Cupertino to Lead Community Engagement and Disparities Research at Wilmot

Feb. 19, 2020

Paula Cupertino, Ph.D., will join the University of Rochester Medical Center as Professor of Public Health Sciences and Oncology and as Wilmot Cancer Institute’s Associate Director of Community Outreach, Engagement and Disparities. Her appointment is pending approval by the University’s Board of Trustees. Cupertino will begin her tenure in Rochester in March.

A social behavioral scientist, Cupertino has focused her research on health disparities in underserved and minority communities, primarily among Latinos and immigrants. Much of her work has been in tobacco control, improving smoking cessation and access to cessation treatments using a community-based approach. Throughout her career, she has had more than 40 peer-reviewed publications, and she has been continuously funded for her research since 2003.

Cupertino will fill a key role at Wilmot, leading efforts to strengthen and expand Wilmot’s research and connections across its 27-county catchment area in upstate New York. These efforts will include enhancing community partnerships and improving recruitment into clinical trials, especially from minority and underserved communities. She will be a member of Wilmot’s Executive Committee and the Cancer Control and Supportive Care research program.

“To be successful, we need to develop a very good understanding of the community and how are we going to develop trust and engage with that population across the catchment area and in the outreach, education, training and research at Wilmot Cancer Institute,” Cupertino said. “I have the opportunity to take my experience and put it in a brand-new context, with a large catchment area and in a rich academic environment which is already fostering significant engagement in the community. There is momentum to further enhance the existing community engagement efforts because of the cancer center. It’s very exciting.”

Since 2017, Cupertino has held a similar role as Director, Cancer Disparities, at the John Theurer Cancer Center at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey, part of the National Cancer Institute-designated Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center Consortium. Cupertino is in year 4 of an R01 randomized clinical trial, whose primary aim is to examine the efficacy of Decídetext, an innovative mobile smoking cessation intervention among Latinos. Cupertino is also leading two cancer prevention research efforts: 1) developing and evaluating JUNTOS: Deja de Fumar Paso a Paso (TOGETHER: Quit Smoking Step by Step), a mobile intervention to promote smoking cessation and physical activity in Mexico; and 2) a grant to adapt the Decídetext smoking cessation intervention to assess the importance of immigration stress, environmental disasters and acculturation among Puerto Rican smokers in the Island compared to Puerto Ricans in the U.S. (Decidetexto-PR).

Prior to her role at HUMC, she founded the JUNTOS Center for Advancing Latino Health at the University of Kansas Medical Center, where she was a member of their NCI-designated cancer center. Cupertino completed her post-doctoral fellowship in Preventative Medicine and Public Health at Kansas and served on the faculty there for nearly 10 years. She received her master’s degree in Social Psychology from Universidade Federal, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and her Ph.D. in Human Development from the University of California, Davis.

Cupertino will bring a highly trained team with her to Rochester, including two research assistant professors — Francisco Cartujano-Barrera, M.D., and Evelyn Arana, DrPH — with expertise in the development of mobile tools (text message, web-based and electronic medical records) to support adherence to treatment, behavioral change and pharmacotherapy management with community input.

“Dr. Cupertino’s research background coupled with her expertise in community engagement will significantly strengthen our disparities research, particularly among rural and Hispanic populations,” said Ann M. Dozier, Ph.D., Albert David Kaiser Chair of Public Health and Preventive Medicine in the Department of Public Health Sciences. “Her research in tobacco control and cessation will significantly build on the foundation of related work established over the past several decades by members of the Public Health Sciences faculty, particularly Drs. Ossip and McIntosh.”

At the University of Rochester, Cupertino will serve as a member of the Medical Center Executive Committee for Diversity and Inclusion and the UR Community Engagement Committee. As part of both efforts, Cupertino will seek to bring additional resources, infrastructure and opportunities to build a community-based research program in collaboration with UR departments, divisions and centers.

“I am excited about working with Dr. Cupertino,” said Mercedes Ramírez Fernández, Ed.D., the University’s Vice President for Equity and Inclusion. “She has already joined the university-wide Community Engagement Committee, as well as with key leaders in the Rochester area who provide support to marginalized populations. The Office of Equity and Inclusion will be a strong partner with her efforts around health disparities.”

Karen Mustian, Ph.D., MPH, professor of Surgery, Public Health Sciences and Radiation Oncology and co-director of Wilmot’s Cancer Control and Supportive Care program, chaired the search committee, which drew a national pool of candidates.

“Dr. Cupertino’s work in health disparities is outstanding,” Mustian said. “Her successful recruitment means we will be able to better address the really important and unique issues of the diverse patients we treat within Wilmot’s catchment area. This region of 27 counties in upstate New York has tremendous diversity and health disparities. Dr. Cupertino is simply a fantastic addition to our Wilmot leadership and research team.”


UR Medicine’s Wilmot Cancer Institute is the Finger Lakes region’s leader for cancer care and research. As a component of Strong Memorial Hospital, Wilmot Cancer Institute provides specialty cancer care services at the University of Rochester Medical Center and a network of locations throughout the region. The Institute also includes a team of 100 scientists who investigate many aspects of cancer, with an emphasis on how best to provide precision cancer care. To learn more, visit

The University of Rochester Medical Center is home to approximately 3,000 individuals who conduct research on everything from cancer and heart disease to Parkinson’s and pandemic influenza. Spread across many centers, institutes, and labs, our scientists have developed therapies that have improved human health locally, in the region, and across the globe. To learn more, visit