Division of Preventive Medicine In the Department of Family Medicine and Public Health

UC San Diego Integrated Cardiovascular Epidemiology Fellowship - T32

Trainees

Current Post-docs

John Bellettiere, MA, MPH, PhD
John Bellettiere has advanced training in economics and behavioral science and holds a PhD in epidemiology from San Diego State University and the University of California, San Diego. His research focuses on human behavior and how it relates to health. In collaboration with Dr. Andrea LaCroix and Team OPACH, John is studying how sedentary behavior is related to cardiovascular disease and diabetes in older women. Dr. Bellettiere is also leading an investigation in collaboration with the Center for Behavioral Epidemiology and Community to study whether marijuana biomarkers are present in children under 14 who live with indoor smokers. John is a recent recipient of National Science Foundation’s Smart and Connected Health Mentoring and Travel Grant (2017), the Susan and Stephen Weber Endowed Scholarship (2016-2017), the John O. and Mary L. Anderson Memorial Endowed Scholarship in Public Health (2016), and the Transdisciplinary Research in Energetics and Cancer (TREC) Scholarship (2015).

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Tanya Benitez, PhD
Dr. Benitez is a behavioral scientist focused on preventing cardiovascular and lifestyle-related chronic disease in Latinos. She received her PhD in Health Education and Promotion from the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) School of Public Health and the University of Alabama (UA) Joint Doctoral Program, and holds a Master’s in Social Work from the State University of New York at Stony Brook. Her research interests include the development and testing of culturally-appropriate, theoretically-driven interventions to increase physical activity in Latinos, and use of technology-based platforms for the promotion of physical activity in this underserved population.

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Daniel Ervin, PhD
Daniel Ervin received a B.A. in psychology from George Washington University, an M.A. in Geography from the University of Wyoming, and a PhD in Geography from UC Santa Barbara. As a T32 fellow, he is currently receiving a Master’s degree in Public Health with an emphasis in Epidemiology. His research interests include the interactions between place, space, migration, and health, Planetary Health, and geographic and health research methods: particularly improving migration history and analysis within public health research, and applications of Stable Isotope Ratio Analysis to public health and migration research.

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Isac Thomas
Dr. Thomas was born in Las Vegas, Nevada. He received his undergraduate and medical degrees from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. He then completed residency training in internal medicine at the University of Chicago. From there, Isac returned to California where he began training in clinical cardiology at the University of California, San Diego. As a T32 fellow, he is concurrently receiving a Master’s degree in Public Health with an emphasis in Epidemiology. His research interests include coronary and extra-coronary arterial calcification and associated risks of cardiovascular disease.

Jonathan Unkart, MD
Dr. Unkart was born in Palo Alto, CA and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. After obtaining an undergraduate degree in Economics from Washington University in St. Louis, he moved to Chicago to complete medical school and Master of Science in Clinical Research Methods at Loyola University. In 2012, Dr. Unkart moved to San Diego to start postgraduate residency training in general surgery at UCSD. After completion of two clinical years, Dr. Unkart participated in the Department of Surgery’s research fellowship and spent time investigating novel agents for image-guided surgery as well as studying health disparities. During this time, Dr. Unkart discovered his true passion for investigating health disparities and his desire to focus research and clinical practice on preventive medicine and public health.

In fall 2017, Dr. Unkart began the T32 Integrated Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology Postdoctoral Fellowship. In addition, Dr. Unkart began a residency in Preventive Medicine. Both are housed in the Department of Family Medicine and Public Health at UCSD. As part of his training in both programs, Dr. Unkart is completing a Master in Public Health- Epidemiology concentration degree at San Diego State University Graduate School of Public Health. His current research interests focus on socioeconomic health disparities, peripheral artery disease and other chronic conditions that impact cardiovascular disease outcomes.

