Meet our Alumni

The department has successfully graduated fourteen doctoral students and nine MPH students. Our alumni are employed as post-doctoral fellows, academic faculty, researchers, practitioners and independent consultants in private practice. Read more about our alumni below.

 

Ph.D.

Dana L. Ladd, PhD, December 2016 +

Dana L. Ladd graduated with a Ph.D. in Social and Behavioral Sciences in December 2016.  She received a MS in Information Science from the University of Tennessee in 2000 and a Specialist Degree in Library and Information Science from the University of South Carolina in 2007. Dr. Ladd is currently an Associate Professor on the faculty of VCU Libraries.  She manages the Community Health Education Center at VCU Health.  She is co-author of the book, “The Medical Library Association Guide to Finding out about Diabetes.” Dr. Ladd has also authored several articles pertaining to the information needs of patients with rare diseases.

Dissertation Abstract

Michelle Laws, PhD, December 2016 +

Michelle graduated with her PH.D. in Social and Behavioral Sciences in December 2016. As a student at VCU, Michelle won the 13th Annual National Outreach Scholarship Conference, Outstanding Poster Award in 2012 and also served on the Women in Science executive board (2012-2013). She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a Master of Arts degree in Sociology from North Carolina Central University. Michelle is a Community and Population Health Fellow at the Community Health Coalition in Durham NC.

Dissertation Abstract

Laura Cartwright, PhD, August 2016 +

Laura Cartwright graduated with her Ph.D. in Social and Behavioral Sciences in August 2016. She received her MPH from VCU in 2011 and her B.A. in Psychology from the University of Virginia in 2007.  She was a Post-doctoral Fellow for Dr. Robin Matsuyama for 2016-2017.  

Currently Dr. Cartwright is working with the Veteran’s Administration as the Senior Program Manager responsible for overseeing a multisite project designed to increase Veteran access to lung screening through the VA. This project, the Veteran Affairs Partners to Increase Access to Lung Screening (VAPALS), is designed to increase the likelihood of early lung cancer detection, thereby reducing the mortality rate of lung cancer. Dr. Cartwright oversees 10 research sites across the nation and is developing, implementing, and monitoring an evaluation plan for the program.

Dissertation Abstract

Jennifer St. Clair Russell, PhD, August 2016 +

Jennifer St. Clair Russell graduated with her Ph.D. in Social and Behavioral Sciences in August 2016.  She received her MSEd in Public Health from the University of Toledo in 1997.  Her dissertation work was titled "Development and Evaluation of a Peer-to-Peer Intervention to Increase Self-Management among Adult In-Center Hemodialysis Patients".  Dr. St. Clair Russell is a Medical Instructor in the School of Medicine at Duke University where she will continue her work in nephrology research and also provide faculty-level oversight of the evaluation activities for the Clinical Translation Science Award (CTSA).

Dissertation Abstract

Wafa W. Tarazi, PhD, MHPA, August 2016 +

Wafa W. Tarazi graduated with her Ph.D. in Healthcare Policy and Research in August 2016. Wafa was previously a Susan G. Komen Fellow and Fulbright scholar.  Wafa received her MHPA from Washington State University in 2012 and her Bachelor degree in Pharmacy in 1998  from Al-Azhar University, Gaza.  Wafa’s dissertation research focuses on public health insurance and cancer care.  Wafa is currently employed by the CDC as a Postdoctoral fellow in the Steven M. Teutsch Prevention Effectiveness Fellowship (PE) hosted by the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE). As a PE Fellow, Dr. Tarazi will be working on several research projects related to the early effects of the Affordable Care Act on different outcomes.

Dissertation Abstract

Ali Bonakdar Tehrani, PhD, MPH, May 2016 +

Ali Bonakdar Tehrani obtained his Pharm.D. from the Tehran University in 2006. He worked in pharmaceutical companies for four years before his interest in health economics and cost-effectiveness led him to attend the Emory University Rollins School of Public Health, earning an M.P.H. in Health Policy and Management. He graduated from VCU with a Ph.D. degree in Healthcare Policy and Research in 2016. He is currently a Research Leader, Economic and Evaluation Research at IBM Watson Health where he leads projects related to Medicaid rebates. 

Dissertation Abstract

Anthony Molisani, PhD, December 2015 +

Anthony Molisani is a native of Rochester, NY where he attended the University of Rochester. He graduated with a B.S. in Biochemistry as well as with a dual minor in Social Psychology and Philosophy of Science. Anthony was and remains very involved with the campus and Rochester communities – winning multiple awards in programming and community service along with his fraternity, Sigma Phi Epsilon. After college, Anthony attended the Drexel University School of Public Health, earning his M.P.H. in Health Management and Policy. While in Philadelphia, Anthony worked extensively with the PA Department of Health’s Cancer Education Network (PCEN) and the Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disability Services in program development, evaluation, and implementation. Anthony’s background also includes years of experience in operations, marketing and sales management in the restaurant industry. Anthony’s current research and interests include the parental role of pediatric nutrition and obesity, cancer patient information and education, eHealth, social marketing, and translational science. He is currently a Scientific Analyst in Program Evaluation at Thomas Reuters, Philadelphia, PA.

