UAMS Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health Welcomes a Group of New Faculty Members

By Kev' Moye

Nandini Mukherjee, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology. Kelsey Owsley, Ph.D., MPH, is an assistant professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management. Ashley Clawson, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Department of Health Behavior and Health Education.

Clawson, Mukherjee and Owsley are all excited to be part of the college’s faculty.

Clawson, who is with the college’s Center for the Study of Tobacco, uses a social ecological approach to identifying tobacco-related inequities. Her research focuses on ways to reduce active and passive tobacco and cannabis exposure among families in Arkansas, particularly among rural families, lower resourced families, families of color and families of children with medical conditions.

Previously, Clawson — who earned her master’s and a doctorate in clinical psychology from the University of Memphis — was an assistant professor in the Oklahoma State University Department of Psychology. At the school, she was a core pediatric psychology faculty member, directed a research lab, the child and family health promotion lab and supervised three doctoral clinical psychology students.

“I was born in North Little Rock and lived in Conway for most of my childhood. I’m an Arkansan,” Clawson said. “I wanted to move back home to work with the amazing researchers in the College of Public Health. I want the opportunity to conduct impactful research aimed at improving the health of Arkansans. It’s my way of giving back to the people of my home state.”

Mukherjee is a native of India who specializes in epigenetics and the study of allergic diseases. She earned a master’s in biotechnology from Jadavpur University, located in Kolkata, India. In 2013, Mukherjee came to the U.S. to pursue a doctorate in epidemiology at University of Memphis. Once she completed the program, she did a post-doc fellowship at Memphis until accepting her current position with the college.

“This is a great opportunity for me,” Mukherjee said. “I like the overlap between my existing training and the unique insight I can offer. There are already faculty researching epigenetic studies, and I can contribute my knowledge of study designs and allergic diseases. I like how there are a lot of opportunities for me to grow and collaborate on different projects.”

Owsley is a native of Canton, Missouri, a small town about 2.5 hours north of St. Louis. She earned her master’s in public health from the University Missouri-Columbia and a doctorate in health services research from the University of Colorado- Anschutz Medical Campus. Owsley enjoyed her time in the Rocky Mountains. But this opportunity with the college — which is her first academic appointment — was ideal.

“I’m excited to work at a place where a major emphasis is placed on research,” Owsley said. “My educational background is in the field of public health. I like how there are plenty of opportunities for collaboration, especially with the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute. Some of my research involves cancer populations. That’s what brought me to UAMS.”

Clawson, Mukherjee and Owsley were each drawn to a career in public health due to how it prevents health issues along with the many ways that it helps entire populations gain access to a better quality of life.

“I was unaware of the field of public health until I went to college and got a degree in biology,” Owsley said. “I took a global health course that focused on systemic issues and health care access. I fell in love with it. I knew a career in public health was something I wanted. My initial interest was linked to that global health course and learning why there are disparities in health care access. The more I learned about inequities of care and how public health addresses the issues, the more I fell in love with the field.”

When Mukherjee discovered that her education could be used to create biomarkers that research ailments, she was sold on being a public health professional.

“Years ago, I noticed the clinical paradigm shifting from treating diseases to preventing diseases,” she said. “Before the symptoms start, we can identify modifiable biomarkers and break the chain between exposure by designing targeted preventative measures. That’s why I entered a career in public health.

“I realize that our work can result in real change and design therapies, or interventions, that can prevent a disease and treat it. When I think about that — I get excited.”

Clawson said she was a teen when she first developed an interest in public health.

“My focus on public health probably dates back to high school,” Clawson said. “I’m a trained clinical pediatric psychologist but have integrated my public health interests across my training, career and research.

“I’m dedicated to health promotion and disease prevention at the child and family levels. Therefore, the overarching objective of my research with the college is to promote health equity across lifespans and across generations. I’m an advocate of health equity and my focus is to help all Arkansans have the chance to enjoy what makes this state special.”

Like Clawson, Mukherjee and Owsley also have important goals linked to their work for the college.

“I’m eager to build upon my research in epigenetics and allergic diseases,” Mukherjee said. “I love how there are a lot of research opportunities at UAMS. I’m truly excited about the many research possibilities that set the stage for improved health throughout a person’s life. I want to bring interdisciplinary skills to the department, and I want to teach courses that would focus on interdisciplinary concepts. Something else that’s important to me is becoming a mentor to the students I work with. I want to connect with my students.”

Owsley likes the idea of teaching future public health professionals and researching solutions to major issues — such as access to care for people living in rural areas.

“I appreciate the chance to teach a health care systems course as a Masters of Health Administration (MHA) faculty member,” she said. “I’ll work closely with, and be a source of guidance, for our MHA students. I’m also excited about the opportunity to collaborate with the Cancer Institute. Working on projects relating to cancer and access to care, specifically for people in rural populations, is important to me because I am from rural area of Missouri.”