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Faculty Institutional Recruitment for Sustainable Transformation (FIRST) Initiative

Faculty Institutional Recruitment for Sustainable Transformation (FIRST) Initiative In 2021, Drexel University’s Dornsife School of Public Health (DSPH) and the College of Nursing and Health Professions (CNHP) received a 5-year $14.4 million NIH grant to focus on health disparities research on population health and intervention science in aging, chronic disease, and environmental determinants.

The NIH-funded Drexel FIRST (Faculty Institutional Recruitment for Sustainable Transformation) program aims to create sustainable institutional changes necessary to promote inclusive excellence for all and contribute to the science of health disparities that have an impact on individuals, communities, and populations.

Inclusive excellence refers to:

  • A culture that establishes and sustains scientific environments that cultivate and benefit from a full range of talents
  • The recruitment of a critical mass of diverse, early career researchers who are dedicated to understanding the drivers of health inequities

Diverse, early career researchers are faculty from groups identified as underrepresented in the biomedical, clinical, behavioral, and social sciences (described in NOT-OD-20-031) including but not limited to racial and ethnic minoritized populations, those from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds, individuals with disabilities, sexual and gender minorities, and women.

Meet the FIRST faculty below, and visit the Drexel FIRST website to learn more.

FIRST Faculty at the Dornsife School of Public Health

  • Stephanie Hernandez headshot

    Stephanie Hernandez, PhD, MS

    Assistant Professor of Epidemiology
    Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Drexel FIRST Program

    Research Interests:
    • Demography
    • Sexual and Gender Minority Health
    • Intersectionality
    • Minority Stress
    • Hispanic/Latino Health
    • Socioeconomic Status
    • Social Determinants of Health

  • Josiah Kephart headshot

    Josiah L. Kephart, PhD, MPH

    Assistant Professor
    Environmental and Occupational Health, Drexel FIRST Program, Urban Health Collaborative

    Research Interests:
    • Environmental Exposures
    • Urban Health
    • Health Disparities
    • Environmental and Social Epidemiology
    • Climate Change
    • Global Health

  • Jourdyn Lawrence headshot

    Jourdyn A. Lawrence, PhD, MSPH

    Assistant Professor of Epidemiology
    Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Drexel FIRST Program

    Research Interests:
    • Structural and Interpersonal Racism
    • Racial/Ethnic Health Inequities
    • Social Epidemiology
    • Urban Health
    • Quantitative Methods for Social Epidemiology
    • Aging and Cognitive Function
    • Embodiment
    • Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

  • Bertranna Muruthi headshot

    Bertranna Muruthi, PhD, MS

    Assistant Professor
    Community Health & Prevention

    Research Interests:
    • Immigrant Health
    • Global Health or International Health
    • Community Engaged Research
    • Community Based Participatory Research
    • Race and Ethnicity
    • Health Disparities

  • Kasim Ortiz headshot

    Kasim Ortiz, PhD, MS

    Assistant Professor
    Health Management and Policy, Drexel FIRST Program

    Research Interests:
    • Aging/Lifecourse
    • Community Engaged Research
    • Health Disparities
    • Health Services Research
    • Population Health
    • Racial and Ethnic Health Inequalities
    • Sexual Minorities and Neighborhoods
    • Substance Use

  • Lilianna Phan headshot

    Lilianna Phan, PhD, MPH, MS

    Assistant Professor
    Community Health & Prevention, Drexel FIRST Program, Joint Appointment with the College of Nursing and Health Professions

    Research Interests:
    • Social Determinants of Health
    • Health Disparities
    • Community-Engaged Research
    • Tobacco Prevention and Control
    • Tobacco-Related Health Disparities
    • Tobacco Regulatory Science
    • Health Communication
    • Racism and Discrimination

  • Gabriel L. Schwartz headshot

    Gabriel L. Schwartz, PhD

    Assistant Professor
    Health Management & Policy, Drexel FIRST Program

    Research Interests:
    • Social Epidemiology
    • Health Inequities
    • Urban Health
    • Housing
    • Segregation
    • Police Violence
    • Quantitative Methods
    • Social Policy
    • Life Course Epidemiology
    • Structural Racism
    • Social Stratification

  • Agus Surachman headshot

    Agus Surachman, PhD, MS

    Assistant Professor of Epidemiology
    Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Drexel FIRST Program

    Research Interests:
    • Aging
    • Biopsychosocial Factors of Health
    • Cardiovascular Disease
    • Health Disparities
    • Life Course
    • Racial Health Inequalities
    • Renal Disease
    • Socioeconomic Status
    • Stress

  • Luis Valdez headshot

    Luis Arturo Valdez, PhD, MPH

    Assistant Professor
    Community Health and Prevention, Drexel FIRST Program

    Research Interests:
    • Gender-Transformative Interventions
    • Patriarchy and Health
    • Men’s Health
    • Participatory Action Research
    • Latinx Health Disparities
    • Substance Use
    • Nutrition and Physical Activity
    • Stress

  • Kofoworola D.A. Williams headshot

    Kofoworola D.A. Williams, PhD, MPH

    Assistant Professor
    Community Health and Prevention, Drexel FIRST Program

    Research Interests:
    • Black Men & Boys' Mental Health
    • Social and Behavioral Determinants
    • Access and Help-Seeking
    • Digital Mental Health
    • Qualitative & Mixed Methods
    • Health Disparities

