The magazine, "Diverse: Issues in Higher Education," has awarded Adana Llanos, assistant professor in the Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology, as one of its 2021 Emerging Scholars.
"Diverse" is the most widely read trade magazine concerning underrepresented groups in American higher education, according to its website. For the past 19 years, it has annually recognized 15 up-and-coming scholars who have distinguished themselves in their respective academic fields through innovative scholarship, dedication to teaching and community service.
Llanos said when she received the news of her selection, it was a complete surprise.
“Being named (1) of the (15) 2021 Emerging Scholars, from among hundreds of nominations from all over the country, was a tremendous honor,” she said.
Llanos said Perry N. Halkitis, dean of the Rutgers School of Public Health, nominated her for the title based on her contributions as a researcher and educator. Her research focuses on understanding the molecular and sociobiologic factors for cancer inequities, particularly breast cancer.
“I became interested in doing this type of research very early in my doctoral program in genetics at Howard University,” Llanos said. “I had found that for the most part genetics, and more broadly biology, (do) not explain why some groups have worse cancer outcomes but rather how the downstream effects of social determinants of health, such as structural racism, impact disease risk and outcomes.”
She said she hopes to advance her research through multidisciplinary collaborations with other investigators who want to understand and address the causes of these health disparities.
Llanos said she is actively involved in community service via engaging with community-based organizations, particularly those whose mission includes providing public health advocacy, education and outreach and cancer survivorship support to members of the community.
“I engage with the populations I work with in various ways, including serving as a member of community advisory boards and councils that focus on increasing participation of underrepresented minorities in research,” she said. “I engage with these populations by disseminating my research findings to community stakeholders and community audiences.”
This includes a presentation in 2019 of her research in cervical cancer screening disparities at the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, Llanos said.
In addition to her research, she teaches courses in cancer epidemiology and molecular epidemiology at the Rutgers School of Public Health, she said.
Llanos said she feels it is important to encourage students from groups underrepresented in academia to advance their studies further due to her interactions with diverse students throughout her career.
“I remember how I felt as a graduate student and a (postdoctoral) fellow,” she said. “None of my (professors) were women from underrepresented minority groups. Honestly, it was a little discouraging.”
Llanos said that during her own education, she often questioned whether she would be a good fit as an academic scholar and realized that her minority women students showed similar concerns regarding their future career opportunities. She said she has strived in her teaching and mentoring to encourage such students to consider how they can contribute to academia.
For the future, Llanos said she hopes to understand why Black women and men are more likely to die of cancer than other groups, whether it is due to biology and molecular factors, social determinants of health or a combination of these and how these disparities can ultimately be addressed.
“My current and future research will hopefully contribute to achieving more equitable breast cancer outcomes in the future,” she said.