The University of Colorado Denver is proud to announce the winners of the CU Denver 2021 Pandemic Research and Creative Activities Award. The strength and diversity of our research community—a talent pool of economists, chemists, policy wonks, urban planners, bioengineers, and more—made narrowing down our list difficult. Each of the nominees drew on their expertise to tackle the parts of the pandemic that affect our daily lives.
“In an ongoing global pandemic, local research through a local lens will do more to shape how we persevere and protect ourselves in the future,” says Martin Dunn, dean of the College of Engineering, Design and Computing, and interim Chief Research Officer. He and his team in the Office of Research Services read through more than 50 nominations to make their selections.
CU Denver faculty confronted the alarming rise of anti-Asian hate crimes, the efficiency of HVAC systems, gaps in health care and the ways in which our neighborhoods exacerbate them, and even how to rectify the missing education of our youngest generation.
The University’s top honor, the CU Denver Distinguished Honor Award, goes to five deserving faculty and teams: jimi adams, Deserai Crow, Jennifer Wagner, Jennifer Reich, and the team at Inworks.
Each of the CU Denver Distinguished Honor Award winners will receive $1,000 in faculty development funds to continue their research. These awards spotlight a mere fraction of the influential work of our faculty and staff. We’ll be detailing more about these tremendous pandemic-related achievements over the coming months.
CU Denver Distinguished Honor Award
For the faculty or staff member whose pandemic efforts led to outstanding service or research achievements of marked statewide or national significance.
jimi adams, PhD, Associate Professor of Health and Behavioral Sciences, CLAS
adams’ expertise in infectious disease diffusion led to his involvement in the team modeling SARS-COV-2 epidemiological scenarios to advise Governor Polis’ office and policy decisions in Colorado throughout the COVID-19 pandemic response. Adams used cellphone-based mobility data to assess how population-level behavioral contact patterns generate the potential for contagion spread. Based on his findings, his team was able to determine how jurisdictional boundaries should be combined for the state’s public health divisions’ response coordination.
Deserai Crow, PhD, Associate Professor of Philosophy, SPA
Crow helped form the Risk and Social Policy (RSPWG) working group in March 2020 to leverage interdisciplinary social science to inform emerging policy changes, risk perceptions, and behavioral responses in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. The National Science Foundation-funded team includes top scholars from across the United States who investigate the social, political, and economic impacts of the pandemic to inform best practices for communicating and legislating COVID-19 risks.
Jennifer Wagner, Research Instructor in Bioengineering, CEDC
Wagner is the acting COVID official for Bioengineering, a DDC research reconstitution committee member, and served on the Colorado state innovation task force. Wagner developed protocols and set up a face-shield testing lab for the state of Colorado, and worked with local hospital systems to address supply and operations issues. Wagner was involved in an international effort to reprogram bilevel positive airway pressure (BiPAP) ventilators for invasive mechanical ventilation, setting up a system to test BiPAPs.
Jennifer Reich, PhD, Professor of Sociology, CLAS
Author of Calling the Shots: Why Parents Reject Vaccines, Reich’s expertise in vaccine hesitancy has been used in nearly every national media outlet to help our country understand why a populace devastated by the pandemic would be reticent to get a vaccine, vaccinate their children, and protect their communities.
Inworks at CU Denver | Anschutz launched Make4Covid in mid-March 2020 with the cross-campus mission to design, develop, and deliver Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) to Colorado during the pandemic. In total, 2,200 volunteers and makers registered in Make4Covid, delivering over 120,000 pieces of PPE during the critical apex of the pandemic. The teams established collaborations with over 100 organizations in Colorado and across the country. They also partnered with CU Anschutz clinicians to create PPE for their operations, as well as design technology to provide better data around risk assessment in built environments for aerosol transmission of contagion.
Our other notable award winners:
The Pivot Award
As COVID numbers rose, these faculty and staff worked fast to make sure their research and departments addressed the emergent crisis.
Laura Argys and Stephen Gedney (Safe Return); Stephanie Santorico and Michelle Carpenter (Lynx Together)
For ensuring the transition to remote work was done with research and creative activities in mind and determining processes to safely allow for on campus research.
Elizabeth Lee, Grant Post Award Specialist, CLAS
For determining what would be needed for program continuity, helping principal investigators (PIs) (and others) prepare and continue research under the new pandemic guidelines.
Storm Gloor, Associate Professor of Music and Entertainment Industry Studies, CAM
In one month, Gloor organized Amplify music, the first virtual music conference to investigate and archive conversations around COVID-19 resilience, and a pilot virtual music business education program for local musicians.
Jonathan Shaffer, PhD, Assistant Professor of Clinical Health Psychology, CLAS
Shaffer assessed the impacts of social isolation in community-dwelling adults.
Min-Hyung Choi, PhD, Professor of Computer Science and Engineering, CEDC
Choi worked with Anschutz and Children’s Hospital Denver to provide visual airborne mapping and revising the ways in which we interact in places like school, hospitals, nursing homes and more.
Bryn Harris, PhD, Associate Professor in School of Psychology, SEHD
Harris studied the impacts of remote teaching, learning, and assessing students in preschool, special education, and with disabilities during the pandemic.
Carrie Makarewicz, BBA, MUPP, PhD, Associate Professor of the Urban and Regional Planning Department, CAP
Makarewicz revised a regional next step guidance report on ending homelessness beyond the pandemic, which has led to a larger housing study with regional partners, and is an invited member of the City of Denver’s COVID Mobility Task Force, and its subcommittee on making alternative modes of travel, including public transit, safe, reliable, and equitable during the pandemic.
