A photo of Melinda S. Butsch Kovacic.

Melinda S. Butsch Kovacic, MPH, PhD

  • Professor, UC Department of Pediatrics



Although originally cross-trained as a biochemist and epidemiologist, I’m now a passionate community-partnered researcher on a mission to promote health and grow productive capacity in vulnerable and/or under-resourced communities.

I believe in mutually beneficial partnerships, which is why I incorporate the power of citizen science, data science and polarity thinking to advance the success of partnering organizations and my own desired outcomes.

My research team and I have had a multitude of funded clinical research projects focused on patient populations with asthma and cancer-prone conditions, such as Fanconi anemia. Along with these research studies, I’ve developed community-partnered collaborations. For example, the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) Science Education Program Award (SEPA) funded my We Engage 4 Health program. This program illustrates community co-designed accounts and engages learning experiences to teach health science, research and citizen science to middle schoolers to adults.

The program’s structure is comprised of the RAP concept (Recognize, Ask, Promote). It incorporates Health is Happenin’ RAP sessions, Citizen Science RAP sessions, the Eyewitness Community Survey and community-partnered RAP for Community Health Days. It includes the Her Coronavirus Learning Companion, which features stories and events that assist the community with understanding the purpose behind public health limits and regulations related to the COVID-19 virus.

I often use stories to raise people’s understanding of complicated health information. Stories offer interesting and meaningful citizen science activities to help community members take charge of their own health and the healthcare services offered in their community. The We Engage for Health program has used storytelling to enhance discussion and boost awareness of issues related to wellness and chronic disease management. It addresses how genetics impact health outcomes as well as how environmental, nutritional and lifestyle factors affect chronic disease and health outcomes.

My stories focus on ideas and emotional details to ensure participants of the program —children, teenagers and adults — remember medical information much more clearly. This program aims to stimulate participants to alter their lifestyle choices and pursue positive health changes. Stories are essential for connecting with an audience and critical for promoting healthy choices, especially among at-risk populations. Therefore, storytelling is a valuable resource in advancing community-based health.

I decided to pursue community-based health research when I saw the need to leverage the strengths of communities. I noticed that some survey-based studies asked inconsistent questions or did not include relevant questions because they were based on the researchers’ personal perspective instead of their target communities. This observation motivated me to improve my education and gain more experience in creating mutually beneficial partnerships with vulnerable populations.

I hope to work with community partners on future grants to establish co-owned data and sample repositories. The availability of these repositories would engage and grow research for existing and new mutually beneficial academic-community partnerships across Cincinnati Children’s.

The awards and recognitions I have received over the years include the:

  • Center for Clinical and Translational Science and Training (CCTST) Academic-Community Research Partnership Award (2013)
  • Faculty Service Award from the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center (2015)
  • Humanitarian Award from the HopeFest Health and Education Festival and Consider the Poor organization (2015-2017)
  • Polarity Partnership’s Polarity Thinking Mastery V Training Program, Cincinnati, OH (2017)
  • TEDx UCincinnati “Outliers” speaker for the segment titled “Polarity Thinking” (2018)
  • Selected Participant, Common Good Fellowship (led by Peter Block, John McKnight, Walter Brueggemann), Cincinnati, OH (2019-present)

I first joined the Cincinnati Children's team in 2006 and have more than 15 years’ experience. I’ve also been named the Associate Dean of Research at the University of Cincinnati's College of Allied Health Sciences.


Establishing Validity of the Midlife Black Women's Stress-Reduction Wellness Program Materials Using a Mixed Methods Approach. Jones, HJ; Kovacic, MB; Bakas, T. Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing. 2022; 37:446-455.

Leveraging Stories to Promote Health and Prevent Cancer. Kovacic, MB; Gertz, SE. Cancer Prevention Research. 2022; 15:419-422.

COVID-19 Vaccine Hesitancy: A Critical Time Period Analysis. Kues, JR; Knapke, JM; Elshaer, S; Mendell, AM; Hildreth, L; Schuckman, SM; Wijesooriya, J; Kovacic, MB. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2022; 19.

Increased nasal epithelial cell responsiveness to IL-17A in paediatric asthmatics with low blood neutrophil count, low traffic-related air pollution exposure and good asthma control. McAlees, JW; Baker, T; Houshel, L; McKnight, C; Lindsley, A; Strait, RT; Zhang, X; Cannata, A; Biagini, JM; Butsch Kovacic, M; et al. Clinical and Experimental Allergy. 2022; 52:569-573.

Co-Designing a Program to Lower Cardiovascular Disease Risk in Midlife Black Women. Jones, HJ; Bakas, T; Nared, S; Humphries, J; Wijesooriya, J; Kovacic, MB. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2022; 19.

Development of Food Literacy Assessment Tool Targeting Adults With Low Income. Hemmer, A; Hitchcock, K; Lim, YS; Butsch Kovacic, M; Lee, S. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior. 2021; 53:966-976.

Attitudes About COVID-19 and Health (ATTACH): Online Survey and Mixed Methods Study. Hood, AM; Stotesbury, H; Murphy, J; Kölbel, M; Slee, A; Springall, C; Paradis, M; Corral-Frías, NS; Reyes-Aguilar, A; Cuellar Barboza, AB; et al. JMIR Mental Health. 2021; 8.

Human Papillomavirus Oral- and Sero- Positivity in Fanconi Anemia. Sauter, SL; Zhang, X; Romick-Rosendale, L; Wells, SI; Myers, KC; Brusadelli, MG; Poff, CB; Brown, DR; Panicker, G; Unger, ER; et al. Cancers. 2021; 13.

Inherited DNA Repair Defects Disrupt the Structure and Function of Human Skin. Ruiz-Torres, S; Brusadelli, MG; Witte, DP; Wikenheiser-Brokamp, KA; Sauter, S; Nelson, AS; Sertorio, M; Chlon, TM; Lane, A; Mehta, PA; et al. Cell Stem Cell. 2021; 28:424-435.e6.

Building a Population Representative Pediatric Biobank: Lessons Learned From the Greater Cincinnati Childhood Cohort. Martin, LJ; Murrison, LB; Butsch Kovacic, M. Frontiers in Public Health. 2021; 8.