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UTHealth Houston names vice president of civic and business engagement

Portrait image of Kristina D. Mena, PhD, MSPH (Courtesy photo)
Kristina D. Mena, PhD, MSPH (Courtesy photo)

Kristina D. Mena, PhD, MSPH, has been named UTHealth Houston’s first vice president of civic and business engagement. In this role, Mena will lead efforts to promote public health priorities and improve lives through increased partnerships with public and private businesses and entrepreneurs.

For more than two decades, Mena has been advancing public health for Texans. In 2001, she joined the faculty at UTHealth Houston School of Public Health as an assistant professor. She is now professor, the school’s El Paso regional dean, and the Jane Dale Owen Chair in Environmental Health Protection in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences.

Much of Mena’s career has focused on risk assessments and the role industries and businesses can play in keeping people safe and healthy. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she worked closely with businesses along the Texas-Mexico border to maintain the safety of employees and customers without weakening the economy. She has also worked on projects including securing potable water for NASA astronauts at the International Space Station and providing best protection practices for athletes who were competing in polluted water at the 2016 Olympics.

“Dr. Mena brings a wealth of experience in West Texas in civic and corporate partnerships to her new role,” said Kevin A. Morano, PhD, senior vice president of academic and faculty affairs and the Roger J. Bulger, MD, Distinguished Professor at UTHealth Houston. “We anticipate that she will accelerate the transition of institutional discovery and innovation to the private sector and help develop corporate interest and investment in our public health care initiatives in Texas and around the globe.”

Mena said she looks forward to connecting with innovators at each of UTHealth Houston’s seven schools to advance the impact of their research through strategic partnerships between the university and industries. She will also be working closely with the offices of Technology Management, Governmental Relations, Development, and Public Affairs, as well as the deans and members of the university’s executive leadership.

“There are so many opportunities to engage with industries as partners to improve public health,” Mena said. She cited a few examples, such as developing partnerships to address aging infrastructures and public health impact during extreme weather events; taking what has been learned to keep flight crew safe in space and applying that on Earth; and monitoring hazards in wastewater to address public health threats as quickly as possible. “At UTHealth Houston, we are positioned to best address that.”

Mena earned a bachelor’s degree in biology at Franklin College in Indiana, a Master of Science in Public Health at the University of South Florida, and a PhD in environmental microbiology at the University of Arizona. She completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Kansas State University.

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