Past Post-Docs

Marc Adams, PhD
Dr. Marc Adams is currently an assistant professor in the School of Nutrition and Health Promotion within the College of Health Solutions at Arizona State University. He is a behavioral scientist (B.A. Psychology, M.P.H. Health Promotion, Ph.D. Public Health/Behavioral Science) with a focus on increasing physical activity and healthful eating for primary prevention of CVD. His interests include behavioral economic theories, ecological models, automated learning systems, and advancing objective measurement of behavior and environments. As part of his T32 training, he focused on the association between urban planning and physical activity internationally, which lead to a co-authored publication in The Lancet. Dr. Adams is principal investigator of two NIH-funded R01 studies focused physical activity and healthful eating. He has co-authored over 70 peer-reviewed papers and book chapters, and is a Senior Sustainability Scientist with the Global Institute of Sustainability at ASU.

Marc enjoys traveling, cooking, hiking and sailing in his spare time.

Alvaro Camacho, MD
Dr Camacho graduated in 1997 from Xavier University School of Medicine in Bogota, Colombia. He did his independent study project in 1996 and Research as a Visiting Scholar in 1998 under the mentorship of Joel Dimsdale, MD, Editor Emeritus of Psychosomatic Medicine, at the Department of Psychiatry of the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). He then finished his training in Psychiatry in this institution where he obtained the Lewis Judd Award for Research Excellence during Residency. In addition, he obtained a Developmental Grant during his training from the HIV Neurobehavioral Research Center at UCSD. He also obtained his Masters in Public Health from the University of California, Los Angeles.

He has obtained several awards from the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychiatric Foundation for improving quality of mental health care among minorities.

In addition, he received funding from the Hartford foundation to improve services to elderly Hispanics in Imperial County. Additionally, he completed the NIMH sponsored Career Development Institute for Bipolar Disorder at the University of Pittsburgh under the direction of Dr David Kupfer.

In addition of being a T-32 fellow in our Division of Preventive Medicine, Dr. Camacho is also a non-salaried Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at UCSD. His area of research focuses on the association of mood/anxiety and cardiovascular risk factors among Hispanics living in underserved communities as well as phenomenology of psychiatric disorders among Hispanics living by the US-Mexico Border. Dr. Camacho is Medical Director for Behavioral Health at our FQHC Clinicas de Salud del Pueblo.

He has published and participated in research projects with worldwide recognized faculty in psychiatry such as Joel Dimsdale, MD, Hagop Akiskal, MD; Dilip Jeste, MD; Murray Stein, MD, MPH, David Feifel, MD, PhD and Mark Frye, MD.

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Jordan Carlson, PhD

Jordan A. Carlson, PhD, MA, is Director of Community-Engaged Health Research at Children’s Mercy Hospital and Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine. His research interests include active living, school-based physical activity, neighborhood walkability, improving uptake and implementation of physical activity interventions, and physical activity measurement technology.

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Noe Crespo, PhD

Dr. Crespo is a public health and behavioral science researcher. He received his bachelors and masters degree in exercise science from California State University Los Angeles, a masters of public health degree from the University of Southern California, and a PhD in Public Health from the San Diego State University/University of California San Diego. He also completed a post-doctoral fellowship at UCSD in cardiovascular disease epidemiology and prevention. Dr. Crespo is currently an Assistant Professor at Arizona State University in the School of Nutrition and Health Promotion. His research focuses on physical activity and nutrition interventions to prevent chronic disease among Latinos and underserved populations. This includes studies conducted in partnership with city recreation centers, clinics and schools to conduct and evaluate effective public health approaches.

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Nketi Forbang, MD, MPH

Dr. Forbang is currently Project Scientist at UC San Diego, in the Division of Preventive Medicine, in the Department of Family Medicine and Public Health. He was born in Cameroon, and grew up In Kansas. He received his undergraduate degree in Biology from Truman State University, and his M.D. from the University of Kansas Medical Center. Dr. Forbang has completed two years of General Surgery residency at Howard University Hospital; an NHLBI T32 post-doctoral fellowship at UC San Diego focused on cardiovascular disease (CVD) epidemiology and prevention, during which he completed a Master’s Degree in Public Health (M.P.H.), with a focus on Epidemiology. To date, his research has focused on these three areas: (1) the influence of obesity and diabetes on our ability to identify and monitor subclinical CVD, (2) the impact of calcium density (a novel CVD marker) in calcified arterial plaques on CVD risk stratification and prediction, and (3) physical activity as prevention measure for CVD risk factors of obesity and insulin resistance. In his spare time, he enjoys Latin dance, surfing, and spending time with family and friends.

