T35 Mentors

Our mentors are recruited based on their expertise and experience working with graduate students. Members of this multidisciplinary mentoring team span 15 Departments and Schools across the University of South Carolina and include faculty from diverse backgrounds recruited largely on research synergy with the program focus areas. They provide students with experiential learning using ongoing NIAID-funded Big Data research projects that utilize 1 or more of 5 large existing data sources (NIH COVID-19 Cohort Collaborative [N3C] synthetic Data, SC statewide HIV data, SCCOVID-19 data, VA system-wide HIV data, and VA COVID-19 data). Read on to learn about our outstanding mentors.

Swann Arp Adams, Ph.D., MS, FACE

Professor at the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics and College of Nursing (Dual Appointment)

Dr. Adams’ research focus is cancer health disparities across the cancer continuum from screening to treatment to survival. Dr. Adams has over 100 publications which demonstrate evidence of her expertise in quantitative research methods including use of complex data systems and survival analyses relevant to the current application’s area of focus.

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Michael W Beets, Ph.D

Distinguished Professor at the Department of Exercise Science

Dr. Beets has a broad background in public health, childhood obesity prevention and treatment, physical activity and nutrition, and measurement. Dr. Beets has an extensive background in mentoring pre- and post-doctoral students, and early career faculty.

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John Brooks, Ph.D

Professor and South Carolina SmartState Endowed Chair at the Department of Health Services Policy and Management

Dr. Brooks is a health economist focusing on estimating treatment effectiveness using observational healthcare databases. He is presently the Director of Center for Effectiveness Research in Orthopedics (CERortho) which is a collaborative effort between the USC and Prisma Health to promote comparative effectiveness research (CER) in orthopedic care.

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Monique J. Brown, Ph.D., MPH

Assistant Professor at the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics

Brown’s research interests are in HIV intervention and prevention; childhood trauma; social, behavioral, and mental health; and aging. She is interested in these as separate and intersecting areas of study. Dr. Brown was awarded a K01 award from the National Institute of Mental Health to study the impact of childhood sexual trauma on aging with HIV, and to develop an intervention addressing childhood sexual trauma with the aim of improving HIV treatment outcomes among middle-aged and older adults living with HIV.

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Cynthia L. Corbett, Ph.D, RN, FAAN

SmartState Endowed Chair in Clinical Effectiveness Research/Chronic Care Management and Professor at the College of Nursing

Dr. Corbett’s research activities focus on strategies to improve chronic illness management and patient safety. Her research to improve the safe use of medications has been funded by the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists’ Research and Education Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the National Institutes of Health, and the Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute.

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Sayward Harrison, Ph.D

Assistant Professor at the Department of Psychology

Dr. Harrison has a PhD in Health Psychology and a specialization in the field of Pediatric School Psychology. Dr. Harrison’s primary research interests include psychosocial and behavioral aspects of HIV. She is currently funded by NIH to develop a mobile Health (mHealth) intervention to improve engagement in care and medication adherence for youth living with HIV in the Southern United States. She is also funded by the CDC to study adolescent vaccination, with the long-term goals of increasing vaccination coverage and reducing the impacts of preventable disease.

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Jianjun Hu, Ph.D

Associate Professor at the Department of Computer Science and Engineering

Dr. Hu has training and expertise in machine learning-based analytics. His current research is focused on deep learning and machine learning and their applications in bioinformatics, health informatics, and materials informatics. Over the past 10 years, he has been working with an interdisciplinary group of biologists and public health specialists. Dr. Hu was PI of an NSF Career award on computational analysis of protein sorting signals and protein localizations and has published over 100 peer-reviewed articles, book chapters, and special reports.

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Rhonda G. Hughes, PhD, MHS, RN, FAAN

Associate Professor at the College of Nursing and Director for Nursing Leadership

Dr. Hughes’ research works focus on patient safety and quality improvement, big data research, health care administration, health systems, policy and program evaluation, outcomes research and palliative and end of life care. Dr. Hughes has developed and taught graduate students on topics including statistics, health policy, quality and patient safety, health informatics, research methods, and leadership.

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Mufaro Kanyangarara, Ph.D

Assistant Professor at the Arnold School of Public Health

Dr. Mufaro Kanyangarara is an assistant professor of Epidemiology in the Arnold School of Public Health. Her research focuses on infectious diseases affecting women and children in low and middle income countries. She has experience applying statistical and epidemiological methods to address global health problems.

