University of Illinois at Chicago’s Zenk Named a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation ‘Nurse Faculty Scholar’

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August 31, 2010                                                                           202/371-1999
University of Illinois at Chicago’s Zenk Named a
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation ‘Nurse Faculty Scholar’
Health Disparities Researcher Studying Obesity in Vulnerable Populations is Selected for Prestigious Program to Advance Careers of Nation’s Most Promising Junior Nurse Faculty
Chicago—Shannon Zenk, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.N., an assistant professor at the College of Nursing at the University of Illinois at Chicago, has won a competitive grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) to study how social factors influence rates of obesity in vulnerable populations. Zenk is one of just 12 nurse educators from around the country to receive the three-year $350,000 Nurse Faculty Scholar award this year. It is given to junior faculty who show outstanding promise as future leaders in academic nursing. The grant period begins next month.
“I am honored to receive this award,” Zenk said. “The support I receive will give me the time and mentoring that I need to address gaps in knowledge about how daily stressors interact with the environment to affect obesity risk. I will examine whether living in neighborhoods with little access to healthy food, few recreational opportunities and high rates of crime amplifies the effects of stress among Latinas and Black women. The goal is to better understand how life circumstances influence diet and exercise behaviors that put them at higher risk of obesity.”
Study participants will enter information about their diet, exercise and daily stressors on handheld computers. Zenk will use geographic mapping software to record information about participants’ neighborhoods. She will analyze information about local grocery stores, restaurants, parks and crime to determine how environments affect participants’ diet and exercise behaviors. The study is the first to examine interactions between stress and the neighborhood environment among people who are prone to obesity.
“I hope the results of my research will inform efforts reduce sources of stress in the daily lives of Latinas and Black women and improve neighborhood environments to make healthy behaviors easier,” Zenk said.
Tonda Hughes, Ph.D., R.N., F.A.A.N., professor and interim department head at the College of Nursing at the University of Illinois at Chicago and Marian Fitzgibbon, Ph.D., professor and deputy director of the Institute for Health Research and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago, will serve as Zenk’s mentors.
“First Lady Michelle Obama has shined a national spotlight on obesity rates in this country,” Hughes said. “Dr. Zenk’s findings will boost national interest in this subject by providing critical information about how environment and stress work together to cause obesity, particularly among low-income people.”
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Nurse Faculty Scholars program aims to strengthen the academic productivity and overall excellence of nursing schools by developing the next generation of national leaders in academic nursing. Supporting junior nurse faculty will help curb a shortage of nurse educators that could undermine the health and health care of all Americans. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will vastly increase the number of people who can access health care in the United States. As the number of patients increases, there will be greater demand for skilled nurses and faculty to educate them. Right now, many schools of nursing are turning away qualified applicants because they lack the faculty to teach them.
The Nurse Faculty Scholars program is helping to curb the shortage by helping more junior faculty succeed in, and commit to, academic careers. The program provides talented junior faculty with salary and research support as well as the chance to participate in institutional and national mentoring activities, leadership training, and networking events with colleagues in nursing and other fields, while continuing to teach and provide institutional, professional and community service in their universities.
The program will also enhance the stature of the scholars’ academic institutions, which will benefit fellow nurse educators seeking professional development opportunities.
To receive the award, scholars must be registered nurses who have completed a research doctorate in nursing or a related discipline and who have held a tenure-eligible faculty position at an accredited nursing school for at least two and no more than five years.
Several Nurse Faculty Scholars have been recognized for outstanding work since they were accepted into the program. In 2009, Scholar Kynna Wright-Volel, Ph.D., M.S.N., M.P.H., an assistant professor at the UCLA School of Nursing, won the Minority Health Community Trailblazer Award in 2009. It is given by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in recognition of work to eliminate health disparities.
Earlier this year, Nurse Faculty Scholar Joachim Voss, Ph.D., R.N., A.C.R.N., an assistant professor of nursing at the University of Washington, received the 2010 Undergraduate Research Mentor Award. Voss was among only five faculty to receive this year’s award and the first professor from the School of Nursing ever to receive the honor. The Award is open to all faculty members at the University of Washington, which has 3,600 instructional faculty.
Three Nurse Faculty Scholars—Angela Amar, R.N., Ph.D. of the William F. Connell School of Nursing at Boston College; Cynthia Anderson, Ph.D., W.H.N.P., an assistant professor at the College of Nursing at the University of North Dakota; and Nancy Hanrahan, R.N., Ph.D., an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing—will be inducted into the American Academy of Nursing this fall. Amar is using her RWJF grant to research the factors that encourage college women to report interpersonal violence, Anderson is looking at vitamin D deficiency in pregnant women from the rural, northern plains, and Hanrahan is studying outcomes from patients who are admitted to hospitals to receive psychiatric services. 
The Nurse Faculty Scholars program is funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and administered through the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing. It is directed by Jacquelyn Campbell, Ph.D., R.N., F.A.A.N., who is the Anna D. Wolf chair and professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing.
To learn more about the program, visit
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The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation focuses on the pressing health and health care issues facing our country. As the nation’s largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to improving the health and health care of all Americans, we work with a diverse group of organizations and individuals to identify solutions and achieve comprehensive, meaningful and timely change. For more than 35 years we’ve brought experience, commitment and a rigorous, balanced approach to the problems that affect the health and health care of those we serve. When it comes to helping Americans lead healthier lives and get the care they need, we expect to make a difference in your lifetime.