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Meet Our New Faculty

We were pleased to welcome 12 scholars to the AHS faculty in August.

In the Department of Kinesiology and Community Health:

Ruopeng An
Assistant Professor

Ruopeng An

Dr. An served as a policy analyst in the General Administration of China Customs for six years before completing his doctoral degree in Policy Analysis at the Pardee RAND Graduate School in Santa Monica, California. His dissertation focused on the effectiveness of financial incentives in modifying dietary and grocery shopping behavior in South Africa. Dr. An's bachelor's degree in Political Science and Public Administration is from the Peking University School of Government. He earned a Master of Public Policy degree from the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies in Tokyo, Japan, and a master's degree in Policy Analysis at Pardee RAND.

Dr. An completed the equivalent of three years of full-time work at RAND as an assistant policy analyst, conducting statistical analyses, writing proposals, and drafting publications for health projects exploring the relationship between neighborhood food environments and obesity, the impact of labor market fluctuations on physical activity and obesity, and responses to alcohol taxes across racial and ethnic groups, among others. At Illinois, Dr. An plans to continue research investigating the relationship between neighborhood food environments and dietary behavior

"It's not as easy as saying, ‘There will be problems with obesity if you have fast-food restaurants nearby, and there won't be if you have a grocery store in the neighborhood,'" he said. "You have to consider transportation issues, financial status, and behavioral factors. Accessibility and affordability go hand-in-hand."

Dr. An also plans to further his research on the role of financial incentives in dietary choices, and he is interested in an emerging trend among U.S. corporations to reduce illness, increase productivity, and build cohesion through wellness programs that offer rewards.

Nicholas Burd
Assistant Professor


Exercise physiologist Nicholas Burd completed his doctoral degree in Kinesiology at McMaster University. In his research, he investigates the effects of exercise and nutrition on muscles, specifically muscle protein accretion. In addition, he is also interested in determining how the food we eat affects changes in body composition. His ultimate goal is to define the ‘ideal' exercise and nutritional strategy for maximizing gains in lean mass as well as the loss of fat mass. His graduate work was performed at Ball State University in the Human Performance Laboratory and at McMaster University.

Prior to joining the College of Applied Health Sciences, Dr. Burd was a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Human Movement Sciences at Maastricht University Medical Centre in the Netherlands. In his research, he has found that, despite years of dogma, lifting lighter weights to fatigue provides an equally effective stimulus as lifting heavier weights for the acute synthesis of new muscle proteins and, with time, gains in muscle mass. He also has examined the impact of both animal- and plant-based proteins on the muscles ability to synthesize new proteins and demonstrated that animal-based proteins are more effective in this regard. "Most of our existing knowledge is based on soy protein, however," he said. "I plan to investigate different plant-based proteins, and plant-based proteins fortified with amino acids, to determine if we can increase their effectiveness."

A member of the cooperative T.K. Cureton Physical Fitness Research Laboratory, Dr. Burd will continue producing and assessing the effectiveness of these amino acid-fortified proteins, known as intrinsically labeled food proteins, in combination with physical activity. He also plans to study interactions among protein, carbohydrates, and fat in order to arrive at a meal-like nutritional matrix that will work with exercise to maximize skeletal muscle mass.

Chung-Yi Chiu
Assistant Professor


After completing her Bachelor of Science degree in Occupational Therapy at Chang Gung University, Dr. Chiu provided occupational therapy services to children and adults in Taiwan for five years. During that time, she completed her master's degree in Occupational Therapy at National Taiwan University. In her professional practice, she came to realize that designing an individualized, evidence- and needs-based therapeutic plan didn't guarantee patient compliance. She felt she needed to learn more about factors that motivate patients to manage their disabilities and chronic illnesses more effectively. Dr. Chiu secured her Ph.D. in Rehabilitation Psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Dr. Chiu's general research interest focuses on health promotion for people with disabilities and chronic illnesses. Her goal is to identify ways to motivate them to make healthy choices, thereby maximizing their productivity. "Ultimately, I want to show how we as health care providers can help people with disabilities and chronic illnesses to improve their bio-psycho-social health, restore their daily function, and maximize their access to the community," she said.

