Research Faculty Spotlight – Department of Epidemiology

Mary Jo Trepka, MD, MSPH

Mary Jo TrepkaProfessor and Chair, Department of Epidemiology

Current research focus?
I am interested in the effect of social determinants, such as poverty, education, housing, and segregation, on the incidence of infectious diseases and their consequences.

Exciting ongoing project(s)?
I am currently leading two NIH-funded R01 studies assessing the role of women-centered and patient-centered HIV care in mitigating the effects of adverse psychosocial factors of HIV care outcomes. In addition, I am participating in three COVID-19-related studies. One is on the effects of COVID-19 on people living with HIV infection. Another is an intervention to increase COVID-19 testing and vaccination. The last is an educational intervention to increase COVID-19 vaccination through Town Hall meetings. I also lead the Investigator Development Core of FIU’s Research Center for Minority Institutions.

Relevant past or current dissertations you have chaired?

1.      Developing a triage tool for use in identifying people living with HIV who are at risk for unfavorable HIV care outcomes and sexually transmitted infections

2.      Identifying gay neighborhoods and estimation of the size of the men who have sex with men population in Florida who would benefit from pre-exposure prophylaxis

3.      Impact of collective efficacy and neighborhood structural disadvantage on depressive symptoms among adolescents in the
United States

4.      Laboratory and epidemiological characteristics of Zika virus infections in Florida

5.      Carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae (CRE): Epidemiology, duration of carriage, and progression to infection in a large healthcare system in Miami, FL

Proud moment from one of your mentees?
Seeing my former students become tenure-track faculty or leaders in public health practice settings.

Advice for PhD applicants?
Ask lots of questions.  The more information you have, the better your choice is likely to be.

Wasim Maziak, MD, PHD

Wasim MaziakProfessor, Department of Epidemiology

Current research focus?
My research focuses on tobacco control, especially the study of emerging tobacco products among youth such as hookah and e-cigarettes. I do both population based and clinical studies in my NIH/FDA funded clinical laboratory at FIU.

Exciting ongoing project(s)?
I currently lead 3 ongoing funded projects.

1. Developing and testing health warning labels on the ENDS (e-cigarettes) device.
This project will guide policymakers into effective application of HWLs for ENDS and will develop warning messages and pictorials that national and state stakeholders can use in counter-marketing campaigns to protect young people and discourage harmful ENDS use.

2. Developing and testing waterpipe-specific health warning labels targeting young people in Florida.
This project will provide health warnings adapted for young waterpipe smokers in Florida to advance policies and disseminate knowledge about waterpipe harmful effects to young people in Florida and nationally.

3. Translating evidence and building capacity to support waterpipe control in the EMR.
This project builds on our ongoing collaboration with Lebanon (American University of Beirut) and Tunisia (University of Tunis), in order to develop and implement effective HWLs for the WP and help these countries build their national capacity in tobacco control policy research.

Relevant current dissertations I am chairing?

  1. Characterizing the development of nicotine dependence among a cohort of waterpipe and cigarette smokers.
  2. Poly-tobacco use among youth and adults in the United States. Effect of waterpipe-specific pictorial health warning labels on smoking beliefs and perceptions among young adults in Lebanon.
  3. Changes of harm perception and effect of health warnings on electronic cigarette use in U.S youth.
  4. Trajectories and determinants of waterpipe smoking among youth in the US.

Proud moments about my mentees?
All my former PhD students were successful at getting prestigious post-docs and or faculty positions immediately or even before their graduation.

Gladys Ibañez, PhD

Dr. Gladys IbanezAssistant Professor, Department of Epidemiology

Current research focus?
My research focuses on aging issues among older people living with HIV, intervention development, and integrative and complementary health. My work focuses on developing interventions for people living with HIV to promote psychological and physical well-being.

Exciting ongoing project(s)?
I am currently leading an NIH-funded study to develop, and pilot test a tai chi/qigong intervention for older people living with HIV to improve psychological and physical health. This clinical trial will determine if this type of intervention is acceptable and feasible for this population and may help to initiate a larger clinical trial in the future. I am also leading a project on the effects of marijuana use on health and cognitive outcomes among people living with HIV including certain populations such as transgender, heavy alcohol users, and those experiencing early Alzheimer’s.

Relevant past or current dissertations you have chaired?

  1. “Swiping right and sexually transmitted diseases (STD): Examining venue selection, risky sexual behaviors, and STD among persons living with HIV, Florida, 2014-2017.”
  2. “Examining stigma and its effect on HIV prevention & care among people living in Florida”

Proud moment from one of your mentees?
One of my PhD students obtained her dream job as an epidemiologist at the CDC in Atlanta; and one of MPH students won the Best Student Poster Award at the APHA conference in 2017. 

