funding moves

University of Houston receives $6.5M to go toward supporting equity, social justice, and more

The gift sets up a scholarship, an endowed chair, and a lecture series. Photo via UH.edu

A recent gift to the University of Houston will provide support to a couple colleges on campus, including an endowed chair, a scholarship, and a lecture series.

Thomas Michael Panos Family Estate donated $4.5 million — and was matched with an additional $2 million by the University's new "$100 Million Challenge" Aspire Fund. It's the first matched gift of the new fund. The gift includes $2 million to create the Panos Family Endowed Chair in Mechanical Engineering, $2 million to establish a scholarship endowment beginning in 2022 to support need- and merit-based scholarships for full-time undergraduate or graduate students across UH, and $500,000 to support "The Panos Family Endowed Lecture in Equity and Social Justice" in the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences.

"We are incredibly grateful for the generosity of the Thomas Michael Panos Family Estate. This significant gift will not only help fuel academic success through innovation and discovery, but will support our ability to recruit renowned faculty and expand thought leadership," says Paula Myrick Short, UH senior vice president for academic affairs and provost, in the release. "The additional support for an equity and social justice lecture series is an especially timely and important part of our efforts to increase visibility around these issues."

Thomas Michael Panos emigrated to Houston from Greece and only had a sixth-grade education. His sons — Mike and Gus Panos — both earned college degrees in engineering.

"They were the kind of people who would help anybody," says Scott Harbers, who lived next door to the Panos family decades ago in what is now Midtown Houston, in the release. "As a family of immigrants, I know they would appreciate the diversity of the student body at the University of Houston. They had a tremendous interest in education and equal rights. I'm hopeful that this gift will help advance the lives of students who need help to complete their studies."

The $100 Million Challenge initiative was established in fall of 2019 thanks to an anonymous $50 million donation to the school, and the campaign is set on inspiring another $50 million in support of four areas that will address issues with major societal impact: sustainable energy and energy security, resilient infrastructure and smart cities, population health, and global engagement. Donors who commit $2 million to go toward an endowed chair will have their gifts matched through the program.

"The '$100 Million Challenge' is a transformational initiative to propel our academic enterprise to unprecedented levels of distinction, and this first matching gift launches us," says Eloise Brice, vice president for university advancement, in the release. "The work and research being done at UH, and accelerated through the Challenge, will have a tremendous impact on the quality of life for all Houstonians."

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Koda Health, Houston, uses AI to help guide difficult conversations in health care, starting with end-of-life care planning. Image via kodahealthcare.com

A new Houston-based digital advanced care planning company is streamlining some of the most difficult conversations in the health care industry around palliative care.

Founded by Tatiana Fafanova, Dr. Desh Mohan, and Katelin Cherry, Koda Health uses AI to help patients create advance medical care directives and documents—such as a living will—through an easy to use web-based interface.

Koda Health uses a conversational platform where users can enter information about their values, living situations, quality of life wishes, and more while learning about different care options at their own speed. It also uses a proprietary machine learning approach that personalizes audio-video guided dialogue based on the patient's individual and cultural preferences.

The app then autogenerates legal and medical documents, which patients can notarize or electronically witness the forms through the app or on their own.

According to Fafanova, who earned her PhD in in Molecular Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and now acts as the company's CEO, what historically has been a time consuming and expensive process, through Koda Health, takes an average of 17 minutes and is completely free of charge to the end user.

"We hope to reduce any outstanding barriers to access that might exist," Fafanova says. "It is very frequently the oldest and the poorest that are the highest utilizers of health care that don't have access to these solutions."

The app is also projected to save health care systems roughly $9,500 per patient per year, as it allows for hospitals and organizations to better plan for what their patient population is seeking in end-of-life-care.

The B2B platform was born out of the TMC's Biodesign Fellowship, which tasked Koda's founding members with finding solutions to issues surrounding geriatric care in the medical center. In March 2020, Koda incorporated. Not long after ICU beds began to fill with COVID-19 patients, "galvanizing" the team's mission, Fafanova says.

"It was no longer this conceptual thing that we needed to address and write a report on. Now it was that people were winding up in the hospital at alarming rates and none of those individuals had advanced care planning in place," she says.

After accelerating the development of the product, Koda Health is now being used by health care systems in Houston, Texas, and Virginia.

The company recently received a Phase I grant of $256,000 from the National Science Foundation, which will allow Koda to deploy the platform at Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist and test it against phone conversations with 900 patients. Fafanova says the company will also use the funds to continue to develop personalization algorithms to improve Kona's interface for users.

"We want to make this a platform that mimics a high quality conversation," she says.

After Koda completes the Phase I pilot program it will then be eligible to apply for a Phase II award of up to $1 million in about a year.

Koda Health was founded by Tatiana Fafanova, Dr. Desh Mohan, and Katelin Cherry. Photos via kodahealthcare.com

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