Michigan Public Health honors faculty, staff, students for excellence, impact

Public Health Honors awards displayed on a table

ANN ARBOR— Students, faculty and staff from the University of Michigan School of Public Health were recognized during the third annual Public Health Honors on April 24.

The event, held at the Great Lakes Room in Palmer Commons on Central Campus, applauded the extraordinary efforts and successes of individuals who have gone above and beyond in the areas of public health research, education and community service.

Bill Lopez
Bill Lopez, clinical assistant professor of Health Behavior and Health Education

Excellence in Teaching

Bill Lopez’s passionate and impactful teaching methods earned him the Excellence in Teaching Award, underscoring his influence on shaping future public health leaders.

Lopez, clinical assistant professor of Health Behavior and Health Education, has influenced students’ lives by tackling foundational topics and sensitive issues alike. His willingness to innovate, from embracing the new Master of Public Health Core Curriculum to mastering the essentials of Health Behavior and Health Education, has made a profound impact on his students.

His collaborative spirit has also enriched fellow educators.

“Bill has been a valued member of the faculty since 2018 and has been a positive force to the changing face of education over the tumult of the ensuing years,” said Sharon Kardia, associate dean for Education at Michigan Public Health. “He is deeply dedicated to nurturing the next generation of public health leaders, especially students from marginalized backgrounds. It is clear that meeting student needs is a top priority for Bill.”

The numerous student testimonials attest to the profound influence Lopez has had on their personal and academic development, including first-year student Irving Suarez.

“You inspire me to be a leader and provide me with the tools and encouragement to do so,” Suarez said. “Your mentorship empowers me to expand my worldview, shaping me into a more well-rounded public health student.”

“Teaching is always an honor, but I’d say it’s a huge and unique honor in the field of public health,” Lopez said. “Public health students come to us because they believe they can make the world a better place—and they really want to do so. They come to us to learn the skills of the public health professional, but also the worldview of the public health advocate and change-maker. To be entrusted with this role as an educator is an honor and a responsibility, and we would never take that for granted.”

Simone Charles
Simone Charles, clinical associate professor of Environmental Health Sciences

Excellence in Practice

Simone Charles, clinical associate professor of Environmental Health Sciences and a champion of public health and environmental justice, received the Excellence in Practice Award.

“There is so much to admire about her contributions to our school and the field of public health, but I’d like to start by recognizing her unwavering commitment to Public Health Practice and in particular strengthening environmental justice, building global capacity to address climate change and enhancing workforce diversity,” said Dana Dolinoy, the NSF International Chair for Environmental Health Sciences. “In her research and practice, Simone concentrates on tackling health disparities tied to environmental risks and has been active in initiatives tackling lead exposure and promoting health in low-income, rural, and minority communities.”

Charles’ work has been pivotal in confronting health disparities caused by environmental risks, from tackling lead exposure in underserved areas to aiding migrant farmworkers in Georgia. A valued expert in program evaluation, she also has paved the way in climate change education and has been invited to serve on the Michigan Advisory Council on Environmental Justice.

Charles’ global commitment includes healing partnerships in Haiti and developing critical resources for communities grappling with environmental challenges. Students in the class Integrated Approaches in Environmental Health benefit from her direct experience, showcasing her unique blend of practice and pedagogy.

“Practice is fundamental to effective public health, and it’s really something I really enjoy,” Charles said. “I would like to express my gratitude to my colleagues, to the students, to the collective work and the partnerships of all the community organizations and the practice partners, including the school’s Office of Public Health Practice, and the service organizations with whom I am blessed to be able to collaborate. I look forward to continuing the work through these authentic partnerships and creative initiatives to broaden public health and, in so doing, the mission of the practice office.”

Justin Colacino
Justin Colacino, associate professor of Environmental Health Sciences and Nutritional Sciences

Excellence in Research

Justin Colacino, associate professor of Environmental Health Sciences and Nutritional Sciences, was honored with the Excellence in Research Award, reflecting his pioneering work in examining how environmental factors contribute to cancer risks.

He has made substantial impacts to his field and in training the next generation of environment health scientists in the classroom and in the laboratory. He has demonstrated an extraordinary record of accomplishment to support the mission of Michigan Public Health and the university.

Colacino’s innovative research delves into how environmental chemicals and diet impact tissue vulnerability, potentially elevating cancer risks. His significant contributions to understanding these dynamics and their links to diseases such as Alzheimer’s have propelled the field of environmental health sciences forward. With a prolific record, including 97 peer-reviewed papers and prestigious NIH funding, his work underscores the disparities in chemical exposure among populations, spotlighting critical environmental justice concerns.

“Dr. Colacino’s research has significantly advanced the integration of single cell analyses into toxicology,” said J. Tim Dvonch, associate chair of Environmental Health Sciences. “When he’s not in his lab, he is actively mentoring students. He is committed to this important part of our profession, and he is in tune to student needs, incorporating a range of mentoring strategies to support students’ different learning styles.”

“I want to thank and acknowledge the research environment here at the University of Michigan, which is a unique place in that it lets us do this type of very collaborative, interdisciplinary team science work to address these really pressing issues in public health,” Colacino said. “I don't think that this type of work can be done anywhere else. I’m just so grateful to be here with you all to do this, and I’m so grateful for this award.”

Paula Viñales-Bowman
Paula Viñales-Bowman, program manager for the Pathways to Public Health

Feingold Excellence in Diversity Awards

Each year, Michigan Public Health honors several individuals in the community with Feingold Excellence in Diversity awards. Eugene Feingold was a professor of Health Management and Policy active in community organizations concerned with civil liberties, poverty and racial discrimination.

Faculty, staff and students who live up to the award’s parameters of demonstrating an “extraordinary dedication to developing diversity” are honored with the award.

This year Charles (faculty), Paula Viñales-Bowman (staff) and Wadad Itani (student) were recognized with the award.

Charles is the driving force behind Pathways to Public Health, which boosts minority representation in public health through partnerships with HBCUs and Detroit schools. She tailors a comprehensive strategy that fosters academic excellence, leadership and well-being for a diverse student body, spanning pre-college to early professionals. Her collaborations with Spelman and Morehouse colleges as well as Detroit high schools exemplify her commitment.

Spearheading the LEAD program, she empowers underrepresented students in science with immersive research experiences in environmental health. Her influence also extends to creating an Environmental Health Sciences online certificate emphasizing environmental racism’s health impacts, while integrating DEI principles in the residential Environmental Health Sciences curriculum.

Viñales-Bowman is the program manager for the Pathways to Public Health. Her impactful work has left lasting impressions across campuses.

Itani, who graduated in May with a Master of Public Health in Health Behavior and Health Education, was celebrated for her exceptional dedication to public health, notably leading a fundraiser for Corner Health Center, enhancing its health services and exemplifying true community impact while balancing motherhood and academic leadership with aplomb. Itani also received the Commitment to Service Award.

Scott Roberts (left) and Wadad Itani
Scott Roberts, interim chair and professor of Health Behavior and Health Education, and Wadad Itani, MPH '24

Other award winners

  • Outstanding Graduate Student Instructor: Akilah Patterson, a PhD student in Health Behavior and Health  Education
  • Student Leader of the Year: Rachael Brooks, who graduated in May with a Master of Public Health in Global Health Epidemiology
  • Rising Star: Darius Moore, who graduated in May with a Master of Public Health in Health Behavior and Health Education
  • Unsung Hero: Taylor Hall, student in the online MPH program
  • Outstanding Event of the Year: DEI in Healthcare Summit and Case Competition
  • Community Engagement: Global Surgery Student Alliance
  • Rising Organization: La Salud