Bradford Smith, PhD, Assistant Professor of Bioengineering, CEDC
Smith served on the Colorado Ventilator Task Force where he evaluated alternative approaches to invasive mechanical ventilation, including de novo designs and off-label use of existing BiPAP machines.
The Impact Award
Beyond academia, these faculty and staff partnered directly with the local, national, and global community to confront the pandemic.
Chris Weible, PhD, Professor and Co-Director, Workshop on Policy Process Research, SPA
Weible co-directed a team of eight scholars from six countries in initial reactions and perspectives on COVID-19, authoring a paper in Policy Sciences. In Summer 2020, he designed and administered the new course, “The Pandemic, Societies and Government.”
Scott McLeod, JD, PhD, Professor of Leadership for Educational Organizations, SEHD
In Spring 2020, McLeod launched “The Coronavirus Chronicles,” a series of informal, recorded conversations with P-12 school leaders across the nation that he turned into an approved research study.
Woonghee Lee, PhD, Assistant Professor of Chemistry, CLAS
Lee’s group published nine papers in prestigious peer-reviewed journals. The most recent has been named “New and Notable” from Biophysical Journal and the other—concerning the pH-dependent polymorphism of the 3D structure of SARS-CoV-2 nsp7—explored our understanding of the COVID-19 mechanism at the atomic level.
Andrew Friedson, PhD, Associate Professor of Economics, CLAS
Friedson earned national renown for extrapolating the data of COVID-19 spread from the major events during the pandemic—Black Lives Matter rallies, Trump rallies, and the Sturgis Motor Rally—as well as the results of vaccine lotteries.
The DEI Award
These faculty exposed and spotlighted the ways in which the pandemic exacerbated our society’s existing disparities.
Angela Gover, PhD, Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice, SPA
Gover and two colleagues examined how anti-Asian hate crimes have operated to “other” Asian Americans and reproduced inequality throughout history and today.
Sarah Horton, PhD, Associate Professor of Anthropology, CLAS
Horton and her colleagues identified the gap in healthcare and healthcare access during the pandemic for Latinx immigrants.
Yosef Bonaparte, PhD, Associate Professor and Director of External Affairs in Finance, BUS
Bonaparte researched the effects of COVID-19 on wealth inequality in the U.S., including the African American investing during the pandemic and the need for greater access to financial education for minorities.
The Student Award
These student MVPs went above and beyond to contribute to research and the pandemic effort at large.
Stephanie Bultema, PhD Candidate and Lecturer, SPA
Bultema put her dissertation work on hold to lead a COVID-19-focused project for Tracing Health, the contact tracing program at the Public Health Institute. While there, she led a team to expose the underlying factors contributing to higher COVID-19 transmission rates in Hispanic and Latinx communities.
Jongeun You, PhD Candidate and Lecturer, SPA
You’s research, based on theories of policy process and developed through a case study of South Korea’s pandemic response, focused on the benefits of international cooperation in fighting the pandemic.
The Custodian Award
The staff and departments who literally kept the lights on, Zoom classes live, and the university safe.
The Office of Housing & Dining
By modifying operations within three weeks, the Housing & Dining team not only created and maintained a health on-campus community for students, but they also coordinated and implanted bi-weekly COVID testing for residential students and auxiliary services.
Kenny Sisco, IT Director, Dean’s Office, CEDC
Sisco kept the computers connected, introduced educators and others to Zoom meetings; he made sure remote workers could access their files, students could access classroom software, and researchers could continue their work.
The Perseverance Award
Amid the chaos, these teams found a way to survive and thrive.
The Hendricks Team
While continuing world class research in statistical genetics and genomics, the team also focused on moral support. Their priorities began with health and wellness, followed by education, and finally research help to give the team time to prioritize health and wellbeing. It paid off with eight graduations, the NHGRI Genomic Innovator Award for Audrey Hendricks, and the prestigious Cotterman Award for Ian Arriaga-McKenzie.
The Xiaojun Ren Lab
Just before the pandemic, Ren was awarded a $1.3 million. NIH R01 grant. Despite the challenges of the pandemic, his team has performed innovative and groundbreaking research that has earned spots in several prominent journals, including titles under Nature and Cell.
The Collaboration Award
Bringing together the strength of our campus, interdisciplinary research, to combat the pandemic.
Jeremy Németh, PhD, Professor of Urban and Regional Planning in Geography, Planning, and Design, CAP, and Sarah Rowan, MD, Associate Professor of Internal Medicine, Anschutz
Németh and Rowan focused on the interplay of urban environments and health equity. Working with a database of over 35,000 COVID-19-diagnosed patients, the pair found three key environmental factors that increase hospitalization risk: air pollution, neighborhood walkability and park access.
The New Faculty Award
Though new to our campus, these faculty demonstrated exceptional resilience and productivity in the face of unprecedented challenges.
Kari Campeau, PhD, Assistant Professor of English, CLAS
After the vaccine became available, Campeau focused her research on vaccination and vaccine decision-making. Her current research project maps discourses about COVID-19 vaccination, with the goal of better understanding how people come to believe the things they believe.
Sneha Thamotharan, PhD, Assistant Professor of Clinical Health Psychology, CLAS
Thamotharan received a five-year Mentored Patient-Oriented Research Career Development Award (K23) from the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities. Her current grant submissions focus on health equity (i.e., Black maternal and newborn mortality, sexual health disparities in youth of color) and the academic representation and wellness of historically excluded students at the undergraduate and graduate level.