Three members of the University of Virginia community who have shown persistence and innovation in working on diversity, equity and inclusion efforts – all with a focus on different areas of health care – will receive John T. Casteen III Diversity-Equity-Inclusion Leadership Awards.
The three recipients are:
- Biomedical engineering graduate student Samantha Melinda Perez, who has opened the door to underrepresented graduate students in her field and across Grounds.
- Dr. Catherine Casey, an associate professor of family medicine, one of the founders of UVA’s first multidisciplinary Adult Transgender Clinic.
- Elizabeth Beasley, director of community partnerships for UVA Health, who works to foster relationships with local organizations and community members to address and reduce health disparities.
The University’s Division for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion established the award in 2010 – with President Emeritus Casteen being the first recipient – to honor members of the UVA community whose commitment to, and passion for, diversity includes the ability to create a setting in which the promotion of diversity, equity and inclusion is paramount. The award, which this year received a record 33 nominations, was expanded to recognize a student, a professor and a staff member. The annual celebratory luncheon that was to be held in March was canceled because of the pandemic.
“A testament to Samantha’s willingness to go beyond the expected is her work in creating the Diversity and Inclusion Chair position for UVA’s Graduate Biomedical Engineering Society,” wrote Keisha John, associate dean for diversity and inclusion in the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, in nominating Perez, who came to the School of Engineering and Applied Science in 2016. In this role, she helped improve recruitment practices for the biomedical engineering department, organizing a diversity seminar and a town-hall style meeting. She also provided prospective graduate students from underrepresented groups with a “safe space” to ask candid questions, John said.
Going beyond the Engineering School, Perez co-founded and served as co-president of the Latinx Graduate Student Alliance, working “to provide a community and voice for UVA’s Latinx graduate community which, until Samantha, did not previously exist,” according to John. The group has also reached out to Hispanic faculty and staff, as well as local community organizations, including the Latino Health Initiative and Sin Barreras, which provide Virginia’s Hispanic immigrant community with health care and legal aid workshops.
Perez, who earned her B.S. in engineering from Duke University, has also excelled in her research on pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma, the most common form of pancreatic cancer. She was one of the first two engineering students to win a Health Policy Research Scholars award of $120,000 over four years from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
“I have been highly impressed with her drive to increase inclusivity and diversity at the University of Virginia while driving a high-impact research program,” her adviser, biomedical engineering professor Kimberly Kelly, said. She added that Perez easily stands out as one of the best students she has known.
Coming from Los Angeles, Perez said when receiving the Health Policy Research Scholars grant that she is “interested in partnering with health care providers and policymakers to make sure these future treatments will be accessible to all communities, regardless of socio-economic status.”
Dr. Catherine Casey
Dr. Catherine Casey, an associate professor who completed her residency in UVA’s Department of Family Medicine, recognized the need for supportive health care for the LGBTQ population and cofounded the Adult Transgender Clinic two years ago. The clinic – the only of its kind in the region – comprises psychologists, endocrinologists and nurses, as well as physicians.
Casey, who also educates students and peers about the barriers to care for transgender people, has said that transgender patients often forego health care because they’re too afraid of revealing their identity and many have suffered prejudice in the health care system.
Although it’s only open twice a month, the clinic has been so well-received that patients are making appointments six months in advance. One patient still commutes from D.C. because the care is so good, they said.
“She is a celebrated clinician and an invaluable advocate for patients that span the full spectrum of life experience,” wrote colleague Dr. Kristina Johnson in supporting Casey’s nomination. “Her passion for health equity and taking care of LGBTQ patients is evident through her student, resident and faculty teaching, her clinical work at UVA’s Adult Transgender Clinic, and her dedication to community activism.”
Casey, who directs the Family Medicine Clerkship, plans to expand access to care for transgender adults via telehealth services in underserved areas of Virginia.
Beasley, who previously worked at the Thomas Jefferson Health District for 11 years, has been applying that experience in her four years as the director of community partnerships for UVA Health. Calling her “a fierce advocate,” her supporters praise her abilities to listen and bring people to the table, especially those who haven’t had seats until recently.
“She has a unique perspective of how those in our community who experience health care disparities interact with UVA Health,” wrote nominator Patricia “Trish” Cluff, chief strategic relations and marketing officer for UVA Health.
Beasley has created a successful approach to aligning UVA resources with organizations such as the YMCA and the Local Food Hub, with its Fresh Farmacy program. She leads UVA’s participation with local organizations in the federal MAPP2Health framework that focuses on community health assessment and improvement (MAPP stands for “mobilizing for action through planning and partnerships”).
Pastor Lehman D. Bates II, who leads Ebenezer Baptist Church, wrote that Beasley has earned the trust of the African American community with her “track record of intentional commitment and engagement.”
“Elizabeth has served as a champion for the institution as a whole and is reshaping the relationship between UVA Health and the community. Inclusion is at the heart of her work,” wrote Erika Viccellio, co-chair of the President’s Council on UVA-Community Partnerships and executive director of The Fountain Fund.