ASU alumnus uses research, education to address health disparities in Native American communities


October 20, 2021

While working as a senior research scientist early on in his career, Arizona State University alumnus Dave Wilson noticed that he didn’t see many people who looked like him in the lab.

“I really began to think, ‘Why don't other members from tribal communities have the same rich experience that I'm having right now?’ I had to make a career decision whether I was going to be a bench scientist for the rest of my life or think about ways to have a greater impact,” Wilson said. Portrait of ASU alum Dave Wilson Dave Wilson, who earned a bachelor’s degree in microbiology in 1998 and a PhD in molecular and cellular biology in 2007 from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, will be recognized as one of The College Leaders for 2021 for his contributions to business, research and service. Download Full Image

Wilson, who earned a bachelor’s degree in microbiology in 1998 and a PhD in molecular and cellular biology in 2007, ultimately decided he wanted to pursue a career where he could make a positive impact on Native American communities. 

He has since been able to achieve this through a number of roles he has held, including as a public health adviser in the Office of Minority Health at the Department of Health and Human Services, as a legislative analyst in the office of the director at the Indian Health Service and as an adjunct professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health’s Center for American Indian Health.

In 2017, he was selected as the first-ever director of the Tribal Health Research Office at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). In this role he engages with hundreds of tribes to provide guidance, education and research that helps improve the health and well-being of these communities.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, a crisis that has hit tribal nations particularly hard, Wilson has worked to provide up-to-date information while dispelling misinformation. Last year, he led a conversation with Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, on the importance of coronavirus research, clinical trials and vaccines within American Indian and Alaska Native communities.

As a member of the Navajo Nation, Wilson feels privileged to be able to have the opportunity to help build a better future for Native communities. 

“I have the extreme privilege of working with the 574 federally recognized tribes to help them in any way that I can to improve the health, not only of this current generation, but of generations to come, through biomedical research,” he said. “It blows my mind when I really think about the impact and how important it is. We're really creating the pathway for the next generations to be able to take this and pick it up and carry it even further than we've been able to.”

For his contributions to business, research and service, Wilson will be recognized as one of The College Leaders for 2021 from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Here, he shares more about his career and his advice for students.

MORE: 4 outstanding ASU alumni honored as The College Leaders of 2021

Question: How did your program in The College help prepare you for your career?

Answer: William Burke, who was in microbiology, Yung Chang, my professor and mentor, and Rajeev Misra all taught me how to challenge myself. Each of those individuals always encouraged me to be a little uncomfortable in where I'm at. That really helped me to open my horizons to different things. The minority graduate education program also provided me the opportunities to really develop and really set me on my path. Their support and encouragement were key.

Q: Have you faced any challenges throughout your career? If so, how have you overcome them?

A: I took this position (as director of the Tribal Health Research Office) because it is all about challenges. There's nothing that I do on any given day that isn't a challenge. There's so many different levels to providing the greatest amount of opportunities for not only tribal communities, but underrepresented communities, to fully participate in biomedical research. …

Another thing that we've really begun to reinforce and communicate across the NIH is that when you go into a community, it's important for you to listen. What are their priorities? It's all about strategic engagement, and there's nothing that comes without challenge in that process. There's a lot of things that need to be looked at, addressed and refined to better include underrepresented communities in biomedical research as a whole.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish in 10 years?

A: My hopes and aspirations are to be able to bring the scientific community to a place where we all recognize and appreciate what it costs Native people to be recognized as sovereign nations. I think there's just not a lot of this understanding across the country about our history. So it's really important for people to think about this and really understand what it means.

Q: How did you feel when you found out you had been selected as one of The College Leaders?

A: It's an honor to be selected and to be amongst such a prestigious group of my ASU peers. I think that it’s fantastic, and all of us have made significant contributions to our world. I really appreciate being nominated for this, and I think that it should be seen as a group effort. In tribal communities, it's more about the community than it is about the individual. My professors at ASU, my parents and all of the people who have helped me along the way are the ones who should receive this award as well. They helped me better understand and tap into my real talents.

Emily Balli

Communications Specialist and Lead Writer, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

4 outstanding ASU alumni honored as The College Leaders of 2021


October 29, 2021

On Oct. 29, four outstanding alumni of The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Arizona State University will be recognized and celebrated for their accomplishments with an induction into The College Leaders. 

