Who is a Member

The HEALTH Research Institute members consists of faculty affiliated with the Department of Psychological, Health and Learning Sciences; the Graduate College of Social Work; the Department of Psychology; the Department of Health and Human Performance; and the Department of Biomedical Engineering. However, membership will be open to all academic units at the University of Houston based on alignment with the Institute’s goal and objectives. The HEALTH Research Institute is the only institute at UH where the research – and ultimate elimination – of health disparities is a central part of its mission. The organizational structure of the HEALTH Research Institute consists of a Director, Co-Director, Executive Board, Advisory Board, Fellows, and Mentees. The Institute reports directly to the Vice President of Research and Technology Transfer.

Benefits of Membership:

Fellows of the HEALTH Research Institute will directly benefit from: (1) intellectual capital generated from formulating cutting-edge research, prevention, and intervention programs with Fellows from a wide range of disciplines; (2) pilot funding program; (3) grant support; (4) health disparities programming; and (4) direct access to community stakeholders that will generate partnerships aimed at addressing public health programs currently impacting our local communities.

Mentees of the HEALTH Research Institute will directly benefit from: (1) receiving hands-on mentorship from an assigned Fellow to facilitate the acquisition of external funding; (2) monthly meetings with other Mentees and a presenter to address issues related to grantsmanship, barriers to success, and other topics of interest; (3) resources to have an external professional review grant applications prior to submission; (4) direct consultation on grant reviews received from funding agencies; and (5) pilot funding program.

If you are interested in joining the HEALTH Research Institute, please visit our Membership page.

Dr. Ezemenari M. Obasi


Founder & Director of the HEALTH Research Institute

Dr. Obasi’s current program of research focuses on addictions, health disparities that disproportionately affect the African American community, stress physiology, and cultural predictors of health behaviors. As the director of the Hwemudua Addictions and Health Disparities Laboratory (HAHDL) at the University of Houston (UH) – a Biosafety Level II laboratory – he takes an interdisciplinary approach (incl., biomarkers, biofeedback, implicit cognitions, genetics, fMRI, experimental manipulations, etc.) and uses a diverse range of settings (incl., community, bar lounge, experimental rooms, medical facilities, etc.) to investigate biological, psychological, social, and cultural determinants of health.

Dr. Lorraine R. Reitzel


Co-Founder & Co-Director of the HEALTH Research Institute

Dr. Reitzel directs the Social Determinants and Health Disparities Lab at the University of Houston. Her research program focuses on better understanding the social determinants of health and health risk behaviors - and the specific biopsychosocial mechanisms that account for disparities in health risk behaviors and health outcomes - with an emphasis on generating highly translational results that can be used to inform policy and intervention. Much of her work is focused on addressing health disparities related to tobacco use, alone or comorbid with other substance dependence and health risk behaviors, among low socioeconomic status (SES) groups.


Dr. Elebeoba May

Associate Professor, Biomedical Engineering Director, BME Research Program Director, May Research Group UH Cullen College of Engineering

Dr. Dan O'Connor

Professor and Department Chair Health and Human Performance Director, O’Connor Lab Group for Interdisciplinary Health Research UH College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences

Dr. Steven Woods

Professor, Psychology Director, Cognitive Neuropsychology of Daily Life Laboratory Director of Clinical Neuropsychology UH College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences

Dr. Henry Gomez

Vice-President Hispanic Health Coalition

Jaime Freeny

Chair, Board of Directors African 

American Health Coalition


Dr. Ezemenari M. Obasi

Associate Professor and Department Chair
Interim Associate Dean for Research
Psychological, Health, and Learning Sciences
Director, Hwemudua Addictions and Health Disparities Lab (HAHDL) 
UH College of Education

Dr. Lorraine R. Reitzel

Associate Professor,Psychological, Health, and Learning Sciences Director, Social Determinants/Health Disparities Laboratory UH College of Education

