National search brings ‘best and brightest’ public health scientists to UWM

In fall 2012, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Joseph J. Zilber School of Public Health launched a national campaign to recruit 10 of the best and brightest public health researchers and teachers to its starting ranks of 17 faculty, says Founding Dean Magda Peck. Seven new faculty members from top-tier universities are joining the Zilber School this fall, and three more are expected by 2014.

The Zilber School of Public Health, established in 2009, has been expanding rapidly. Enrollment has grown from eight to more than 60 students, the school moved into its new 56,000-square-foot home in the Brewery complex last summer, and the first two graduates of its Master of Public Health (MPH) program already are working in Milwaukee and Colorado.

The school currently offers the Master of Public Health degree, and Ph.D.s in Environmental and Occupational Health and in Public Health with a concentration in community and behavioral health promotion. Three additional MPH tracks will be launched by fall 2014, and a third Ph.D. program will follow.

“Topnotch faculty from some of the best universities have chosen UWM’s Zilber School at this extraordinary time because of our commitment to innovation and impact in Milwaukee and beyond.” says Peck, who trained at the Harvard School of Public Health. “Together with the founding faculty, we can be world class in robust, relevant research and education while championing social and environmental justice.”

The newest public health faculty members are:

Paul Auer, assistant professor of biostatistics, hails from the University of Washington’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. He earned his doctorate in statistics at Purdue University. His primary research interest is discovering the genetic determinants of common chronic diseases, including heart disease, bleeding disorders, Type 2 diabetes, stroke and colorectal cancer. Specifically, he develops and implements statistical and computational tools for analyzing genetic data from large U.S. health studies, such as the Women’s Health Initiative. He is currently studying the extent to which rare genetic variations influence disease risk in diverse U.S. populations.

Phoenix Do, associate professor of policy and administration, and epidemiology, comes to UWM from the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina. She earned her doctorate in policy analysis from the Pardee RAND Graduate School. Her research focuses on the social determinants of population health, racial/ethnic health parities, neighborhood effects on health and quantitative methodologies. She is particularly interested in the important role that social and economic factors have in generating and perpetuating racial/ethnic health disparities. Her current research examines how racial and economic segregation, measured at the local and metropolitan levels, shape population health and health disparities in an increasingly multiethnic, multiracial society.

Spencer Huang, associate professor of biostatistics, has been a leading researcher at Northwestern University. His major research interest is translational bioinformatics, especially in the area of stratifying disease risks. Huang has served as principal investigator or as subcontracted principal investigator on National Institutes of Health/National Cancer Institute initiatives, including the Director’s Challenge, the Strategic Partnering to Evaluate Cancer Signatures (SPECS) and Therapeutically Applicable Research to Generate Effective Treatments (TARGET). His work focuses on discovering, confirming and researching cancer molecular signatures associated with treatment response, and identifying therapeutic targets using various microarrays and next-generation sequencing techniques.

Linnea Laestadius, assistant professor of health policy and administration, recently received her doctorate from The John Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. Her research focuses on the food system and how it can be made healthier, more environmentally sustainable and more equitable. She is particularly interested in policies and advocacy campaigns aimed at food systems reform at the local and national levels, food choice as a way to mitigate climate change and environmental justice issues related to agricultural production. She is also interested in policy efforts to minimize the public health impacts of climate change.

Jenna Loyd, assistant professor of policy and administration and a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, focuses on the interrelations among race, gender and class, and how structural violence is built into the landscapes of U.S. cities. Her first book, “Health Rights are Civil Rights: Peace and Justice Activism in Los Angeles, 1963-1978,” traces how peace and social justice activists – particularly within the black freedom, women’s, welfare rights and peace movements – worked to create accessible healthcare and healthier living conditions in the city. She is currently collaborating on a book about the history of the U.S. detention system since 1980.

Hongbo Ma, assistant professor of environmental health, comes to the school from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). She earned her doctorate in environmental toxicology from the University of Georgia, and is a National Research Council postdoctoral research associate at the EPA’s Mid-Continent Ecology Division Laboratory. Her primary research and academic interest lies in understanding adverse effects of environmental contaminants (both legacy and emerging) to environmental and human health, and promoting the translation of this knowledge into policy and practice to protect human health. She has conducted environmental health and toxicology research on a broad range of environmental agents, including nutrients, heavy metals and engineered nanomaterials, using well-established animal models as well as advanced analytical tools.

Amanda Simanek, assistant professor of epidemiology, comes from the University of Michigan School of Public Health. Her research focus is identifying novel biological mechanisms by which social disparities in health occur across the course of life and persist across generations. A major interest is better understanding social patterning of infections, links between infectious and chronic disease, and the role that persistent pathogens may play in the inter- and intragenerational transmission of health disparities.