Michael R. Thomsen, PhD
Dr. Thomsen is the current director of the Center. He joined UAMS after nearly 23 years on the faculty with the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville and the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. Over his career, Dr. Thomsen’s research has focused on the intersection between the food distribution system and human health with a specific focus on childhood obesity in Arkansas. He has worked in partnership with the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement to identify environmental contributors to excess weight gain and to understand the needs of student populations at greatest risk for developing obesity. Dr. Thomsen has also led multidisciplinary initiatives to promote local food systems that are capable of providing fresh fruits and vegetables to Arkansas communities. As part of a coordinated effort through the National Bureau of Economic Research, he worked with leading economists from across the country to clarify the role of nutrition assistance on diet, health, and food security. Dr. Thomsen earned his B.S. and M.S. degrees from Utah State University in Agricultural Economics and his Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota in Agricultural and Applied Economics.
Bryan Mader, DrPH
Dr. Mader is a health specialist for the Family and Consumer Sciences department of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service (UADA). He works with the Arkansas Delta Region Obesity Project (ArDROP), a CDC-funded, multicounty project to lower Arkansas obesity rates by improving access to healthy foods and increasing opportunities for physical activity. Future ArDROP efforts aim to focus on childhood obesity in the Delta by partnering with UAMS East to create improved Family Healthy Weight Programs and school-based outreach efforts. With a passion for public health, Dr. Mader joined the Center to help improve the health of Arkansans through work with the Division of Agriculture Cooperative Extension’s 75 county network as a vehicle for health promotion and behavior change. Mader has over a decade of experience in community food systems and helped increase access to healthy foods statewide. Dr. Mader earned his B.A. in Psychology from Arkansas Tech University, and his MPH in Health Behavior and Health Education and DrPH in Public Health Leadership from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health.
Andres Cuadros-Meñaca, Ph.D.
Dr. Cuadros-Meñaca is a postdoctoral fellow with the Center for the Study of Obesity. He was granted a Fulbright Scholarship in 2013 and received his doctorate in Economics from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. He worked as an Assistant Professor in Economics at Universidad Icesi in Colombia and then completed a postdoctoral fellowship in food policy with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. His expertise is in use of observational data and causal inference methods to study several dimensions of development economics, such as migration, food policy, and human capital accumulation. Dr. Cuadros-Meñaca has analyzed how families use migrants’ earnings to improve living conditions in their home country. He has also studied the effect of migration episodes on natives’ labor market outcomes. Recently, his research has shown how school meals in the United States impact student outcomes such as behavior, performance, and attendance. His research has been published in outlets such as the American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Economics of Education Review, World Development, and Economic Development and Cultural Change.
Matthew J. Barenie, Ph.D.
Dr. Barenie is a postdoctoral fellow in the Center for the Study of Obesity. Given his expertise in exercise and nutritional physiology, he will support the design and implementation of community-led research efforts within the center. While working closely with Dr. Thomsen, other UAMS study personnel, and community research partners he plans to understand how playground and garden interventions can improve opportunities for physical activity among students and the broader school communities.
Dr. Barenie also brings clinical experience as a registered dietitian that will support community-led research efforts involving the school-based health clinics. Past research done by Dr. Barenie involves optimizing human performance and accelerating muscle recovery and performance through various nutraceuticals. Dr. Barenie earned his B.S. in Dietetics from Indiana University, M.S. in Nutrition and Dietetics from Saint Louis University, and his Ph.D. in Human Performance – Exercise Physiology from Indiana University.
Linda D. Williams, M.S.
Linda Williams recently joined the Center as research program manager after 16 years as the UAMS research liaison for the Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation where she connected research investigators across the state and sought out federal/foundation funding opportunities for areas critical to UAMS’s research mission. In this capacity, she played a central role in organizing numerous research symposia (e.g., nutrition, metabolism, community health) and was instrumental in identifying funding to support nutrition and improved health of Arkansas firefighters.
A microbiologist by training, Ms. Williams is also a prolific science writer with over two dozen books to her credit as well as nanotechnology college curriculum and many general and science-related articles. She has worked as a lead scientist and/or technical writer/liaison for NASA, McDonnell Douglas Space Systems, and Rice University and served as a science speaker for the Medical Sciences Division at NASA-Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX. She is passionate about science communication and is the founder of the Science Café in Little Rock, AR; a public venue for the discussion of science and research news.