Student Profiles


Academic and Professional Background: Undergrad: BA, Criminal Justice, University of Central Florida, 2002

Graduate: MA, Orientation and Mobility, Western Michigan University, 2011

MA, Rehabilitation Counseling, University of Arkansas at Little Rock, 2009




CERTIFIED REHABILITATION COUNSELOR (CRC), Commission on Rehabilitation Counseling 2010


Research Interests:  Digital equity and impacts on health outcomes, Veteran benefits/healthcare and impact of mental health, suicide prevention, health access for individuals with disabilities, Veterans and DEIA

Why UNC Charlotte?  I am excited to be a part of the UNC Charlotte Public Health PhD program. The faculty have broad interest areas that I know will help guide me in my journey to making an impact with my own research. 


Academic and Professional Background: Ms. Bey is the founder and owner of Harmony Health Therapeutic Services and IAB Consulting LLC. She is an Adjunct Professor with multiple Universities. Ms. Bey is also an NC Supervisor for Clinical Social Workers. Ms. Bey is a 49er Alumni graduating with a master’s in social work. She returned home and is now currently a PhD Student in the Public Health Program with a focus on behavioral health. Momma Bey is working on developing research models to test the healing model she designed. She also serves as the Co-Chair for a Community Collaborative Board which supports a Black Youth Wellness Research Initiative in Mecklenburg County. She is a national trainer and consultant. She has over 25 years’ experience working with children and families and training. She is Nationally Certified as an Advanced Level Complex Trauma Clinician, Gang Specialist, Triple P Parent Provider and Tobacco Treatment Specialist. Her training/consulting experience includes Advocacy, Trauma, Ethics, Implicit Bias, Systematic Disparities, Anti-Racism, Group Therapy, Child Welfare, Parent Education, Criminal Justice, Gang Intervention, Human Trafficking, Domestic and Teen Dating Violence.

Research Interest: I am interested in providing evidence to an African Centered Psychology, holistic Healing model to address behavioral health disparities in communities impacted by oppression.
Why UNC Charlotte? I chose UNC Charlotte because in searching for program that could best meet my research needs, I realized that behavioral health disparities is a Public health concern. What better way to continue my journey of learning and healing than to return home to where I begin my graduate journey. 

Jesse Strunk Elkins

Hello! I have a BA with honors in sociology from Indiana University (2016) with coursework from Hartwick College (2011) and Sydney University (2012). I completed my Master of Public Health at Charlotte (2023) with a focus in physical activity and nutrition (PANU). I carry nationally accredited ‘elite’ personal training (CPT), corrective exercise, nutrition coaching, and yoga teacher (RYT-200) certifications, and I practice these skills within my training and research company, Full Sun Fitness

I have conducted national data collection on American attitudes toward same-sex marriage (2014), developed the seminal HIV prevention program to address the Scott County HIV outbreak in South Central Indiana (2015), established multi-national HIV educational events in Eastern Africa (Sierra Leone; Liberia, 2018), and led five youth HIV clinical study enrollments in Charlotte, funded by the National Institutes of Health (2020). Recently, I facilitated four wellness retreats (yoga and tantric massage) in Greece to assess physical activity access, design, delivery, and efficacy for queer and gay male groups, subsequently establishing an ongoing research project alongside Dr. Dace Brown and Dr. Lorenzo Hopper. Pending funding opportunities, I will continue this work in various retreat settings throughout the US and Europe. 

Currently, I am also working with Dr. Meagan Zarwell, independent of my student status, as the research coordinator for the RESPOND Carolinas study at Charlotte within the Academy for Population Health Innovation

My shift toward physical activity has inspired my ongoing doctoral research, focused on the intersection of physical activity and LGBTQIA+ health outcomes. I am fascinated by how people access and sustain engagement in leisure time physical activity (LTPA) and “luxury” spaces, and I intend to explore and illuminate the intrinsic components of motivation (joy, pleasure, connection) and behavioral choice that transcend socioeconomic barriers and enhance LTPA engagement. Meanwhile, I am actively working to dismantle harmful wellness trends on a global scale, one conversation at a time (let’s chat!). Charlotte feels like the perfect home base to continue this work. I deeply value the faculty and leadership that have nudged me (and challenged me) in the direction of a PhD, and I am eager to continue this journey with such support. Please reach out for collaborations! Cheers, Jesse

Maimouna Issoufou Kapran

Academic and Professional Background: Bachelor of Science in Nutrition & Dietetics, University of New Mexico, 2020 Master of Science in Food and Nutrition Services, University of Mississippi, 2022

Research Interest: Maternal and Child Health, Food Security, Global Health, Health Disparities.
Why UNC Charlotte? one of the main reasons I chose UNC Charlotte for my PhD journey is the opportunity for research. The many faculty members that have similar research interests was an important factor as I am looking to get a great mentorship for my future career.  