Advice for PhD applicants?
Really know what getting a PhD degree entails and what it will provide in terms of career growth; and what are your reasons for wanting a PhD. Get research experience and, if possible, author or co-author some conference presentations and/or articles based on your research experience.

Miguel Ángel Cano, PhD, MPH

Miguel A. Cano, JrAssociate Professor, Department of Epidemiology
Director, Epidemiology Doctoral Program

Current research focus?
Generally, I am interested in Hispanic health issues, and mental health and substance use behavior among adolescents and emerging adults. More specifically, I am interested in sociocultural stressors (e.g., ethnic discrimination) and their effects on mental health and substance use.

Exciting ongoing project(s)?
I am currently leading an NIH-funded study to develop and test an intervention to help Hispanic adolescents cope with experiences of ethnic discrimination to improve mental health and prevent/reduce alcohol risk behavior.  

Relevant past or current dissertations you have chaired?

  1. Risk Associated with E-cigarette Use and Marketing Messages on Other Tobacco Products Use and Dependence Symptoms among Adolescents in the United States
  2. Factors Associated with HIV Testing Behaviors among Latino Emerging Adults
  3. The Role of Extended Family Structure on Sexual Risk Behavior Among Adolescents in the United States: Results from a Nationally Representative Survey

Proud moment from one of your mentees?
Helping my students develop into promising researchers and reaching their career goals.

Advice for PhD applicants?
Select a PhD program and a faculty advisor who conduct research that is genuinely of interest to you.

Diana M. Sheehan, PhD, MPH

Dianna SheehanAssistant Professor, Department of Epidemiology

Current research focus?
My research focuses on identifying gaps in HIV care and treatment outcomes among Latinos. My work approaches health disparities from multiple levels, including examining determinants of health at the individual, neighborhood, and healthcare system levels.

Exciting ongoing project(s)?
I am currently leading an NIH-funded study that examines daily barriers to HIV medication adherence among gay and bisexual Latino men. We are using ecological momentary assessments (EMA), or brief daily surveys, to measure medication adherence, alcohol and drug use, stress, mood, anxiety and other factors in an effort to understand whether they impact participants’ willingness or ability to take their medication. The information will help us design a Just-In-Time Adaptive Intervention (JITAI) that can help people with HIV adhere to their medication in real-time through a tailored and individualized approach. I also use large county and statewide surveillance datasets to assess population-level disparities in HIV prevention and treatment.

Relevant past or current dissertations you have chaired?

  1. “Examining the effects of neighborhood factors and geography on racial/ethnic disparities on achieving sustained HIV viral suppression”
  2. “Racial/ethnic, age and sex differences in HIV transmission risk potential among persons living with HIV”

Proud moment from one of your mentees?
One of my PhD students was awarded an F31 NIH predoctoral grant on her first try! Looking forward to mentoring future students in grant writing and submission. 

Advice for PhD applicants?
Get to know our ongoing research, research expertise, and meet with us before you apply! This will help you better understand if our program is right for you and help you develop a more competitive application.

Nasar U Ahmed, PhD, MPS

Nasar U. AhmedAssociate Professor, Department of Epidemiology

Current research focus
His research focuses on chronic disease, cancer epidemiology, health disparities, risk reduction, intervention development and evaluation, and modeling.

Ongoing projects:
Currently, he is leading cancer health disparity study that examines barriers and empowering factors among multi-ethnic women groups aiming to develop innovative and sustainable interventions to address the disproportionate disease burden among underserved populations. His research includes analysis using national/international databases to assess policy and program impact on health disparities. 

Relevant past or current dissertations chaired

  1. Health disparity in breast and cervical cancer and development of innovative intervention among a multi-ethnic community.
  2. Health disparity in cervical cancer screening and follow-up behaviors, incidence, and mortality in Florida.
  3. Associations among physical activity, sedentary behavior, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder and obesity in school-aged children and adolescents.
  4. Personal and parental characteristics, and home and day-care environmental determinants of childhood obesity in Daycare Centers.
  5. Determinants and disparities of survival in triple-negative breast cancer patients: a population-based retrospective longitudinal cohort design utilizing the cox proportional hazard analytical model.
  6. Analysis of red-light camera an intervention to reduce traffic accidents and fatalities in Miami-Dade County.
  7. Use of structural equation modeling to examine the association between breast cancer risk perception and repeat mammography in U.S. women.

Proud moment of your mentees
All his PhD graduates are placed in their desired positions. One of them became associate professor position after graduation, and another is promoted to chief management officer at a major organization.