In her research, Dr. Chiu has worked with people with multiple sclerosis, breast cancer, spinal cord injuries, and diabetes. She has found that each group interprets their condition differently and has different ideas about what being physically active involves. What the groups share is a fear that their condition will inhibit their ability to fulfill social roles. "As community health scholars and practitioners, we need to understand every patient's expectations and experiences so that we can design individualized and contextualized plans that help them achieve and maintain optimal levels of health and productivity," she said.

Michael De Lisio
Assistant Professor


With an eye toward a career as an orthopedic surgeon, Dr. De Lisio completed his undergraduate degree in Life Sciences at Queen's University in Canada. His experiences in research labs piqued his interest in studying molecular- and cellular-level phenomena. He went on to complete a Ph.D. in Kinesiology at McMaster University in Canada. During his doctoral studies, he served as a visiting scholar in Dr. Marni Boppart's Molecular Muscle Physiology Lab and returned to the lab as a postdoctoral research fellow last year.

Dr. De Lisio's research focuses on blood-forming bone marrow stem cells, the first described and most studied stem cell population, and one often used in stem cell therapies. In spite of this, little research had examined the effects of exercise on this population of stem cells. His research has shown not only that exercise increases stem cell numbers in bone marrow, which may increase the likelihood of success in bone marrow transplants, but also positively impacts the environment of blood-forming stem cells and reduces fat in bone marrow.

"We've shown that in mice, bone marrow recipients who exercise before the transplant recover their blood cells faster and have a better survival rate," Dr. De Lisio said. With a grant from the Applied Health Sciences Center on Health, Aging, and Disability, he is now examining the relationships among obesity, stem cell dysfunction, and cognition. The overarching goal of his research is to understand whether optimizing stem cell populations within individuals can prevent or help treat disease, or slow the aging process.

Juliet Iwelunmor
Assistant Professor


Dr. Iwelunmor's research explores social, cultural, behavioral, and policy factors that influence the health of individuals, families, and communities across the lifespan. She is particularly interested in global health issues, having previously worked as the Culture Sector coordinator for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Intersectoral Platform on HIV and AIDS. Dr. Iwelunmor completed her Ph.D. in Biobehavioral Health and Demography at The Pennsylvania State University, from which she also received her undergraduate degree in Human Development and Family Studies.

Some of her research has examined how and when mothers in Southwest Nigeria decide to take their children to the health clinic for the diagnosis and treatment of malaria, and how accurately malaria is diagnosed. She also has investigated a variety of issues related to HIV and AIDS in Africa, including how women disclose knowledge of their sero-positive status, ways to improve strategies for reducing HIV infection among youth and to strengthen community engagement with HIV education and prevention. Effective interventions, strategies, and policies must take factors other than the state of health into account. "You cannot go into these settings and ignore culture, especially in Africa," she said. "Being culturally aware and sensitive and understanding how culture affects health is critical." Cultural competence is the focus of the course she is teaching this semester.

Dr. Iwelunmor's research also revealed how challenging it is to address multiple chronic and acute health issues, such as malaria, HIV/AIDS, and hypertension—which is increasing rapidly in West Africa—within weak health care systems. She currently is working with scholars at New York University to address the systems-level factors influencing optimal hypertension control in Ghana. She is also involved in research to reduce mother-to-child transmission of HIV in Nigeria, one of 22 countries that account for 90% of pregnant women living with HIV. In both cases, she and her colleagues are looking at culture-centered ways to address the burden of diseases on overstretched health systems.

Hillary Klonoff-Cohen
Director of Master of Public Health Program


In her research, Dr. Klonoff-Cohen integrates biological, behavioral, cultural, and socio-political aspects of disease and disease prevention. The Saul J. Morse and Anne B. Morgan Professor in Applied Health Sciences, she joined Illinois from the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine at the University of California, San Diego. She received her doctoral degree in Epidemiology from the University of North Carolina. She also has a master's degree in Biology from the University of Bridgeport and a bachelor's degree in Psychology from the University of British Columbia.


