Erin Abner

Erin L. Abner, PhD, MPH

Professor of epidemiology in the department of epidemiology and environmental health, College of Public Health. Dr. Erin Abner has joint appointments in the UK Sanders-Brown Center on Aging and the Department of Biostatistics. She joined the College of Public Health as an Assistant Professor in 2013. She is the author or co-author of more than 150 peer-reviewed publications. Dr. Abner is currently an MPI or co-investigator on multiple NIH-funded grants, including the NIH/NIA Alzheimer’s Disease Center at the UK Sanders-Brown Center on Aging, where she is the Co-Leader of the Data Management and Statistics Core. Her current research is focused on assessing how medical conditions like hypertension and diabetes are related to cognitive impairment and neuropathology. Dr. Abner teaches primarily graduate-level methods courses for the Epidemiology and Biostatistics PhD program, and she is currently the Director of Graduate Studies.  

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Matthew L. Bush, MD, PhD, MBA

Professor and vice chair for research in the department of otolaryngology – head and neck surgery, in the University of Kentucky College of Medicine. Dr. Bush is a surgeon scientist who has a research focus on increasing access to and timely delivery of specialty healthcare in underserved populations. His current work is NIH funded and involves clinical trial design and execution among vulnerable populations which incorporates mixed methodology along with dissemination and implementation research approaches. 

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Laneshia Conner, PhD, MSW, CSW

Assistant professor of social work in the College of Social Work. Dr. Conner’s research examines HIV risk perceptions and susceptibility among older Black populations. Her current research projects focus on bridging the gap of reproductive health history and older Black women's HIV risk, intervention adaptation, and  including an arts-based component of assessing health education models and their applicability to older audiences due to the morphology of aging bodies. She is currently a BIRCWH (Building Interdisciplinary Research Careers in Women's Health) Scholar, a competitive NIH-funded training award to support her research focusing on women’s health research for two years (NIDA, 3K12DA035150-11S1). Other areas of research and scholarship include using horror films to teach about social justice issues, critical pedagogy and adult learning principles in course construction, and anti-racism in social work education.

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Darwin Conwell

Darwin L. Conwell, MD, MSc, FACG

Darwin L. Conwell, MD, MSc, FACG is an international authority on pancreatic disorders and champion of diversity, equity and inclusion. He is an advocate of community engagement and health equity and a leading principal investigator of the NIDDK/NCI U01 Chronic Pancreatitis, Diabetes and Pancreas Cancer Consortium (CPDPC) - PROspective Evaluation of Chronic Pancreatitis for EpidEmiologic and Translational StuDies (PROCEED Study) and the NIDDK U01 Type 1 Diabetes Acute Pancreatitis C (T1DAPC) - Diabetes RElated to Acute Pancreatitis and its Mechanisms (DREAM Study) – both evaluating mechanistic underpinnings of pancreatitis.  An academic leader with strong administrative skills and expertise in creating cultures of inclusive excellence, he is a national award-winning mentor, educator and community engagement advocate; has advanced under-represented minorities within the field of medicine; and developed leadership opportunities for Black/African Americans and women physician/basic scientists.

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Mark Dignan, PhD, MPH

Professor in the department of internal medicine of the College of Medicine. Dr. Dignan’s research is focused on cancer prevention and control for rural and medically underserved populations. His projects have developed and evaluated the effectiveness of interventions to increase screening and follow-up for abnormal screening test results and have included partnerships with community members, healthcare providers and healthcare delivery systems.  His current NIH-funded projects include development and assessment of multiple level interventions to increase colorectal and cervical cancer screening in Appalachian populations.  

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Rachel Farr

Rachel H. Farr, PhD

Associate professor, department of psychology, College of Arts & Sciences. Dr. Farr’s research in developmental psychology focuses on diverse families, particularly those parented by LGBTQ+ adults and formed through adoption. For nearly 20 years, she has conducted a large longitudinal study about how parental sexual orientation relates to child, parent, and family outcomes among diverse adoptive families across the U.S. Funded by the William T. Grant Foundation, Dr. Farr is currently studying racially, socioeconomically, and geographically diverse adolescents with LGBTQ+ parents.  

