2017 Fellows

Yohansa Fernández, LMSW

Doctoral Candidate, 4th Year
New York University

IRTI Mentor: Danielle C. Ompad, PhD, MHS, New York University

Yohansa Fernández, LMSW is the recipient of a Bachelor of Science in Human Development from Binghamton University where she was named a McNair Scholar and holds a Master of Social Work from Hunter College- Silberman School of Social Work with specialized courses in Public Health. Yohansa’s research interests include the mechanisms through which syndemic factors including drug use are associated with HIV/STI risk among marginalized populations. Currently, Yohansa is a 3rd year PhD student at New York University’s Silver School of Social Work. Prior to beginning her doctoral program, she was employed as a research coordinator at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and a clinical social work supervisor at the YMCA of Greater New York. Yohansa also worked as an assistant research scientist at the New York State Psychiatric Institute’s HIV Center for Clinical and Behavioral Studies (now known as the division of Gender, Sexuality and Health) on one of the largest cohort studies of perinatally HIV infected and/or exposed youth in the country.

Publications in Preparation:
Fernández, Y., Hernández D., Castellon, P., Cardenas, G., Gooden, L., Del Rio, C., Metsch L. From Risk Networks to Care Institutions: Shifts in Social Capital from HIV+ Drug Users’ Perspectives on Engagement in HIV Treatment.

Hernández, D., Fernández, Y., Torres- Cardona, F.,Castellon, P., Vidot, J., Miranda de Leon, S., Feaster, D., Schackman, B., Rodriguez, A., Santana J., Metsch, L. Understanding the unique role of shooting galleries as risk and protective environments for injection drug users in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Erin Kerrison, PhD

Assistant Professor, Social Welfare
University of California, Berkley

IRTI Mentor: Hortensia Amaro, PhD, University of Southern California

My research explores the effect of state supervision on substance use and substance use disorders, violence, and other health outcomes for multi-marginalized ethnoracial minorities marked by criminal justice intervention. This agenda extends from a legal epidemiological framework, which foregrounds the ways in which law and legal institutions operate as social determinants of health. I maintain a strong commitment to expanding my conceptual, analytical, and research skills in the substantive area of substance abuse among Latinx underserved women who are criminal justice involved.

My research has been supported by the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute of Justice, the Ford Foundation and the Sunshine Lady Foundation. My recent empirical research has been published in Criminal Justice and Behavior, Women and Criminal Justice, the Journal of Developmental and Life Course Criminology and the Harvard Journal on Racial and Ethnic Justice. I hold a BA in Sociology and Philosophy from Haverford College, an MA in Criminology, Law and Society from Villanova University, and a PhD in Criminology from the University of Delaware. Prior to joining the faculty at UC Berkeley in the fall of 2016, I was awarded a Vice Provost’s Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania.

Selected Publications:

Bachman, Ronet, Kerrison, Erin, Paternoster, Raymond, O’Connell, Daniel, & Smith, Lionel. “Desistance for a Long-Term Drug Involved Sample of Adult offenders: The Importance of Identity Transformation.” (2016) Criminal Justice and Behavior, 43(2), 164–186. DOI: 10.1177/0093854815604012

Kerrison, Erin M. “White claims to illness and the race-based medicalization of addiction for drug-involved former prisoners.” (2015). Harvard Journal on Racial and Ethnic Justice, 31, 105-128. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2658675

Miguel Angel Mendoza-Melendez, MD

Doctoral Candidate
Center for Research and Advanced Studies

IRTI Mentor: Charles Kaplan, PhD, University of Southern California

Dr. Miguel Ángel Mendoza-Meléndez has a Bachelor’s degree of Psychology from National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and a Medical degree (MD) by Metropilitan Autonomous University (UAM), he also has a Master´s Degree in Public Health in Epidemiology from the Institute of Public Health of Mexico (INSP), and a Specialty on Drug Abuse Studies. Currently, he is a PhD Candidate in Neurosciences and Science and Technology by the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and Centre for Research and Advanced Studies of the National Polytechnic Institute (CINVESTAV), Mexico´s city. and is certified in Drug Policy, Health and Human Rights, Genomic Sciences, Clinical Pharmacology, Child Neuropsychology and Polysomnography. He is a professor and research interest areas include Transdisciplinary Research, Epidemiology of Drug Addiction, Program Evaluation (Research Methodology), Public Policy Implementation, Information Systems, Neurosciences, Health Economics, Biostatistics, Pharmacology, and Sleep Medicine. Dr. Mendoza has had several positions in the public service in government health areas.

Selected Publications:

Manuel “Manny” A. Ocasio, PhD, MSPH

Director of Recruitment, Engagement, Retention Center 
Tulane University

IRTI Muntor: José Bauermeister, PhD, MPH, University of Pennsylvania

Manuel “Manny” A, Ocasio is a PhD candidate in the University of Miami epidemiology doctoral program and currently working on his NIDA F31-funded dissertation. His study uses a parallel strand mixed methods approach to examine the role of family in illicit drug use and sexual risk behavior in sexual minority Hispanic adolescent participants (SMHA) from the evidence-based, Hispanic-specific Familias Unidas intervention. The study aims to empirically test ecodevelopmental risk and protective factors in SMHA, evaluate the efficacy of Familias Unidas compared to prevention-as-usual among its SMHA participants, and qualitatively assess sexual orientation disclosure experiences of SMHA participants to their families. Synthesis of these results will provide key preliminary evidence for adapting Familias Unidas. The next phase will be to conduct formative research with SMHA and their families to adapt Familias Unidas and develop stand-alone, family-based intervention content that targets SMHA risk behaviors. He wishes to continue focusing his program of research on this vulnerable population subgroup and perhaps expand to young adult sexual minorities and other high-risk and understudied Hispanic populations, such as transgender youth.