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Jan Hughes-Austin, PhD
Dr. Jan Hughes-Austin is an epidemiologist and physical therapist with interest in the role of the immune system in cardiovascular and bone disease. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Public Health [Nutrition] degree and a Master of Physical Therapy degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Dr. Hughes-Austin was selected as a June C. Allcott Fellow at UNC-CH for her lifelong commitment to community service. She was also awarded the Mary McMillan Scholarship Award by the American Physical Therapy Association for her leadership and evidence of potential contribution to physical therapy. She practiced physical therapy full time in Juneau, Alaska and Boulder, Colorado before returning to graduate school where she earned her Doctor of Philosophy degree in Epidemiology from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. Dr. Hughes-Austin’s doctoral work focused on cardiovascular disease in first-degree relatives of patients with rheumatoid arthritis, which resulted in two Graduate Student Achievement Awards from the American College of Rheumatology.

As a T32 postdoctoral fellow, Dr. Hughes-Austin utilized data from three distinct cohorts, (Rancho Bernardo, Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA), and LifeScore) to investigate atherosclerosis and inflammation in the coronary arteries and abdominal aorta, risk factors for atherosclerosis in the small peripheral arteries, and how measures of atherosclerosis in the small peripheral arteries associate with mortality.

Dr. Hughes-Austin was recently awarded the Miami-Marquette Challenge Research Grant by the Foundation for Physical Therapy to investigate vertebral bone mineral density, inflamed joints, and physical activity in first-degree relatives of patients with rheumatoid arthritis, which are a part of the Studies of the Etiology of Rheumatoid Arthritis (SERA). In addition to this project, she is also currently investigating the associations between serum potassium, cardiovascular disease, and mortality in multi-ethnic community-dwelling individuals, which are part of the MESA and the Cardiovascular Health Study.

In her spare time, Dr. Hughes-Austin enjoys any time spent outdoors, which includes rock climbing, hiking, skiing, playing golf, and bicycling; and will jump at the opportunity to travel. She also enjoys time with family and friends, volunteering, and going to see live music shows.

Nicole Jensky
Dr. Jensky, a California native, received her undergraduate degree in Psychology from UC Santa Barbara with a minor in Health and Exercise Science. After graduating, she continued her education at University of Southern California and graduated with a Ph.D. in Biokinesiology with an emphasis in Exercise Physiology. Her dissertation focused on analyzing skeletal muscle proteins that regulate muscle mass. She completed her T32 postdoctoral fellowship at UC San Diego. Her fellowship training included: obtaining a Masters Degree in Public Health (M.P.H.) with a focus in Epidemiology at San Diego State University, attending conferences and seminars, journal club, writing manuscripts and writing grant proposals.

Dr. Jensky's postdoctoral research focused on prevention of cardiovascular disease. She investigated the association between blood pressure measures and calcification in different vascular beds. Also, she investigated the association between body composition and calcification of different vascular beds, and lastly, she analyzed associations between physical activity and body composition as well as inflammatory markers in a diverse population.

After completing her postdoctoral fellowship, Dr. Jensky worked at Cedars Sinai Medical Center as a Research Associate III. In this role, she collaborated with urologists to develop and coordinate a pro-active surveillance research study for low risk prostate cancer patients. Dr. Jensky is currently employed at Allergan as a Urology and Neuroscience Medical Science Liaison (MSL). She serves as a liaison between industry and medical researchers for clinical, pre-clinical, and post-marketing studies.

In her spare time she enjoys spending time with family and friends, playing tennis, going to the gym, and traveling.