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Amir Karami, Ph.D

Associate Professor at the School of Information Science, Faculty Associate at Arnold School of Public Health, and  Director of Social Media Core at BDHSC

Dr. Amir Karami’s research focuses on social media analysis, big data and text mining, and medical and health informatics. He has extensive experience with analyzing big data on social media platforms to characterize public discussion on health issues.

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Chen Liang, Ph.D

Assistant Professor at the Department of Health Services Policy & Management

Dr. Liang’s research interest focuses on the development and application of information technologies, data science, and artificial intelligence that lead to a safe and intelligent health system. His recent work involves heterogeneous health data integration, medical knowledge representation, machine learning, and clinical natural language processing.

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Melissa Nolan, Ph.D., MPH

Assistant Professor at the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics

Melissa Nolan’s research interests lie in infectious diseases and health disparities. Her work focuses on patient-oriented public health approaches to tackle diseases that disproportionately affect the impoverished. Her current projects focus on the clinical epidemiologic characterization of Chagas disease in the US, Mexico, and Central America, developing a remote sensing model for prioritizing mosquito breeding habitats for insecticide spraying in resource-limited areas, clarifying the immunologic response to polyparasitism in pediatric populations, and refining trichomoniasis patient profiles of at-risk adolescents.

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Xiaoming Li, Ph.D

SmartState Endowed Chair for Clinical Translational Research and Professor at the Department of Health Promotion, Education, and Behavior

Over the last decade, Dr. Li has been a PI or site PI on 31 research projects (including 19 NIH funded) and a Co-investigator (Co-I) on over 37 research projects (including 22 NIH funded). He has published over 560 peer-reviewed articles, book chapters, and special reports. In addition to his experience and expertise in HIV behavioral prevention and care, Dr. Li is knowledgeable about and proficient in advanced data analytics, including Big Data analytics. Dr. Li is also the Interim Chief Population Health and Prevention Officer (formerly Chief Analytics Officer) for HSSC, a statewide healthcare research collaborative.

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Zhenlong Li, Ph.D

Associate Professor at the Department of Geography

Dr. Li’s primary research field is GIScience with a focus on geospatial big data analytics, high performance computing, spatiotemporal analysis/modelling, and geospatial artificial intelligence/CyberGIS with applications to disaster management, climate change, human mobility, and public health. He has more than 100 publications including over 60 peer-reviewed journal articles. Dr. Li established and leads the Geoinformation and Big Data Research Laboratory at USC and is an expert in social media analytics. He has served as PI/Co-PI for grants funded by NASA, Earth Science Foundation, USC and NIH. Dr. Li is a Co-I on NIAID Big Data HIV and COVID-19 studies with Drs. Olatosi and Li X, and PI on an NSF grant for COVID-19 research.

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Alain Litwin, MD

Professor and Vice Chair of Internal Medicine at USC School of Medicine-Greenville

Dr. Litwin is board certified in addiction medicine and internal medicine and has been providing substance use disorder and medical care (including HIV and HCV) to people with opioid use disorders with complex social, psychiatric and medical needs within an integrated primary care and opiate agonist treatment program for 18 years. With funding from NIDA, PCORI, CDC, SAMHSA, AHRQ, CMS, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, New York City, New York State, and industry, Dr. Litwin’s research, clinical and mentoring activities are focused on developing and studying models of co-located care for PWIDs with concurrent infectious diseases.

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Chang Liu, Ph.D

Assistant Professor at Biomedical Engineering Program, Department of Chemical Engineering

Dr. Liu’s research studies include topics in multiple life science disciplines, including biomedical engineering, molecular diagnostics, bio-nanotechnology, and proteomics. He has worked on several interdisciplinary projects which include point-of-care diagnostics for resource-limited settings; translational biomarkers and biosensors to enable personalized medicine; and Nanostructure-based tools for fundamental biochemical studies.