Dr. Dan O’Connor

Professor and Department Chair Health and Human Performance Director, O’Connor Lab Group for Interdisciplinary Health Research UH College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences

Dr. Elebeoba E. May

Associate Professor, Biomedical Engineering Director, BME Research Program Director, 

May Research Group UH Cullen College of Engineering

Dr. Isabel Torres

Associate Professor, Social Work
UH Graduate College of Social Work

Dr. Michael Zvolensky

Distinguished Professor in the Department of Psychology  Director, Anxiety and Health Research Laboratory and Substance Use Treatment Clinic UH College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences

Dr. Luis Torres

Associate Professor, Social Work
Associate Dean for Research and Strategic Partnerships
Associate Director, Center for Drug and Social Policy Research
Co-Associate Director, Center for Family and Child Innovative Research
UH Graduate College of Social Work

Dr. Steven Woods

Professor, Psychology
Director, Cognitive Neuropsychology of Daily Life Laboratory
Director of Clinical Neuropsychology
UH College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences


Dr. Rosenda Murillo

Assistant Professor Psychological Health and Learning Sciences UH College of Education

Dr. Jessica Mantel

Associate Professor UH Law Center


Dr. Jodi Berger Cardoso

Assistant Professor
UH Graduate College of Social Work

Dr. Daphne C. Hernandez

Assistant Professor
Health and Human Performance
UH College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences


Lharissa Jacobs, Community Advisory Board Chair

Association Director of Community Health, YMCA of Greater Houston

Lharissa Jacobs is a passionate advocate for healthy living. As Association Director of Community Health for the YMCA of Greater Houston, she leads a portfolio of six community health programs for the YMCA of Greater Houston, and will add more programs in 2017. Her special interests include developing partnerships and collaborative relationships to further the mission of the Y. The current community health portfolio consists of:

  • The YMCA’s Diabetes Prevention Program (an evidence based program for prevention of Type 2 diabetes)
  • LIVESTRONG at the YMCA (an evidence based program for cancer survivors) Healthy Weight and Your Child (evidence based weight management program for families)
  • Kamp K’aana (a 2 week residential camp for kids who struggle with obesity in partnership with Texas Children’s Hospital)
  • Healthy Kids for Life, a Kamp K’aana Day Program
  • EnhanceFitness (evidence based, arthritis friendly program for seniors) Adaptive Yoga and Aquatics Classes for Multiple Sclerosis through partnership with the National MS Society

Lharissa has sixteen years of leadership through teaching and volunteering in public schools, and seven years of leading efforts in chronic disease prevention at the YMCA of Greater Houston. She has a master’s degree from University of Houston in Education (M.Ed in Curriculum and Instruction) and an MBA from University of Houston. She is bilingual in Spanish and English. In her free time she volunteers as a coach for a running group, and spends time with her husband and two teenagers. 

Jamie Freeny

Chair, Board of Directors, African American Health Coalition

Jamie Freeny, MPH, is a dedicated public health practitioner with a desire to make a difference for the health and wellbeing of others. Her nine years of experience in health education and community outreach have offered many insights for her to understand the complexities of how health is effected by where one lives, learns, works, and plays. She has also participated in and lead many efforts to ensure that all Americans have the opportunity to make the choices that allow them to live a long, healthy life, regardless of their income, education, or ethnic background. Currently, Ms. Freeny is a doctoral student in the Community Health Practice division at the UT Health School Of Public Health. Her areas of research include collaborative engagement, adverse childhood experiences, and adolescent mental health. She is a Grant Project Manager in the Community Outreach Services Department of the Harris Health System. Her roles include grant writing, program development, implementation, & evaluation, health education, curriculum development, and community engagement. She co-chairs the IMPACT (Impacting Maternal and Prenatal Care Together) Collaborative of Greater Houston which brings concerned leaders and stakeholders together to discuss and implement strategies to improve maternal and birth outcomes in Harris County. She serves at the Pastoral Care Leader of the T3 (Total Temple Transformation) Health & Wellness Ministry at Windsor Village United Methodist Church which aims to promote health and increase mental health awareness in their congregation and surrounding communities. She also serves as Board Chair for the African American Health Coalition which is an education and advocacy group working to improve the health of African American communities in Houston/Harris County, TX and is the National Delegate for the Texas Society for Public Health Education (TSOPHE), a regional affiliate of the Society for Public Health Education (SOPHE), a national professional service organization.

