Three Milken Institute SPH Faculty Receive First Springboard Grants

Milken Institute SPH Office of Research Excellence recently announced the first cohort of participants in the Springboard Grants Program, which was launched in 2014 with the goal of growing the research success of faculty through competitive, externally funded grants.  After careful review by select SPH peers, the Office of Research Excellence awarded the first three $50,000 Springboard grants to Amanda Northcross, PhD, an assistant professor in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health (EOH) and the Department of Global Health; Ami R. Zota, ScD, MS, an assistant professor in the Department of EOH; and Kathleen (Katy) Roche, MSW, PhD, an associate professor in the Department of Prevention and Community Health.

“We are thrilled to announce this first cohort in Springboard Grants Program,” said Lynn R. Goldman, MD, MS, MPH, the Michael and Lori Milken Dean of Public Health at Milken Institute SPH. “I want to personally congratulate all three faculty members for their award-winning proposals, which will deepen the school’s capacity to produce cutting-edge NIH-funded research proposals.”

The Springboard Grants Program is focused on advancing the skills to develop and usher a research idea from the early stages, including a pilot study, to a polished R21 or R01 proposal to  the National Institutes of Health (NIH), says Associate Dean of Research Kimberly Horn. She says the program takes a unique and intensive approach to developing the skills necessary for NIH funding success by providing awardees with:

  • Sequential, hands-on proposal development and grant writing seminars;
  • Funding for pilot project implementation and  collection of data;
  • Pairing of grantees with mentors that offer feedback at every step of the process;
  • Mock study sections and draft reviews that include experienced researchers within and beyond Milken Institute SPH; and
  • Intensive proposal submission assistance with the process of applying for an NIH grant.

All full-time faculty members at Milken Institute SPH were eligible to apply for this grant program and the proposals were reviewed by a select group of NIH experienced peers from the school. The three winning proposals this year were all innovative in design and fit with the mission of the school, said Lance Price, PhD, a professor of environmental and occupational health and the chair of the Milken Institute SPH research committee.

“The combination of pilot funds and grantsmanship training could help these outstanding faculty members build robust, externally-funded research programs,” said Price. “We were impressed by the quality of the submissions in the first round of this exciting new program,” he said, adding: “These three were the first of what we hope will become a longstanding tradition for the Springboard Grants Program.”

Amanda NorthcrossThe winners of this round had to commit to completing a series of training components with the end goal of developing and submitting a novel proposal to NIH to study a pressing public health problem. For example, Amanda Northcross will study household air pollution from cooking with firewood and kerosene and the links to cardiovascular disease. Her Springboard-funded project will look to see if cleaner burning cook-stoves can reduce blood pressure among Nigerians living in an urban area.


Kathleen RocheThe high risk of alcohol and drug use among Latino youth will be the topic of the second Springboard grant by Katy Roche. Her project aims to identify parenting factors that might lower substance use risks for Latino adolescents experiencing an acculturation gap with their immigrant parents.





Ami ZotaAmi Zota’s proposal seeks to improve the prevention and treatment of fibroid tumors, benign tumors in the uterus that can cause many reproductive health problems. Fibroid tumors disproportionately impact black women living in the United States, she adds. Her study will evaluate whether exposures to endocrine-disrupting chemicals are associated with the growth and development of fibroid tumors using innovative genomic technologies. The multi-disciplinary team will use a combination of laboratory cell experiments and epidemiology to accomplish these goals.

The Springboard Grants Program is offered through and funded by Milken Institute SPH Office of the Dean.  “We are excited about the Springboard program, especially this current Pathways to NIH funding mechanism,” says Horn. “It is a unique hybrid program that includes not only a pilot grant but intensive training and a significant mentoring component.”

In the end, awardees will have a highly polished NIH R01 proposal and better odds of obtaining a major grant aimed at a serious public health threat. “That’s a win-win-win situation for the faculty members, Milken Institute SPH, and public health,” Horn says.