Health Equity Scholars Program

In 2021, the Scholars Strategy Network, supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, debuted the Health Equity Scholar Program. This program kicked off a year of ongoing professional development and public engagement support for emerging scholars studying social determinants of health. Learn more about this year’s cohort of scholars and their research interests below.

The Need

With the rising need of evidence based policy to inform and help create holistically healthy communities, there is a strong demand for health equity scholars’ expertise and community specific perspectives. To meet this moment, the Health Equity Scholars Program has recruited a cohort of early-career scholars based on recommendations from established senior researchers in the health equity field. These cohort members, who hail from across the country, are conducting important research that seeks to improve the wellbeing of their communities and have a strong desire to translate their findings for public policy audiences.

Program Overview

Our program is designed to share insights and strategies for conducting and disseminating rigorous and actionable research on public health. The program includes a mid-year convening, group activities, and one-on-one support that aims to equip cohort members with the tools and skills to share their findings with policy stakeholders, develop professionally, and build critical relationships with their peers. 


Through our trainings and one-on-one coaching sessions, cohort members in the Health Equity Scholars Program will have the tools to:

  • Successfully communicate research findings to audiences outside of academia
  • Identify, engage, and build relationships with target policymakers and community organizations to improve the likelihood that research is used in the policy process
  • Communicate research findings through the media
  • Incorporate a community-centered and equity-focused approach to their research
  • Develop strategies for successful grant applications
  • Balance professional development goals with time spent on public engagement

Meet the Health Equity Scholars Program 2021 Cohort Members


Perla Chebli


Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Population Health

New York University, Grossman School of Medicine

Biography: Chebli's primary areas of focus are community engaged research, cancer disparities, intervention development, and implementation science. Overarching themes in Chebli's research include multi level factors shaping health and cancer outcomes and community engagement strategies that foster health equity in research and intervention implementation.

Research Interests: Public Health, Community Health

Email: [email protected]


Angela Dixon


Assistant Professor of Sociology

Emory University

Biography: Dixon’s research focuses on race/ethnicity, colorism, inequality, and racial health inequities. Overarching themes in Dixon’s writings include the prevalence and consequences of self-reported color and class discrimination, global and comparative perspectives on colorism, and the impact of racial inequities in mortality across the life course and intergenerationally.

Research Interests: Race/Ethnicity, Colorism, Racial Health Inequities

Email: [email protected]


Lan Ðoàn


Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Population Health

New York University, Grossman School of Medicine

Biography: Ðoàn’s research centers on the structural determinants of health and has focused on cardiovascular disease and psychosocial factors among Asian American older adults, and how neighborhood deprivation modifies the impact of these determinants. Her recent work focuses on high-risk Asian American populations for COVID-19 infection. Overarching themes in Ðoàn’s writings include aging, data disaggregation, immigrant health, and social environments. Ðoàn serves on the board of the Aging and Public Health Section (APH) and Asian and Pacific Islander Caucus for Public Health (APIC), in affiliation with the American Public Health Association (APHA).

Research Interests: Gerontology, Health Disparities, Social Determinants of Health, Ethnic Groups, Health Promotion

Email: [email protected]


Michael Esposito


Assistant Professor of Sociology

Washington University in St. Louis

Biography: Esposito's research focuses on the structural determinants of population health disparities. Overarching themes in Esposito's writings include: (1) examining how the actions of race-cognizant institutions (like law enforcement agencies) contribute to health disparities; (2) studying how multiple racialized systems interact to gate access to critical health contexts; and (3) examining how structural racism enters into and distorts social processes that are foundational to well-being (e.g., the association among education and health).

Research Interests: Population Health, Race and Ethnicity, Statistical Methodology, Social/Spatial Context

Email: [email protected]


Jerel Ezell


Assistant Professor, Africana Studies and Health Disparities

Cornell University

Biography: Ezell's research focuses on health disparities and macrosocial risk factors that contribute to amplified risks of premature morbidity and mortality in the Rust Belt and rural areas in the Midwest and Northeast. A key focus in Ezell's work includes the role of austerity policy in forging and sustaining negative socioeconomic consequences in these areas which, in turn, wield disproportionate negative health impacts on racial/ethnic minorities. Ezell is an assistant professor in Africana Studies at Cornell University and a member of the Cornell Center for Health Equity and consults nonprofits on culturally sensitive research.

