After an extensive national search, McWilliams School of Biomedical Informatics at UTHealth Houston has appointed two respected, international leaders as new department chairs.
Xiaoqian Jiang, PhD, will chair the Department of Health Data Science and Artificial Intelligence and Muhammad Walji, PhD, will chair the Department of Clinical and Health Informatics. Both appointees begin their respective roles Sept. 1.
“Many outstanding candidates, from the U.S. and globally, were under consideration. Ultimately, Drs. Jiang and Walji emerged as the uncontested front-runners, across all of the desired attributes and established criteria for our school’s newly created chair positions,” said Jiajie Zhang, PhD, dean and Glassell Family Foundation Distinguished Chair in Informatics Excellence at the school. “I am very proud that Drs. Jiang and Walji will represent McWilliams School of Biomedical Informatics in this capacity, and I look forward to working with them in their new roles.”
Xiaoqian Jiang, PhD, joined McWilliams School of Biomedical Informatics in May 2018 as an associate professor and director of the Center for Secure Artificial Intelligence For hEalthcare (SAFE). Currently, Jiang is a professor and holds the Christopher Sarofim Family Professorship in Biomedical Informatics and Bioengineering. Jiang’s research focuses on advanced machine learning and security/privacy technologies for health care. Since joining the school, Jiang has obtained nearly $20 million in grants for UTHealth Houston as principal investigator (PI) or site PI. For the past several years, he has co-taught the course Foundations of Biomedical Information Sciences II and serves as a committee chair or committee member for more than a dozen PhD and Doctorate of Health Informatics students at the school.
Muhammad Walji, PhD, MS, earned both of his graduate degrees from McWilliams School of Biomedical Informatics. Currently, he serves as associate dean for technology services and informatics and professor of diagnostic and biomedical sciences at UTHealth Houston School of Dentistry where he holds the Chair in Dental Informatics, as well as holding a professorship at McWilliams School of Biomedical Informatics. Walji is also the PI on studies funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality that use informatics approaches for improving patient safety, quantifying dental diagnostic failures, measuring dental quality, using mHealth to collect post-operative patient-reported outcomes, and designing interventions to reduce antibiotic prescribing by dentists. In addition, Walji leads a multi-institutional team that crafted the BigMouth Dental Data Repository; a joint data warehouse that contains partially de-identified dental data from electronic health records of various dental schools. In 2016, Walji was named a recipient of the prestigious Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers.
In their new roles as department chairs, both Jiang and Walji will provide vision and strategic leadership in the areas of education, research, application, and service. They will lead their respective departments in building research programs as strategic planners, mentors, coordinators, and facilitators. Both chairs will work closely with Academic and Student Affairs in support of academic and curricular activities and student recruitment, admission, progression, and graduation.
Jiang and Walji will supervise, mentor, and lead the review, promotion, and tenure of departmental faculty and recruit outstanding faculty to join their departments and the school. Under the guidance of Dean Zhang and McWilliams School of Biomedical Informatics administration, both chairs will handle the management of the departmental budget, facilities, and other resources. Ultimately, Jiang and Walji will work to foster collegial relations between departments, in order to support the long-term vision and goals of the school.
Walji will retain a joint appointment with the School of Dentistry. He will continue to serve as director of the Texas Center for Oral Healthcare Quality and Safety to oversee and manage the BigMouth Dental Data Repository. Walji will also conduct existing grants and pursue new grants focused on dental informatics while fostering new collaborations between the School of Dentistry and McWilliams School of Biomedical Informatics.
“These individuals are not only internationally recognized experts and preeminent researchers, but they are visionaries who will work with me, our faculty, students, sister schools, and clinical partners to take McWilliams School of Biomedical Informatics to new heights in education, research, application, and service,” Zhang said.
While the search for a chair for the school’s Department of Bioinformatics and Systems Medicine is ongoing, Hongfang Liu, PhD, a recently recruited distinguished CPRIT Scholar, will act as interim chair. Liu serves as vice president of Learning Systems at UTHealth Houston in addition to her role as a professor and director of the Center for Translational Artificial Intelligence Excellence and Applications in Medicine (TEAM-AI) at McWilliams School of Biomedical Informatics. Liu has decades of experience in translational science, with expertise in computational biology, biomedical informatics, artificial intelligence, health data science, cancer “-omics,” data mining, team science, learning health systems, and research standards, as well as other areas.
To learn more about the open Department of Bioinformatics and Systems Medicine chair position, visit the school’s website.