FIRST Faculty at the College of Nursing and Health Professions

Kristal Lyn Brown headshot

Kristal Lyn Brown, PhD, MSPH

Assistant Professor, Creative Arts Therapies Department
College of Nursing and Health Professions
Secondary appointment in Dornsife's Department of Community Health and Prevention

Research Interests:
Obesity, Stress, Cardiometabolic Health, Disordered Eating
Safiyyah Okoye headshot

Safiyyah Okoye, PhD, MSN

Assistant Professor of Nursing
College of Nursing and Health Professions
Joint appointment with Dornsife's Department of Health Management and Policy

Research Interests:
Aging, Accidental Falls, Sleep, Home Environment, Socioeconomic Factors

Latest Research News from Drexel FIRST Faculty

New Task Force Studying What Reparations Would Look Like in Philadelphia

Dr. Jourdyn Lawrence was named Health and Wellness Coordinator on a 10-member committee that will study the possibility of reparations in Philadelphia.

older woman on a sidewalk using umbrella for sun protection

Tackling Heat-Related Mortality in Aging Populations

A large study of older adults in China points to physical and cognitive function — not age — as key predictors of heat-related mortality, highlighting the need for climate adaptation policies to prioritize accessibility across all age groups. (Nature Medicine commentary authored by Dr. Josiah Kephart and Dr. Safiyyah Okoye).

people holding posters at a climate march

Climate Change Linked to Rise in Mental Distress Among Teens, according to Drexel Study

Worsening human-induced climate change may also extend to influencing mental distress among high schoolers in the United States, according to findings published in the journal Preventive Medicine Reports (co-authored by Dr. Josiah Kephart).

chart showing numbers of people experiencing homeless

Homelessness Soars After Pandemic-Era Safety Net Programs End

Rates of people experiencing homelessness plummeted in big U.S. cities when pandemic-era housing safety net programs and policies were in effect. Now that these programs have ended, rates of people experiencing homelessness have risen to record levels (cites research from Dr. Gabriel Schwartz).

Towards Equitable Design: What We Know and Need to Address about Mental Health Prevention and Promotion among #blackboysandmen

Harvard's Center for Health and Happiness invited Dr. Kofoworola Williams to talk about the current state of mental health literature from a digital equity and intervention lens, pulling in some of her past and current research. (Harvard T.H. Chan)

Study Links Gender Nonconformity and Sexual Orientation with Lower Socioeconomic Status

Socioeconomic status — frequently measured as a combination of education, income and occupation — has a huge impact on health outcomes, according to a study (lead author Dr. Stephanie Hernandez) published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. (UNC Gillings)

illustration of smoking bottles

Want to Keep Gen-Z Off Vaping?

Young adults who are more familiar with e-cigarette marketing practices are more likely to have attitudes against vaping than those unaware of the industry’s marketing, according to a study led by Drexel University public health researchers (lead author Dr. Lilianna Phan) published this month in the BMJ journal Tobacco Control.


Drexel’s Dornsife School of Public Health to Serve as National Coordinating Center for New NIH Community-led Health Equity Research Program

The Dornsife School of Public Health received a $20 million award to be disbursed over five years from the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) Common Fund through the agency’s Community Partnerships to Advance Science for Society (ComPASS) program to study health equity solutions nationwide.

Aerial view of Santiago de Chile under a layer of smog trapped between the hills

Nearly Nine of Ten Residents in Latin American Cities Are Exposed to Unsafe Levels of Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) Pollution

Over 200 million people in Latin American cities are exposed to nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pollution at levels that exceed WHO guidelines, according to Drexel University researchers including lead author Dr. Josiah Kephart in a new Lancet Planetary Health publication.


headshots of 10 new faculty members

Meet New Faculty Joining Dornsife in the New Academic Year

At the start of the new academic year, Dornsife welcomed new faculty members in various departments including new Drexel FIRST faculty.

journal preview

Drexel Research on Structural Racism and Public Health Highlighted

A special edition of the American Journal of Public Health featured papers by Dr. Jourdyn Lawrence and other researchers at the Dornsife School of Public Health on structural racism and practices that need changing.

UHC Adds Urban Health Perspective to Gas Stove Debate

UHC and Drexel FIRST faculty member Dr. Josiah Kephart, has been studying the health effects of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and other household air pollutants for years. In a series of recent interviews, he explained how emissions from indoor gas appliances can affect health and how to mitigate exposure by switching to electric or induction cooktops or by using a gas range hood.

Older woman walking with cane down hospital hallway with younger woman

Fall Rate Nearly 50% Among Older Americans with Dementia

Research from Drexel (led by Dr. Safiyyah Okoye) found that targeting specific fall-risk factors could improve fall screening and prevention strategies.

Professor Ortiz, volunteers and staff members at Galaei community event

Growing Partnership with QTBIPOC Radical Social Justice Organization

Dr. Kasim Ortiz is helping to guide a new partnership with Galaei, a Queer and Trans, Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (QTBIPOC) radical social justice organization.

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