Minhaz Tabassum

Academic and Professional Background: Completed Bachelor of Science in Electrical and Electronic Engineering, from Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology. She completed masters in Development Studies from BRAC University, Bangladesh; followed by a masters in Public Health with a concentration in community health education from University of North Carolina at Greensboro. 

Research Intereset

  • Health disparity in immigrants, refugee and minority communities
  • Spatial epidemiology
  • Occupational health, workplace determinants and substance abuse in mental health studies.
  • Neighborhood cohesion and built environment with a focus on cardiovascular health outcome.

Why UNC Charlotte? Her long-term goal is to work on quantitative methods to address socio-economic factors in chronic and reproductive health, aspiring to become an epidemiologist. She was attracted to the fact that- the Public Health Sciences PhD program at UNC Charlotte emphasizes community engaged research and focuses on health determinants, behaviors and contextual factors related to the prevention and management of disease and disability among diverse and vulnerable populations including qualitative and quantitative research methods to develop strategies to reduce health disparities, changes in health policies, and innovative individual and community-level interventions.


Academic and Professional Background: Ms. Mishra holds a public health degree from the Indian Institute of Health Management Research, Jaipur, India, and an MS in Health Informatics and Analytics from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She has over 9 years of work experience in public health management and data analytics. She was involved in research and project planning for various maternal and child health projects in India. At present, she works as a Sr. Analytics Associate for a big data consulting firm in Charlotte NC.
Research Interest: Ms. Mishra is interested in studying public health behavior and the sociodemographic factors influencing human behavior. Her areas of interest are maternal and child health, mental health, and chronic diseases.
Why UNC Charlotte?: Ms. Mishra is a returning Niner. UNC Charlotte has been her second home. The highly experienced faculties and the positive learning environment motivated her to return to campus and made UNC Charlotte her first choice to pursue her Ph.D.

Ashley Banks

Hometown: Chardon, Ohio
Academic Background: East Carolina University-B.S. Public Health Sciences, concentration in Worksite Health, minor in Psychology, 2011; East Carolina University-M.P.H. Concentration in Health Behavior, 2013
Research Interests/Focus: Child and family nutrition, decision-making related to family food purchase, community-based interventions
About Me: I am a competitive powerlifter in the USAPL.

Faustina Bello-Ogunu

Hometown: Charleston, South Carolina
Academic Background: Bachelor of Science in Nursing, Charleston Southern University, 2015
Master of Science in Nursing, Family Systems Psychiatric Mental Health Nursing, Case Western Reserve University, 2017
Research Interests/Focus: Disaster Mental Health, Global Health, Mental Health as Public Health Issue
About Me: My journey to this program can be described as serendipitous. A specific course in my MSN program, in addition to my experiences as a student nurse practitioner in a community mental health center ignited my desire to pursue a PhD in Public Health Sciences. During my copious amounts of free time as a PhD student, I enjoy spending time with family and friends, watching films, and practicing yoga.

James “Kevin” Benson

Hometown: Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Academic Background: MA in Sociology (UNC Charlotte, 2019), BA in Sociology (Salem College, 2009), BS in Business Administration (Salem College, 2009), and Associate in Applied Science: Radiologic Technology (Forsyth Technical Community College)
Research Interests/Focus: Gender, Work, and Organizations
About Me: Interesting fact: Previous United Way Volunteer of the Year. Hobbies: I’m a marching band nerd, movie buff, writer, and avid runner. Motivation for joining the program: The opportunity to combine the interdisciplinary expertise offered by UNC Charlotte’s Public Health Sciences PhD Program, my professional expertise and experience in healthcare delivery, and my interest in gender inequality. This should result in interesting and meaningful career options.

Shanika Jerger Butts

Hometown: Tallahassee, Florida
Academic Background: B.S. from Healthcare Management, Florida A&M University, Tallahassee, Florida; MBA from Nova Southeastern University, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida; MPH from University of North Carolina at Charlotte
Research Interests/Focus: Reproductive, Perinatal, and Social Epidemiology, focusing on improving Health Disparities and Health Inequities in African American Communities through policy changes
About Me: I enjoy spending time with my family, participating in outdoor activities, and leisurely reading.

Tasha Gill

Hometown: Asan, Guam
Academic Background: MPH in Health Policy & Management, University of Hawai’i at Manoa, 2014
Research Interests/Focus: Trauma, resiliency, maternal and child health
About Me: I enjoy cooking new dishes, dancing hula, and spending time with my husband and 2 goldendoodle pupppies, Bach & Beethoven.

Jessica Hoyle

Hometown: Valdese, North Carolina
Academic Background: Bachelor of Music – Music Therapy (Appalachian State University ’06); Master of Music Therapy (Appalachian State University ’10)
Research Interests/Focus: Health disparities for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities; Use of music and the arts to positively affect public health
About Me: I served adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities as a music therapist for over 10 years. Through my work, I saw the need for additional research and attention to the needs of this population. I was drawn to public health in hopes of positively impacting the lives of adults with I/DD. Balancing my academic and professional life is my family who keeps me grounded and surrounded by love. I am blessed to have 2 amazing children, an incredibly supportive husband, and a menagerie of animals.

Andréa Kaniuka

Hometown: Hampstead, North Carolina
Academic Background: MA in Clinical Psychology (East Tennessee State University, 2017); BA in Psychology, minor in Sociology (University of North Carolina Wilmington, 2014); BS in Statistics (University of North Carolina Wilmington, 2014)
Research Interests/Focus: Suicidal behavior among vulnerable populations (e.g., college students, veterans, chronically ill individuals, LGBTQ+ persons); health and well-being among sexual minorities and transgender and gender non-conforming individuals
About Me: Prior to entering the PHS program, I spent time working with children with autism at the Duke Center for Autism and Brain Development and before that, teaching ESL/EFL to kindergarten and elementary school-aged children in Taoyuan, Taiwan. Outside of school, I enjoy running, spending time in the mountains, eating vegan food, staying up-to-date with the latest movie releases, and most recently, learning Magic the Gathering.

Kandice Lacci

Hometown: Smithtown, New York
Academic Background: BS in Health Sciences from Stony Brook University (2016); MPH from University of North Carolina at Charlotte (2019)
Research Interests/Focus: Maternal and child health: paternal involvement and paternal health as it relates to fatherhood and the prenatal period; mental health outcomes following adverse pregnancy events and related perceptions of stigma surrounding failed pregnancies and infertility; social support and parenting
About Me: When I am not working or studying, I love being outdoors. I enjoy paddleboarding, hiking, drawing and tending to my gardens.

Melanie Mayfield

Hometown: Durham, North Carolina
Academic Background: BS Criminal Justice/Forensic Psychology; MS Criminal Justice/Juvenile Justice
Research Interests/Focus: I am interested in research that addresses the health-related risks and needs of women, girls, and minorities involved in the criminal justice system and how the criminal justice system addresses mental health.
About Me: When I’m not focused on school or work, I enjoy spending time with my friends and family, going to concerts or the movies, playing sports (especially volleyball and softball), and reading.

Cayla McAvoy

Hometown: Highland, Indiana
Academic Background: Indiana University, Kinesiology/Sport Management., 2013; University of Central Florida: Exercise Physiology, 2015
Research Interests/Focus: Behavior change as it relates to physical activity. How can we use exercise as a form of medicine?
About Me: Interesting Fact: I am a Yoga teacher 🙂 I truly believe that health can shape the lives of families and communities, and I know that firsthand.

Lindsay Miller

Hometown: Hickory, North Carolina
Academic Background: BA Psychology- Berry College (2017), MA Clinical Mental Health- Lenoir Rhyne University- Asheville (2020)
Research Interests/Focus: Attitudes and stigma related to harm reduction policies and the impact on people who use illicit substances as well as institutional discrimination
About Me: I am excited to join this program to expand my research experiences and work with a diverse and multidisciplinary faculty. In my free time I enjoy reading, working on art projects, and running with my sweet pup.