Research Interests: Rural Health, Urban Health, Environmental Impact on Communities, Health Disparities, Drugs

Email: [email protected]


Marc A. Garcia


Assistant Professor of Sociology

Syracuse University

Biography: My research agenda centers broadly on health disparities across the life course. Specifically, I am interested in how race/ethnicity, nativity, and gender interact with key social, economic, and environmental factors to shape physical health, cognitive functioning, and mortality outcomes of aging minority and immigrant groups in the United States and Mexico.

Research Interests: Aging and the Life Course, Minority and Immigrant Health, Social Demography, Race and Ethnicity, Latino Sociology

Email: [email protected]


Bárbara Gómez-Aguinaga


Assistant Professor of Public Policy and Social Equity

University of Nebraska at Omaha

Biography: My research lies at the intersection of the public policy-making process and the politics of minority groups, with an emphasis on Latinos and immigrants. My academic and applied research contributes to our understanding of the ways in which the health and well-being of ethno-racial groups are impacted by policies and their political environment, with an emphasis on immigration and the criminal justice system. My applied and academic research has led to policy changes in the state of New Mexico and has been cited in the judiciary and congressional hearings addressing the incorporation of immigrant youth.

Research Interests: Immigration, Health, Criminal Justice

Email: [email protected]


Marina Mileo Gorzig


Assistant Professor of Economics and Political Science

St. Catherine University

Biography: Gorzig's research focuses on social inequalities, particularly discrimination in the labor market and health disparities. Overarching themes in Gorzig's writings include assessing the impact of racism and bias on outcomes in the labor market, criminal just system, and housing. She also evaluates the impact of policies to reduce discriminatory behavior. Gorzig is actively involved in promoting undergraduate research and also serves on the LGBTQIA+ Diversity and Inclusion committee at St. Catherine University.

Research Interests: Social Inequalities, Labor Market Discrimination, Health Disparities

Email: [email protected]


Cicily Hampton


Health Policy in Practice

University of North Carolina at Charlotte

Biography: Hampton's research focuses on social determinants of health. Overarching themes in Hampton's writings include public health advocacy, health equity, the impact on patient/provider, gender and language concordance on health outcomes.

Research Interests: Health Policy, Social Determinants of Health, Health Equity

Email: [email protected]


Jennifer Heissel


Assistant Professor of Manpower and Economics

Naval Postgraduate School

Biography: Heissel's research focuses on children and parents. Overarching themes in Heissel's research involve stress, sleep, health, and the family environment, as well as how policy affects outcomes across the family. She has a particular interest in military families, as well as how young children affect parental health and work outcomes.

Research Interests: Children and Family Health, Military Family Health

Email: [email protected]


Mustafa Hussein


Assistant Professor, Public Health Policy & Administration

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Biography: Mustafa Hussein is a health economist/social epidemiologist, with training in quantitative policy analysis, quasi-experimental econometrics, and multilevel statistical and epidemiologic methods. Hussein’s research leverages cross-disciplinary social theory and analytic methodology to understand the roles policies, systems, and institutions play as structural drivers of social inequality in health, with an ultimate purpose of generating a rigorous, compelling evidence base to guide policy solutions toward improving population health and health equity.

Research Interests: Urban Labor-Market Policy, Health Equity, Poverty

Email: [email protected]


Nolan Kline


Assistant Professor of Anthropology

Rollins College

Biography: Kline's research focuses on the health-related consequences of immigration enforcement laws and policies and LGBTQ+ Latinx political mobilization. Overarching themes in Kline's writings include racial inequality, policing, intersectionality, and health inequality. Kline serves on the community advisory boards for LGBTQ+ Latinx and farmworker organizations in Central Florida and is part of an interdisciplinary team that provides research reports to Latinx community-based organizations.

Research Interests: Immigrant Policing and Health, Social Determinants of HPV and HPV Prevention, LGBTQ+ Latinx Activism in Orlando

Email: [email protected]


Chhaya Kolavalli


Senior Program Officer - Knowledge Creation and Research, Entrepreneurship

Kauffman Foundation

Biography: Chhaya Kolavalli is a senior program officer – knowledge creation and research in Entrepreneurship for the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, where she manages a portfolio directed at tracking, answering, and anticipating the most pressing challenges for entrepreneurs, entrepreneurship supporters, and policymakers, as well as program staff, and internal and external partners. Prior to joining the Kauffman Foundation, Kolavalli was an assistant director at the University of Kentucky Center for Equality and Social Justice, where she developed programming that supports collaborative social justice research, helping researchers think about their work in more community-engaged and policy-relevant ways.

