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KU faculty recognized for pivoting research to address COVID-19 pandemic

Thu, 01/21/2021

LAWRENCE — Two University of Kansas faculty members are being recognized for adjusting their research to better understand the coronavirus pandemic and to provide valuable information to the public and policymakers.

The one-time COVID Research Pivot Awards honor one early career and one veteran KU faculty member for quickly refocusing their expertise to address the pandemic and its societal effects.

The recipients:

  • Folashade Agusto, assistant professor, Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology
  • Donna Ginther, Roy A. Roberts Distinguished Professor of Economics, and director, Institute for Policy & Social Research

Awardees were selected by a multidisciplinary panel of KU faculty and staff. They will receive a $1,000 prize and recognition at a March 2 event that is open to the entire KU community. Register online for the KU COVID Research Pivot Symposium.

“The entire KU research community has shown tremendous resilience from the beginning of the pandemic, finding creative ways to adapt and advance their work while prioritizing health and safety,” said Simon Atkinson, vice chancellor for research. “Dr. Agusto and Dr. Ginther each took extraordinary measures to substantially refocus their expertise and effort on challenges related to the pandemic itself, and the knowledge they continue to generate is helping meet pressing needs for people in Kansas and beyond.”

More about the winners and their work:

Folashade Agusto is an assistant professor in the Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology. She is using mathematical models to understand the spread of tick-borne disease across Kansas. Previously, she has used models to study the impact of temperature change on malaria transmission and the development of insecticide resistance. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Agusto and collaborators developed a model to investigate the effects of pandemic control efforts. The model incorporates multiple factors that affect perception of risk, such as local case rates, behavior of neighboring communities, unpopular public health policies and media reporting. Agusto’s model lends insight into human behavior and perception, which provides information on the effectiveness of public health interventions. Her model can help inform regional control efforts and be applied to future disease management and policy decisions.

Donna Ginther is the Roy A. Roberts Distinguished Professor of Economics and director of KU’s Institute for Policy & Social Research. In March 2020, Ginther created a COVID-19 web resource center to provide information on the virus’s economic impact locally and globally. Her research has made her an adviser to Gov. Laura Kelly, the Kansas Department for Children and Families, the Kansas Department of Commerce, KU Public Affairs, KU Research, Mid-America Regional Council and other entities. Local and national news organizations have covered Ginther’s research on COVID-19’s effect on the economy, extending its reach to a broad public audience. Ginther and a colleague also conducted a study that found mask mandates can slow the spread of COVID-19. A presentation of those findings has been viewed more than 10,000 times on the institute’s website and nearly 40,000 times on MSNBC’s YouTube channel.

Both Agusto and Ginther serve on the Faculty Advising COVID Team, a group developing a body of research to support KU leaders as they make evidence-based decisions about how to control the spread of COVID-19 on the KU campus.



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