Emery Ladi Ngamasana

Hometown: Lewisville, North Carolina
Academic Background: King’s College London (Postgraduate Certificate in Public Health): Dec 2020, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg (Master of Sciences in Biostatistics and Epidemiology): Dec 2015, University of the Western Cape (Postgraduate Diploma in Economics Principle and Policy Development): Nov 2013, University of Kinshasa (Bachelors of Honors degree in Economics): Feb 2007
Research Interests/Focus: Survey methods and analysis, health behaviors, maternal and child health, and community empowerment
About Me: I am the Founder of Rural World Impetus Inc., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization committed to helping rural deprived populations in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the area of health, education, and community empowerment.

Isaac Olufadewa

Hometown: Oyo State, Nigeria
Academic Background: Medicine and Surgery (MB;BS – Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery), University of Ibadan, 2015 Reproductive Health Sciences (MHS – Master of Health Science), Pan African University of Life and Earth Sciences Institute and the University of Ibadan, 2019
Research Interests/Focus: Infectious Diseases, digital health and mental health (NCDs)
About Me: I love to adventure and visiting new places as well as experiencing new cultures and meeting people. I have traveled to 8 countries and visited over 50 cities.

Alex Patton

Hometown: Mooresville, North Carolina
Academic Background: B.S. in Public Health Studies, UNC Wilmington, 2016; MPH, East Carolina University, 2017
Research Interests/Focus: Mental health and substance use: mental health policy more specifically related to guardianship and conservatorship systems; state health legislation and access to care measures and their influence on mental health outcomes; mental health conditions and substance use disorders as comorbidities; destigmatizing mental health conditions and substance use disorders
About Me: I love the outdoors and travel. I enjoy paddleboarding, snowboarding, surfing, running, and hiking. I plan to compete in another half marathon this year.

Abigail Post

Hometown: Clyde, North Carolina
Academic Background: B.S. in Health and Wellness Promotion, UNC Asheville, 2016; MPH, concentration in Epidemiology, UNC Charlotte, 2019
Research Interests/Focus: Criminal behavior; violence among young adult populations; violence against women; social influences, collective efficacy and environmental effects on violence; victimization; gun violence and policy.
About Me: I love to exercise, read mystery novels, and spend time with my very cute orange cat!

Ebony Rao

Hometown: New Jersey
Academic Background: M.A. in Counseling Psychology, Ed.M. in School Counseling, both from Columbia University
Research Interests/Focus: Maternal Mental Health, Trauma, Community Violence
About Me: I have worked with Mecklenburg County Public Health for seven years. I serve as a Program Manager for the Crisis Intervention Team Program (connecting law enforcement, mental health agencies, and those with lived experience throughout the county) and the HOPE Initiative (providing depression and suicide screenings and community resource links to Public Health clients). I am a licensed therapist in North Carolina and have primarily worked with clients experiencing severe trauma and perinatal mood disorders. I am passionate about teaching and training in topics related to mental health. I want to research these topics and their relationship with health outcomes. The work, my team, did during the COVID-19 pandemic pushed me to return to school at this time as a Public Health Sciences student. On a personal note, I am a voracious reader of fiction, am a huge Harry Potter fan, and enjoy traveling with my family.

Ryan Robertson

Hometown: Severna Park, Maryland
Academic Background: Bachelor’s in Psychology, Towson University, 2019; Master’s in Experimental Psychology, Towson University, 2021
Research Interests/Focus: Ethics and safety of conducting research about trauma, suicide, and self-harm
About Me: I enjoy playing guitar, meditating, and snuggling with my partner’s four cats Cucumber, Miso, Oreo, and Custard.

Chelse Spinner

Hometown: Pickerington, Ohio
Academic Background: University of Cincinnati- BS in Biological Sciences (Biomedical Studies), Minor in Health Education, Certificates in Global Health Studies & Minority Health, 2018; University of South Florida- MPH in Epidemiology & Maternal and Child Health, 2020; Certified in Public Health (CPH), 2020
Research Interests/Focus: Women’s Health, Adolescent Health, Oral-Systemic Health Within the MCH Population, Reproductive and Perinatal Epidemiology
About Me: Throughout my academic and professional career, I have been fortunate to have captured crucial moments, culminating research, and community engagement activities that have led me to pursue an education within public health. I believe that the Public Health Sciences PhD program at UNC Charlotte will equip me with the skills and resources necessary to become a top public health researcher, impacting the field through innovative research focused on reducing health burdens primarily affecting the maternal and child population. In my spare time, I enjoy socializing with family and friends, reading, listening to music, and watching movies. Fun Fact: I have co-piloted a five-seater plane!