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Alison Gustafson

Alison Gustafson, PhD, MPH, RD

Martin Gatton Foundation Endowed Chair and professor of dietetics and human nutrition in the department of dietetics and human nutrition, Martin Gatton College of Agriculture, Food, and Environment and College of Nursing.  Dr. Gustafson serves as the Director of the Food as Health Alliance in Kentucky. Her research focuses on how various components of the food environment are on the pathway to poor dietary outcomes among rural and geographically isolated communities, funding through NIH, CDC, USDA, and other non-profits. Dr. Gustafson addresses health disparities through the food insecurity lens to improve policy approaches for those in social safety networks. As Director she leads the Food as Health Alliance’s collective mission to build and expand the translational research between clinical and community interventions to target food insecurity as an approach to improve diet-sensitive disease and health outcomes. 

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Candice Hargons, PhD

Dr. Candice Hargons (she/her) is an award-winning associate professor of counseling psychology at the University of Kentucky, where she studies sexual and mental health equity. She is PI of the SAMHSA funded Neighborhood Healers Project, which uses a community-based participatory action research approach to advance mental health literacy and utilization among Black Lexingtonians by training Black community members in Mental Health First Aid. Dr. Hargons is also a co-I on projects funded by NIDA, HRSA, and NIMHD examining substance use outcomes, treatment, and sexual health disparities. Additionally, she leads the Big Sex Study, a mixed-methods, community-based participatory action research project investigating Black sexual wellness through the #HotGirlScience paradigm. She is a faculty affiliate of African American and Africana Studies and the Commonwealth Institute for Black Studies. Dr. Hargons' commitment is to translating science in a way that makes it accessible and meaningful to her grandma and people who don't have access to information locked behind academic paywalls. Thus, she has been featured in popular media, including the Huffington Post, Blavity, Women's Health, Cosmopolitan, and the New York Times. She has also been featured on several leading podcasts, such as Therapy for Black Girls and Science Vs.

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Nancy Grant Harrington

Nancy Grant Harrington, PhD

University research professor of communication, director of the Health Communication Research Collaborative, and director of the Kentucky Conference on Health Communication in the College of Communication and Information; she also holds an academic appointment in the School of Public Health and is a faculty associate of the Multidisciplinary Center on Drug and Alcohol Research. Dr. Harrington’s research focuses on persuasive message design in the health behavior change context. Her current work focuses on developing training materials to improve patient-provider communication in contexts such as cost-of-care conversations, rheumatoid arthritis treatment, tobacco cessation, and substance use treatment referral. 

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Pamela Hull, PhD

Associate professor of behavioral science in the UK College of Medicine, is a medical sociologist with over 15 years of experience in conducting community-engaged research with a focus on reducing health disparities among African American, Hispanic, and low-income populations, in collaboration with community partners. Her research focuses on the implementation of evidence-based practices for cancer prevention and control, including HPV vaccination and obesity prevention, using implementation science and technology-based applications. Dr. Hull serves as associate director of Population Science and Community Impact for the UK Markey Cancer Center, where she leads Markey’s community outreach and engagement efforts through the Community Impact Office functions, and she oversees MCC’s population science research agenda and resources.  

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Melinda Ickes

Melinda Ickes, PhD

Melinda Ickes received her Ph.D. from the University of Cincinnati in 2010. Dr. Ickes is Assistant Dean of Research for the College of Education and Professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Promotion. She also has a joint appointment in the College of Nursing where she serves as the Co-Director of the Tobacco Policy Research Program of the BREATHE (Bridging Research Efforts and Advocacy Toward Healthy Environments) research team. She serves as Director of the AppalTRuST Career Enhancement Core, a center focused on tobacco regulatory science.

As a University of Kentucky Research Professor, Dr. Ickes has extensive experience in college and youth health promotion, including tobacco prevention, and has worked with university and community partners to reduce the prevalence of emerging tobacco products among at-risk youth and young adults. Through state and national funding, the #iCANendthetrend initiative has reached nearly 20,000 Kentucky youth to support reduced tobacco use initiation.

Her research interests also go beyond tobacco control, including community-engaged research, youth empowerment, health equity in substance use prevention, and evidence-based program planning and evaluation.