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Anwar T Merchant, Sc.D., MPH, DMD

Professor and Director, Curriculum Development at the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics

Dr. Merchant’s research is at the intersection of chronic disease, nutrition, and oral health. He is currently using the potential outcomes approach to evaluate the effect of periodontal treatment on glycemic control among individuals with diabetes and diabetes incidence among those free of diabetes using virtual cohorts formed by combining electronic medical and dental records of individuals enrolled in Kaiser Permanente’s plan for Medicare recipients in Georgia. Dr. Merchant received NIH funding to evaluate the effect of periodontal treatment on glycemic control among individuals with diabetes using causal inference methods in a virtual cohort formed with electronic health records from individuals receiving care at the VA.

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Mitzi Nagarkatti, Ph.D

Professor and SmartState Endowed Chair of Center for Cancer Drug Discovery Carolina Distinguished Professor, Chair, Dept. of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology

Dr. Nagarkatti has broad-based research interests in the areas of Inflammation, cancer immunology and immunotherapy, biodefense, immunopharmacology, immunotoxicology, as well as complementary and alternative medicine. She and her research team are mainly using cutting-edge technology including epigenomic and genomic approaches to study various diseases both in experimental models and in patients. Her lab is supported by several grants from National Institutes of Health (NIH) (R01 AI129788; R01 AT06888; R01 MH094755; P01 AT003961; P20 GM103641).

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Caroline Rudisill, Ph.D., MSc

Associate Professor at the Department of Health Promotion, Education and Behavior

Dr Rudisill is a health economist who has expertise in cost-effectiveness analysis and economic evaluation as well as applied research related to health behaviors. She examines individual decision-making regarding health-related behaviors, in particular treatment choices and preventative behaviors in the face of risk such as using financial incentives with patients in primary care and prevention settings, seeing how risk perceptions impact vaccination uptake and understanding how people behave in the face of health-related risks such as avian flu. Dr Rudisill works closely with Prisma Health, the largest health system in South Carolina, in her research.

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Benjamin Schooley, Ph.D., M.B.A.

Associate Professor at the Department of Integrated Information Technology

Dr. Schooley’s research is focused on discovering how software systems can be conceptualized, designed, developed and applied to accomplish improvements in how people work, make decisions and interact with each other. This includes work in human computer interaction, user experience design, mobile computing, decision support, and a large-scale system thinking approach to designing technology enabled improvements in healthcare.

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Susan E. Steck, PhD, MPH, RD

Professor at the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics

Dr. Steck’s research focuses on epidemiologic, clinical, and laboratory-based investigations to examine the role of nutrition in cancer prevention and control. She recently co-led a Susan G. Komen-funded breast cancer disparities doctoral training grant at USC and serves on the Executive Committee of a T32 training grant (BBIP) at USC.\

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Sharon Weissman, MD

Professor in Clinical Medicine and Interim Chair for the Department of Medicine at USC School of Medicine-Columbia

Dr. Weissman has over 25 years of experience in both research and practice related to HIV prevention, treatment, and care. Since joining the faculty at USC, she has collaborated with the USC School of Public Health, SC DHEC, and the SC RFA to access healthcare and HIV surveillance data to conduct research examining disparities in care, with a focus on HIV infected in rural SC as well as on antimicrobial usage in SC. Currently, Dr. Weissman is affiliated with the USC BDHSC and works closely with Drs. Li, Olatosi, and Zhang on the NIAID Big Data HIV and COVID-19 studies.

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Jiajia Zhang, Ph.D

Professor at the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics

Dr. Zhang is Professor and Division Director of Biostatistics in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics in USC’s ASPH. She is also a core CHQ faculty member and the BDHSC EHR Core Director. Dr. Zhang’s research focuses on developing methodologies for analyzing electronic health data, including the SC Cancer Registration data set, SC HIV data set, Women’s Health Initiative data set, NHANES III data set, SEER data set, geographic data sets from Census tract information, and the Aerobics Center Longitudinal Study data set. Dr. Zhang has cumulated extensive experience in Big Data sets in epidemiological studies and statistical methodological work. She has published more than 160 statistical methodology and applied statistics papers and was the PI on 5 NIH-funded grants in methodologies development and Co-I on many NIH grants as the core biostatistician, including an NIH-funded COBRE Center, CAM Center, R01, R21 and R15.  Currently, Dr. Zhang is Co-I with Dr. Olatosi on both NIAID Big Data HIV and COVID-19 studies and is familiar with the mechanism in the data-linking and analysis procedure.

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