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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 Pepper Scholars 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 administered by the Pilot/Exploratory Studies Core (PESC) or mini K awards (protected time) administered by the Research Education Core (REC)
  • Networking opportunities

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


Call for applications:  Research in Aging Pilot Projects for early career investigators

Northwestern’s Pepper Center Pilot Project Program

Northwestern’s Claude D. Pepper Older Americans Independence Center is accepting brief proposals (1 page) for pilot research projects related to aging.  Selected proposals will be submitted with the Northwestern Pepper Center’s grant renewal to the National Institute on Aging this fall, with anticipated funding for pilot projects to be available late spring 2025.

Preference will be given to early career investigators at the instructor or assistant professor level at Northwestern. However, applications from postdoctoral fellows and more senior investigators seeking to transition to aging research will be considered. Pepper Center Pilot Projects will provide either $100,000 over two years or $50,000 over 1 year.

While the mission of the Northwestern Claude D. Pepper Older Americans Independence Center is the management of multiple chronic conditions in older adults, proposals related to other aspects of aging will be considered. 

Northwestern Pepper Center leadership expects to select up to 6 proposals.

The deadline for submissions is 5/17/2024. Apply here

Wave 4 (2023-2025) Pepper Scholar

Diana Chirinos, PhD

Chirinos_160x198.pngDr. Chirinos is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Preventive Medicine. She is a licensed clinical psychologist with training in public health and behavioral medicine. Her interdisciplinary program of research focuses on understanding the role of demographic and psychosocial factors as determinants of cardio-metabolic health.  Specifically, she is interested in (1) characterizing the cardiovascular risk profile of vulnerable populations, such as ethnic minorities or bereaved spouses; and (2) elucidating the biobehavioral pathways underlying the relationship between chronic stressors, such as depression or sleep disturbances, and cardio-metabolic conditions. Her long-term goal is to design well-informed targeted interventions to reduce the burden of chronic stress and chronic disease among vulnerable populations.

Faculty Profile: Diana A Chirinos, PhD

Pepper Pilot: Differential Associations Between Spousal Bereavement, Physical Functioning and Health Outcomes Among White and Latino Older Adults

Wave 3 (2022-2024) Pepper Scholars

Emi C. Bretschneider, MD

emi-brettschneider-160x198Dr. Bretschneider has a passion for taking care of women with pelvic floor disorders. She has extensive experience in addressing pelvic floor disorders from both non-surgical and surgical approaches depending on the needs and goals of her patients. She performs all modalities of minimally invasive surgery, including vaginal surgery and traditional laparoscopic surgery as well as robotic surgery.  From a research standpoint, Dr. Bretschneider is currently focused on research pursuits in population-based database studies and was selected to participate in an NIH/NICHD-funded AUGS/DUKE Urogynecology Clinical Research Educational Scientist Training (UrogynCREST) program in data science and analytics.

Faculty profile: Emi C. Bretschneider, MD

Pepper Pilot: Ready for Advances in Bladder Health for Older Women (The RAInBOW Study)

Allison Pack, PhD

allison-pack-160x198Dr. Pack is a social-behavioral researcher dedicated to enhancing patient and provider engagement in clinical care. Her research identifies and applies key stakeholder perspectives and health literacy best practices to prevent infectious and chronic disease, support medication adherence, and promote shared decision-making. Dr. Pack is the qualitative lead on multiple patient-centered studies.

Faculty profile: Allison Pack, PhD

Pepper Pilot: Adaptation and Pilot Testing of the Phenotyping Adherence Through Technology-Enabled Reports and Navigation (PATTERNS) Study

Kelly Jarvis, PhD

kelly-jarvis-160x198Dr. Jarvis’s research focuses on 4D blood flow imaging using MRI for application in patients with cardiovascular disease. . This functional imaging technique measures velocities in the heart and surrounding vessels, enabling the visualization and quantification of blood flow for the evaluation of complex 3D hemodynamics.  The goal is to improve the evaluation of blood flow in patients with aortic dissection and cryptogenic stroke. Dr. Jarvis completed her PhD in Biomedical Engineering from Northwestern University in 2017, MBA from the University of Cincinnati in 2011 and an undergraduate degree in Mechanical Engineering from Ohio State in 2001.

Faculty profile: Kelly Jarvis, PhD

Pepper Pilot: Heart-Brain MRI Evaluation of Hemodynamic Coupling in Hypertension and Healthy Aging

Prakash Jayabalan, MD

Jayabalan-prakkash-160x198Dr. Prakash Jayabalan is Director of Clinical Musculoskeletal Research at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab and Assistant Professor at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. He received his medical degree from King’s College London and PhD from the University of Missouri in Pathobiology where is research focused on tissue engineering of cartilage and biological markers of joint disease. He is board certified in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation with a subspecialty in Sports Medicine, having completed residency training at the University of Pittsburgh and fellowship training in Sports Medicine at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago/Northwestern University. He has received multiple grants and research awards for his laboratory’s work which focuses on using biological markers to develop novel, individualized rehabilitation and exercise strategies for individuals with knee osteoarthritis. The mission of his laboratory is to design and conduct the highest quality, hypothesis, driven research to treat musculoskeletal disorders and optimize sporting and exercise abilities. The primary focus is utilizing biological or biomarker responses to acute joint loading as a methodology to evaluate an individual’s response to exercise. All of his research is patient-centered.

Faculty Profile: Prakash Jayabalan

Pepper Pilot: The Development of Novel Therapeutic Walking Exercise Strategies in Sedentary Individuals with Knee Osteoarthritis

Minjee Kim, MD

minjee-kim-160x198Dr. Kim is a neuro-intensivist who studies the role of sleep and circadian rhythms as potentially modifiable determinants of cognitive and everyday function and the design of health system interventions for the early detection and treatment of sleep disturbance to mitigate the risk of later-life cognitive decline. She has a special interest in neurological complications of liver cirrhosis and liver transplantation, which can range from cognitive impairment (hepatic encephalopathy) and sleep disturbance to seizures, ischemic and hemorrhagic stroke, and brain swelling. Dr. Kim is the Director of Stroke and Neurocritical Care Clinical Research Collaborative (SNC2RC) where they provide fiduciary and regulatory oversight for clinical trials and observational studies involving our patients with acute neurological conditions such as stroke and prolonged seizures.

Faculty profile: Minjee Kim, MD

Pepper Pilot: Technology-Enabled Screening Strategy for Obstructive Sleep Apnea (TEST-OSA) in Primary Care Older Patients with Multiple Chronic Conditions

Daniel Rees Lewis, PhD

Daniel-Rees-Lewis-160x198Dr. Rees Lewis is a Research Assistant Professor and Learning Scientist in the Delta Lab in the Segal Design Institute at Northwestern University.  In his research, he creates and studies pedagogies, technologies, and organizations to promote more effective teaching and learning of real-world design. For example, his projects have focused on how to support university students designing for the homeless population or how teachers can design more effective and equitable curricula. In his work, he draws from and contributes to the Learning Sciences, Computer-supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL), Design Theory, and Human-Computer Interaction (HCI). His current projects include examining how to help design teams learn to work with stakeholders to discover and meet their needs; creating technology to provide more effective stakeholder and peer feedback; examining the nature of coaching in design and how to create technology for coaching; and defining design-based research methods to help researchers be more responsive to stakeholder needs.

Pepper Pilot: Leveraging Computer-Human Interaction and Learning Sciences to Support Older Adults' Use of Telehealth Software for Chronic Disease Self-care

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. 

Faculty Profile: Rebecca Lovett, PhD

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.

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-web-160x188.pngDr. 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.