Dr. Ickes serves as the Health Promotion Program Faculty Chair and Director of the Graduate Certificate in Health Coaching. She has taught a variety of specialized undergraduate and graduate courses in health promotion including Human Health and Wellness, Program Planning, Health Promotion and Behavior Change, College Health Promotion, Community Organizing and Health Promotion, and Worksite Wellness.

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Aaron J. Kruse-Diehr, PhD

Associate professor in the department of family and community medicine in the University of Kentucky College of Medicine. Dr. Kruse-Diehr is also director of the Community Leadership Institute of Kentucky (CLIK) through the UK Center for Clinical and Translational Science. His research centers on reducing cancer disparities, with primary focus on increasing colorectal cancer screening rates in clinic and community-based settings using approaches guided by implementation science theories and frameworks.

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Ana Maria Linares

Ana Maria Linares, DNS, RN, IBCLC

Associate professor in the College of Nursing, Dr. Linares is a national and international expert in human lactation and has worked in maternal-child and women's health for 40 years in Chile and the U.S. She has a program of research to improve health and achieve health equity through the development of a culturally appropriate exclusive breastfeeding intervention among Hispanic women.  Dr. Linares coordinates three international studies sponsored by the International Child Health Nursing Network to determine cultural factors influencing breastfeeding. Additionally, Dr. Linares’s contributions to lactation research are vast and include: 1) advancing the science of cytokine measurement in breastmilk and levels of heavy metal in breastmilk; 2) identification of predictors of EBF initiation and duration in Hispanic women, and 3) identification of predictors of EBF using a mother/infant dyad approach. Currently, she is the PI of a study to evaluate Familism and SDOH as critical components of exclusive breastfeeding in Hispanic mothers funded by UNITE.

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Kathy Sheppard-Jones, PhD, CRC

Dr. Kathy Sheppard-Jones is the executive director of the Human Development Institute (HDI), one of UK’s Centers and Institutes administered under the Office of the Vice President for Research. The HDI serves as Kentucky’s University Center on Disability and is home to the state’s University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities and Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities grants. She leads over 300 interdisciplinary staff around research priority areas that include employment, education, health, leadership, advocacy, assistive technology and universal design. Dr. Sheppard-Jones serves as implementation lead for the University on the Retaining Talent after Injury/Illness Network grant, funded by the US Department of Labor. This study examines early intervention strategies for workers at risk of leaving the workforce due to injury, illness or impairment. She holds a doctorate in Educational Psychology from the University of Kentucky. Dr Sheppard-Jones also serves as adjunct assistant faculty in the counselor education program in the College of Education. An active researcher with over $60 million in lifetime externally funded awards, her interests include return to work, transition to employment inclusive higher education for students and workforce, universal design, and systems change. She is guided by a vision of a workforce that is inclusive of all people. She is also a certified rehabilitation counselor.

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Brittany Smalls, PhD, MHSA

Associate professor, in the department of family and community medicine in the College of Medicine. Dr. Smalls’ research focus is addressing social determinants of health and its influence on self-care in those with complex chronic disease, especially older adults. Her research includes serving as co-investigator on 2 NIH R01 grants: (1) reducing cardiovascular risk in caregivers in rural Appalachia (1R01NR016824) and (2) improving self-care and access to care in those with type 2 diabetes living in rural Appalachia (1R01DK112136).

As a health services researcher with a background in anthropology and health psychology, Dr. Smalls' research also focuses on the intersection of health behavior, social environmental determinants of health, and chronic disease management. She has leveraged her transdisciplinary background and experience to assess how the social environment affects health outcomes for vulnerable populations with complex chronic conditions. Her research is currently focused on rural health, aging, and intergenerational influences on health and wellbeing, specially cardiometabolic disorders. She is also a current NIDDK K01 awardee where she has focused her research on improving diabetes self-care activities among older adults living in rural Appalachia communities in Kentucky.