Dr. Klonoff-Cohen is particularly interested in women and infants' health and cancer epidemiology. She has investigated the role of sperm exposure, smoking, and stress in preeclampsia; the consequences of passive tobacco smoke exposure and breastfeeding, parental drug use, and bed-sharing on Sudden Infant Death Syndrome; the timing of the menstrual cycle during surgery on prognosis of premenopausal breast cancer; and the effects of lifestyle habits on in vitro fertilization endpoints, including pregnancy, miscarriage, and birth defects. In her current research, she is focusing on the barriers, concerns, successes, and risks of fertility preservation in young girls and women of reproductive age with cancer, and late effects and risky behaviors among childhood cancer survivors.

Lara Pilutti
Assistant Professor


Prior to joining our full-time faculty, Dr. Pilutti was a postdoctoral research associate in Dr. Robert Motl's Exercise Neuroscience Laboratory. She completed her doctoral degree at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, focusing on the impact of adapted exercise modalities—including body weight-supported treadmill training and recumbent stepper training—for people with primary progressive multiple sclerosis (MS). Her work expanded the focus of the lab with which she was affiliated at McMaster, which had previously studied exercise modalities for people with spinal cord injuries. Dr. Pilutti's undergraduate degrees in Physical and Health Education and Biology are both from Queen's University in Ontario.

In her postdoctoral work, Dr. Pilutti learned and applied theory-based behavioral intervention techniques to help people with MS increase their daily physical activity by making small changes in their routines, such as parking farther away from stores. She is now working to develop fitness testing protocols that span the disability spectrum, although she is particularly interested in working with populations with advanced multiple sclerosis and other neurological disorders.

"Assessing fitness in people with advanced mobility impairment is challenging, it can't be measured using traditional exercise tests," she said. "If we can't properly assess fitness, we can't properly design exercise programs." In addition to multiple sclerosis, the protocols would be applicable to advanced mobility impairments caused by other neurological disorders such as cerebral palsy, spinal cord injury, and stroke.

Laura Rice
Assistant Professor


Dr. Rice joined the full-time faculty after serving as a visiting assistant professor in the College of Applied Health Sciences. In addition to conducting research, she provided aquatic physical therapy services through the Division of Disability Resources and Educational Services and helped students obtain wheelchairs. Before coming to Illinois, Dr. Rice was an assistant professor in the Department of Rehabilitation Science and Technology at the University of Pittsburgh, from which she received her Ph.D. Her master's degree in Physical Therapy and bachelor's degree in Health Sciences are from Duquesne University.

Dr. Rice's research focuses on the management of secondary impairments associated with disability. She has investigated different ways of educating people with spinal cord injuries to preserve and optimize upper extremity function and mobility while preventing the development of shoulder pain and injuries. "After a spinal cord injury, you're suddenly asking your shoulder joint to do a whole new job," she said. "You're making it responsible for all of your mobility, and it can be difficult for the shoulder to accommodate it."

In addition to secondary physical problems associated with disability, Dr. Rice is interested in issues such as depression and anxiety, things that can impact the quality of life of people with disabilities and negatively impact their ability to perform necessary social roles. She is examining factors that keep people with disabilities from participating in their communities. Preliminary results indicate that people who use power wheelchairs report less community participation, more depression, and lower quality of life than users of manual wheelchairs. She is now engaged in a follow-up study to identify the reasons for these findings.

In the Department of Recreation, Sport and Tourism:

Liza Berdychevsky
Assistant Professor


Dr. Berdychevsky's research focuses on how identity, well-being, sexual behavior, and sexual risk-taking are affected by the unique aspects of recreation, sport, and tourism contexts. She completed her doctoral degree in Health and Human Performance at the University of Florida. Her bachelor's degree in Tourism Management and Master of Business Administration degree are from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel.

Dr. Berdychevsky focuses on sexual behavior in her research because it is, as she describes it, "a niche that is full of taboos, silences, and double standards." It has also been a niche full of rich and controversial findings. In one of her studies, she found that for some young women on backpacking trips, sexual behavior played a significant role in exploring and transforming their identities. "The women took part in experiences that wouldn't have occurred at home, perhaps because there is a lack of privacy at home or because social scrutiny is virtually absent in anonymous tourism settings," Dr. Berdychevsky said. Some research participants reported feeling empowered by their experiences and some women interpreted their behaviors as a resistance to traditional social narratives about how women should behave sexually.

