UTHealth’s Fernandez named director of Center for Health Promotion and Prevention Research

Published: March 28, 2016

HOUSTON – (Mar. 28, 2016) – Maria E. Fernandez, Ph.D., was recently named director of the Center of Health Promotion and Prevention Research (CHPPR) at UTHealth School of Public Health. She follows Susan Tortolero Emery, Ph.D., who stepped down when she was appointed as senior associate dean of the school. Fernandez served as associate director of the center for five years.

Fernandez is a professor in the school’s Department of Health Promotion and Behavioral Sciences. She joined the School of Public Health faculty in 1998 and has been part of the Center for Health Promotion and Prevention Research since then. Fernandez earned a B.A. in biology and a B.S. in Spanish simultaneously in 1989; an M.A. in health education in 1992; and a Ph.D. in health education in 1995 all from the University of Maryland. Later, she completed a National Cancer Institute postdoctoral fellowship in cancer prevention and control here at UTHealth School of Public Health.

“It’s a pleasure and an honor to be appointed the new director of the Center for Health Promotion and Prevention Research and to serve after such a distinguished line of directors,” says Fernandez. Previous directors include founding director, Lawrence W. Green, Dr.P.H.; the school’s dean emeritus, Guy S. Parcel, Ph.D.; the school’s Austin campus associate regional dean, Steve Kelder, Ph.D.; and Emery. Fernandez first joined the center during her postdoc through NCI and says she was enticed by the center’s international reputation, strong links to the community, collaborations across the country and world, and high-quality, cutting-edge research making real-world impact.

“I feel extremely grateful to have the opportunity to direct a center with such an accomplished, dynamic, and innovative group of people,” says Fernandez. “The investigators and staff are committed to ‘outsmarting disease’ by better understanding the influence of behavior and environment on health, developing interventions to improve health and quality of life, and accelerating their use in the real world. Together with associate center director, Christine Markham, I am looking forward to expanding the Center for Health Promotion with new collaborations across UTHealth and the state to improve the health of Texans and the country. Additionally, with the leadership of a newly appointed coordinator of CHPPR global initiatives, Sheryl McCurdy, we plan to increase our collaboration and reach in the U.S. and internationally.”

The mission of the Center for Health Promotion and Prevention Research is to conduct research to develop, evaluate, and disseminate health promotion and disease prevention programs in diverse settings and populations. The center has been advancing health promotion locally, nationally, and globally for nearly 30 years and draws from interdisciplinary expertise in behavioral science, health promotion and health education, epidemiology, statistics, and economics.

“Maria has played an important role in the center for years, through both her research and leadership,” says Emery. “In her new role as director, her exceptional skills and knowledge will allow the center to continue to grow and evolve on its mission to promote healthy lifestyles and health education in communities locally and globally. I am confident that the center is in good hands.”

Research interests for Fernandez include health disparities, cancer control; health promotion planning and evaluation; health informatics; health communication, and dissemination and implementation science. Her work is featured in over 100 peer reviewed publications, including journals such as the American Journal of Public Health and Preventive Medicine.

Fernandez co-authored “Planning health promotion programs: An Intervention Mapping approach” third and fourth edition, published by Jossey-Bass (2011, 2016). The book is considered the go-to reference on health promotion, and the recently released fourth edition guides students and practitioners through planning a health promotion program based on the proven Intervention Mapping framework which outlines the steps, tasks and processes necessary to develop dynamic health promotion and education programs.

The Center for Health Promotion and Prevention Research and the School of Public Health are part of The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth). The School of Public Health has six campuses across Texas and the university has five additional graduate schools (biomedical informatics, biomedical sciences, dentistry, medicine and nursing). The School of Public Health’s largest campus is in the Texas Medical Center in Houston, with other campuses in Austin, Brownsville, Dallas, El Paso and San Antonio.

— Written by Shannon LaDuke