Five UTHealth Houston Faculty Members Honored With Endowments in Recognition of Their Continued Work

Drs. Balasubramanian, Highfield, Darkoh, Tortolero Emery, and Markham pictured.

Endowments are a poignant reminder to faculty members of the importance of their roles and responsibilities in academics and research. Donors fund these endowments, traditionally  where they get their namesake, and they are used to support faculty's particular research interest. This honor elevates leaders in the health science community, creating a high-caliber setting in which to thrive.   

The Distinguished Chair is a prestigious position often given to deans and division directors of exceptional merit. Two female faculty members at UTHealth Houston School of Public Health have integrated years of experience in public health into their leadership roles at this institution, and this recognition honors the vital contributions each holder has made.    

Bijal A. Balasubramanian, MBBS, PhD, who was awarded The Rockwell Distinguished Chair in Society and Health. Balasubramanian, serves as campus dean of UTHealth Houston School of Public Health Dallas Campus, one of four female campus leaders within the School of Public Health. The pursuit of success reflects in herself and the progress this endowment will support. " This endowment will help me enhance primary care and implementation science research capacity to improve the health of populations across our state and the country," she said. 

These endowments support the holder by reaffirming their positions as leaders in academia, their research within the field, and their commitment to community engagement. "I am honored by this recognition and grateful to the Rockwell Fund for its longstanding commitment to improving the health and well-being of our communities," stated Balasubramanian.   

The Distinguished Chair in Population Health has been awarded to Linda Highfield, PhD, associate professor of Community Health Practice & Epidemiology. She focuses on the integration of systems science, geospatial methods, and interventions to improve healthcare access for underserved populations. This endowment was established in 2022, and Highfield is the first holder of this position.  

"I think this is a testament to the University's commitment to population health as an interdisciplinary field. I am excited to be the first holder and formally recognized for Public Health's important contribution to population health."    
For Highfield, this endowment is a career-defining moment. "It's the culmination of many years of work that I've been doing to transform healthcare and I'm excited to have a Distinguished Chair that will formally allow me to continue to innovate and support cutting-edge research and practice to bend the healthcare cost curve and improve population health outcomes," she said.  

Charles Darkoh, PhD, associate professor in Epidemiology, Human Genetics & Environmental Sciences, was awarded the R. Palmer Beasley, MD, and Lu-Yu Hwang, MD Chair. Beasley and Hwang served the School of Public Health, with Beasley as dean at the school from 1987 to 2005. Beasley passed away in 2012, after battling pancreatic cancer, and his legacy in promoting global health and research remains steadfast. Hwang still resides at the School of Public Health as a professor of Epidemiology, Human Genetics & Environmental Sciences. 

This title is gifted to support a distinguished faculty member whose interests are in epidemiology, infectious diseases, or global public health. Darkoh is the first holder of this chair, originally established in 2012.  

"Dr. Beasley and Dr. Hwang have made significant contributions to infectious disease research and global health, helping to save millions of lives," said Darkoh. "Holding an endowment bearing their names challenges me to emulate them and to continue the torch they have lit."   
These endowments serve not only to recognize our faculty but to aid them in casting an impact on public health. Darkoh's research is directly aligned with his endowment, with his focus on research to "help decrease deaths associated with preventable and treatable infectious diseases, especially in developing countries."   

The Guy S. Parcel Chair in Public Health has been granted to Susan Tortolero Emery, PhD. Emery serves as Senior Associate Dean at the School of Public Health, where her research aligns with primary prevention and health promotion in the field of sexual health education. Parcel served as Dean of the UTHealth Houston School of Public Health from 2005 to 2008 and was Emery's mentor.   

"This appointment is a particular honor for me, given that Dr. Parcel was my mentor. His work in reproductive and adolescent health and intervention development greatly influenced and shaped my career. He served as a role model throughout my career, not only as a researcher but also as a fantastic leader."  

Emery's career, guided by her mentor, has led to a dedication to developing other emerging leaders in this field. This endowment represents Parcel's commitment to cultivating members of public health who signify the vast progression in representation and enables them to do the same. "I plan to use the proceeds from the chair position to support and mentor other early career faculty. I only hope to be as selfless with my time mentoring others as Dr. Parcel was with me," she said.  

Christine Markham, PhD, has been awarded the Allan King Professorship in Public Health. This Professorship was first established in 1987 and remains a vital tool to recognize faculty who are outstanding in their field. Markham, who serves as Department Chair for Health Promotion and Behavorial Sciences, embodies leadership and continues to devote herself to research and practice in adolescent health. Emery was the previous recipient of this Professorship, another testament to the cultivation of success for women at the school. 

“I am honored to receive the Allan King Professorship in Public Health. I am grateful for the support and leadership at UTHealth Houston and for the opportunity to contribute to the mission of our institution. I look forward to continuing to expand our local and national research and training efforts to positively impact public health,” she said. 

This ever-evolving field depends on researchers, academic contributions, and the faculty who embody these ideas in the students to become future leaders. These recently awarded endowments mirror the diversity public health strives to achieve in its structure and evolution. The system is created to address the concerns that impact the population, which heavily affect lower-income regions at a disproportionate rate.

As a discipline, public health is incumbent upon addressing the issues that affect the population. Such as those experienced in underrepresented communities, underserved neighborhoods, and access to care. We congratulate these holders, as they continue to represent the mission and values of the school, and remain steadfast in their work, which directly impacts communities and the future public health workforce. 

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