Saluki Pride: Justin McDaniel mentors students, helps veterans

As a faculty member and researcher with dual appointments at SIU Carbondale and the SIU School of Medicine, Justin McDaniel wears multiple hats – teaching and researching as associate professor of public health in the School of Human Sciences and in the Dale and Deborah Smith Center for Alzheimer’s Research and trEatment (CARE) in the SIU School of Medicine.

He’s also one of an elite group of faculty and staff chosen to participate in the inaugural cohort of the L.E.A.D. SIU Carbondale Initiative. Leading, Empowering, Advocating and Developing provides leadership and professional growth opportunities, including roundtable discussions with Chancellor Austin Lane. McDaniel said the experience in the 2021-22 academic year proved very beneficial in many ways.

“The L.E.A.D. initiative has provided very unique and valuable access to our campus’ highest leader. I don’t know of many, if any, universities that have such programs. Chancellor Lane is a knowledgeable, charismatic and culturally relevant leader. I feel like he has shown us how to imagine and cultivate a future for the university and has done so in a way that allows us to feel empowered,” McDaniel said. “I’ve seen a lot of positive improvements around the university in the last couple of years, and the chancellor has given us the behind-the-scenes look at how those changes came about. All in all, I think 10 years from now, I’ll look back on being involved in the L.E.A.D. initiative as a key turning point in my career, especially in terms of my evolution as a leader.” 


Name: Justin McDaniel

Department and job title: ​associate professor of public health in the School of Human Sciences with a joint appointment in the Dale and Deborah Smith Center for Alzheimer’s Research and trEatment (CARE) in the SIU School of Medicine.

Years at SIU Carbondale: Beginning 6th year.

Give us the elevator pitch for your job.

On the teaching end of things, I primarily teach the data science classes in the Master of Public Health (MPH) program. I’m also the program coordinator for the PhD program in population health, which is a new doctoral program that we’ve started in the School of Human Sciences. 

My research primarily focuses on military and veteran studies. Over half of my 90 peer-reviewed journal articles focus on the health behaviors and general health status of people who have served in the military. Although my lab and research team has been awarded over $6 million in external grants in the last 5 years, I’m most excited right now about a smaller contract ($80,000) that I recently received as principal investigator with the United States Department of Veterans Affairs to evaluate the implementation of the “whole health” initiative (i.e., an initiative that focuses on developing personalized health plans for veterans pertaining to their minds, bodies and environment). It will focus on veterans with chronic pain, particularly those living in rural areas. 

What is the favorite part of your job?

I love being able to mentor students, particularly graduate students who are interested in getting involved in research. Many students in my lab, the “Public Health Analytics Lab,” receive training in writing peer-reviewed manuscripts and go on to be co-author on publications.

Why did you choose SIU?

I am an SIU alumnus and loved my experience as a student. I came back to work as a faculty member to give back to the place that gave so much to me. My experience at SIU has been so wonderful. My school director, Juliane Wallace, and the folks in the dean’s office, Bob Morgan, Tammy Kochel, and Chris Mullins, have been so supportive of my work. I couldn’t do what I do without them. I look forward to many more years at SIU.

What is your favorite song? Why do you like it?

My favorite song right now is “It’s Been a Change,” by Pops Staples and The Staple Singers. It’s brilliant on so many levels: the music/guitar is innovative, the lyrics are timeless and encouraging, and there is a bit of an educational reference (which fits where I am at in life). 

I am happiest when I am:

Skippin’ rocks across Cedar Lake with my two boys while sippin’ a Colosseum cappuccino with my wife. 

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