Research Interests: Green Urban Policy, Food Insecurity

Email: [email protected]


Sahnah Lim


Assistant Professor of Public Health

New York University, Grossman School of Medicine

Biography: Dr. Lim's research focuses on mental health and sexual and reproductive health outcomes. Overarching themes in Dr. Lim's writings include the applicability of intersectional and syndemic theory among multiply marginalized populations. Dr. Lim serves as lead of the Gender Equity Scientific Track at the NYU School of Medicine Department of Population Health's Section for Health Equity. She serves as an affiliated investigator at the NYU Center for Drugs Use and HIV/HCV Research. Lastly, Dr. Lim serves as a member on various coalitions and advocacy groups related to the well-being of sexual and gender minority populations & survivors of violence

Research Interests: Gender Equity, Health Disparities, Gender-based Violence, STI and HIV, Sexual and Gender Minority Populations, Sex Workers

Email: [email protected]


Aresha Martinez-Cardoso


Assistant Professor of Public Health Sciences

University of Chicago

Biography: Martinez-Cardoso's work focuses on understanding how social inequality in the US shapes population health and how we can intervene. Overarching themes in Martinez-Cardoso's writing includes structural racism, immigration policy and enforcement, Latinx and immigrant health, and the social determinants of health.

Research Interests: Racial Health Inequities, Racism, Immigration, Latinx and Immigrant Health

Email: [email protected]


Sonny Nordmarken


Postdoctoral Fellow, Women’s Gender, and Sexuality Studies

University of Houston

Biography: Dr. Nordmarken's research focuses on sexuality, gender, health care, inequality, and social movements. Overarching themes in Dr. Nordmarken's writings include inequities in transgender health, transgender identity, everyday transgender resistance, and the institutionalized deprivation of care for people with Lyme disease. Through his research, Dr. Nordmarken serves the interests of transgender people and disabled people, especially people with so-called "contested illnesses”. Dr. Nordmarken will join the Sociology Department at Georgia State University as an Assistant Professor in January 2022.

Research Interests: Transgender Resistance, LGBT Economic Vulnerability and Mental Health, Trans and Intersex Experiences of Graduate School, The Demography of Transgender, Non-Binary, and Gender Minority Populations

Email: [email protected]


Candidus Nwakasi


Assistant Professor of Health Policy and Management

Providence College

Biography: Nwakasi's research focuses on health and care access among disadvantaged population groups such as older adults, immigrants, and inmates. Nwakasi's research includes using quantitative and qualitative methods to examine sociocultural and psychosocial factors influencing dementia and cancer care. Nwakasi serves as a member of PACE RI board of directors, an organization that provides specialized care for older adults in the community with functional disabilities.

Research Interests: Gerontology, Public Health, Global Aging and Health

Email: [email protected]


Zelma Oyarvide Tuthill


Assistant Professor of Sociology and Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies 

University of Houston

Biography: Dr. Oyarvide Tuthill's research focuses on how health inequality is reproduced across the intersections of race/ethnicity, nativity, gender identity and sexual orientation. As a previous caseworker, she has worked with historically overlooked communities to help them obtain access to health promoting resources. Dr. Oyarvide Tuthill believes that research is valuable because it can effectively guide policy. Overarching themes in Dr. Oyarvide Tuthill's writings include qualitative, quantitative and theoretical examinations of various axis of wellbeing including health status, health behaviors and healthcare utilization among population groups.

Research Interests: Population Health, Health Disparities, Race/Ethnicity, Class and Gender, Sexuality, Social Stratification, Intersection of Blackness and Health

Email: [email protected]


Julia Raifman


Assistant Professor of Health Law, Policy & Management

Boston University

Biography: Raifman's research focuses on how health and social policies drive population health and health disparities. During the COVID-19 pandemic, her work is focused on how state policies shape the intertwined risk of COVID-19 and economic precarity. She and her team track state policy responses to the pandemic at Examples of her work include analyses of how food insecurity is driven by minimum wage and paid leave policies, as well as receipt of unemployment insurance. She has also collaborated on work on the relationship between the lifting of state eviction freezes and COVID-19 cases and deaths.

Research Interests: Public Health, Population Health, Health Disparities, Mental Health, Racism, LGBTQ Health

Email: [email protected]


Patricia Rodriguez Espinosa


Associate Director of Research, Office of Community Engagement

Stanford University

Biography: Dr. Rodriguez Espinosa has a background in psychology and public health with an emphasis on community and population health. Her research concentrates on health equity issues, particularly among Latinxs and immigrant communities. Overarching themes in her work include cardiovascular disease prevention, racial residential segregation, well-being, and multi-level interventions. She has a passion for community engagement and her research has an overarching theme of furthering the science of Community-Based Participatory Research, citizen science, and other participatory research approaches.

