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Pepper Scholars Program (PSP)

The Pepper Scholars Program is designed to train future leaders in geriatrics. Over three years, we select five Pepper Scholars per year from a pool of competitive junior faculty applicants. We then provide a robust program to guide them in successfully launching their research careers in caring for older adults with MCC.

The program includes:

  • Orientation bootcamp and assistance with crafting an individual development plan (IDP)
  • Connection to Research Design and Analysis Methods Program (RAMP) mentors
  • Mentor development workshops
  • Early career faculty development programs and grant writers' groups
  • Eligibility for pilot project awards (R03 equivalent, 2-year awards) administered by the Pilot/Exploratory Studies Core (PESC) or mini K awards (20% protected time) administered by the Research Education Core (REC)
  • Networking opportunities

Pepper Scholars are selected by the PESC and receive training through the REC.

Interested in becoming a Pepper Scholar?

It isn't too early to start thinking about applying to be a 2022-24 Pepper Scholar. We anticipate providing up to five awards (Pepper Pilots and mini-Ks) to begin July 2022. Check back this fall for more information!

Wave 1 (2020-2022) Pepper Scholars

Theresa Rowe, DO MS

theresa_rowe.pngDr. Rowe is an academic geriatrician, infectious disease physician and health services outcomes researcher. She is an Assistant Professor in Geriatric Medicine with a clinical and research focus on optimizing diagnoses in older adults, while minimizing unnecessary testing and treatment in both the outpatient and nursing home setting. She recently completed a health services and outcomes post-doctoral research fellowship supported by NRSA T32 training grant at Northwestern University’s Centers for Health Care Studies (CHS), Institute for Public Health and Medicine (IPHAM). In her postdoctoral fellowship position, she attained a formal background in basic research methodology, including qualitative and quantitative methods. Prior to this fellowship, she was selected as a Health Research and Health Policy Training Associate at the Yale Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholars Program in New Haven, CT. As part of this program, she received additional education on community based participatory research methods. She is on the long-term care antibiotic guideline committee through the Society of Healthcare Epidemiology of America (SHEA) where she serves as the co-lead for updating the Loeb minimum criteria for antibiotic use in nursing homes. She has recently joined the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as part of the Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion (DHQP) to develop and maintain innovative solutions for surveillance data collection regarding emerging issues among nursing homes.

Faculty profile: Theresa Rowe, DO MS

Pepper Pilot: Improving Transitions of Care from Skilled Nursing Facilities (SNF) to the Community

Katherine O’Brien, MD

0brien_160.jpgDr. O’Brien joined the faculty at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in 2018 as a Research Assistant Professor in the Division of General Internal Medicine and Geriatrics. She completed both her Geriatric Medicine and Hospice & Palliative Medicine Fellowships at McGaw Medical Center at Northwestern University and is currently serving as Associate Medical Director for JourneyCare hospice. She spends time on both the Geriatric and Palliative Medicine services at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, and her clinical and research interests include home care, frailty, and advanced care planning and end of life care. She has collaborated both within and outside her institution during her training to improve her research investigational skills, while contributing to Northwestern’s medical education enterprise. Dr. O’Brien has presented her work at various regional and national meetings, including the Accreditation Council of Graduate Medical Education National meeting, the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine Annual Assembly, and the Central Group on Educational Affairs regional meeting.

Faculty profile: Katherine O'Brien, MD

Pepper Pilot: Intelligent Personal Assistant for Managing Depression in Homebound Older Adults

Sadiya Khan, MD

sadiya_khan.jpegDr. Khan is a cardiologist trained in molecular epidemiology and cardiovascular genetics. Her research examines the influence of obesity on development of cardiovascular diseases. Her studies include population-based cohorts, large electronic health record data analysis, and -OMICS (epigenomics, genomics, and proteomics) to perform mechanistic studies to enhance cardiovascular risk prediction and identify novel therapeutic agents for prevention and treatment approaches. As a practicing cardiologist, she see patients at risk for and with cardiovascular disease. She is committed to translating research into clinical practice through use of implementation science principles to improve cardiovascular outcomes and care on an individual-level and population-level.

Faculty profile: Sadiya Khan, MD

Pepper Pilot Prevalence of microvascular dysfunction and association with functional limitation in older adults with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

Rachel O’Conor, PhD MPH

oconor-rachel-160x240.jpgDr. O'Conor is a health services and public health researcher. Her research focuses on understanding cognitive and psychosocial determinants of chronic disease self-management behaviors and health outcomes. She is interested in the design and evaluation of pragmatic, health system and community-based self-management support interventions for chronically ill adults who experience significant social and economic hardship. Additionally, her research seeks to understand and address self-care complexity for individuals with multiple chronic conditions and bridge the gap between complex medical systems and individuals' everyday lives.

