The Southwest Center for Occupational and Environmental Health (SWCOEH) supports research, education and outreach in occupational and environmental health funded by Grant #T42OH008421. This ERC grant is under the leadership of Sarah Felknor, DrPH and Jooyeon Hwang, MS, PhD who serve as ERC Director and Deputy Director.
The SWCOEH was established in 1977 as one of the first nine National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)-funded Education and Research Centers (ERC), and is now one of only 18 ERCs in the nation. Marcus M. Key, MD, MIH, founding director of NIOSH, was also the first director of the SWCOEH ERC. In 1985, the SWCOEH became a World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Occupational Health. Having grown considerably since we were established, we also conduct research on how environmental and occupational exposures affect health and on how to mitigate health risks associated with these exposures. As of 2019, the SWCOEH has been officially approved as an affiliate of the NIOSH Total Worker Health program, strengthening a partnership spanning more than 40 years.
SWCOEH ERC Directors
2024 Sarah A. Felknor, DrPH 2020-2023 David Gimeno Ruiz de Porras, PhD 2011-2019 Elaine Symanski, PhD 2006-2011 Sarah A. Felknor, DrPH 1997-2006 George L. Delclos, MD, MPH, PhD 1991-1997 Lawrence W. Whitehead, MPH, PhD, CIH 1988-1991 Patricia Buffler, RN, PhD 1985-1988 Edward J. Fairchild II, PhD 1977-1985 Marcus M. Key, MD, MIH
Board of Advisors
An external advisory board comprised of members from industry, labor, government, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and academia provide guidance to the SWCOEH on current and future directions.
To be a primary catalyst for the improvement of workforce well-being.
To promote and improve health, safety, and well-being for workers and their communities through inspiring education, innovative research, and engaging outreach.
To empower workers and their communities so they can attain their well-being goals in work and life.
Three Core Values describe how the SWCOEH will accomplish its mission:
Excellence – Address work-related challenges through a commitment to interdisciplinary and interprofessional approaches aiming for an outstanding standard of excellence and performance.
Collaboration – Foster a network of stakeholders to collaborate with for a greater collective impact.
Integrity – Ensuring every action of the Center is conducted with integrity, honesty, fairness, and consistent with the Center’s mission.
The threats to health and well-being posed by occupational and environmental factors are complex and require interdisciplinary and innovative approaches to improve the health of workers and communities. In addition to utilizing the best available research practices and interventions, solutions must also consider geographic, economic, behavioral, cultural and political dimensions. The SWCOEH addresses these threats by providing graduate-level education in environmental and occupational health, conducting research into the causes, prevention and control of disease and injury, engaging in research to practice activities, and providing continuing education and outreach to our stakeholders.
We conduct research in areas that include military health, ergonomics, farmworker health, workplace violence and air pollution epidemiology. Funding primarily comes from the NIH, CDC NIOSH, DOD, and FEMA.
The SWCOEH provides a variety of graduate-level training opportunities for occupational and environmental health professionals through our industrial hygiene, occupational and environmental medicine, occupational epidemiology, and Total Worker Health®.
Continuing Education and Outreach
The SWCOEH Continuing Education (CE) and Outreach Program serves as a training resource for professionals by delivering specialized courses in response to current training needs and responding to emerging issues in occupational and environmental health.
Sarah A. Felknor, MS, DrPH - Director
Sarah A. Felknor, MS, DrPH is Professor in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health and Director of the Southwest Center for Occupational and Environmental Health (SWCOEH). She received her DrPH in Community Health Practice from The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston School of Public Health, a MS in Organization Development from American University (Washington DC), and a BA in Political Science and Spanish from Tufts University (Medford, MA). Dr. Felknor has over 35 years of experience in occupational safety and health (OSH) research, training, and service in the U.S. and internationally, and over 12 years of experience as a senior executive in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) where she directed the integration of research portfolios to reduce the risk of worker injuries, illnesses and fatalities through basic and applied research. Her international work in OSH earned her the NIH Director’s Award for excellence in global environmental and occupational research training. She served as Chair of the NIOSH Board of Scientific Counselors and Chair of the NIOSH Workforce Needs Assessment Task Force. Her recent work has focused on developing strategies and tools to anticipate the occupational health challenges in the future of work and explore the need for an expanded focus for OSH through a futures-oriented approach to planning and action.