Dissertation Abstract

Omar El Shahawy, PhD, August 2015 +

Omar received his doctoral degree in August 2015 from the Department of Social and Behavioral Health. For his dissertation, Omar applied a mixed-methods approach to explore the knowledge, perceptions and recommendations of primary care physicians regarding e-cigarette use and how they address e-cigarette use related discussions in clinical practice. Prior to coming to VCU, he earned his Bachelor degree in Medicine at the University of Ain Shams in Cairo in 2002 and his Diploma of Total Quality Management for Health Care Reform from the American University in Cairo in 2006. He then obtained his Master’s Degree in Public Health (with Merit) from the Royal Tropical Institute and the Vrjie University in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, in 2007. He first came to VCU as a Hubert Humphrey fellow supported by the U.S. Department of State and the National Institute on Drug Abuse. During his Fellowship, Omar enhanced his experience in drug abuse policy and prevention, with a particular focus on gender issues in adolescent and marginalized groups. He also collaborated on a number of research projects with different universities across the US. Later, he joined the Social and Behavioral Health Ph.D. program in 2011. He was a recipient of the pre-doctoral fellowship of the VCU’s Center for the Study of Tobacco Products. Omar’s current research interests include novel tobacco products; water-pipe tobacco, smoking cessation and patient-physician decision-making. Currently Omar is a postdoctoral fellow at New York University, School of Medicine, the Department of Population Health: Section on Tobacco, Alcohol and Drug Use. He is involved with carrying out tobacco control research projects in the US and internationally.

Dissertation Abstract

Cecilia E. Barbosa, PhD, MPH, MCP, December 2014 +

Cecilia received her doctorate in Social and Behavioral Health in 2014; her dissertation was on infant feeding barriers and facilitators among low-income African-American women in Richmond. Her research interests include the health of children; breastfeeding; health inequities; systemic, social and environmental determinants of health; infectious diseases; public health infrastructure; and global health. She has worked for over 20 years in maternal and child health in Virginia as an independent consultant, and as Director, Division of Child and Adolescent Health, Director, Planning and Evaluation and Health Planning Consultant, Division of Maternal and Child Health, Virginia Department of Health. She received her Master of Public Health and Master of City Planning degrees from the University of California at Berkeley and her BA degree in Biology from Smith College. She is a graduate of Leadership Metro Richmond (2008) and serves on the Virginia Latino Advisory Board, the Virginia Department of Health Institutional Review Board, the Mayor of Richmond’s Breastfeeding Taskforce, and on the board of the Virginia Public Health Association. A citizen of Brazil and USA, she is fluent in Portuguese, Spanish, and French.

Dissertation Abstract

Utkarsh B. Subnis, PhD, December 2014 +

Utkarsh earned his doctorate degree in Social and Behavioral Health from Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine in December of 2014. Dr. Subnis’s research interests are in the areas of psychosocial health interventions, technology in health-care research and patient-centered health outcomes. During his graduate program, Dr. Subnis undertook a rigorous course schedule which included classes in research methods, medical anthropology, and patient-provider communication. For his dissertation, Dr. Subnis conducted a randomized controlled trial of an internet-based psychosocial health intervention called expressive writing for cancer survivors post-radiation. Dr. Subnis has previously earned his master’s in health communication from Pennsylvania State University and has completed his undergraduate medical education to work as a primary care physician from the Maharashtra University of Health Sciences, India.

Dissertation Abstract

Heather Morris, PhD, August 2014 +

Heather Morris is the Associate Director of One Florida and currently serves as a faculty member in the Department of Health Outcomes and Policy and the Institute for Child Health Policy in the College of Medicine at the University of Florida. Her research area includes doctor-patient communication with a particular interest in collaborative goal setting among patients with chronic illness. She graduated with her PhD in Social and Behavioral Health from Virginia Commonwealth University. Previously, she graduated with a Masters of Science in Child Life from Illinois State University, and a degree in Human Development with Family Resources (BA) with a minor in Spanish from Illinois State University.