Britta Larsen, PhD
Dr. Larsen is a behavioral science and epidemiology researcher with a focus in behavioral prevention and management of CVD and diabetes. She received her M.A. and Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology from UCSD, with a focus in health and social psychology. During her T32 fellowship, she worked with her mentor Dr. Bess Marcus on developing and testing physical activity interventions in underserved populations, including Latino men, women, and adolescents. She also used existing datasets to study behavioral and physiological risk factors for diabetes and heart disease, including social networks, physical activity, sedentary behavior, and body composition. Now a faculty member in the department, she currently has a K01 award from NIDDK to implement mediated physical activity interventions through primary care to Latinas with type 2 diabetes. She is also studying cost effectiveness of physical activity interventions in community and clinical settings, and is using data from large cohort studies to explore associations between body composition, particularly muscle mass, and risk of diabetes.

In her spare time Britta enjoys traveling, writing, hiking, sailing, cooking, watching football, and spending time with her family.

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Sarah Linke, PhD
Dr. Sarah Linke received a B.A. in Psychology from Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri, before moving to California to pursue graduate school. She obtained an M.S. in Clinical Psychology and M.P.H. in Health Promotion from San Diego State University (SDSU) en route to completing her Ph.D. through the SDSU/UCSD Joint Doctoral Program in Clinical Psychology within the Behavioral Medicine Track. She completed her Clinical Psychology Internship/Residency at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, before returning to San Diego for a Postdoctoral Fellowship in the Department of Family Medicine and Public Health at UC San Diego. She completed her Postdoctoral Fellowship in the NHLBI T32 Integrated Cardiovascular Fellowship Program within the Department of Family Medicine and Public Health at UC San Diego School of Medicine in 2015. She is currently an Assistant Clinical Professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Public Health and Assistant Director of Community Engagement for UC San Diego’s Institute for Public Health. Her research focuses on developing, implementing, and evaluating the effects of exercise as an adjunctive prevention or treatment for substance use disorders, depression and anxiety, cardiovascular diseases and obesity, as well as other health issues. She is also a licensed clinical psychologist within UC San Diego's Collaborative Care Program, where she specializes in behavioral medicine, particularly the role of health behaviors in health problems. In her spare time, Dr. Linke enjoys long-distance running, live music, animals, and spending time in nature.

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Morgana Mongraw-Chaffin, PhD, MPH
Dr. Mongraw-Chaffin is an epidemiologist with a focus on cardiovascular disease. She received a B.A. from University of California, Santa Barbara, an MPH in epidemiology and biostatistics from University of California, Berkeley, and a PhD in epidemiology from Johns Hopkins University. She completed her postdoctoral work at the University of California, San Diego. Her primary research focus is on the etiology and prevention of obesity. Her complementary projects investigate how women’s reproductive health affects their lifetime risk for cardiovascular disease. Additional research interests include metabolically healthy obesity, counter-regulatory pathways for glucose control, and epidemiological methods for observational studies. Currently, Dr. Mongraw-Chaffin is an Assistant Professor of Epidemiology & Prevention at the Wake Forest School of Medicine.

In her spare time, Dr. Mongraw-Chaffin enjoys hiking, kayaking, millinery, and riding a tandem bicycle with her husband.

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Karen Moy, PhD
Dr. Karen Moy is a physical activity and health researcher (B.S. Exercise and Health Sciences, M.S. Kinesiology, Ph.D. Public Health) specializing in physical activity measurement techniques, health disparities among Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders (NHPI), and cultural adaptations of research protocols. In 2001, Dr. Moy was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to the University of Auckland, New Zealand, to pursue her doctorate degree in the city with the largest Polynesian population in the world. Since returning to the U.S. in 2006, Dr. Moy has been proactive in physical activity and health research among U.S. NHPI, working to create culturally-specific assessment tools and establish baseline statistics for this understudied, high-risk population. During her T32 fellowship, Dr. Moy has contributed to three community-based participatory research as both Co-Investigator and Principal Investigator (see below). Study findings have been presented at scientific conferences and submitted/published as manuscripts to scientific journals (Journal of Community Health; Journal of Physical Activity and Health).

