancing health promotion through research, practice, and leadership. She has served as major advisor for twenty-seven Master's students, four PhD students, and numerous undergraduates completing research experiences. Dr. Duffy will be accepting graduate students for fall 2021.
Dr. Pouran Faghri is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Allied Health Sciences, having retired in 2019. Professor Faghri dedicated her career to promoting health and preventing diseases. Her expertise includes the evaluation of workplace psychosocial risk factors and environmental exposures as they relate to the development of chronic musculoskeletal, cardiovascular and other chronic diseases including obesity and type 2 diabetes. Over the years, she has developed and evaluated multiple models for integrating health promotion with workplace injury prevention and occupational ergonomics for health protection, with a strong emphasis on employee involvement through self-care and self-awareness. She developed and directed many workplace health interventions for private and state agencies as well as Connecticut's state employee worksite health promotion program, "ConnectiFIT.” For the past 12 years, she has been the Co-PI (Storrs) for the NIOSH Center of Excellence for Total Worker Health: Center for the Promotion of Health in the New England Workplace (CPH-NEW). This Center is a collaborative research program between UMass Lowell, UConn Health, and UConn Storrs. Dr. Faghri’s biomedical research focuses on biomechanics and movement science in able-bodied people and people with neurological disorders. Her research on the application of functional electrical stimulation (FES) to induce function contributed to the development of the first commercial exercise ergometer. She is the sole holder of a US patent (Electronic Muscle Pump, US 6,959,216 B2 ) for the prevention of deep venous thrombosis and pulmonary embolism utilizing FES. Presently, she is a co-investigator in a multicenter National Science Foundation (NSF-EFRI) grant to develop and evaluate the application of electrical stimulation on tissue regeneration. Professor Faghri is on the editorial boards and a reviewer of many major peer reviewed journals. She is Associate Editor of the Journal of Neuro-Engineering and Rehabilitation (JNER) and Editor in Chief of Obesity–Open Access. She also serves as expert grant reviewer for major federal and private funding agencies, both nationally and internationally.
Maria Gyure, MS, is a Lecturer in the Department of Allied Health Sciences and the Director of UConn's developing Genetic Counseling Master's Degree program. With a strong background in laboratory science, she is also a licensed, certified genetic counselor and an active member of the National Society of Genetic Counselors (NSGC). She has practiced as a clinical genetic counselor in both New England and Virginia. Maria has combined genetic counseling with research on many occasions and served on an NIH-funded study aimed at increasing family communication about cancer. Additionally, she has managed multiple large federally-funded research grants focused on interventions for young children at risk for emotional and behavioral disorders. With a focus on research recruitment, she has several publications in her specialty in addition to invited presentations and service on on graduate advisory committees. As a Latina and graduate of Virginia's Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities Program (Va-LEND), her goal is to increase diversity and access within the field of genetic counseling as well as advocate for underserved populations. Locally, she participates with the Connecticut Health Data Collaborative Working group whose goal is to create stronger networks among the fields of community health, healthcare, health insurance, research and development, education, data and technology, and bioscience.
Dr. Tania Huedo-Medina is an Associate Professor in the Department of Allied Health Sciences. She has a broad background in analytical statistics development using general or generalized linear models and mediation models for cross-sectional, longitudinal, and meta-analytic studies with both randomized control trial and observational study designs. As health mechanisms modeling has become more and more essential to health promotion sciences, Dr. Huedo-Medina has developed and tested complex models using statistical techniques and has extensive knowledge of health mechanisms related to nutrition, HIV, psychological disorders, and other areas. The models and statistical techniques she and her team have developed capture the complexity of relationships between multiple variables at different levels including time, individual biological and behavioral aspects, and context including cultural aspects from different areas of the globe (specific focus on the U.S., Latin America, and Europe). Her research team is currently collaborating with Cuban researchers in Cuba on health promotion interventions to reduce chronic disease rates and to work toward a sustainable and communitarian global health model using the combined potential of the U.S. and Cuba.
Dr. Laijun Lai is an Associate Research Professor in the Department of Allied Health Sciences. His extensive grant-funded research covers three major areas. First, using stem cell technology and gene engineering approaches to prevent or treat autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis (MS). Second, developing gene engineering approaches to enhance anti-tumor immunity and treat cancer. And third, using stem cell technology to model and treat genetic diseases such as DiGeorge Syndrome (DGS). These studies have resulted in the award of two patents and numerous grants with funding exceeding $5 million from the NIH, American Cancer Society, Connecticut Regenerative Medicine Research Fund, and others. Dr. Lai's research has the potential to lead to new drugs or new approaches to prevent and treat autoimmune diseases, cancer, and DGS. His laboratory uses a variety of techniques including bioinformatics, immunology, molecular cloning, cell culture, protein purification and characterization, antibody production, embryonic stem cells, induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), and disease animal models.