Based on existing and future findings, Dr. Berdychevsky hopes to develop educational programs that address sexual risk-taking in leisure contexts and its health impacts, including a course at Illinois that will address sexual well-being and risk-taking across recreation, sport, and tourism contexts.

B. Christine Green


Dr. Green's research examines the relationship between sport and development. She is particularly interested in how to motivate people to get involved and stay involved with sport through optimized sport management and marketing, and how to provide sport in ways that benefit individuals, communities, and sport organizations. Dr. Green's Ph.D. and master's degrees in Sport Management are from the University of Maryland. Her undergraduate degree in Human Kinetics and Leisure Studies is from George Washington University.

The United States is unlike many other countries in that it has no coordinated sport system. SportCanada, for example, exists at the federal level to provide opportunities for everyone in Canada to participate in sport. Its goal is not simply to develop premiere athletes, but also to keep Canadians at all levels of ability active in sport throughout their lives. One of the most pressing issues in US sport today, Dr. Green believes, is that there are very few ways for people who are involved in sport to stay involved if they do not intend to pursue the status and skills of an elite athlete.

"Right now, the only option for people who don't want to ‘move up' in sport is to drop out. How do we connect our many for-profit and non-profit sport organizations to enable people to stay involved?" she said. One of the biggest challenges she must address in her research is cultural resistance to change within a model of sport that is highly competitive rather than cooperative, and which places more value on achievement rather than growth. One of her goals is to help sport organizations understand that they can broaden what they offer without hurting their elite programs. By doing so, they'll attract new participants and maintain participation over a longer period of time.

Jon Welty-Peachey
Assistant Professor


Dr. Welty-Peachey worked in international sport for almost 10 years before completing his Ph.D. in Sport Management at the University of Connecticut and joining the faculty of Texas A&M University. His research deals with the same issues he addressed as an international sport professional: how to use sport for development and to effect positive change. His master's degree in Sport Administration is from Temple University and his bachelor's degree in Physical Education is from Goshen College.

As a professional, Dr. Welty-Peachey was involved in the World Scholar-Athlete Games, which brought about 2000 high school students from 200 countries together. The purpose was to break down barriers and foster peace and understanding. In addition to athletic skill, the students had to excel academically. There also was a cultural component for youth who were gifted in the arts. Each team intentionally included youth from a variety of countries, often from countries that were in conflict, and coaches were trained facilitators in conflict resolution.

"It's not enough to throw a soccer ball out on the field and have kids go out and kick it around," Dr. Welty-Peachey said. "They might have fun, but it's not necessarily going to achieve social development." Sport can be an effective engine of development if it's correctly packaged. His research in part seeks to determine the optimum package. He has found that partnering sport with educational opportunities, counseling services, and cultural activities can have a lasting impact. In a study of homeless men and women, he found that including components other than sport builds self-confidence, improves health, and motivates them to become involved in the community again.

In the Department of Speech and Hearing Science:

Justin Aronoff
Assistant Professor


Neuroscientist Justin Aronoff began doing research with cochlear implants as a Post-doctoral Fellow at the House Research Institute in Los Angeles, which developed the first cochlear implant system in the early 1970s. His fascination with the technology, coupled with his passion for improving the quality of life for people with hearing impairments, fueled his interest in cochlear implantation. Dr. Aronoff's Ph.D. in Neuroscience is from the University of Southern California. He also completed a master's in Linguistics at USC. His undergraduate degree in the Teaching of Spanish is from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Recently, implanting cochlear devices in both ears has become more common, especially in children. Dr. Aronoff's research focuses on two questions related to binaural hearing, namely, how is information combined across the two ears, and how can this understanding be used to improve the performance of cochlear implants? "Cochlear implants have come an amazing distance," he said. "Performance has gotten really good in quiet environments. But in noisy environments, performance falls apart." He has developed special software that enables him to customize the external processing device of a cochlear implant system, with the goal of minimizing distortion and maximizing the listener's ability to localize sound. He also co-created a new test that measures the performance of customized processors.

Dr. Aronoff will conduct his research in labs both in Urbana-Champaign, where the Carle Clinic hosts the oldest cochlear implant program in the state, and in Chicago, which has a large base of cochlear implant patients.

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