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Danelle Stevens-Watkins

Danelle Stevens-Watkins, PhD

Professor and associate vice president for research (diversity and inclusion). Dr. Stevens-Watkins leads the UNited In True Equity (UNITE) Research Priority Area. Broadly, her research focuses on health disparities and barriers to service utilization among Black adult populations. She completed an NIH (K08DA-032296) Mentored Career Development Award  with a research emphasis on the dynamic interaction between anxiety, depression, drug abuse, and HIV risk behaviors among African American male prisoners. Currently, she is completing one of the first known studies funded by NIDA (R01DA-094333) to examine structural, social, and cultural factors impacting the opioid epidemic among Black Americans by gender and age. Further, in collaboration with Morehouse School of Medicine, she leads a project funded by NIH, National Institute on Minority Health Disparities focused on increasing PrEP uptake among Black women at high risk for HIV. In addition, she received funding from NIH, National Institute on General Medical Sciences as MPI (NIGMS) R25GM-147296) to co-lead a mentoring program to foster success among racial/ethnic underrepresented faculty. Dr. Stevens-Watkins also leads as PI the NIH NIDA funded racial equity initiatives coordinating center (U24-DA058961).

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Shemeka Thorpe

Shemeka Thorpe, PhD

Dr. Shemeka Thorpe (she/her) is an award-winning sexuality educator and researcher.  Her research focuses on the sexual well-being of Black women using sex-positive frameworks and Black feminisms. Dr. Thorpe’s primary research focus is on Black women’s experiences of sexual pleasure, genito pelvic pain/penetration disorder symptomology, and family planning. Dr. Thorpe is an Assistant Professor in Health Promotion at the University of Kentucky.  She is also a faculty affiliate of African American and Africana Studies and the Commonwealth Institute for Black Studies. She has published over 50 peer-reviewed articles in journals in the field of sexology, psychology, and public health. In 2023, Buzzfeed listed her as one of the top 20 Black sexologists you should follow. She has been featured on numerous podcasts, online magazines, and blogs such as Cosmo, Elite Daily, The New York Times, and Essence. Dr. Thorpe aims to make research relevant to Black communities by translating sex science in meaningful and tangible ways through social media.

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Keith Watts

Keith J. Watts, PhD, MSW

Assistant professor in the College of Social Work, Affiliate Faculty in African American & Africana Studies.  Dr. Watts’ research explores the complex and intersectional experiences of LGBTQ+ individuals with multiple marginalized identities, such as Black LGBTQ+ individuals and LGBTQ+ youth. His work aims to optimize these communities’ mental health and well-being outcomes by informing programs and practices to improve service delivery and deepen practitioners’ cultural sensitivity and humility.  Most recently, he has explored the role of belongingness to one’s identity-based communities as a critical component of these health outcomes.

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Corrine Williams, ScD

Associate professor in the department of health, behavior and society, College of Public Health, with a joint appointment in the department of obstetrics and gynecology, College of Medicine, at the University of Kentucky. Dr. Williams has conducted research on various women’s health and maternal and child health topics, and generally focuses program evaluation and quality improvement. She was part of the research team for the project, “Green Dot across the Bluegrass: Evaluation of a primary prevention intervention,” a CDC-funded collaborative agreement to evaluate the effectiveness of a violence prevention program targeted to high school students. Related to the Green Dot intervention, she also received funding to evaluate this program among college students. In addition, she served as the evaluator of the Kentucky Health Access Nurturing Development Services (HANDS) program, a statewide voluntary intensive home visitation program for high-risk (including young maternal age), primarily low-income, first-time parents that provides services from the prenatal period to the child's third birthday. This work ultimately led to the HANDS program being declared an evidence-based home visiting approach. Dr. Williams is also the acting associate vice president for Student Well-being in the Office for Student Success. As acting AVP she oversees the UK Counseling Center, the VIP Center, the Disability Resource Center, Campus Recreation and the office of Student Financial Wellness. She also leads a strategic initiative dedicated to a holistic approach to student wellness.

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Lovoria B. Williams, PhD, FNP-BC, FAANP

Associate professor in the College of Nursing. Her research focuses on implementing multi-level interventions to reduce obesity and lung cancer disparities among African Americans and medically underserved population through community based participatory methods.  Her work is funded by grants from the NIH, State, and Foundations. Dr. Williams is also the associate director and endowed research professor of cancer health equity in the Markey Cancer Center, where she provides leadership for the health equity aspects of Markey’s community outreach and engagement functions

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