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

Assistant Professor, Department of Pediatrics, Section of Adolescent Medicine 
Tulane University

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

Dr. Ocasio is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pediatrics Section of Adolescent Medi- cine at Tulane University School of Medicine. An epidemiologist by training, the major focus of his research to date has been on health disparities with a particular emphasis on improving the health of sexual and gender minority youth of color (SGMY). His long-term goal is to formulate high im- pact, community-engaged HIV prevention research focused on disproportionately impacted SGMY located in geographic hotspots. Currently, he serves as Project Director for ATN CARES. ATN CARES is a large HIV prevention and treatment trial testing a comprehensive set of strategies for acutely infected youth, youth with established infection, and seronegative youth at highest risk of acquiring and transmitting HIV (e.g., SGMY). In his short time as Project Director, he devised and implemented a novel social media recruitment protocol that successfully increased our en- rollment and retention and has been adopted across sites.

Selected Publications:

Keizur EM, Goldbeck C, Vavala G, Romero-Espinoza A, Ocasio MA, Fournier J, Lee SJ, Abdalian SE, Rotheram MJ, Klausner JD; ATN CARES Team. Safety and Effectiveness of Same-Day Chlamydia trachomatis and Neisseria gonorrhoeae Screening and Treatment Among Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Homeless Youth in Los Angeles, California, and New Orleans, Louisiana. Sex Transm Dis. 2020 Jan;47(1):19-23. doi: 10.1097/OLQ.0000000000001088.

Swendeman D, Arnold EM, Harris D, Fournier J, Comulada WS, Reback C, Koussa M, Ocasio MA, Lee SJ, Kozina L, Fernández MI, Rotheram MJ; ATN CARES Team. Text- Messaging, Online Peer Support Group, and Coaching Strategies to Optimize the HIV Prevention Continuum for Youth: Protocol for a Randomized Controlled Trial. JMIR Res Protoc. 2019 Aug 9;8(8):e11165. doi: 10.2196/11165.

Rotheram MJ, Fernandez MI, Lee SJ, Abdalian SE, Kozina L, Koussa M, Comulada WS, Klausner JD, Mayfield Arnold E, Ocasio MA, Swendeman D; Adolescent Medicine Trials Network (ATN) CARES Team. Strategies to Treat and Prevent HIV in the United States for Adolescents and Young Adults: Protocol for a Mixed-Methods Study. JMIR Res Protoc. 2019 Jan 21;8(1):e10759. doi: 10.2196/10759.

Tapia MI, Ocasio MA, Estrada Y, Pantin, H, & Prado, G. Engaging School Mental Health Professionals to Deliver Evidence-Based Interventions to Hispanic Families. Health Promotion & Practice. 2017 Jul;18(4), 526-533.

Asfour L, Huang S, Ocasio MA, Perrino T, Schwartz S, Feaster DJ, Maldonado M, Prado G. Association between Socio-Ecological Risk Factor Clustering and Mental, Emotional, and Behavioral Problems in Hispanic Adolescents. Journal of Child and Family Studies. 2016,1-8.


F31. NIH/NIDA. (June 2016- May 2019). Family impact on drug use and sexual risk behavior in Hispanic sexual minority youth.

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 an Assistant Professor 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 identifying gaps and improving outcomes along the HIV care continuum, particularly for Latinos living with HIV in the United States and Latin America. Currently, Dr. Sheehan is leading an ecological momentary assessment (EMA) study that examines antiretroviral therapy adherence and the feasibility of a related Just-In-Time Adaptive Intervention (JITAI) among Latino men who have sex with men. Dr. Sheehan’s work has been funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD), the HIV Prevention Trials Network (HPTN), and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Additionally, Dr. Sheehan is dedicated to advancing the research careers of minority investigators, both as a faculty under the FIU-Health Disparities Initiative (FIU-HDI) and as a co-investigator on the FIU Center for Reducing Health Disparities in Substance Abuse & HIV in South Florida (FIU-RCMI). She holds a PhD in Epidemiology from FIU, and a Bachelor of Science and Master of Public Health degrees from Boston University.

Selected Publications:

Algarin AB*, Sheehan DM, Varas-Diaz N, Fennie KP, Zhou Z,Spencer EC, Cook CL, Cook RL,Ibanez GE.Enacted HIV -related Stigma’s association with Anxiety & Depression among people living with HIV (PLWH) in Florida. AIDS & Behavior. 2020: In ePub ahead of print.

Ramírez-Ortiz D*, Sheehan DM, Ibanez GE, IbrahimouB, De La Rosa M, Cano MA. HIV Testing Intentions and Cognitive Reappraisal among Latino Emerging Adults.AIDS Care. (in press).

Ramírez-Ortiz D*, Sheehan DM,Moore MP, Ibanez GE, Ibrahimou B, De La Rosa M, Cano MA. HIV Testing among Latino Emerging Adults: Examining Associations with Familism, Nativity, and Gender.Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health. 2020;Epub ahead of print. DOI: 10.1007/s10903-020-01000-x


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, PhD

Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Health Policy and Management, Department of Behavioral and Policy Sciences
UCLA/RAND Corporation

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

Vanessa Torres is a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Fielding School of Public Health at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). As part of her fellowship, she is also an adjunct policy researcher in the Department of Behavioral and Policy Sciences at RAND Corporation. Her 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 health disparities including substance use, mental health and cancer. As part of my research training, she completed a PhD in Health Services at University of Washington and a predoctoral fellowship in the Biobehavioral Cancer Prevention Training and Control Program at Fred Hutchison Cancer Research Center to examine cancer dis- parities and mental health among Latinas in Eastern Washington. In addition, Vanessa received a diversity supplement from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) to ex- amine unhealthy alcohol use among Latino immigrant men. She also earned a Bachelor of Arts from the University of California, Berkeley and a Master’s in Public Health in Health Promotion and Behavioral Sciences from San Diego State University.

Selected Publications:

Torres, VN., Williams EC., Ceballos, R., Donovan, DM., Ornelas, IJ., (2019). Participant Satisfaction and Acceptability of a Culturally Adapted Brief Intervention to Reduce Unhealthy Alcohol Use Among Latino Immigrant Men. American Journal of Men’s Health.

Ornelas, IJ., Doyle, SR., Torres, VN., Serrano, SE., Duran, BM., Donovan, DM., (2019). Vida PURA: Results from a pilot randomized trial of a culturally adapted screening and brief intervention to reduce unhealthy alcohol use among Latino day laborer. Journal of Translational Behavioral Medicine.

Serrano, SE., Serafini, K., Eller, N., Torres, VN., Donovan, D., Ornelas, IJ., (2017). Vida PURA: An Assessment of the Fidelity of Promotor Delivered Screening and Brief Intervention to Reduce Unhealthy Alcohol Use among Latino Day Laborers. Journal of Ethnicity in Substance Abuse. DOI: 10.1080/15332640.2017.1300557