Posted on July 27, 2023 by Amanda Cerreto

The College for Health, Community and Policy (HCAP) at UTSA is proud to announce the new Chair for the Department of Public Health, Nancy Cheak-Zamora, Ph.D. She has 20 years of experience working with autistic children and youth both clinically, as an Applied Behavioral Therapist, and in research settings. Additionally, she has experience as a health services researcher in areas of health care quality improvement, HIV care, health communication and literacy, measurement development and examination of health status, health care utilization and quality of care of children and youth with disabilities. 

Cheak-Zamora came to UTSA from the University of Missouri, where she taught in the Department of Health Sciences. “I learned so much during my time at MU but missed having a close connect with public health students and community engagement,” she said. “As a first-gen student from central Texas I am honored to be working for an institution recognized as a national model for first-gen students and a Hispanic Serving University.”

Faculty mentoring and coaching is something near and dear to Cheak-Zamora’s heart. She serves as a coach and group facilitator for the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity, and plans to bring this expertise to her department at UTSA. “I coach faculty members on how to be successful in academia while continuing to prioritize themselves and family,” she said. “I'm really excited about using those skills to promote success within my own department.”

Prior to her career in academia, Cheak-Zamora worked in research in a medical setting at Baylor University. It was here she discovered her love of applying research and health promotion to the medical field.

“I really wanted to focus on how you could make larger scale improvements and use policy implementation principles to make change that would effect an entire community,” she said. “That’s when I started looking into public health and the intersection of public health and health care management and policy.”

Cheak-Zamora’s research interests mainly focus on public health as it pertains to children and youth with special health care needs, particularly autism. Her research hones in on the concept of healthcare transition, healthcare services that help young adults move into adult care and adulthood.

“My research team and I have developed trainings to teach healthcare providers, pediatricians and adult providers what autism is and how they can better serve this population and promote health care management and independence as the patient ages,” Cheak-Zamora said. “I also developed a tool to help youth and caregivers evaluate the youth’s independence level.”

The Health-related Independence (HRI) measure can be completed online or in the clinic and allow youth, family, and the clinic team gauges the youth’s independence across several domains including health care appointment engagement, medication management, and community, online and sexual safety.   “For autistic youth transitioning into adulthood, it is important to understand what skills and knowledge they have and what skills building is needs,” Cheak-Zamora said. “The HRI measure is important because it allows us to understand where the youth is in their development and give youth the power to decide what meaningful independence is to them and set goals to get there.”

As new Chair of the Department, Cheak-Zamora hopes to develop even more experiential learning opportunities both inside and outside of the classroom. “The internship program in the department is already very successful, but we always want to do more to prepare students for the job market,” she said. “It’s also incredibly important to me to ensure that our faculty are getting what they need to thrive in the classroom as well as in their research.”

A Texas Native, Cheak-Zamora and her family are glad to be back in their home state. Although they have been gone for nearly 20 years, they are thrilled to be closer to family and to rediscover the beauty of Texas in their RV.

Cheak-Zamora earned her Ph.D. in Public Health with an emphasis in health policy and management from St. Louis University. Her undergraduate and master’s degrees were awarded from Texas State University. She serves as the Chair-Elect for the Maternal and Child Health Section of the American Public Health Association and is on the executive committee for the International Health Care Transition Research Consortium. Cheak-Zamora has received several service and leadership awards including the Dr. James R. Kimmey Service and Leadership Award and the Mary Gumble Levy Outstanding Doctoral Student Award.

— Amanda Cerreto