Molina Named AD for Community Outreach and Engagement

Yamilé Molina has been named Associate Director for Community Outreach and Engagement for the University of Illinois Cancer Center. Molina was appointed to the leadership position on August 16, 2021 to take the helm from Karriem Watson, as he transitions to the national platform in his new NIH leadership role as Chief Engagement Officer for the All of Us research initiative.

Molina, PhD, MPH, MS, Associate Professor of Community Health Sciences in the University of Illinois Chicago’s School of Public Health and Faculty Affiliate at the Center for Research on Women and Gender, has conducted extensive research on how communities leverage their assets to address structural oppression and its health impacts, specifically focusing on breast cancer and HIV.

“Individuals do not represent only ‘data points’ in scientific studies, but also have the potential to become messengers/interventionists that diffuse and act upon evidence,” Molina said.

Since joining UIC’s School of Public Health in 2016, Molina and several community partners have successfully obtained numerous grants. Molina has obtained two National Cancer Institute (NCI) grants as a principal investigator – Empowering Latinas to Obtain Breast Cancer Screenings (K01) and Assessing and Modeling Network-level Consequences of Patient Navigation (R21).

The K01 grant tests a novel approach – empowerment+navigation (emp+nav) – which focuses on providing navigation to free/low cost breast cancer care and strengthening non-adherent Latinas’ skills to become change agents throughout their networks. The approach seeks to impact breast cancer care uptake at individual, network, and ultimately, community levels. A R21 award obtained by Molina, Watson, and Brown University’s Aditya Khanna similarly focuses on how patient navigation may have more widespread health benefits due to navigated Black patients’ efforts to advocate and support screening-eligible women in their networks.

Having published more than 100 peer-reviewed articles, Molina’s success extends beyond research. Committed to training the next diverse generation of scholar activists, Molina has mentored more than 50 undergraduate, postbaccaluaureate, graduate, and medical students – most of whom identify as ethnic, sexual and gender minorities.

Molina was a 2017 recipient of the National Minority Quality Forum’s 40 under 40 Leaders in Minority Health Award, received the 2019 Faculty Recognition Award from the UIC Chancellor’s Committee on the Status of Latinos, and was a faculty inductee for the Lambda Chapter of Delta Omega Honor Society in 2021.

“We don’t have to build new wheels,” Molina said. “Karriem developed COE to be a robust, amazing vehicle for promoting community engaged research. My hope now is to think about all the places on the map we can reach via COE – including supporting cancer members throughout different stages of research and offering their community partners institutional support.”

Watson leaves an enduring legacy at the Cancer Center and University of Illinois Chicago. A health disparities researcher, Watson, DHSc, MS, MPH, who along with his role at the Cancer Center served as Associate Executive Director, Mile Square Health Center UI Health, has a passion for improving health equity and cancer outcomes in underserved populations. Watson has more than 50 peer-reviewed publications and served as a board member of the Susan G. Komen Foundation, a fellow of the Society of Behavioral Medicine, and NIH/NCI Special Emphasis Panel Reviewer.

Included in the numerous grants he has received is a NCI UE5 grant, where he serves as Principal Investigator on the multi-Principal Investigator Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) grant shared with Johns Hopkins University; a R01 grant with fellow Cancer Center member Sage Kim, PhD, where he serves as a multi-PI; a UG3 with Cancer Center member Phoenix Matthews, PhD; and a U54 Chicago Cancer Health equity Collaborative (ChicagoCHEC) grant with Cancer Center member Marian Fitzgibbon, PhD., where he serves as a project PI.

Watson’s areas of expertise and interests include patient navigation and social networks; implementation and dissemination science; and community engagement in research.

Along with former Cancer Center Director Dr. Robert Winn, Watson was “at the forefront in establishing the organization’s Community-to-Bench vision,” Molina said. “His decades of experience in community engaged research and transdisciplinary science ensured the development of a novel approach to community outreach and engagement. His ability to engage numerous stakeholders in academia, clinical care, Federally Qualified Health Centers, and community settings is truly impressive, and was a major contributor to our current success as a Cancer Center.”

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