Since 1997, The College Leaders program has recognized 77 outstanding alumni from across The College’s natural science, social science and humanities divisions. The College will also be recognizing 137 of its current students from across the divisions.  Collage of headshots of ASU College of Liberal Arts and Sciences alumni Lisa Clark, Herman Frazier, Lisa Pino and Dave Wilson. Alumni of The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (from left) Lisa Clark, Herman Frazier, Lisa Pino and Dave Wilson will be recognized and celebrated for their accomplishments with an induction into The College Leaders on Oct. 29. Download Full Image

This year’s leaders, Lisa Clark, Herman Frazier, Lisa Pino and Dave Wilson, demonstrate the ways in which a degree in liberal arts and sciences can lead to a successful career in a number of fields. Each alumni will be recognized for their achievements in business, research and community service. They join a distinguished group of individuals who showcase extraordinary leadership skills while driving positive change locally and internationally.

Lisa Clark: Starting anew as an amateur race car driver

Clark received a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1988, and went on to have a successful career as a business owner and real estate agent. In 2013, when her daughters were grown and moved out, she decided it was time to start a new chapter and explore her passion for motorsports. 

After eight years of tirelessly working her way up in the racing world, Clark is now going into her sixth season as an amateur race car driver in the Ferrari Challenge series. She also does endurance racing in Europe with Audi and Porsche.

Clark said her degree in psychology is incredibly versatile and has come in handy both in her real estate career and her racing career.

“Being a psychology major helped prepare me for my career in real estate when dealing with people, and not necessarily like-minded people, that have an interest in purchasing real estate,” Clark said. 

“Understanding psychology in racing is also very important because you have to be aware of not only your relationship with people that you're racing against on the track, but also the team and your pit crew. You're dealing with a lot of like-minded people because you share the same passion and there's a lot of respect there. But it's a highly competitive business, and a lot of the personality types can shift in high-stress situations.”

Herman Frazier: From gold medal Olympian to successful athletics director 

Frazier received a bachelor’s degree in political science in 1977. At just 21 years old, he won gold and bronze medals in track and field at the 1976 Olympic games. Upon graduating he was offered a position with Sun Devil Athletics. He remained with the university for 23 years, working in athletics administration and eventually becoming the senior associate athletic director where he led ASU to a national title in track and field.

He currently serves as the senior deputy director of athletics at Syracuse University, where he’s been since 2011. Prior to working at Syracuse University, he held a number of athletic director positions at universities around the country, including the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Temple University and the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. 

Frazier looks back fondly on his time at ASU, and encourages students to make the most of their time at the university.

“My three and a half years as an undergraduate were some of the best years of my life; I didn't want to leave college,” Frazier said. “I had so much fun and every day was a blessing. … I would say to all the young people, even if you're not an athlete, enjoy The College and all the things that Arizona State University represents.”

Lisa Pino: Pursuing social justice and creating opportunities for low-income communities

Pino received three degrees from ASU — a bachelor’s degree in Spanish in 1996, a master’s degree in humanities in 1999 and a juris doctor in 2005. Using these degrees as her foundation, she has dedicated her career to addressing poverty and creating opportunities for low-income individuals from diverse backgrounds. 

In 2009, she was appointed the deputy administrator of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) at the ​​U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) by former President Barack Obama. In 2012 she became the USDA’s deputy assistant secretary in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights. 

After working at the USDA for over four years, Pino was then named the senior counselor to the secretary in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Just last month, she was named the director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights.

Prior to her work at the federal level, she worked in Arizona as a staff attorney for migrant farmworkers, an affordable housing advocate and a nonprofit leader.

Reflecting on her time at ASU, Pino said it was in The College that she was able to find her voice and identity.

“My own self discovery as a Latina, first-generation American and the first college graduate in my family made me revisit what my background, family heritage and identity meant to me as a person and a student,” Pino said. “The inspiring liberal arts curriculum at ASU and the open minds of varying backgrounds of my new global friends fostered my interest, fascination and focus on what being Latinx now meant to me, and how my personal background would shape my own education and career path.”

Dave Wilson: Addressing health disparities in Native American communities

Wilson received a bachelor’s degree in microbiology in 1998 and a PhD in molecular and cellular biology in 2007. As a member of the Navajo Nation, he has made it his mission to have a positive impact on Native American communities. 

Throughout his career he has worked as a public health adviser in the Office of Minority Health at the Department of Health and Human Services, as a legislative analyst in the office of the director at the Indian Health Service and as an adjunct professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health’s Center for American Indian Health.

In 2017, he was selected as the first-ever director of the Tribal Health Research Office at the National Institutes of Health . In this role he engages with hundreds of tribes to provide guidance, education and research that helps improve the health and well-being of these communities.

“​​My hopes and aspirations are to be able to bring the scientific community to a place where we all recognize and appreciate what it costs Native people to be recognized as sovereign nations,” Wilson said. “I think there's just not a lot of this understanding across the country about our history. So it's really important for people to think about this and really understand what it means.”

Emily Balli

Communications Specialist and Lead Writer, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences