Trainees

Current Post-docs

John Bellettiere, MA, MPH, PhD has advanced training in economics and behavioral science and holds a PhD in epidemiology from San Diego State University and the UC San Diego. His research focuses on human behavior and how it relates to health. In collaboration with Dr. Andrea LaCroix and Team OPACH, Dr. Bellettiere is studying how sedentary behavior is related to cardiovascular disease and diabetes in older women. He 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. He 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). Download CV

Laura Pompano, PhD is a public health researcher focused on preventing cardiovascular and chronic disease. She received her B.S. in Biochemistry from Virginia Tech and an M.S. in Biological Chemistry from the University of California, Los Angeles. Afterwards, she completed her PhD in Nutritional Science from Cornell University with a focus on how iron deficiency affects physical performance and energy metabolism in university women in China, Rwanda, and the US. Her current research interests include how sedentary behavior impacts the physical and mental health of post-menopausal Latino women as well as understanding how sociocultural, socioeconomic, and psychological factors impact metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, and mental health in Latino populations.

Jonathan Unkart, MD obtained 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 2012Dr. Unkart moved to San Diego to start postgraduate residency training in general surgery at UC San Diego. After completion of two clinical years, he 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 UC San Diego. As part of his training in both programs, he is completing a Master in Public Health- Epidemiology concentration degree at San Diego State University Graduate School of Public Health. Dr. Unkart’s  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 is currently an associate professor in the College of Health Solutions at Arizona State University. He is a behavioral scientist (BA Psychology, MPH. Health Promotion, PhD Public Health/Behavioral Science) with a focus on increasing physical activity and healthful eating for primary prevention of CVD. Dr. Adams’ 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.

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

Tanya Benitez, PhD 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. Download CV

Alvaro Camacho, MD 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 UC San Diego. 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 UC San Diego. He also obtained his Masters in Public Health from the University of California, Los Angeles.

Dr. Camacho has obtained several awards from the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychiatric Foundation for improving quality of mental health care among minorities. Furthermore, 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 was also a non-salaried Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at UC San Diego. His area of research focused 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 was Medical Director for Behavioral Health at our FQHC Clinicas de Salud del Pueblo.

He 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. Download CV

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. Download CV

Noe Crespo, PhD 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 UC San Diego in cardiovascular disease epidemiology and prevention. Dr. Crespo is currently an Assistant Professor at San Diego State University in the School of Public Health. His research focuses on physical activity, fitness, sedentary behavior 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. Download CV

Daniel Ervin, PhD received a BA in psychology from George Washington University, an MA in Geography from the University of Wyoming, and a PhD in Geography from UC Santa Barbara. He is a Program Specialist for the East-West Center in Honolulu, researching Climate Change and Health in the Republic of the Marshall Islands. His research interests include the interactions between place, space, migration, and health, Planetary Health, and geographic and health research methods. Download CV

Nketi Forbang, MD 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, and an NHLBI T32 post-doctoral fellow at UC San Diego. He also completed a Master’s Degree in Public Health (MPH), with a focus in Epidemiology, as part of his fellowship. Along with attending conferences, seminars, and monthly journal clubs, his T32 projects included investigating the progression of Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD) in Diabetic patients. This study specifically looks at Ankle-brachial Index as a measure of PAD disease progression in diabetics. He also determined anatomical variations in the location of the abdominal aortic bifurcation in the population, and associations of these variations with cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors and CVD events.

In his spare time, Dr. Forbang  enjoys spending time with family and friends, sports, Latin dance, and surfing.

Jan Hughes-Austin, PhD 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 PhD 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, PhD, 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 PhD 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 (MPH) 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 is a behavioral science and epidemiology researcher with a focus in behavioral prevention and management of CVD and diabetes. She received her MA and PhD in Experimental Psychology from UC San Diego, 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 Dr. Larsen enjoys traveling, writing, hiking, sailing, cooking, watching football, and spending time with her family. Download CV

Sarah Linke, PhD received a BA in Psychology from Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri, before moving to California to pursue graduate school. She obtained an MS in Clinical Psychology and MPH in Health Promotion from San Diego State University (SDSU) en route to completing her PhD 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 Health Sciences 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. Download CV

Morgana Mongraw-Chaffin, PhD, MPH is an epidemiologist with a focus on cardiovascular disease. She received a BA from UC, 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. Download CV

Karen Moy, PhD  was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to the University of Auckland, New Zealand where she earned her doctorate degree in Public Health in 2001. Her research in physical activity and health behaviors among Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders includes the creation and validation of culturally-specific assessment tools and baseline statistics for this understudied, high-risk population. As a grant writer for local nonprofits, Dr. Moy secured over $4 million towards health-related research.  In 2014, Dr. Moy founded local nonprofit, Hearts for San Diego, and since 2018, she's been the Executive Director of Rescue Express. 

Sonia Ponce, MD, MPH

Rosemay Remigio-Baker, PhD 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, Dr. Remingio-Baker enjoys spending time with her family, traveling and relaxing at the beach. 

