The Connecticut Convergence Institute Selects Seven Junior Faculty Members as Pre-K Career Development Award Scholars

The Connecticut Convergence Institute for Translation in Regenerative Engineering (CCI) at the University of Connecticut announces the selection of seven junior faculty members for its fourth cohort of Pre-K Career Development Award Scholars. The CCI Pre-K Program is a highly successful two-year, interactive program that equips junior faculty with the knowledge and competencies to obtain a NIH Research Career Development Award (K Award), and become leaders in clinical, basic and translational science.

Between 2014 and 2020, seven CCI Pre-K Scholars have received NIH K Awards.  Cato T. Laurencin, M.D., Ph.D., CEO of the Connecticut Convergence Institute and Pre-K Program Founder and Director stated, Increasing the number of researchers applying for NIH K and other awards is critical to the mission of the institute and results in increased collaboration and groundbreaking scientific discoveries. The success of the program has been amazing and points to the hard work of the staff and senior faculty at The Connecticut Convergence Institute, and most of all, our Pre-K Scholars.”

The primary goals of the Pre-K Program include developing skills to write a successful K Award grant application, promoting collaborative learning, and engaging an optimal mentorship team to support a successful research career. CCI Pre-K Scholars are awarded 30% protected time to conduct their research, attend bi-weekly program sessions, and prepare a competitive K Award grant application. “Developing a K Career Development Award application can be confusing and overwhelming for junior investigators,” said Dr. Lisa Barry of the UConn Health Center on Aging, who serves as a Co-Director of the program. “The Pre-K Program addresses these challenges by guiding scholars through each element of the application process, such as finding mentors and writing the career development plan.  Scholars also benefit by receiving feedback and support from a cohort of peers who are going through the same process.”

The following seven individuals comprise the fourth cohort of Pre-K Scholars since the program began in 2013.

  • Loneke Blackman-Carr, PhD, Assistant Professor, UConn Department of Nutritional Sciences, Research Title: Development and Implementation of a Smartphone-Based Intervention for the Prevention of Weight Gain in Black Women
  • Eileen Carter, PhD, RN, Assistant Professor, UConn School of Nursing, Research Title: Intra-Emergency Department Transmission of SARS-CoV-2
  • Kristen Cooksey-Stowers, PhD, Assistant Professor, UConn Department of Allied Health Sciences, Research Title: Community Based Participatory Research (CBPR) Mixed-Methods Approach to Examine The Relationship Between Neighborhood Food Environments, Home Food Environments, and Preschool Children’s Food/ Beverage Intake
  • Jennifer Garza, PhD, Assistant Professor, UConn Health, Department of Occupational Medicine, Research Title: The Effect of Occupational and Overall Activity During Pregnancy on Work and Maternal and Fetal Developmental Health Outcomes
  • Oh Sung Kwon, PhD, Assistant Professor, UConn Department of Kinesiology, Research Title: Autophagy in Human Peripheral Blood Cells: Impact of Aging and Biomarker Role in Geroscience-Guided Clinical Interventions
  • Kristen Morgan, PhD Assistant Professor, UConn Department of Biomedical Engineering, Research Title: Positive Neuromuscular Driven Gait Adaptation Post Anterior Cruciate Ligament Reconstruction
  • Benjamin Ristau, MD, Assistant Professor, UConn Health, Department of Surgery, Research Title: Single Cell Transcriptome Investigation of Cellular Dysregulation in Bladder Carcinogenesis and the Application of Patient-Derived Organoids Towards Personalized Therapeutics

Eliane Dutra, DDS, MSD, PhD, a recent graduate of the Pre-K Program said, “The Pre-K Scholar Career Development Award Program has helped me to succeed in so many ways. From protecting my research time to guiding me in every single step of my KO1 application, the commitment of the program directors was invaluable in this whole challenging process. The interaction with other pre-K scholars has also helped to ease the struggles of grant application.”

In addition, Dr. Laurencin is pleased to announce the selection of a new Pre-K Co-Director, Bin Feng, PhD, Assistant Professor, Biomedical Engineering (BME), UConn. Dr. Feng is a NIH K Award recipient whose research is focused upon the sensory encoding and processing of the peripheral nervous system. Dr. Feng currently leads the Neuroengineering and Pain Research (NPR) lab at UConn BME, which is funded by research grants from the NIH and NSF. Particular interests of NPR are management of chronic pain, pain-related sensory information and aberrations, and translating scientific discoveries into next-generation neuromodulatory strategies and devices.

Dr. Feng commented, “I am thrilled to be on board as a Pre-K Co-Director and a member of the mentoring committee. The scientific and career development trainings I received from my NIH K01 award have been instrumental to my faculty career. I will be more than happy to share my experience with and perspective of NIH’s K Award program with the Pre-K Scholars. I look forward to fruitful interactions with the Pre-K Scholars and other committee members as they prepare K Award applications.”

Please visit our website to learn more about the Pre-K Scholar Career Development Award Program.