Jooyeon Hwang, PhD, MS - Deputy Director
Dr. Jooyeon Hwang is an Associate Professor in Industrial Hygiene for the Southwest Center for Occupational and Environmental Health (SWCOEH) at the UTHealth Houston School of Public Health. She received her Ph.D. in Industrial Hygiene and M.S. in Environmental Health Sciences from the University of Minnesota. Dr. Hwang was as a postdoctoral fellow at the Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health. Her research has focused on evaluation of the relationship between occupational exposure to specific contaminants and adverse health effects in several different industries including mining, agricultural, and public safety including firefighters. In particular, her research conducts the development of new exposure-associated microbiomes and multi-omics assessment methods to characterize occupational and environmental exposures for health studies.
Annette Allett — Center Administrator
Annette Allett serves as the Center Administrator for the Southwest Center for Occupational and Environmental Health Research Center. She oversees all administrative aspects of the center, the SWCOEH ERC, as well as serves as a liaison for the trainees. She has been with the SWCOEH since 2013. Annette attended Chaminade University of Honolulu for her undergraduate studies. She is a veteran of the United States Navy, and her hobbies include traveling, hiking, and running half marathons.
Shannon Guillot-Wright, PhD - Total Worker Health® Program Director
Shannon Guillot-Wright, PhD, is an Associate Professor at UTHealth’s School of Public Health and holds an affiliation in the Southwest Center for Occupational and Environmental Health. She is also the Director of Health Policy Research at UTMB's Center for Violence Prevention. Her program of research focuses on occupational health equity and the use of evidence in policymaking, with an emphasis on structural violence and social justice. She is particularly interested in understanding power, influence, and social change. Her research is grounded in community-based participatory research principles and her methodology is ethnographic, including photovoice and digital storytelling. Dr. Guillot-Wright has her PhD in Medical Humanities from UTMB, MA in Human Rights from Columbia University, and completed her postdoctoral training at the Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center at Penn State.
Serena Holguin, MPH - Continuing Education Director
Serena Holguin joined the team at the SWCOEH as the Director for Continuing Education in October 2022. She manages the development and implementation of continuing education programs at the Southwest Center. Serena has a BA in Psychology from the University of Texas-El Paso and a MPH in Community Health Education from California State University Northridge. Serena has over 20 years of experience in health education curriculum development. In her free time she enjoys swimming, reading, trying new restaurants and traveling.
William “Brett” Perkison, MD, MPH — Occupational Medicine Residency Program Director
William “Brett” Perkison is the Occupational Medicine Residency Program Director for the Southwest Center for Occupational and Environmental Health. He holds a joint appointment at UTHealth Houston Dept. of Family Medicine. He is currently involved in research in the specific areas of heat stress prevention and improving readiness for restoring post flood buildings in a safe manner. Originally from Texarkana, Texas, he obtained his undergraduate degree in Biology at Texas A&M University and then his medical degree at UTMB Galveston. He completed his intern year in Family Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine and then served three years as General Medical Officer stationed overseas in the U.S. Navy.
Jenil Patel, PhD — Pilot Project Research Program Director and Occupational Epidemiology Doctoral Training Program Director
Jenil Patel is the Director of the Pilot Projects Research Training Program at Southwest Center for Occupational and Environmental Health. He led the first virtual joint Southwest Centers Occupational Health Research Symposium in June 2021. He received his PhD in Epidemiology from the University of Texas School of Public Health at Houston. Dr. Patel is a trained physician from India and received his Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery (MBBS) degree from Smt. B. K. Shah Medical Institute and Research Center, Gujarat University. He holds an MPH in health education from Western Kentucky University. Dr. Patel is also a UW Collaborative Center for Health Equity’s HELI program Scholar.