Adrienne Schlang

Isac Thomas, PhD 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, Dr. Thomas returned to California where he began training in clinical cardiology at the University of California, San Diego. As a T32 fellow, he received a Master’s degree in Public Health with an emphasis in Epidemiology. He is now a faculty member of the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine at UC San Diego. His research interests include coronary and extra-coronary arterial calcification and associated risks of cardiovascular disease.

Current Pre-docs:

Erin Delker, MPH earned a BA in Psychology (2011), an MPH in Sociomedical Sciences (2013) and worked for two years as a research assistant in substance use epidemiology before joining the SDSU/UCSD joint doctoral program in Public Health – Epidemiology in 2015. Erin began the T32 Integrated Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology Postdoctoral Fellowship in Fall 2017 during the third year of her predoctoral training.

Erin’s current research interests are in social and lifecourse epidemiology. Specifically, she is interested in studying adverse pregnancy outcomes and developmental origins of cardiovascular disease.  She is also interested in understanding the extent to which environmental exposures contribute to racial and socioeconomic disparities in cardiovascular risk.

Lorena S. Pacheco, MPH, RDN, CPH  is a PhD candidate in the Epidemiology track of the UC San Diego-San Diego State University Joint Doctoral Program in Public Health. Her research focuses on nutrition and chronic disease prevention. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Foods and Nutrition and MPH in Epidemiology, from San Diego State University. She is a practicing bilingual and bicultural registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) and has worked with migrant, minority and underserved populations in the U.S. and Mexico as both a RDN and research collaborator. Lorena established the Nutritional Services Department for the international public health field project VIIDAI, Viaje Interinstitucional de Integración Docente, Asistencial y de Investigación, in Mexico in 2011. As well, she works with various research units including the multi-disciplinary and multi-institutional team of the Santiago Longitudinal Study (Santiago, Chile) on cardiometabolic disease risk endpoints, and the research group of the California Teachers Study cohort, addressing dietary factors and their association with cardiovascular and mortality related outcomes.

Lorena’s scholarly awards include winner of the American Heart Association’s Student Scholarship in Cardiovascular Disease, recipient of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Foundation ConAgra Scholarship, trainee of the World Health Organization/Cochrane/Cornell University Summer Institute for Systematic Reviews in Nutrition for Global Policy Making, and an Edward Alexander Bouchet Graduate Honor Society scholar (Yale University). She was one of the two doctoral student category winners of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Preventing Chronic Disease Journal Research Paper Contest, and recently received the Excellence in Public Health Engagement Award from the UC San Diego School of Medicine’s Department of Family Medicine and Public Health.

Past Pre-docs:

Maggie Crawford, PhD is a scientist at Dexcom, a continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) company, where she studies the utility of CGM in diabetes management for people with type 2 diabetes. During her time in the T32, Maggie earned her PhD in the UCSD/ SDSU Joint Doctoral Program in Public Health, Health Behavior and her Masters in Public Health in Epidemiology from San Diego State University. Dr. Crawford  earned her BS in Nutritional Science and Physiology from UC Berkeley. Her dissertation research focused on diabetes management using CGM in people with type 1 diabetes. Before joining the T32, she e 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.

Dr. Crawford spends her free time surfing waves, climbing rocks, running trails, and mountain biking and frolicking with her husband and dog.

Jessica Jimenez, PhD is an Assistant Professor in Department of Psychology at National University. Prior to joining National University, Dr. Jiménez led global health program evaluations and managed study teams as a Senior Advisor for Evaluation and Research at an international non-governmental organization. As a Fulbright scholar in Oaxaca, Mexico, Dr. Jiménez studied the effects of out-migration on women’s physical and mental health. Dr. Jimenez is a graduate of SDSU/UCSD Joint Doctoral Program in Public Health, Health Behavior. As a T32 pre-doctoral fellow in cardiovascular epidemiology, Dr. Jiménez conducted her doctoral work, under Dr. Paul Mills in the Department of Psychiatry, on the underlying neuroimmune mechanisms between depression and morbidity and mortality risk in Heart Failure patients.  She has published in the areas of psychoneuroimmunology, health psychology, and cardiovascular health disparities in underserved populations.

Jessica McCurley, PhD, MPH is currently a Postdoctoral Fellow in General Internal Medicine and Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School/Massachusetts General Hospital. Jessica’s research focuses on behavioral interventions and health disparities in diabetes and cardiovascular disease. She received a BA in Cultural Anthropology and Latin American Studies from the University of Georgia and a PhD in Clinical Psychology from the San Diego State University/University of California, San Diego Joint Doctoral Program. As a doctoral student and Predoctoral T32 Fellow, Dr. McCurley studied the intersection of stress, psychosocial factors, and cardiometabolic conditions in the national Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos (HCHS/SOL), assisted with 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. She also worked 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 completed a Master's degree in Public Health with a concentration in Epidemiology, and aspires to continue an academic research career in behavioral medicine and community health. Download CV

Gina Merchant, PhD 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 master’s 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 Dr. Merchant enjoys playing soccer, running, cooking, gardening, and hanging out with her family. Download CV

Smriti Shivpuri, MA received her BS in Psychology and French from The Ohio State University, her MA 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 PhD 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 Program Manager in Primary Care- Mental Health Integration at the Jesse Brown Veteran's Affairs Medical Center 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.