Community service to research: Mona Zuffante

Mona Zuffante

Mona Zuffante

This profile is part of a series to highlight the researchers who will be honored at a ceremony on March 9 for UNMC’s Scientist Laureate, Research Leadership, Distinguished Scientist, New Investigator and Community Service to Research Award recipients.

Community Service to Research

The Community Service to Research Awards were established to recognize the critical roles many community members have played in UNMC research, as facilitators, implementors, reviewers, and collaborators, among other roles.

Winnebago Chief Public Health Officer Mona Zuffante understands the important role research can have on a community and her own organization. 

“I only engage in research that is meaningful to my community, but I also know that in order to elevate our department we need data that will guide us in better understanding how to meet the needs of our people,” Zuffante said. 

To that end, Zuffante said, it is difficult for non-native researchers to conduct meaningful research in Native American communities because of historic ethical violations Indigenous people have experienced that have led to mistrust. 

An enrolled member of the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma, Zuffante knows firsthand the impact research can have on tribal communities – good and bad. 

“There are numerous examples of helicopter research, where people come into a community, take what they want and leave without contributing anything to the overall wellbeing of the people they study,” Zuffante said. 

“We don’t need that.

“Researchers need Native collaborators to build and maintain trust, to learn how to ask the right questions and how to best conduct research that represents us,” Zuffante said. 

For her efforts to forge collaborations with researchers at UNMC, Zuffante will receive the 2023 Community Service to Research Award at this year’s Distinguished Scientist Ceremony. 

A member of the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center Community Outreach and Engagement external advisory board, as well as the community advisory board for the Great Plains IDeA Clinical and Translational Research Network, Zuffante is bringing Indigenous ideas, issues and solutions to the forefront.

Described by her nominators as mission-driven and someone who brings unique insights, Zuffante has partnered with two UNMC researchers, Regina Idoate, PhD, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, and Shannon Maloney, PhD, an enrolled member of the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe. 

Zuffante has collaborated with Dr. Maloney on Indigenous-centered pregnancy care and Dr. Idoate on native birthing practices. 

“Her contributions have elevated our ability to produce meaningful outputs for the community she serves,” Dr. Maloney said. 

Said Zuffante, “It certainly is easier to relate to Indigenous researchers. Both Shannon and Gina understand how it is to be Indigenous. We don’t have to catch them up on why we do certain things. They respect our cultural beliefs, and they understand that these things need to be led by the community.” 

“Mona brings great knowledge, commitment and inspiration to our campus community and to Indigenous communities by engaging us all as partners in research aimed to improve Indigenous health,” Dr. Idoate said. 

Zuffante said those collaborations have built trust between her department and UNMC. 

“I feel very blessed knowing that this work could impact my grandchildren,” she said, adding that she is very humbled to receive this award. 


  1. Sonja Franziska Tutsch says:

    This is a well deserved honor, Mona! Thank you for all the important work that you and your team do each and every day to improve health outcomes in underserved communities. (Sonja F. Tutsch/formerly Russell).

  2. Ginger Bailey says:

    I have known Mona for many years and she truly deserves this recognition. While I was not indigenous when working with her, she took time to teach me how to work with tribes.

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