Dr. Moy has also served as a mentor to SDSU graduate students in health promotion, and submitted a R21 proposal to NIH.

Sonia Ponce, MD

Rosemay Remigio-Baker, PhD
Dr. Rosemay Remigio-Baker earned her BS from the University of California on Biochemistry and Cell Biology with a minor in Psychology, and her MPH from San Diego State University. For her thesis, she determined the prevalence of hypertension and diabetes among Filipino women in San Diego and assessed whether the use of antihypertensive medication induced diabetes in this population. Rosemay completed her PhD on Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) Epidemiology from the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health where she evaluated the association between depressive symptoms and body composition, and potential modification by race/ethnicity, sex, overweight/obesity status and neighborhood factors such as physical and social environment. During her doctoral program she earned multiple scholarships and recognition including the Miriam Brailey Award and Charlotte Ferencz Scholarship from the Department of Epidemiology, and the Marilyn Spivak Menkes Award for Personal and Academic Excellence. She also earned a Diversity and Predoctoral Health Disparities Fellowship and a training grant for Clinical Research and Epidemiology in Diabetes and Endocrinology.

Her current research includes investigating adverse childhood events, CVD and lung disease among women residing in Hawaii; modification by neighborhood factors of the association between stroke and cognitive function in the Women’s Health Study; health disparities in the vitamin D/calcium and insulin resistance association using the Jackson Heart Study and Atherosclerosis Risk In Communities study; as well as the association between fatty liver and calcific atherosclerosis in the Multi-ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis.

She is a member of the American Heart Association Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health Early Career Committee, as well as the planning committee for Mental Health Workshops on Asian-Pacific Islander populations provided by the Kalusugan Community Services Center in National City.

In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her family, traveling and relaxing at the beach.

Adrienne Schlang

Current Pre-docs:

Margaret Crawford
Maggie Crawford is a doctoral candidate in the UCSD/SDSU Joint Doctoral Program in Public Health, Health Behavior. Maggie’s research focuses on diabetes management using continuous glucose monitoring. Maggie earned her B.S. in Nutritional Science and Physiology from UC Berkeley and her Masters in Public Health in Epidemiology from San Diego State University. Maggie was working as a mountaineering guide for the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) and as a professional mountaineer when she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Maggie spends her free time surfing waves, climbing rocks, running trails, and playing with her puppy.

Erin Delker, BA, MPH
Erin Delker received a BA in Psychology (concentration: cognitive Neuroscience, minor: public health) from George Washington University followed by an MPH in Sociomedical Sciences from Columbia University (concentration: social science research). She is currently pursuing a PhD in Epidemiology at San Diego State University / University of California, San Diego. Her research interests include social epidemiology and health disparities, neighborhood and built environment, and stress. She is currently investigating how these factors are associated with risks of cardiovascular disease.

Lorena S. Pacheco, MPH, RDN, CPH
Lorena Pacheco is a doctoral student in the University of California, San Diego (UC San Diego)-San Diego State University Joint Doctoral Program in Public Health, Epidemiology. Lorena’s research focuses on nutrition and chronic disease prevention. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Foods and Nutrition and Master of Public Health, Epidemiology, from San Diego State University. Lorena is a practicing bilingual and bicultural registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) and is certified in public health. She has worked with migrant, minority and underserved populations in the U.S. and Mexico as both a RDN and research collaborator. She established the Nutritional Services Department for the international public health field project Viajes Interinstitucional de Integración Docente, Asistencial y de Investigación (VIIDAI) in Mexico in 2011. Since then, Lorena has instructed, supervised and mentored medical and public health students on core nutritional and public health tenets applied at different levels of disease prevention in rural communities. Lorena is also a preceptor for the UC San Diego Dietetic Internship and an investigator with the Santiago Longitudinal Study (Santiago, Chile).