Dissertation Abstract

Ellyn Leighton-Herrmann, PhD, May 2014 +

Ellyn received her doctorate degree from the Department of Social and Behavioral Health in May 2014. For her dissertation, she examined experiences of sexual objectification in White and Black university women, as well as between group differences. Her other areas of research interest include community-engaged research, nutrition and obesity, and health disparities. She currently manages multiple NIH-funded projects targeting stroke disparities in urban populations. She earned a B.S. in Psychology and a B.S. in Human, Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise with a concentration in Dietetics from Virginia Tech in 2008, and completed her M.A. in Psychological Sciences with a concentration in Clinical Research at James Madison University in 2010.

Dissertation Abstract

L. Aubree Shay, PhD, December 2013 +

Aubree received her doctoral degree in December 2013 from the Department of Social and Behavioral Health. She earned her B.S. in Biology from Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas and her Masters of Science in Social Work from the University of Texas at Austin. For her dissertation, Aubree used a mixed-methods approach to explore the perceptions of shared decision-making among primary care patients and physicians and whether patient-defined shared decision-making was associated with adherence to colorectal cancer screening recommendations. Aubree's current research interests are around medical decision-making and patient-provider communication among adolescent and young adult cancer survivors. Currently Aubree is an Assistant Professor in Health Promotion & Behavioral Sciences at the University of Texas School of Public Health at San Antonio.

Dissertation Abstract

Lindsey Kurland, PhD, May 2013 +

Lindsey received her doctorate degree in May 2013 from the Department of Social and Behavioral Health. Her research interests include next-of-kin or family decision-makers’ attitudes toward organ and tissue donation. For her dissertation, she investigated how families’ attitudes toward tissue donation are formed. Lindsey earned her BS in Psychology from Duke University and her MS in Forensic Science with a concentration in Behavior Analysis from Florida Gulf Coast University. She currently serves as the Program Director of the Center of Audiology and Speech Pathology at the Walter Reed National Medical Military Center, where she is overseeing about 35 research protocols and helping out with the translational side of research.

Dissertation Abstract

 

MPH

Dannielle Kelley, MPH, Spring 2013 +

Dannielle completed her M.P.H. at VCU with a concentration in Social and Behavioral Health.  Dannielle was a research assistant for two different studies: An Easier Path: Simple Advice for Newly Cancer Patients Receiving Radiation Therapy and Feasibility of a Colorectal Cancer Survivor Registry and Repository that Integrates Clinical, Biomedical, Behavioral, Environmental and Other Patient-Level Risk Factors. Prior to starting the MPH program at VCU, she attended Arizona State University where she received a Bachelors degree in Communication with a minor in English. While at ASU she worked as an intern for the Center for the Convergence of Physical Science and Cancer Biology where she acquired her interest in cancer communication research, which she pursued at VCU. Dannielle is now attending the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where she is pursuing a Ph. D. in Mass Communication focusing on her interest in cancer prevention and control through health communication.

Elizabeth Do, MPH, Spring 2012 +

Elizabeth is currently a Ph.D. graduate student studying Clinical and Translational Sciences (concentrating in Psychiatric, Behavioral, and Statistical Genetics) at the Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics (VIPBG) here at VCU. Her current research interests include environmental and genetic risk factors for substance use disorders and substance use disorder comorbidity with other medical and psychiatric disorders across the lifespan. Previously, Elizabeth worked as a research assistant on multiple studies investigating preterm birth outcomes, health behaviors of adolescents, and substance use. She received her B.A. in Foreign Affairs from the University of Virginia in 2010 and subsequently graduated from VCU with her Masters in Public Health (MPH) with a concentration in Social and Behavioral Health in 2012.

Heather Traino, Ph.D., MPH, 2012 +

Heather is Associate Professor in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences and Director of the Health Disparities Research Lab at Temple University. Her research interests lie at the intersections of interpersonal health communication, chronic kidney disease, and organ donation and transplantation. She is the recipient of a Career Development Award from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality to develop and test an educational and communication skills intervention for patients with end stage renal disease who are awaiting kidney transplantation. She also serves as Co-Investigator on multiple federally-funded research studies to evaluate hospital development and behavioral communication interventions to increase solid organ donation and examine the ethical, legal and social issues of organ and tissue donation for transplantation and medical research/biobanking purposes. Across these areas of research, a primary goal has been to improve organ and tissue donation processes in the US and alleviate disparities in access to transplantation. More recently, she has partnered with the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger to evaluate an ongoing effort to bring healthy food options to local food pantries and has begun a line of research investigating the relationship between food insecurity and medical nutritional management of Type II diabetes, a leading cause of chronic kidney disease. 

Heather earned a doctorate in communication from the State University of New York at Buffalo in 2006 and a Master’s in Public Health from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2012. She joined the faculty in VCU’s Department of Social and Behavioral Health in 2011 as Assistant Professor. 

Laura Cartwright (Kuhn), December 2011 +

Laura received her MPH with a concentration in Social and Behavioral Health from Virginia Commonwealth University in December 2011. Laura has worked for VCU’s Department of Social and Behavioral Health since 2008. She is a currently a third-year, full-time PhD student.