Anabel Rodriguez, PhD — Outreach Program Director
Anabel Rodriguez is the Outreach Program Director for the Southwest Center for Occupational and Environmental Health. Her research and outreach efforts focus on improving the health and safety of vulnerable working populations, in particular Spanish and Mayan (Indigenous) language-speaking, Hispanic agricultural working populations. As a former SWCOEH Occupational Epidemiology Trainee, her collaborative research and outreach work aims to improve the level of awareness and knowledge of health problems and the assessment of health care needs, barriers, and feasibility of on-worksite health service delivery and its application to Total Worker Health®. More recently her focus has been on the delivery of culturally, linguistically, and literacy appropriate health resources and the facilitation of on-worksite clinics for agricultural workers and their families. As a former migrant seasonal farmworker and daughter of Spanish-speaking Mexican immigrants, the intentions and purpose of her research and outreach work are personal and heartfelt.
Wei-Chung Su, PhD - Interim Industrial Hygiene Program Director
Wei-Chung is the Interim Program Director of Industrial Hygiene for the Southwest Center for Occupational and Environmental Health. His research interests are centered on airborne particulate matter (aerosol) related to environmental and occupational health. His expertise is aerosol respiratory deposition experiments particularly for airborne particles with irregular shapes such as fibers, nanomaterials, and ultrafine particles. Built on his prior research experiences, he has established an Aerosol Lung Deposition Lab in UTHealth focusing on studying work-related aerosol respiratory deposition issues. He is a Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH), and the past chair of the Aerosol Technology Committee in the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA). As a faculty member in EHGES and the SWCOEH, he provides several core and elective courses to the environmental and occupational health program, such as Fundamental of Industrial Hygiene (PH 2245), Occupational Health Controls (PH 2250), and Risk Analysis (PH 2135).
Faculty and Staff
Masoud Afshar is an Analytical Chemist for the Southwest Center for Occupational and Environmental Health at UTHealth School of Public Health, since he joined the University in 1995. Masoud received his Master Degree in Analytical Chemistry from Sam Houston State University.
George Delclos, MD, MPH, PhD
George Delclos, MD, MPH, PhD, is tenured Professor in the EHGES Department at the UTHealth School of Public Health in Houston. He served as Director of the Southwest Center for Occupational and Environmental Health from 1997-2006. His current areas of research focus include: occupational and environmental asthma (epidemiological and clinical aspects, with an emphasis on healthcare workers and cleaners); national surveys of working conditions, employment and health, with a focus in Latin America; determinants of sickness absence, presenteeism and disability; and Total Worker Health and expanding paradigms for occupational safety and health. In collaboration with NIOSH, Dr. Delclos planned and led the 2021 Ex4OSH conference, a virtual conference with an expanded focus on occupational safety and health.
Anna Gitter, PhD
Dr. Anna Gitter is an Assistant Professor in Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences for the Southwest Center for Occupational and Environmental Health. She received her B.S. in Environmental Science from the University of Michigan and both her M.S. and Ph.D. in Water Management and Hydrological Science from Texas A&M University. During her Ph.D., she also worked as a Research Specialist for the Texas Water Resources Institute and addressed water quality issues throughout the state. Dr. Gitter was also a postdoctoral research fellow with UTHealth Houston School of Public Health, where she developed methods to inform public health decision-making using environmental data. Dr. Gitter’s research includes human health risk modeling to interpret environmental exposures and water resource management for public health. Her current work includes public health preparedness through wastewater epidemiology, evaluating health effects and adaptations for climate change, and advancing human health risk modeling.
Belinda Hernandez, PhD
Dr. Belinda Hernandez is the Director of Evaluation for the Southwest Center for Occupational and Environmental Health at UTHealth School of Public Health. She is an Assistant Professor of Health Promotion and Behavioral Sciences at the San Antonio Campus. Her research interests include prevention of risky behaviors among adolescents; military populations; and intervention development, evaluation, and dissemination. Throughout her career, she has worked to identify and address the needs of adolescents at risk for negative health outcomes and to build the capacity of schools and other organizations to implement effective programs. She has worked on studies funded by NIH and CDC to develop and rigorously evaluate health programs and implementation strategies, including Me and You, a teen dating violence prevention program, and iCHAMPSS, a decision support system that facilitates adoption, implementation, and maintenance of evidence-based sexual health programs in schools. She currently teaches Advanced Methods for Program Planning (Intervention Mapping). Dr. Hernandez received her Master’s and doctoral degrees in health promotion and behavioral sciences from the UTHealth School of Public Health.