Faculty profile: Rachel O'Conor, PhD

Dr. O'Conor is the recipient of a mini K award administered through the Pepper Center.

Miriam Rafferty, DPT PhD

rafferty_160x240.jpgDr. Rafferty is a physical therapist and Assistant Professor of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine, and exercise researcher at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab. Over the course of her research training, she has transitioned from working on highly controlled exercise trials for people with Parkinson’s disease to implementation research for improving evidence-based rehabilitation and exercise for people with Parkinson’s disease. She has identified an opportunity to improve upon her research development by addressing barriers and facilitators to evidence-based rehabilitation and exercise for all older adults, particularly to those managing chronic health conditions.

Faculty profile: Miriam Rafferty, DPT PhD

Dr. Rafferty is the recipient of a mini K award administered through the Pepper Center.

Wave 2 (2021-2023) Pepper Scholars

Marquita Lewis-Thames, PhD

marquitalewisthames.jpgDr. Lewis-Thames is a community-engaged health disparities researcher with an interest in chronic and cancer disease management for rural and African-American populations. Specifically, she is interested in the influence of individual- and community- level determinants that are associated with managing chronic and cancer disease outcomes. Her current research focuses on rurality and access to cancer control and prevention resources through three research interests: 1) urban-rural disparities in behavioral determinants of lung cancer risk, 2) community-level determinants associated with rural access to care, 3) identification of individual-level determinants that improve survivorship care coordination.

Faculty profile: Marquita Lewis-Thames, PhD

Pepper Pilot: Designing a Telehealth-Based Tool for Rural Older Adults with Cancer and Cancer-Related Distress: Testing for Usability and Acceptability


Whitney Welch, PhD

whitneywelch.jpgDr. Welch is an exercise physiologist whose research focuses on increasing physical activity in populations at high risk for inactivity, with an emphasis on preventing or managing chronic disease. More specifically, she is interested in 1) understanding and improving the measurement of physical activity and sedentary behavior, 2) understanding the relationship between physical activity, sedentary behavior and chronic disease, and 3) identifying factors that can be targeted to increase physical activity participation through evidence-based cross-sectional/longitudinal analysis or physical activity interventions. Dr. Welch is particularly interested in moving beyond the “one size, fits all” physical activity prescription and developing tailored, personalized physical activity prescriptions for individuals based on their personal, social, emotional, and physical circumstances.​

Faculty profile: Whitney Welch, PhD

Pepper Pilot: Remote Sensor-Based Frailty Detection in Older Adults

Emma Barber, MD

emmabarber.jpgDr. Barber is an Assistant Professor of Gynecologic Oncology at Northwestern University. As a surgeon, she performs complex and innovative procedures for women with gynecologic malignancies. Her areas of expertise include minimally invasive surgery for endometrial and ovarian cancer as well as performing sentinel lymph node mapping to assess for the spread of cancer to lymph nodes. She also performs benign gynecologic surgery for patients with complex conditions that would traditionally be performed with an open approach. As a researcher, her research focuses on surgical quality and improving the postoperative recovery period so that patients experience fewer complications and recover more quickly. Dr. Barber received her undergraduate and medical degrees from Yale University and completed her residency at Northwestern University. She completed both a clinical fellowship and an NIH research fellowship at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 

Faculty profile: Emma Barber, MD

Dr. Barber is a recipient of a mini K award administered through the Pepper Center.

Rebecca Lovett, PhD

rebeccalovett.jpgDr. Lovett is a clinical psychologist specializing in behavioral medicine/health psychology. She is a graduate of the Clinical Psychology program at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine, and completed her internship at Rush University Medical Center. She is currently a postdoctoral fellow within the Division of General Internal Medicine and Geriatrics, where she provides brief, evidence-based therapy and health behavior change interventions for a range of behavioral health and medical conditions. Her research is broadly focused on addressing psychosocial determinants of chronic disease self-management among older adults with one or more chronic conditions, with a specific interest in older adults contending with multiple chronic conditions. Her long-term research agenda is the development of applied, scalable behavioral health and health system interventions with the potential for high impact and use within primary care settings. 

Dr. Lovett is a recipient of a mini K award administered through the Pepper Center.

Mary Clare Masters, MD

maryclaremasters.jpgDr. Masters is an instructor in the Division of Infectious Diseases in the Department of Medicine at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. She attended medical school at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. She completed her residency in Internal Medicine at the University of Chicago, followed by a fellowship in Infectious Diseases at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. During her fellowship, her research has focused on relationships between HIV infection, glycemic status, and age-related decline in physical functioning among participants in the MACS and HAILO. 

Faculty profile: Mary Clare Masters, MD

Dr. Masters is a recipient of a mini K award administered through the Pepper Center.