Luisa Soaterna, MPH +

Luisa is the multicultural outreach coordinator for the text4baby program at the National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition (HMHB). She coordinates outreach to multicultural communities and faith-based communities, as well as targeted outreach among designated partners whose work involves Spanish-speaking audiences. She also provides statewide technical assistance for Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Washington D.C., Florida, Hawaii, Iowa, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia; and she oversees the development, translation and editing of all of the bilingual materials, messages and resources. Luisa has extensive experience as a community advocate, interpreter and leader in public health. She has worked with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health, the Virginia Department of Social Services and the Virginia Governor’s Office as the Latino Liaison. Luisa was recently appointed to serve on the Commonwealth of Virginia Health Commissioner’s Minority Health and Health Equity Advisory Committee (MHHEAC) and she currently serve as a board member to Colaborando Juntos, a non-profit based out of Richmond, Virginia whose primary purpose is to connect service providers who cater to the Latino community.

Allison Sepulveda, MPH +

Allison is a native of Birmingham, AL where she graduated from Samford University with a BS in Business Administration and a MA in Counseling Psychology from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where she also worked as a Health Education Coordinator in the UAB Department of Preventive Medicine. Upon relocating to Richmond, Allison began working as a Senior Research Specialist in the Department of Addiction Psychiatry, and later as a Research Manager in the Institute for Drug and Alcohol Studies. During her tenure at VCU, Allison concurrently pursued her MPH while working full time on multiple federally funded clinical trials focused on addiction and pregnancy, the application of evidence-based practices in community settings, health disparities, infant mortality, and health communication. Allison’s accomplishments during her time in the MPH program included being awarded the Social and Behavioral Award by the Institute for Women’s Health at the 6th Annual Women’s Health Research Day, first author on multiple APHA, CPDD, and Social Marketing in Public Health conference presentations, first author on a paper titled, “One Tiny Reason to Quit: A Coalition-based Smoking Cessation Campaign for Pregnant African American Women,” and co-author on multiple peer-reviewed publications. Allison currently resides with her husband and children in Chattanooga, TN, where she works as a Population Health Consultant for BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee.

Jennifer Palazzolo, MPH, 2011 +

Jennifer received a Bachelor’s degree in Finance and Marketing from the University of Virginia, and after working in financial analysis and technology consulting, completed a Master’s in Public Health with a concentration in Social and Behavioral Health at VCU in 2011. From VCU, Jennifer went to work for Virginia Health Information as a Data Analyst after graduation. Virginia Health Information (VHI), a non-profit, works with the Virginia Department of Health and other organizations to fulfill its mission of creating and disseminating health care information, promoting informed decision making by health care consumers, and enhancing the quality of health care delivery. Jennifer has worked on a wide variety of projects at VHI including reports on cardiac care, obstetrics, readmissions, HEDIS, health care pricing, and consumer oriented materials. Jennifer is currently the Program Manager for the Virginia All-Payer Claims Database (APCD) created by VHI on behalf of the Virginia Department of Health and operated as a collaborative effort with health care stakeholders. The aim of the APCD is to facilitate data-driven, evidence-based improvements in the quality and efficiency of health care in Virginia. In the fall of 2013, Jennifer begins the Doctoral Program in Health Services Organization and Research at VCU to provide her with advanced research skills in her current position.

Megan Sweat Lopes, MPH, Spring 2011 +

Megan completed a Master's in Public Health with a concentration in Social and Behavioral Health at VCU in spring 2011. She received a BS at James Madison University in public administration with a concentration in public management. Following her undergraduate degree, Megan served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Namibia focusing her work on adolescent reproductive health and HIV prevention. She has dedicated her career to training and educating professionals and patients. While a graduate student at VCU, she worked for the VCU HIV/AIDS Center. Currently, Megan works at the Maryland State Department of Education with their nutrition programs leading the coordination of the Maryland’s Team Nutrition training grants. Most recently, Megan has led efforts to provide training to Maryland schools on the concepts of behavioral economics aiming to improve fruit and vegetable selection.

Tamara Scott, MPH, 2010 +

Tamara received her MPH from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2010. She completed her undergraduate degree in Psychology from the University of Virginia and is originally from Lynchburg, Virginia. During her time at VCU, Tamara interned for Office of Minority Health and Public Health Policy where she developed health equity presentations for communities and assisted with the Mosby Court partnership. Tamara’s interests include mental and physical health disparities, primary care psychology and brief interventions. She is also interested in topics related to health equity. Currently, Tamara is attending the University of North Carolina at Charlotte where she is pursuing a Ph.D. in Health Psychology.