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Two Lilly Scholars Strengthen Public Health Program at IUPUI

Jennifer Wessel, Ph.D., MPH, and Silvia M. Bigatti, Ph.D., were hired through nationwide searches. The Lilly Scholars awards support new faculty in public health recruited through national searches. The faculty expansion is being carried out to meet public health goals on the IUPUI campus.

In addition to the honor that goes with the Lilly Scholar title, recipients receive start-up funds to help them develop research projects that will be submitted to National Institutes of Health or other national peer-reviewed funding agencies.

Dr. Wessel is an assistant professor in the Division of Epidemiology and Environmental Health. She previously was employed as a consultant at SRI International, was the first scientist at a direct-to-consumer personalized genetics company, and previously was a post-doctoral scholar at Scripps Genomic Medicine. She holds a doctorate in genetic epidemiology from the University of California San Diego and the San Diego State University Joint Doctoral Program and a master’s degree in public health in epidemiology from the University of Arizona.

Dr. Wessel plans to develop a research program in cardiovascular genetic epidemiology. Specifically, her research focuses on developing innovative public health interventions to promote healthy lifestyles to prevent or delay the onset of coronary artery disease by personalizing interventions and risk communication based on individuals’ genetic profiles.

Dr. Bigatti is an associate professor in the Department of Public Health Division of Social and Behavioral Sciences. She joined the IU faculty in 2000 as an assistant professor of psychology. She holds a doctorate in clinical psychology with an emphasis in behavioral medicine from the University of California San Diego and the San Diego State University Joint Doctoral Program. She also completed a predoctoral internship at Yale University School of Medicine Department of Psychiatry.

Dr. Bigatti’s research will focus on factors related to stress and coping in cancer patients and their partners and also community-based preventive health behaviors among Latinos.

“These two new faculty expand our public health capacity in chronic diseases – cancer and cardiovascular disease – which are leading areas of research in the department. Drs. Wessel and Bigatti bring valuable expertise that will benefit the training of graduate students, extend our community partnerships and increase our research capacity,” said G. Marie Swanson, Ph.D., MPH, professor and chair of the IU School of Medicine Department of Public Health.

The Lilly Foundation gift was announced in December and was earmarked to support efforts to establish an accredited school of public health at the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis campus. Before that can happen, the department must first receive a renewal of its master’s in public health accreditation.

That process is one of the efforts underway to strengthen the life sciences programs at the IU School of Medicine and on the IUPUI campus.