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McWilliams School of Biomedical Informatics appoints two inaugural department chairs

Xiaoqian Jiang, PhD <br/>Department of Health Data Science and Artificial Intelligence Chair
Xiaoqian Jiang, PhD
Department of Health Data Science and Artificial Intelligence Chair
Muhammad Walji, PhD <br/>Department of Clinical and Health Informatics Chair
Muhammad Walji, PhD
Department of Clinical and Health Informatics Chair

After an extensive national search, McWilliams School of Biomedical Informatics at UTHealth Houston has appointed two respected, international leaders as new department chairs. Xiaoqian Jiang, PhD will chair the Department of Health Data Science and Artificial Intelligence and Muhammad Walji, PhD ‘06 will chair the Department of Clinical and Health Informatics. Both will begin their respective roles on September 1, 2023.

“Many outstanding candidates, from the U.S. and globally, were under consideration. Ultimately, Drs. Jiang and Walji emerged as the uncontested frontrunners, across all of the desired attributes and established criteria for our school’s newly created chair positions,” noted Dean and Glassell Family Foundation Distinguished Chair in Informatics Excellence, Jiajie Zhang, PhD. “I am very proud that Drs. Jiang and Walji will represent McWilliams School in this capacity, and I look forward to working with them in their new roles.”

Xiaoqian Jiang, PhD joined McWilliams School in May of 2018 as an associate professor and director of the Center for Secure Artificial intelligence For hEalthcare (SAFE). Currently, Jiang is a professor and also holds the Christopher Sarofim Family Professorship in Biomedical Informatics and Bioengineering. Jiang’s research focuses on advanced machine learning and security/privacy technologies for healthcare. Since joining McWilliams, Jiang has obtained nearly $20 million in grants for UTHealth Houston as Principal Investigator (PI) or Site-PI. For the past several years, he has co-taught BMI 5311 - Foundations of Biomedical Information Sciences II and serves as a committee chair or committee member for over a dozen PhD and DHI students at the school.

Muhammad Walji, PhD ’06, MS ’02 earned both of his graduate degrees from McWilliams School of Biomedical Informatics. Currently, he serves as associate dean for Technology Services & Informatics and professor at UTHealth Houston School of Dentistry where he holds the Endowed Chair in Dental Informatics. At McWilliams, he serves as an adjunct professor. Walji is also the PI on AHRQ and NIH funded studies that use informatics approaches for improving patient safety, quantifying dental diagnostic failures, measuring dental quality, using mHealth to collect post-operative patient reported outcomes, and designing interventions to reduce antibiotic prescribing by dentists. In addition, Walji leads a multi-institutional team that crafted the BigMouth Dental Data Repository; a joint data warehouse that contains partially de-identified dental data from EHRs of various dental schools. In 2016, Walji was named a recipient of the prestigious Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers.

In their new roles as department chairs, both Jiang and Walji will provide vision and strategic leadership to the departments in the areas of education, research, application, and service. They will lead their respective departments in building research programs as strategic planners, mentors, coordinators, and facilitators. Both chairs will work closely with Academic and Student Affairs in support of academic and curricular activities and student recruitment, admission, progression, and graduation. Jiang and Walji will supervise, mentor, and lead the review, promotion, and tenure of departmental faculty and recruit outstanding faculty to join their departments and the school. Under the guidance of Dean Zhang and McWilliams School of Biomedical Informatics administration, both chairs will handle the management of the departmental budget, facilities, and other resources. Ultimately, Jiang and Walji will work to foster collegial relations between departments, in order to support the long-term vision and goals of the school.

Walji will retain a joint appointment with the School of Dentistry. He will continue to serve as director of the Texas Center for Oral Healthcare Quality and Safety to oversee and manage the BigMouth Dental Data Repository. Walji will also conduct existing grants and pursue new grants focused on dental informatics while fostering new collaborations between the School of Dentistry and McWilliams School of Biomedical Informatics.

“These individuals are not only internationally recognized experts and preeminent researchers, but they are visionaries who will work with me, our faculty, students, sister schools, and clinical partners to take McWilliams School to new heights in education, research, application, and service,” Zhang stated.

While the search for a chair of the Department of Bioinformatics and Systems Medicine is ongoing, Hongfang Liu, PhD, our recently recruited distinguished CPRIT Scholar, will act as interim chair. Liu serves as vice president of Learning Systems at UTHealth Houston in addition to her role as a professor and director of the Center for Translational Artificial Intelligence Excellence and Applications in Medicine (TEAM-AI) at McWilliams School of Biomedical Informatics. Liu has decades of experience in translational science, with expertise in computational biology, biomedical informatics, artificial intelligence, health data science, cancer “-omics”, data mining, team science, learning health systems, and research standards, as well as other areas. 

To learn more about the open Department of Bioinformatics and Systems Medicine chair position, please visit this webpage.

Chelsea Overstreet

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