Kevin Lanza, PhD
Kevin Lanza, PhD, is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Epidemiology, Human Genetics, and Environmental Sciences at UTHealth School of Public Health in Austin, Texas. His research explores the relations between the environment, health behaviors, and health through an equity lens, with a focus on extreme heat and physical activity of children and other heat-sensitive populations. The ultimate goal of his research is to inform policies that eliminate race-, ethnicity-, and class-based health inequities in the face of warming from urbanization and climate change. Prior to joining the faculty at UTHealth, Dr. Lanza was a research fellow at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, received his doctorate in City & Regional Planning from Georgia Institute of Technology, and completed his postdoctoral training at the Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living. His research has been funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and City of Austin. Dr. Lanza’s research publications are listed in his NIH bibliography.
Michelle Liaw, M.Ed.
Michelle Liaw joined the SWCOEH team and UTHealth Houston School of Public Health Office of Instructional Design in June 2023. She is currently an instructional designer for the Southwest Center and School of Public Health. She provides design and production assistance for e-learning courses and creates teaching and training tools to aid in effective use of educational technology systems and applications. She graduated with a master's degree in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Houston and has experience in health and public education. She enjoys spending time with her family and dog.
Kristina Mena, PhD
Kristina D. (Crabtree) Mena, MSPH, PhD is the Regional Dean of UTHealth Houston School of Public Health in El Paso. She is a Professor and Department Chair of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences. Dr. Mena earned a BA in Biology at Franklin College (Indiana), a MSPH at the University of South Florida, a PhD in environmental microbiology at The University of Arizona, and completed a Post-Doctoral Fellowship at Kansas State University. Dr. Mena has over 25 years of experience addressing disease transmission through water and food using risk assessment and epidemiological studies. Dr. Mena was re-appointed by former USEPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to serve second terms on both the USEPA Chartered Science Advisory Board and the USEPA Drinking Water Committee.
Aurelia “Leah” Merrill
Leah Merrill has been with the University of Texas Health Science Center for 25 years. She currently serves as the Sr. Data Analyst with the Southwest Center of Occupational and Environmental Health. Leah enjoys watching sports, traveling, and spending time with her family and friends.
Matthew Pedersen joined the Southwest Center for Occupational and Environmental Health in April 2021 as communication specialist. He manages the Southwest Center website and social media channels, creates written and video content and oversees storytelling for the Southwest Center. Before UTHealth, he served as senior communications manager with the Houston Dynamo for five years, managing written communication for the club and serving as liaison between the media and club.
Silvia P. Santiago serves as the Continuing Education Coordinator for the Southwest Center for Occupational and Environmental Health. She works closely with the course director to facilitate new courses. Prior to joining the Center, she worked for the Department of Epidemiology Human Genetics and Environmental Sciences. She graduated with a Master Degree in Human Health Services from Liberty University. She has lived in Guatemala and Canada and enjoys traveling to new places.
Mary Ann Smith, PhD
Mary Ann Smith's training is in Pharmacy and in Pharmacology / Toxicology. Her interests focus on understanding mechanisms of xenobiotic-induced toxicity as they relate to environmental & occupational exposures and subsequent adverse health effects. In addition, she has an interest in the translation of complex scientific information to language which is accessible to the general lay public, with a particular emphasis on accessibility to underserved communities.
Peggy Weinshilboum joined the UTHealth School of Public Health in 2011 and the Southwest Center in 2016. Presently, she's the Program Coordinator for the Occupational and Environmental Medicine Residency Program. She enjoys taking walks with her husband and two dogs, and is looking forward to traveling.