Teresa Wagner selected as part of first AIM-AHEAD Leadership Fellowship Cohort

Teresa Wagner
Dr. Teresa Wagner

Dr. Teresa Wagner recently was selected to be part of the first cohort for the Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning Consortium to Advance Health Equity and Researcher Diversity — AIM-AHEAD — Fellowship in Leadership program.

Wagner is an assistant professor in lifestyle health sciences at The University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth and interim director of SaferCare Texas at HSC. The leadership fellowship program is designed to “convey the leadership competencies necessary to promote and achieve the strategic imperatives of AIM-AHEAD.”

“This program is giving me the incredible opportunity to build on my current health disparities programs and research,” Wagner said. “I am beyond belief I was chosen and cannot wait to use what I learn as I work to do my part in abating health disparities.”

The AIM-AHEAD Coordinating Center is based at HSC and works to close the gaps in the diversity of researchers and data in artificial intelligence and machine learning.

“These gaps pose a risk of creating and continuing biases in how artificial intelligence and machine learning are used, how algorithms are developed and trained, and how findings are interpreted,” said Dr. JK Vishwanatha, HSC regents professor and vice president and head of the AIM-AHEAD Coordinating Center. “These gaps can lead to continued health disparities and inequities for underrepresented communities.”

The AIM-AHEAD Fellowship in Leadership Program is led by Director Dr. Roland Thorpe, Jr. from Johns Hopkins University, Co-Director Dr. Robert Mallet from HSC and program manager Yolanda Sifuentes from HSC. The nine-month leadership fellowship program consists of participants from underrepresented populations who will learn how to lead educational activities that promote the mission of AIM-AHEAD. The goal of the program is to train the leaders of tomorrow to be champions when it comes to the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning to address health disparities. Fellows selected for this program are awarded $50,000 for their participation and contributions.

The first cohort of the AIM-AHEAD Fellowship in Leadership Program awarded 25 fellows in academia, industry and community health organizations from across the U.S. and Puerto Rico.

In this program, fellows will participate virtually in monthly activities such as didactics, workshops and training sessions alongside a mentor within AIM-AHEAD’s mentoring, networking and professional development platform, AIM-AHEAD Connect. The fellows were able to identify and select their mentors through the help of AIM-AHEAD Connect’s matching and recommendation algorithm. The mentors were required to submit an application and agree to the terms of the fellowship in order to participate. Mentors who were selected by a fellow may receive a stipend of up to $10,000 for their time and effort.

“Our goal in AIM-AHEAD is to build trusted relations with our community stakeholders and promote participation in AI/ML research and application,” Vishwanatha said. “Dr. Wagner is a leader in training and empowering community health workers, and her participation in the Leadership Fellowship will position her well in this emerging area of AI/ML and health equity.”

Wagner has an extensive history in health disparities research through her work in health literacy as well as a community health worker instructor. She graduated from HSC’s School of Public Health in 2015 after moving to Austin for her residency in health literacy. In 2016, she returned to the HSC School of Public Health as an adjunct professor and later became an assistant professor in 2017.

Since her return to HSC, Wagner has dedicated herself to conducting health literacy research and programs to reduce health disparities. She also is dedicated to training community health workers to help bridge the gap between health systems and the communities they serve. She said her goal is to elevate the work community health workers are doing, especially in rural and underserved communities.

Thanks to a grant she received in April, Wagner is able to offer free certification and continuing education courses for community health workers to help reduce health disparities. After completing the leadership fellowship program, Wagner plans to use what she learned to integrate artificial intelligence into her health disparities work training and offer continuing education courses for community health workers.

In September 2021, HSC received a $50 million award from the National Institutes of Health to lead the AIM-AHEAD Coordinating Center. The coordinating center was funded for a second year starting September 17, 2022. The program also launched the AIM-AHEAD Research Fellowship in concordance with the AIM-AHEAD Fellowship in Leadership. In the third year of AIM-AHEAD, both fellowships are expected to have future cohorts.

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