Maria L. Urso, Kinesiology, Ph.D., '06

Maria L. Urso, '06 Ph.D., is a Research Scientist at the United States Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine (USARIEM).

What is your most memorable moment at UMass?

My most memorable moment at UMass was my dissertation defense. Although this event marked the culmination of my time at UMass, it was this exact moment when all of the smaller, fond moments with professors, classes, my research, family and friends, came together to see a finished product. We had all shared the path that led me to this significant moment, and the sense of family was never more apparent. We were in that room for several hours discussing everything from the scientific method to the experiences we shared with each other. As I looked around the room, I realized that my interactions at UMass with professors, students, and peers developed as a family would and I was leaving behind one of the most significant relationships I had ever developed – professionally and personally.

Describe your professional career for us.

Short answer: Currently, I am employed as a research scientist at the United States Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine (USARIEM) in Natick, MA. I am an active duty captain in the US Army, and I conduct research to understand skeletal muscle injury in military personnel. My training at UMass combined with an interest in physical education, exercise science, nutrition, kinesiology, and most recently, muscle biochemistry has given me a comprehensive understanding of skeletal muscle from the cellular to the systems level. At USARIEM, my research focuses on skeletal muscle performance in response to injury, exercise training, nutrition, and various other perturbations.

Long answer: I am a Research Physiologist at the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine (USARIEM) in Natick, MA. My research at the basic science level aims to delineate the complex molecular basis of skeletal muscle atrophy at both the gene and protein level in skeletal muscle in response to various forms of disuse, including immobilization, trauma and spinal cord injury. At USARIEM, my research incorporates exercise and treatment interventions to optimize skeletal muscle remodeling, repair, and integrity. I joined the Military Performance Division at USARIEM in 2006. I earned my PhD from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst in 2006 under the direction of Dr. Priscilla M. Clarkson. My initial work in the muscle biology and imaging laboratory at UMass focused on the effects of disuse at the systems level in young and older adults, and nutritional interventions to attenuate losses in muscle mass with disuse and aging. While at UMass my research focus shifted to the basic science level to delineate molecular adaptations in human skeletal muscle in response to various forms of disuse, including immobilization and spinal cord injury. This work has begun to unravel the complex molecular basis of skeletal muscle atrophy at both the gene and protein level, revealing a unique pattern of cell signaling events depending upon the stimulus. At USARIEM, I am focusing on exercise and treatment interventions to optimize skeletal muscle remodeling, repair, and integrity in both human and animal models following traumatic injury, specifically in the warfighter. I am on the editorial board of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, and a reviewer for numerous other journals including Journal of Physiology, Journal of Applied Physiology, and Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. I also serve a leadership role in the New England Chapter of the American College of Sports Medicine (NEACSM) and am a professional member of the American Physiological Society (APS), American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), and the Society of Armed Forces Medical Laboratory Scientists (SAFMLS). I also am an Active Duty Captain (71B, Biochemist) in the US Army and am a member of the All Army Women's Marathon team.

How did the SPHHS help you prepare for your career?

The SPHHS helped me prepare for my career by exposing me to nearly everything a professional in my capacity would encounter. This included the courses I was required to take (including seminars and small-group journal clubs), opportunities to apply for grants and scholarships, the student poster day competition, and an enormous number of essential skills from proposal writing to public speaking. Combined with the teachings of other members of the Kinesiology Department faculty and staff, I emerged from UMass as a well-rounded and proficient scientist.

What do you think the future holds in store for professionals in the field of Public Health and/or Health Sciences?

I think there is no better time for a professional in the field of Public Health and Health Sciences than now. From policy to the bench top, our field is evolving at a rapid rate. Professionals in our field will impact every person in the United States (and beyond) whether it is through the implementation of a new policy, development of a new drug, understanding of a new disease, or a practical approach to developing, achieving, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.Students in this field need to look beyond the obvious when starting a career path. At the outset, never would I have imagined myself as an officer in the US Army hired as a scientist to investigate injury and performance in soldiers. However, as we learn more and more about the benefits of exercise and a healthy lifestyle on the body and the inability to re-create these benefits with a pill, it is scientists in our field who will be responsible for developing drugs and interventions to improve quality of life in diseased, aged, and high-stress populations.