Dr. Tricia Leahey is an Associate Professor in the Department of Allied Health Sciences and Co-Director of the UConn Weight Management Research Group. She completed her clinical psychology internship and post-doctoral fellowship at Brown University with specializations in behavioral medicine and lifestyle interventions for obesity treatment. Dr. Leahey is a leader in the field of behavioral interventions for weight loss and weight loss maintenance. Her research focuses on developing and evaluating cost-effective lifestyle interventions for obesity treatment and on testing new approaches for weight loss maintenance. Specifically, Dr. Leahey is currently PI or Co-I on several large NIH trials that involve examining the effects of patient-provided care, web-based technologies, and behavioral economics strategies to promote weight loss or weight maintenance. Her research has been continuously funded by the NIH throughout her career. She was a standing member of the NIH's Psychosocial Risk and Disease Prevention Study Section, has served as Chair or Co-Chair of NIH grant review panels, reviews for over 30 scientific journals, has over 50 publications, and serves on the editorial boards of several journals. Dr. Leahey has received several awards for her work including The Obesity Society's Excellence in Science in eHealth/mHealth Award and the Society of Behavioral Medicine's Research Citation Award. She has also been recognized for both her teaching and mentorship, including receipt of UConn's Teaching Excellence Award and Brown University's Psychology Research Mentor Award. Her research findings have been featured by major news outlets including NPR, The Wall Street Journal, Time Magazine, ABC News, Forbes, and The Huffington Post.
Dr. Jeanne McCaffery is an Associate Professor in the Department of Allied Health Sciences and an Investigator at the Institute for Collaboration on Health, Intervention, and Policy (InCHIP) and at the Institute for Systems Genomics. Her research interests focus on the interplay between genetics, behavior, and the environment in obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Dr. McCaffery has been continuously funded by NIH over the past 15 years to support her research and has published more than 90 research articles. Current interests include the role of copy number variation of the salivary amylase (AMY1) gene in dietary preferences, body weight, and diabetes risk; genetic predictors of weight loss during behavioral interventions; and genetic predictors of change in cardiovascular risk with weight loss. She supervises dissertation research in the PhD program in Health Promotion Sciences, teaches Research Methods at the undergraduate level, mentors undergraduate Honors theses, and supervises independent studies.
Justin Nash, PhD, is a Professor and Department Head of the Department of Allied Health Sciences. He arrived at UConn in January 2017 after 25 years as medical school faculty at Brown University. A clinical psychologist by training, his work has included interprofessional training in educational settings, interdisciplinary treatment in clinical settings, and transdisciplinary science in research settings. His interests are in health promotion and disease prevention, and he has conducted work focused on headache and pain disorders, health behavior enhancement, and health services. Dr. Nash has also developed and evaluated behavioral treatment for headache and chronic pain and led efforts to develop and evaluate the integration of behavioral health in primary care and other medical settings. He has held leadership positions in the Brown University Clinical Psychology Training Consortium and on a number of National Institutes of Health grants (T32, R25T, P50). His leadership experience also includes Board positions for the Council of Clinical Health Psychology Training Programs (Chair), the Society for Health Psychology (President), and Society of Behavioral Medicine (Executive Officer). He is past Associate Editor of Annals of Behavioral Medicine and Journal of Behavioral Medicine.
Dr. Sherry Pagoto is a licensed clinical psychologist, professor, and social media researcher. She is currently a Professor in the Department of Allied Health Sciences at the University of Connecticut and Director of the UConn Center for mHealth and Social Media. She is also the Past-President of the Society of Behavioral Medicine, the leading organization for research at the intersection of behavioral science and health. Her research focuses on leveraging technology in the development and delivery of behavioral interventions targeting diet, physical activity, and cancer prevention. She has developed two mobile apps for weight management and a comprehensive weight loss program that is deliverable via social media platforms. She has had federal funding for her program of research for 17 consecutive years and has published 200 papers in peer-reviewed journals. She has received several awards for her work including The Obesity Society Pioneer in mHealth/eHealth Award in 2014, Society of Behavioral Medicine Early Career/Young Investigator Award in 2006, and the Western Michigan University Psychology Department Distinguished Alumni Award in 2011. Devoted to science communication, she has >30K followers on Twitter and has contributed to the Washington Post, USA Today, US News and World Report, Chronicle of Higher Education, STAT News, Times Higher Education, MedCityNews, and Psychology Today.
Ellen Shanley, MBA, RDN, CDN, FAND, is a Lecturer in the Department of Allied Health Sciences and Director of the Dietetics Program. She is a registered dietitian nutritionist with an MBA and is a Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Her research program focuses on nutrition education outreach and food service systems management with much of her work incorporating technology. Ms. Shanley is the author of three books: Connecticut Cooks for Kids, Fueling the Teen Machine, and Overcoming Childhood Obesity. She has been actively involved in the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics and is serving on its Board of Directors (2018-2021). She is also the recipient of numerous awards including the Academy's Medallion Award, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Foundation's Award for Excellence in Dietetic Education, and the Outstanding Dietetic Educator in Area 7 award.
