Katie and Kamila at award ceremony
Katie Witkiewitz and Kamilla Venner

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is recognizing two University of New Mexico professors for their contributions to helping end addiction in the U.S.

The NIH’s Helping to End Addiction Long-term Initiative (HEAL) has provided the Center on Alcohol, Substance Use, & Addictions (CASAA) Director Katie Witkiewitz and CASAA Scientist and Psychology Professor Kamilla Venner Director’s Awards.

These inaugural awards are dedicated to researchers for their excellent work in research, mentorship, interdisciplinary collaboration, and community partnership. 

We are excited to recognize these researchers and their commitment to addressing the national public health crises of opioid addiction, overdose, and chronic pain across HEAL’s communications channels,” HEAL Senior Health Analyst Jenny Chang said.

Witkiewitz was chosen for a Director’s Award in Mentoring. This was for her efforts in training dozens of students, fellows and career investigators in the art of researching opioids and pain at CASAA–and finding solutions to these crises. 

I was tremendously honored to receive this award. Mentoring is and always has been my number one priority. As I always tell my trainees, they come first before anything else I do,” Witkiewitz said.
“Through science we have the opportunity to have impacts on the field through our research and by making new discoveries, but I believe our greatest contributions to the field are via the people we support and mentor in developing their careers to make new discoveries, and then the people they mentor and so forth.” 

She also attributes her ability to mentor, to her mentor, Alan Marlatt, who guided her through an early humanistic approach to psychology, as well as a positive, person-centered approach to teaching.

“I’m in the field because of the phenomenal mentors who inspired me to become a professor and who supported me and my career, and who still do mentor me in countless ways,” she said.

Another sign of Witkiewitz’s mentorship is how she lifts others up. She was one of the people who nominated Venner for her Director’s Award, which she earned in Community Partnership.

Venner has worked with Southwest tribes over over 20 years, to help Indigenous communities rework and enhance their substance abuse order treatments. Through additional NIH HEAL funded projects, she has worked with them to integrate medication into these practices, with tribe member input.  

I am absolutely thrilled to be a recipient of this award! Community engaged research and meetings are absolutely crucial to making sure the research is on target and interpreted correctly,” Venner said. “Meetings with community members and collaborative boards humanize the research process and the relationships are more personal and long lasting, which makes them especially meaningful. The community members put their heart into their work. It is very inspiring.”

She has also taken up some mentorship of her own, trying to get other researchers to understand the community-based approach.

“The heart and passion with which Dr. Venner engages with community partners in her approach to treat addiction is inspiring and deeply touching,” Witkiewitz said.

Venner also whole-heartedly agrees with Witkiewitz’s accolade.

Congrats to Katie for her mentorship award- she is absolutely amazing with both her scientific mentorship as well as more personal touches of meeting for fun and even delivering cookies throughout the pandemic to encourage her mentees,” Venner said. “She mentors faculty like myself as well! Incredibly generous with her time and expertise and heart.

Witkiewitz is also honored to highlight that multiple CASAA investigators received Early Career Travel Awards. That includes Verlin Joseph, Frank Schwebel and Angel Vasquez.

Learn more about how these two women, as well as all members of CASAA are working to fight addiction nationwide at the Center on Alcohol, Substance Use, & Addictions