Selected Publications:

Asfour L, Huang S, Ocasio MA, Perrino T, Schwartz S, Feaster DJ, Maldonado M, Prado G. (2017). Association between Socio-Ecological Risk Factor Clustering and Mental, Emotional, and Behavioral Problems in Hispanic Adolescents. Journal of Child and Family Studies. DOI: 10.1007/s10826-016-0641-0

Ocasio MA, Feaster DJ, Prado G. (2016) Substance Use and Sexual Risk Behavior in Sexual Minority Hispanic Adolescents. Journal of Adolescent Health, 59(5), 599-601. DOI: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2016.07.008

Natalia A. Quijano-Cardé

Graduate Student, 3rd Year
University of Pennsylvania

IRTI Mentor: Laura O’Dell, PhD, University of Texas at El Paso

Natalia A. Quijano Cardé is a PhD candidate of the Pharmacology graduate program at the University of Pennsylvania, Perelman School of Medicine (UPenn). Natalia was born and raised in Puerto Rico, and she received her BS degree in industrial biotechnology from the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez (UPRM) in 2015. As an undergraduate student, she was part of the Minority Access to Research Careers (MARC) program, which gave her the opportunity to participate in several research projects and network with outstanding researchers. During her time in the UPRM, Natalia conducted research in the chemistry and chemical engineering departments. Moreover, during the summer of 2014, she participated in the Summer Undergraduate Internship Program (SUIP) at UPenn and conducted research under the mentorship of Dr. Mariella De Biasi and Dr. Erika Perez on alcohol and nicotine co-abuse. In 2016, Natalia joined the De Biasi laboratory, where she investigates the efficacy of subunit-specific kainate receptor blockade to moderate alcohol consumption, and the mechanisms underlying such modulation. Natalia is particularly interested in advancing the identification of novel molecular targets for the development of more efficacious alcohol cessation aids that will particularly help the Hispanic population in the United States, which is disproportionately burdened by substance abuse disorders.

Selected Publications:

Perez, E., Quijano-Cardé, N., & De Biasi, M. (2015). Nicotinic mechanisms modulate ethanol withdrawal and modify time course and symptoms severity of simultaneous withdrawal from alcohol and nicotine. Neuropsychopharmacology, 40(10), 2327-2336. DOI: 10.1038/npp.2015.80

Diana M. Sheehan, PhD, MPH

Assistant Professor, Department of Epidemiology 
Florida International University

IRTI Mentor: Julie Levison, MD, MPhil, MPH, FACP, Harvard Medical School

Diana Sheehan is a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Epidemiology at the Robert Stempel College of Public Health and Social Work at Florida International University (FIU). Her research focuses on racial/ethnic and socioeconomic HIV disparities, particularly those that occur along the HIV/AIDS continuum of care, and those that occur among Latinos. In addition, much of her work has focused on the contribution of residential neighborhood to HIV disparities. As a predoctoral student, Diana was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to conduct a study that examined disparities in delayed HIV diagnosis within Latinos of varying birth countries. Most recently, as a postdoctoral fellow, Diana was funded by the HIV Prevention Trials Network (HPTN) to conduct a study that examines perceived network sexual norms and HIV sexual risk behavior among drug users and their risk partners. As part of her research training, she completed a doctoral degree in epidemiology at FIU and a predoctoral health disparities fellowship at the Center for Substance Use and HIV/AIDS Research on Latinos in the US (CRUSADA). She also holds a Bachelor of Science and Master of Public Health degrees from Boston University

Selected Publications:

Sheehan DM, Trepka MJ, Fennie KP, Gebrezgi M, Cyrus E, Maddox LM. HIV care continuum disparities among Latinos with a history of injection drug use. 2018 College on Problems of Drug Dependence, San Diego, CA.


NIMHHD/NIH. K01. (September 2018 – April 2023). Just-in-time adaptive interventions for improving young Latino sexual minority’s success in HIV therapy.

Vanessa Torres, MPH

Doctoral Candidate, 4th Year
University of Washington

IRTI Mentor: Victor Garcia, PhD, Indiana University of Pennsylvania

I am a fourth-year PhD student at the University of Washington, in the department of Health Services with an emphasis on Health Behavior and Social Determinants of Health. Currently, I am working as a Research Assistant under Dr. India Ornelas’ supervision and funded by a diversity supplement from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). My research focuses on engaging Latinos in community based participatory research to gain a better understanding of the most effective and culturally appropriate intervention approaches that address substance abuse among Latino immigrant communities. In my dissertation, I am focusing on three papers on alcohol use and Latino immigrant men’s participation in research. I plan to continue working on my dissertation and incorporate substance abuse research as it relates to unhealthy alcohol use among Latino immigrant men. My research interests are to understand the complex ways in which gender, immigration status, poverty, and other contextual factors affect patterns of health behavior and health status in Latino communities. Previously, I earned my Masters in Public Health (MPH) in Health Promotion and Behavioral Science from San Diego State University in 2014. My career goal is to become a tenured faculty member at a research-focused university, with a faculty position. After completing my PhD, I plan to apply for post-doctoral research positions and then to a tenure track faculty position.

Selected Publications:

Ornelas, IJ., Torres, VN., Serrano S. (2016) Patterns of Unhealthy Alcohol Use among Latino Day Laborers. Journal of Health Behavior and Policy Review, 3(10,) 361-370. DOI: https://doi.org/10.14485/HBPR.3.4.7

Lopez, M. J., Mintle, R. A., Smith, S., Garcia, A., Torres, V. N., Keough, A., & Salgado, H. (2014). Risk factors for intimate partner violence in a migrant farmworker community in baja california, méxico.  Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health, 17(6), 1819-1825. DOI: 10.1007/s10903-014-9988-8