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Health Sciences Leaders Help Drive VIP Program Successes

Portrait of Martha Bhattacharya, PhD

Following startup efforts by Health Sciences Design (HSD) and other campus units, Vertically Integrated Projects (VIP) recently established its own centralized program administration. Martha Bhattacharya, PhD, assistant professor of neuroscience at the University of Arizona, and Leah Callovini, MS, a doctoral student at the UArizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, will lead VIP as its faculty director and undergraduate research coordinator.

Using a model developed at Georgia Institute of Technology, VIP gives students project-based experience in research and creative inquiry. HSD brought VIP to the UArizona in 2020 with UA Holodeck, a simulation lab led by Win Burleson, PhD that explores complex problems in health care. Dr. Bhattacharya, another VIP early adopter, launched a team in 2021 to study the role of cell communication in brain health.

By spring 2022, VIP had 16 active teams and over 50 students. Since then, new teams have included a medical imaging project led by HSD faculty member Travis Sawyer, PhD and a supportive cancer care project co-led by Meghan Skiba, PhD, MS, MPH, RDN from the College of Nursing and Caitlyn Hall, PhD of the W.A. Franke Honors College.

After seeing VIP outgrow its initial startup support, Kasi Kiehlbaugh, PhD, director of Health Sciences Design, led efforts to secure strategic funds to provide new structure to VIP, including an administration team. She then launched search efforts to hire that team.

"From its original class in Health Sciences Design, VIP grew beyond our expectations,” Dr. Kiehlbaugh said. More colleagues soon joined, using VIP to align their teaching and research efforts. “To keep up with the growing interest, we needed a director and coordinator who could oversee the expanding program, and we’re excited to have Martha and Leah in those roles.”

Dr. Bhattacharya and Callovini will lead efforts to grow VIP’s research productivity and educational outcomes, as well as its number and diversity of teams and students. Dr. Bhattacharya has seen positive results in her own VIP students’ scientific skills and knowledge. “It’s been life-changing for many of them, especially for first-generation students who had no prior research experience."


Faculty, Students
University of Arizona Health Sciences


Matt Peters
University of Arizona Health Sciences
Health Sciences Design