College of Health and Human Performance

Zheng Wang Wins UF Excellence Award for Assistant Professors

July 17, 2023
By Manny Rea

The University of Florida recognized Zheng Wang, Ph.D., assistant professor in applied physiology & kinesiology (APK), with the 2023 Excellence Award for Assistant Professors — one of the university’s top awards for tenure-track faculty members.

Dr. Wang, director of the Neurocognitive and Behavioral Development Laboratory, joined UF in 2018, where she has since focused her research on studying overlooked aging issues in middle-to-old aged autistic adults.

Wang's current projects look at

  1. aging related neurodegenerative conditions (e.g., Parkinsonism),
  2. pathological aging related cognitive declines (e.g., mild cognitive impairments and dementia), and
  3. pain sensitivity and perception in autistic adults ages 30-75.

The award will help Wang to fund future conference appearances for her graduate students and postdoctoral trainees. But ultimately, she hopes her recognition brings light to wider autism support in Florida.

“I wish the state could better support autistic individuals in terms of funding for research and funding for clinical treatment development as well as adequate community services,” she said.

She also hopes to see more education for clinicians on how to care for autistic adults. Wang said the recent UF Center for Autism and Related Disabilities and UF Health Center for Autism and Neurodevelopment are a step in that direction and can continue to grow to serve adults with other neurodevelopmental disorders who are often redirected to care in other parts of the state or country.

Wang would also like to recognize APK faculty David Vaillancourt, Ph.D., and Stephen Coombes, Ph.D., who contributed to the research through brain image approaches. In addition, Wang expressed gratitude to UF faculty Ann-Marie Orlando, Ph.D., Bikram Karmakar, Ph.D., Gregory Valcante, Ph.D., and Regilda Romero, Ph.D.; University of Central Florida's Teresa Daly, Ph.D.; University of South Florida's Beth Boone, Ph.D.; as well as the SPARK Research Match Team for their support in identifying and recruiting autistic adults to her studies.

“I cannot do all the research myself,” Wang said. “My best hope, I think the autism research at UF can be developed further and there can be more clinical, research and service support for autistic individuals.”

Wang is one of 10 assistant professors from across campus to receive the award which comes with a $5,000 stipend to support research-related expenses. 

Previous HHP faculty award winners include Nichole Scaglione, Ph.D. (2022), Ashley Smuder, Ph.D. (2021), Terence Ryan, Ph.D. (2020), Stephen Coombes, Ph.D. (2014) and Leonardo Ferreria, Ph.D. (2012). 

Read more about the university-wide award.

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