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Dr. Zhao Chen Selected as Associate Dean for Research at Zuckerman College of Public Health

Walkway of Wellness outside of Drachman Hall

As the new Associate Dean for Research, Dr. Zhao Chen has a vision to build on the college’s unique location in Arizona, strong partnerships with diverse regional, tribal and border communities, and strengths in a range of public health fields and data sciences to grow funding and expand our strong research portfolio.


Zhao Chen, PhD, MPH, has been selected as the new Associate Dean for Research (ADR) for the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health (MEZCOPH). A Distinguished Professor, Dr. Chen has previously served as the Department Chair for the Epidemiology and Biostatistics Department in the college since 2015, and she will continue to serve in that capacity in the fall of 2022 while a search for a new Department Chair is under way. In addition, Dr. Chen directs the Healthy Aging Lab with a focus on mind-body connections in aging using a life-course approach. 

“I’m excited to move into this new role and collaborate with my amazing colleagues in the College of Public Health and around the university,” said Dr. Chen, “During his tenure as the ADR, Dr. Burgess guided the college to new levels of research, and I plan to continue that trajectory. We have so many talented researchers, so much potential to grow, and our research really makes a difference in people’s lives.  As the only accredited school of public health in the state, we model and lead the effort to use an evidence-based approach to improve the health and wellbeing of the communities we serve locally and globally.”

In her vision for her new ADR role with the college, Dr. Chen emphasizes the integration of research with all the other components of MEZCOPH’s mission, including education, training, diversity and equity, community engagement, and service. Over the past several years, the amount of research funding the college has been awarded from state and federal agencies has grown steadily, and she plans to build on this success. 

To implement her growth strategy for research in the college, Dr. Chen has identified five Pillars for Research Advancement that will guide her efforts: 1) Resource Enrichment 2) Scholarship Excellence 3) Community Engagement 4) Investigator Cultivation 5) Research Innovation. Combined, the pillars will support and empower faculty to collaborate on grant application development, and help coordinate cross-disciplinary research with faculty from other colleges and departments across the University of Arizona. 

Dr. Chen plans to build on the unique research opportunities of Arizona’s environment and populations. This includes ongoing development of the already strong partnerships the college has with Hispanic, African American, Asian, tribal and border communities. Additionally, she understands the expertise that the college already brings to many fields of research, including population-based translational research, chronic and infectious disease prevention and control, health promotion, environmental and occupational health, data sciences and one health research, all areas that will help to attract new funding and investment.

Pull quote from Dean Iman Hakim: She’s a top-level researcher who brings years of experience... She can effectively support efforts and build cross-disciplinary teams that will advance and grow our research goals.

Iman Hakim, MD, PhD, MPH, Dean of the Zuckerman College of Public Health, is proud to welcome Dr. Chen to the ADR position and feels confident that her extensive research knowledge and leadership experience will benefit the college.

“All of us in the college are so pleased that Dr. Chen will take on this new leadership role as the ADR,” said Dr. Hakim, “She’s a top-level researcher who brings years of experience. She knows the university, she knows the funding agencies, she knows our faculty and so many other researchers across campus, so she can effectively support their efforts and build cross-disciplinary teams that will advance and grow our research goals.”

In her research, Dr. Chen takes a translational approach to women's health and aging-related health conditions. She has a wealth of experience studying body composition assessments, breast cancer risk factors, fracture risk in cancer survivors, osteoporosis prevention, epidemiology of anemia, biomarker and genetic variations for chronic diseases, sarcopenia measurements, mind-body exercise intervention, using wearable sensors, long COVID and precision aging research among women and the elderly from different ethnic backgrounds. Further, she leads the community engagement, recruitment and recruitment core in the Precision Aging Network (PAN). She works with an interdisciplinary team on epidemiologic research of cognitive aging in PAN and serves to train the next generation of researchers and health professionals in the Health Sciences Innovation of Healthy Aging Initiative. 

Dr. Chen earned her MS in Physical Anthropology from Academic Sinica in Beijing, China, in 1985, then went on to earn her MPH in Public Health Nutrition from the University of Arizona in 1995. She continued with her doctoral education at UArizona, and earned a PhD in Physical Anthropology in 1996 and did her postdoctoral training in epidemiology in 1997. She is a member of the Arizona Cancer Center, Arizona Center on Aging, Arizona Arthritis Center and Bio5 Institute. Her research is funded by the National Health Institute (NIH), and she has served on numerous scientific study sections for the NIH and other funding agencies nationally and internationally. Dr. Chen also has an affiliated faculty appointment with the School of Anthropology.

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