Dr. Roman Shrestha is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Allied Health Sciences and a Principal Investigator at the Institute for Collaboration on Health, Intervention, and Policy (InCHIP). He completed his doctorate at the University of Connecticut and a postdoctoral fellowship at Yale School of Medicine. Dr. Shrestha’s research has primarily centered on interventions and implementation science at the interface of HIV and substance use with a particular focus on HIV prevention and treatment issues. Specifically, his work emphasizes on the design, delivery, and placement of biomedical and behavioral interventions for optimal use in various settings. More recently, his research has evolved to include the development, adaptation, and testing of mobile technologies (mHealth) apps to improve treatment outcomes in key populations. He has conducted research in a range of settings, including community and healthcare, addiction treatment, and criminal justice settings, both domestically and internationally. He currently serves as the Principal Investigator on three NIH-funded grants and an industry-funded grant: Domestic projects(NIDA – R21DA051934& Gilead – IN-US-412-5629) with focus on HIV and substance use prevention in people who use drugs (PWID) and International projects(NIDA – K01DA051346&Fogarty – R21TW011665) with an emphasis on using mHealth app to promote HIV testing and linkage to HIV prevention services among sexual minority group (i.e., MSM and TGW) in Malaysia. Dr. Shrestha is also a Senior Lecturer in Medicine at the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He regularly serves on the CDC grant review panels, reviews for a number of the top peer-reviewed journals in the field, and serves in an editorial capacity for three internationally recognized journals in public health (AIDS & Behavior, Contemporary Clinical Trials, and BMC Women’s Health). Dr. Shrestha is accepting graduate students for Fall 2021.
Dr. Lawrence Silbart is a Professor in the Department of Allied Health Sciences and has held leadership positions within UConn including Department Head and Vice Provost for Strategic Initiatives. He was trained in the fields of Toxicology and Occupational Health with early research studying metabolic activation of chemical carcinogens. More recently, his research has focused on immunology and vaccine science, especially mucosal vaccines and adjuvants for infectious diseases, with current research projects focusing on cancer immunotherapy. He teaches AH 3175 (Environmental Health) each year and participates in teaching a graduate level course on vaccines in addition to many guest lectures. He and his research team have published well over 50 papers and book chapters in high-impact, peer-reviewed scientific journals including Science, Vaccine, and Infection and Immunity among others. His research has been funded with more than $6 million in extramural funding from USDA, NIH, CDC-ATSDR, US-EDA, and other organizations.
Dr. Jillian Wanik is an Assistant Professor in Residence and Director of the Dietetic Internship Program in the Department of Allied Health Sciences. She is a Doctor of Clinical Nutrition (DCN), Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), Board-Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD), and Certified Nutrition Support Specialist (CNSC). Her research interests include the relationships between physical activity levels and changes in anthropometrics (weight, waist circumference, and percent body fat) and HRQOL among participants in worksite wellness programs. She has also been part of a global interdisciplinary catering team at the Summer Olympic Games in Athens, Beijing, and London where she set standards and policies for elite athlete fueling and provided both individual and team strategies to optimize food and fluid choices for performance. She teaches the science of nutrition along with the educational strategies necessary to impact behavior change, transitioning students from consumers to producers of knowledge and training them in the skills necessary to translate medical nutrition therapies (MNT) into accurate, relevant information to help better the lives of individuals in diverse communities and in a range of clinical settings.
Dr. Molly Waring is an epidemiologist, Associate Professor in the Department of Allied Health Sciences, and Director of the Methodology Core of the UConn Center for mHealth and Social Media. Her program of research focuses on leveraging technology and social media for health promotion, with a focus on weight management among pregnant and post-partum women. She is currently the the principal investigator of three grant-funded projects in the areas of post-partum weight loss, gestational weight gain, social media, and misinformation related to child nutrition funded by the NIH, USDA, and InCHIP. Dr. Waring's research program also includes public health surveillance studies using data from nationally-representative public health surveys (e.g., the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey [NHANES], National Health Information Trends Survey [HINTS]) and social media (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, Instagram) to improve our understanding of the national and international landscape of health behavior and healthcare utilization, particularly related to obesity and women's health. Dr. Waring has published more than 120 papers in peer-reviewed journals and mentors both undergraduate and graduate students. Dr. Waring will be accepting graduate students for fall 2021.
Dr. Ran Xu is an applied statistician and Assistant Professor in the Department of Allied Health Sciences. His methodological research interests include (1) general quantitative methods such as causal inference methods, econometrics, and applied machine learning; (2) systems science approaches such as social network analysis, agent-based modeling and system dynamics modeling. He has developed new statistical and simulation models for longitudinal analysis, contagion effects in social networks, and implementation science within the organizational context. Coming from an interdisciplinary background, he also has a broad substantive health-related research interest in health policy and intervention, social media research, health-science workforce development and the science of health-science research. His works have appeared in high-impact peer-review journals such as Molecular Ecology, Bioscience, Organizational Research Methods and Social Networks. He mentors students and teaches quantitative methods courses at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Dr. Xu will be accepting graduate students for fall 2021.