2021 Dean’s Awards
Amy Nunn is Professor of Behavioral and Social Sciences. Dr. Nunn is best known for her innovative community partnerships addressing disparities for chronic and infectious diseases, both in Rhode Island and beyond. Her work related to engaging black clergy and community leaders in HIV testing and treatment has received national acclaim. She oversees NIH training grants focused on training investigators of color in how to conduct community-engaged research focused on reducing HIV disparities.
Dr. Nunn is also the Executive Director of the Rhode Island Public Health Institute, whose mission is to promote community health and to eliminate health disparities in Rhode Island and beyond. In 2020, RIPHI launched Open Door Health, Rhode Island's first LGBTQ clinic. RIPHI oversees a mobile produce market called Food on the Move that serves 5,000 low-income Rhode Islanders. RIPHI is also leading a statewide advocacy effort for a sugary drinks tax that would fund SNAP incentives at grocery stores across Rhode Island.
A colleague wrote, “I cannot think of anyone more deserving. Amy has been a leader in community-engaged public health practice and research since she came to the School as an assistant professor. In one paragraph, I can only outline all of the work that Amy has done. She is known locally and nationally for her many innovative community partnerships.”
Jennifer Merrill is Associate Professor of Behavioral and Social Sciences. She has primarily focused on investigating the etiology and consequences of alcohol misuse among young adults, with a particular interest in high-intensity drinking and alcohol-induced blackouts. She has current interests in qualitative methods, ecological momentary assessment, alcohol biosensors, advanced data analysis, and intervention development. She is both an advisor and mentor for postdoctoral trainees and graduate students in her department as well as the Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies.
One nominee wrote, “Her wonderful mentorship is what made me want to stay at Brown after my master’s and continue on in the doctoral program. She is one of the best mentors I have had during my academic career. Her kind and caring personality makes her very approachable to ask for help and guidance. She always is thinking about her students. She emails me often with upcoming conference deadlines, workshop opportunities, and possible scholarships/grants/fellowships to apply for. She has been a very important part of my growth and success as a researcher in alcohol and addiction studies.”
Jennifer Nazareno is Assistant Professor of Behavioral and Social Sciences. Her specialty areas include the social determinants of health; race, gender, and class inequalities; immigrant labor and health; and intersectionality, qualitative and mixed methods. She is also a co-founder of The Philippine Health Initiative for Research, Service, and Training; teaches multiple courses; and serves as both official advisor and unofficial mentor for both undergraduate and graduate students.
One of her advisees shared, “She has an impeccable ability for setting up a space of trust and camaraderie, and I often find myself sharing with her the raw and more vulnerable aspects of my professional world and have been met with empathy, non-judgment, and support. Moreover, she reciprocates this dynamic in a way that gives me a newfound perspective and confidence. In all our interactions, she is forthcoming with her feedback, caring and thoughtful in her guidance, and consistently empowers me to be a better student, researcher, and individual.”
Sara Becker is Associate Professor of Behavioral and Social Sciences. She studies both dissemination and implementation strategies to increase the utilization of evidence-based treatment models. Sara is MPI of a 5-year NIDA-funded R01 project evaluating strategies to implement motivational incentives in 30 opioid treatment centers throughout New England and MPI of a 5-year NIAAA-funded P01 project testing a train-the-trainer strategy to cascade Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment targeting risky alcohol use throughout HIV service organizations in South Africa. Sara also serves as the Project Director/PI of the SAMHSA-funded New England Addiction Technology Transfer Center.
One colleague wrote, “Dr. Becker’s approach to research collaboration is collegial, respectful, pragmatic, and conducive to developing a truly equal partnership. For each major strategic decision about our research strategy, Dr. Becker shared relevant references and examples, and helped our team to think through which path best fit our strengths. It never felt like Dr. Becker had her own research agenda; instead, it felt as if she genuinely wanted to generate collaborative solutions that were both feasible and rigorous.”
Shira Dunsiger is Associate Professor of Behavioral and Social Sciences (Research). Her research focus is on developing sophisticated statistical methodology for analyzing data from behavioral medicine, including smoking cessation, physical activity, mood, depression, and adherence outcomes. She teaches Applied Regression Analysis and Principles of Biostatistics and Data Analysis at the School of Public Health.
One student wrote, “While Shira is an amazing instructor even in this virtual realm, the predominant reason she deserves this award is the way she teaches just as a human being. She doesn't elevate herself above her students, instead empathizing with us in how difficult the material can be and reassuring us how important it is to prioritize our mental wellbeing above everything during this pandemic. She is my model of what kind of professor and researcher I want to be, and every ounce of success that my peers and I have accomplished in this class, we owe entirely to her.”
The School’s MPH Program staff were nominated as a team and credited with innovating procedures and processes to move the program online during the pandemic while also preparing for the CEPH re-accreditation site visit, accommodating the School’s large incoming MPH cohort, and maintaining the program’s applied public health experience models. They developed solutions to keep up with the increased number of MPH applications, as well as making sure that current students remained connected with the School and community while having to learn remotely. For example, they created a system to track each MPH student and ensure they touched based with at least one faculty or staff person. They also created research assistant models so that students could work directly with the Rhode Island Department of Health, which bolstered the state’s pandemic response, strengthened the School’s relationship with RIDOH, and enabled students to fulfill their own program requirements.
One nominating faculty member wrote, “Not only have each of these individuals worked well above and beyond their jobs, shown great compassion and creativity, and improved the MPH program and SPH, they have done this as a TEAM. The commitment of the MPH staff team to MPH students and the SPH reputation in the community has always been truly exceptional. This year that commitment was tested by the pandemic, a large entering cohort, and an unprecedented number of applications. The MPH team worked creatively and with innovation to meet the challenges. It is with great pleasure and enthusiasm that I nominate them for the new Excellence in Innovation award.”
Jesse Yedinak is Research Director of the People, Place & Health Collective and led the team’s restructuring, rebranding, and launch process. This included strategic planning and developing a new mission and vision centered on inclusivity, health equity, and community engagement. Jesse directly supervised 14 full-time staff and established a workshop series to support their professional and personal development in areas including time management, research independence, and overcoming imposter syndrome. She is also credited with negotiating contracts and data use agreements with the Rhode Island Department of Health, enabling the School to support and improve the state’s COVID-19 dashboard and highlight racial disparities in the state’s opioid crisis. Jesse’s year was capped off with her appointment as Assistant Professor of the Practice of Epidemiology.
One colleague wrote, “She is widely seen as a trusted advisor and expert in health communication, population health metric development, and the use of data to guide interventions that improve health equity… In sum, Jesse is an extraordinarily leader, supporter, and champion of our research team, and is highly committed to improving the health of all Rhode Islanders, including those who are most marginalized. I can think of no better recipient of this award.”
Another wrote, “Her unwavering leadership and strengths-based approach have allowed our team to not only persevere through the pandemic but emerge as a unified and highly efficient group… Our retention rate is so high largely because of the great supervision she brings to our team. It is a testament to her patience, encouragement, determination, and devotion to her position.”