Meet Our New Faculty & Staff from Jicarilla Apache and Other Tribes

Backgrounds in epidemiology, statistics, and molecular biology will bolster our research

Environmental Health, Sexual & Reproductive Health, Substance Use & Prevention, Suicide Prevention

Welcome, new faculty and staff!

Now in its 26th year, the Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health continues to grow. Below, we highlight some of our new faculty members.

Emily Haroz, PhD joined the Center for American Indian Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health as an Assistant Scientist in July 2016. She has extensive experience in the implementation and evaluation of programs addressing mental and behavioral health. Her background is in quantitative methods, advanced statistical approaches and epidemiology. She has conducted numerous studies to understand mental and behavioral health problems and programs across a wide range of diverse populations. Emily will be working with the behavioral health team on implementation of programs to address mental and behavioral health problems and promote well-being among AI/AN populations.


“It is truly an inspiration to be part of a team that works so tirelessly to improving health and well-being among American Indian communities,” said Dr. Haroz. “The level of real collaboration between local communities and research at the Center is remarkable.”

Sarah Stern, our new Health Educator, grew up in the capital of the Cherokee Nation, Tahlequah, Oklahoma, witnessing the overwhelming need for public health programs within her community. She graduated from Columbia University with an honors degree in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and a concentration in Ethnicity and Race with an Indigenous focus. Her senior thesis focused on the ways in which colonization in the United States has impacted, and continues to impact gender and sexuality of Native Americans and predominantly focused on Two-Spirit identity. Alongside her work with the Center, she also serves as a board member of the non-profit organization, alterNATIVE Education, and is in charge of curriculum development related to Native American history and college preparation for Native American high school students.

“My hope is that through curriculum development here at the Center, this can be an opportunity to engage all communities,” said Stern.

Research Associate Erin Vigil, a member of the Jicarilla Apache tribe, is participating in an investigation of water quality on the Navajo Nation and in the White Mountain Apache Tribe. This is critical because one-third of households on the Navajo Nation lack access to running water. Erin completed her Master of Health Science degree in biochemistry and molecular biology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

“I am inspired by the strength of Native people against so many adversities. It’s an honor to work toward improving the lives of Native Americans by addressing health disparities.”

Melissa L. Walls, PhD, of the Bois Forte and Couchiching First Nations Anishinabe tribes is an Associate Profes­sor in the Department of Biobehavioral Health and Population Sciences at the University of Minne­sota Medical School, Duluth campus. Dr. Walls is a social scientist committed to collaborative research and has over a decade of experience working with tribal com­munities in the United States and Canada. Her involvement in community-based participatory research (CBPR) projects to date includes mental health epidemiology; culturally relevant, family-based substance use prevention and mental health promotion programming and evaluation; and examining the impact of stress and mental health on diabetes. Dr. Walls’ collaborative work has received funding from the National Institutes of Health and the Public Health Agency of Canada.

“The Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health has a consistent message: all cultures have much to learn from American Indian com­munities. A central theme of my own collaborative work is to understand the social and historical deter­minants of health for Indig­enous individuals and fami­lies,” said Dr. Walls. “The lessons we learn throughout these projects, from our elders, and from community members offer important teachings about the mechanisms through which culture and local contexts impact well-being,” she said.

Jessica E. Atwell, PhD, MPH is an Assistant Scientist in Department of International Health and joined the Center faculty in January of 2016. Prior to earning her MPH and PhD at JHSPH, Dr. Atwell worked as a microbiologist for the state of California on outbreaks of food-borne and vaccine-preventable disease.  Since coming to Hopkins in 2010, she has focused on the epidemiology and control of respiratory disease, particularly pertussis (whooping cough) and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). She has worked on issues of pertussis resurgence and vaccine hesitancy in the US, as well as new vaccine introduction and challenges to vaccine delivery in developing settings. 

Dr. Atwell’s current interests are focused on maternal immunization and RSV. She is working to improve uptake of vaccines for influenza and pertussis among pregnant women and problem solving obstacles ahead of maternal vaccines for RSV, including understanding barriers to efficient transplacental transport of RSV antibodies. She’s also interested in the epidemiology and seasonality of RSV in tropical settings, the relationship between RSV and asthma, and how best to define critical RSV disease. Dr. Atwell is leading a study with other CAIH faculty to understand challenges and successes of maternal immunization programs in the Navajo, White Mountain Apache and Zuni people to inform the design of provider- and community-based interventions to improve uptake of these vaccines. 

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