Wilks wins Regents Staff Excellence Award

Aloha Wilks will receive a 2023 Board of Regents Staff Excellence Award. For thirty years, the Regents have recognized those staff members who have “significantly benefited The University of Iowa, brought honor or recognition to the University, and had a significant positive impact on the State of Iowa.” In her role as the Research Program Coordinator for the UI Equity in Health Science and Practice (E-HSP) program, Wilks has exceeded all three of these measures.

The E-HSP program launched in 2021 with funds from the UI’s P3-fueled Strategic Initiatives Fund. Its primary goal is to alleviate imbalances in health care, from delivery to academic medical research, always with a focus on impact on individuals in minoritized groups and members of rural communities.

These evidence-based efforts were meant to be developed in concert with the input of the members of those communities, ensuring that respect and adaptation based on feedback were part of any study’s design from conception. Those communities included frontline workers, people living in rural areas, and generally those disengaged from or underserved by academic healthcare systems.

Wilks joined the E-HSP tasked in part to build relationships and trust with the members of those communities. Her colleagues in the E-HSP described the broad scope of her work in their nomination letter:

Aloha has truly redefined the role of a community-engaged program coordinator—setting a standard of compassion and integrity and building a remarkable network of partners in the state. She oversees a statewide Community Advisory Board with stakeholders from Eastern, Central, and Western Iowa who advise the program’s efforts; supervises multiple teams of student leaders on the UI campus; and oversees research and community engagement events.

Those letter-writers—Martha Carvour, MD, PhD; Kimberly Dukes, PhD; Carolina Gonzalez Bravo, BS; and Precious-Junia de-Winton Cummings, BS, MPH—go on to describe specific successes that Wilks has led, including organizing dozens of volunteers and organizations to produce a health fair in Storm Lake, Iowa, that served more than 150 residents. “Her work is essential,” they wrote, “for connecting communities with UI’s resources and research and for ensuring that our UI-based efforts are informed by the perspectives and values of Iowa communities.”

Another recommender, Nicole Del Castillo, MD, MPH, Director of the Carver College of Medicine’s Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, said that Wilks “passionately embraced” her leadership role in the E-HSP’s community engagement, bridging “the community-academia divide.” Wilks’s efforts, Del Castillo wrote, create “a space for community partners, students, researchers, and healthcare providers to collaborate to identify community needs and disparities for marginalized people and groups—and then to take action together to improve health equity for all.”

Wilks will be recognized and receive her award later this year along with other Regents-sponsored award winners.

UPDATE: At last week’s Board of Regents meeting, Wilks and her fellow award winners were treated to lunch at the UI’s Center for Advancement Levitt Center.

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