Ligia Vasquez-Huot

Hometown: Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Academic Background: BS Exercise Science at High Point University (2010), MS Exercise Science at Appalachian State University (2013)
Research Interests/Focus: Child physical inactivity, increasing parent/child physical activity through play
About Me: In my free time I enjoy traveling, hiking, trying new restaurants, and anything Harry Potter related.

Chloe Vercruysse

Hometown: Oye-Plage, France
Academic Background: MBA obtained in 2012 from the Institut Superieur de Commerce International de Dunkerque (ISCID), France.
Research Interests/Focus: My research focuses on stressful life experiences, their effect on health, namely in terms of chronic diseases, and the role of resilience among vulnerable groups, such as those experiencing homelessness. More specifically, I am interested in the health of chronically homeless individuals, who have been without a shelter for an extended period of time, either continuously or intermittently, and have a disabling condition. I want to investigate the effect of stress on health in this population via both physiological and psychosocial pathways, as well as the coping mechanisms having the potential to support adaptation in this context. I am also interested in the health of ex-offenders, and the prevention of homelessness upon release in this population.
About Me: The principles of social justice have guided my path for as far as I remember, and led me to the Public Health Sciences PhD program at the UNC Charlotte. I was on the Graduate Public Health Association Executive Board for my first year at UNC Charlotte (2015/2016) and am still a member. I am also a member of the Health Academy group. During my free time, I like running, and ran the 2013 Chicago Marathon. I also enjoy music, and love going to concerts.

Caitlan Webster

Hometown: Pensacola, Florida
Academic Background: B.A. Psychology, Biology minor, certificate in Physiology (University of West Florida, 2013); M.A. Applied Experimental Psychology, certificate in Health Psychology (University of West Florida, 2016); MPH Public Health (University of West Florida, 2018)
Research Interests/Focus: Health attitudes and behavior, risk perception, chronic diseases, health promotion, disease screening, resilience
About Me: Growing up as a Navy dependent, I’ve lived across the country – from Maine to Hawaii. When I’m not studying, I love photography, listening to music, reading, gardening, watching movies, and hanging out with my dog Alfie.

Kala Wilson

Hometown: Columbus, Ohio
Academic Background: B.S in Human Development and Family Studies–Concentration in Child and Youth Development with a Minor in Nonprofit Management from Kent State University Masters of Public Administration (MPA)–Concentration in Public Policy and Management from the University of Memphis
Research Interests/Focus: Maternal and child health, minority infants and children in disadvantaged areas, quality of life, chronic diseases, food insecurity, nutrition and physical activity, housing and neighborhoods, health disparities, social determinants of health, health policy and advocacy, health promotion and illness prevention, community based research, community health assessments and program evaluation.
About Me: I was thrilled to join this program because I have a passion to address multifaceted, inimical social and behavioral issues affecting the overall well-being of children and families. I am determined to conduct research that connects the dots between minority low-income children/families and social and behavioral health; my current motivation stems from my passion to identify the critical needs of vulnerable communities. Many urban communities continue to be plagued by the same problems; therefore, I am determined to further my research efforts towards effectively creating innovative policy solutions and programs which address social factors that impact human health. In my spare time I love to watch football, dance and sing. I like spending my time reading, listening to music, exercising, watching sports, seeing/talking to my family, or playing/walking my dog Kiko with my boyfriend.

Sasha Zabelski

Hometown: Denver, Colorado
Academic Background: B.A. Psychology, University of Colorado, 2016; M.S. Clinical Psychology, University of Southampton, 2017
Research Interests/Focus: Improving equity in accessing Mental Health Serivces, Program Evaluation and Implementation of Evidence-Based Interventions in Community-Based Mental Health Services
About Me: My motivation for pursuing my PhD in Public Health is to utilize public health tools to help destigmatize mental illness and promote positive communication around seeking mental health care. I speak fluent Russion, I have traveled to 16 countries, and I have broken both of my wrists. I enjoy spending my time camping, hiking, exploring coffee shops, spending time with my dog Lexie, and surfing