Research Interests: Latinx and Immigrant Health, Poverty and Inequality, Community and Population Health, Race and Ethnicity

Email: [email protected]


Desi Rodriguez-Lonebear


Assistant Professor of Sociology and American Indian Studies

University of California, Los Angeles

Biography: A proud rez girl from Lame Deer, Montana, Desi is a citizen of the Northern Cheyenne Nation and Chicana. She was born and raised on Cheyenne homelands where real and imagined reservation borders cross everyone. Desi is an Assistant Professor of Sociology and American Indian Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. She has partnered with Indigenous communities in the U.S. and internationally as a researcher and data advocate for more than ten years. Desi’s research examines the intersection of race, indigeneity, data, and inequality.  With a focus on Indigenous futures, her current research explores the racialization of Indigenous identity and group boundary making, Indigenous population statistics, and data for health and economic justice on Indian Reservations.

Research Interests: Race, Indigeneity, Data, Inequity, Indigenous communities

Email: [email protected]


Shannon Sanchez-Youngman


Associate Director for Participatory Research and Evaluation; Assistant Professor

University of New Mexico

Biography: Dr. Sanchez-Youngman is a community based participatory researcher with expertise in Latino mental health disparities intervention research and health equity policy. She has over 20 years of experience developing community health interventions aimed at reducing social and health disparities among economically marginalized groups and racial and ethnic groups in the United States. Dr. Sanchez-Youngman seeks to bridge the gap between social science theories and methods with multi-level health intervention research. She received her doctorate at the University of New Mexico in Political Science. She currently is the Associate Director for Participatory Research and Evaluation at the Center for Participatory Research and is the Doctoral Fellowship Director for the Center for Social Policy at UNM. She was a doctoral fellow at the Robert Wood Johnson Center for Health Policy from 2010-2015.

Research Interests: Community Health, Health Policy

Email: [email protected]


Aishah Scott


Postdoctoral Fellow, Center for African American Urban Studies and the Economy

Carnegie Mellon University

Background: Scott is a Twentieth-Century American Historian that specializes in Public Health and African American History. Scott is currently working on her book manuscript entitled, “Respectability Can’t Save You: The AIDS Epidemic in Black America.” This work focuses on the impact of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the African American community and the role of “respectability politics,” or moral policing, on state and community leaders from 1980-2010. Scott is an advocate for social justice and closing gaps in healthcare for underrepresented communities.

Research Interests: HIV/AIDS epidemic, African American Health, Public Health, Sexual Health, Structural Determinants of Health

Email: [email protected]


Amie Thurber


Assistant Professor, School of Social Work

Portland State University

Biography: Dr. Thurber’s scholarship focuses on building more just neighborhoods through innovations in policy, practice and participatory inquiry. Overarching themes in Thurber’s writing include the intersections of place and racism, the multidimensional nature of community wellbeing, and the need for resident-led and place-based interventions to respond to gentrification and other forms of neighborhood change. Thurber conducts action research in partnership with neighborhood and tenant rights groups, and contributes to the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning related to racial justice education and community-engaged teaching.

Research Interests: Neighborhood Development, Community Wellbeing, Racism

Email: [email protected]


Edward Vargas


Assistant Professor

Arizona State University - Tempe

Biography: Vargas studies the effects of poverty and inequality on the quality of life of Americans, focusing specifically on health disparities and social policy, and how these factors contribute to the well- being of vulnerable families. Among vulnerable populations, Vargas focuses primarily on social inequalities that impact the health and well-being outcomes of racial and ethnic minority communities, with a primary focus on Latino Americans. Vargas also advances the measurement approaches within quantitative methods for the wider field interested in race, ethnicity and health outcomes.

Research Interests: Income/Poverty, Latinx and Immigrant Health, Public Health, Social Policy

Email: [email protected]


Nikos Zirogiannis


Assistant Professor of Environmental Economics and Policy

Indiana University-Bloomington

Biography: Dr. Zirogiannis is an environmental economist with a focus on energy policy research and applied econometrics. His energy policy work ranges from applications in the electricity sector (co-pollutant benefits of climate change mitigation policies in power plants), transportation (macroeconomic impacts of the Corporate Average Fuel Economy Standards), and industry (upset emissions from refineries and chemical plants). He also works on dynamic latent variable models that are applied to the estimation of performance trajectories. The applications there range from measuring the performance of water utilities, assessing the cognitive decline of Alzheimer's disease patients as well as estimating the human development status of nations across time.

Research Interests: Applied Econometrics , Time Series , Environmental and Natural Resource Economics , Environmental Policy

Email: [email protected]