Past Pre-docs:
Jessica Jimenez, PhD
Jessica Jiménez is a Using a socio-ecological framework, Jessica studies the pathways between individual-level biological and behavioral CVD risk factors and the larger socio-cultural context in which they occur. A main focus of her work is to understand the mechanisms underlying the relationship between acculturation and CVD incidence within Latino populations. In particular, she applies qualitative and quantitative methods to understand cultural phenomena and biological outcomes. Prior to her acceptance to the T32 UCSD Integrated Cardiovascular Epidemiology training program, she was working a program evaluation consultant for JSI Research and Training, Inc. As a Fulbright Scholar in Oaxcaca, México, she studied the relationship between quality of life and migration among women living in sending communities. She holds a M.A. in International Development and Social Change, with an emphasis in migration studies, from Clark University, Worcester, Massachusetts.

Jessica McCurley, MS, MPH
Jessica is a doctoral student in the SDSU/UC San Diego Joint Doctoral Program in Clinical Psychology and is currently completing her Clinical Psychology Internship at Harvard Medical School/Massachusetts General Hospital. Jessica’s research focuses on health disparities and psychosocial and cultural aspects of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Jessica received a B.A. in Cultural Anthropology and Latin American Studies from the University of Georgia. Prior to her doctoral work, Jessica held positions as a bilingual case manager for undocumented victims of violence, a research coordinator at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and a Psychosocial Support and Evaluation Intern at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in Washington, DC. As a doctoral student, Jessica has studied the intersection of stress, psychosocial variables, and cardiometabolic conditions in the national Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos (HCHS/SOL), assisted with adaptation and implementation of a diabetes prevention program for low income Mexican-American women, and conducted cultural adaptations of psychoeducation programs for the East African refugee community in San Diego, CA. She also works in clinical mental health service provision in San Diego and Tijuana, Mexico, and received a Fogarty Global Health Fellows grant to conduct her dissertation research in Tijuana. Jessica concurrently pursued and received a Master's degree in Public Health with a concentration in Epidemiology, and aspires to continue an academic research career in behavioral medicine and global health.

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Gina Merchant, PhD
Dr. Merchant is a National Library of Medicine Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of California San Diego in the Division of Biomedical Informatics, Department of Medicine, with a secondary appointment in the Department of Family Medicine and Public Health. She also lectures at California State San Marcos. Her undergraduate and masters degrees are in Psychology, and her doctorate is in Public Health with an emphasis on Health Behavior. Dr. Merchant's research is at the intersection of psychology, public health informatics, and data science. Her work broadly examines how online and offline social networks influence our health behaviors and healthcare decision-making. Dr. Merchant quantitatively and qualitatively investigates how spending time on social media platforms, creating and engaging with content, affects our health. She seeks to uncover methods to conduct large-scale content analysis of unstructured text data that is exchanged in online networks. Once we are able to interpret these data, she believes we will have a better understanding of how to intervene in virtual spaces to promote health-enhancing behaviors, and better predict who is at risk for health impairing behaviors. Dr. Merchant's work aims to discover ways to leverage social media and other Web 2.0 technologies to improve individuals’ health, and better understand how on- and offline social networks synergistically/antagonistically influence health attitudes and behaviors. Dr. Merchant is active in the R community, and is an advocate for increasing diversity in coding, especially among women in the behavioral and social sciences.

In her spare time she enjoys playing soccer, running, cooking, gardening, and hanging out with her family.

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Smriti Shivpuri, MA
Smriti Shivpuri received her B.S. in Psychology and French from The Ohio State University, her M.A. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from Michigan State University, her Masters in Public Health with a concentration in Epidemiology from San Diego State University, and her Ph.D under the mentorship of Dr. Linda Gallo and Dr. Matt Allison through the Joint Doctoral Program in Clinical Psychology at San Diego State University/University of California San Diego. She completed her clinical internship at the Alpert Medical School at Brown University, and is currently a Postdoctoral Fellow in Primary Care- Mental Health Integration at the Edward Hines Jr. Veteran's Affairs Hospital in Chicago, IL. Her research interests include psychosocial factors related to cardiovascular disease risk in minority populations, with a special focus on the effect of stress.

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