Dorothy Gibbons

CEO and Co-Founder, The Rose

In 1986, Dorothy and Dr. Dixie Melillo founded The Rose, a Houston-based nonprofit that has provided quality breast healthcare services to over 500,000 insured and uninsured women. The mission of The Rose is saving lives by providing quality breast health services, access to care regardless of a woman's ability to pay and advocacy. Today, The Rose is the only free standing, non-hospital based facility to be recognized as a Breast Imaging Center of Excellence. With two Comprehensive Diagnostic Centers and a Mobile Mammography Fleet covering Southeast and Central Texas, The Rose has become a leader in healthcare delivery and its programs are replicated nationally and internationally.

Dorothy’s leadership has led to many firsts – she introduced the concept patient navigators in 1999, established a 500 member Physicians Network that provides pro bono care for the uninsured; brought in the area’s first portable Mobile Mammography units, created the Breast Health Collaborative of Texas, was the first female to win the Community Health Leadership Award in 2008 by the Episcopal Health Charities, named Houston’s first “Fearless Woman” Awardee in 2011, the first recipient of the Trekker Award and was Yoplait’s Breast Cancer Champion in 2012.

Her non-profit experience involves healthcare, education and women’s issues. She has served on the founding boards for the Breast Health Collaborative of Texas, the North Pasadena Community Outreach, the Breast Care Center in Washington DC., Gateway to Care and the Texas Medical Centers Women’s Health Network in Houston. She has served on the boards of the American Leadership Forum, the Texas Executive Women’s, Brigid’s Place and was an organizer of the Mary Magdalene Community started in 2005.

Dorothy is a passionate advocate for women and her first book: The Women of The Rose was published with rave reviews and ranked number one in Cancer E-books. She is a wife, a mother, a yoga instructor, lecturer on Mary Magdalene and rancher, holds a BA in communications with extended studies of women’s roles in world religions, mythology and history.

Dr. Henry F. Gomez

Vice-President, Hispanic Health Coalition

Dr. Gomez is an accomplished, quality-focused professional, formally trained as a physician, with an outstanding record of achievement in clinical research. Recognized throughout his career for his leadership abilities, creative thinking, ability to be a team player, problem solving, excellent analytical and project management skills and meticulous attention to detail, Dr. Gomez brings novel approaches to creating solutions from problems, and is compassionate in dealing with patients and research subjects.

As Program Director in the Department of Epidemiology at MD Anderson Cancer Center, Dr. Gomez is responsible for all operational aspects of the Mano a Mano cohort study, the largest health study of its kind with individuals of Mexican origin, and also serves as a liaison with the Mexican American community. As author, and co-author of numerous publications in peer-reviewed journals, Dr. Gomez has traveled extensively presenting his research findings at national and international conferences. His research projects have received funding from the National Institute of Health, the American Heart Association, the Children's Miracle Network and several other funding agencies. Dr. Gomez was also awarded the Young Investigator Award in the 8th International Conference of the International Society for Research on Human Milk and Lactation in Plymouth, MA. His original research in the immune system of alligators has been shown on local and national TV stations as well as National Geographic’s Explorer. Consequent with his Jesuit formation, he remains actively involved in the community leading multiple volunteer organizations and initiatives, including youth education via Boy Scouts of America, youth sports via Braes Bayou Little League and Kyle Chapman PONY League, environment via Brazos Bend State Park Volunteer Organization, and the Hispanic Health Coalition.

Dr. Gomez is a graduate of the FBI Outstanding Citizens Academy and received the Patrice Johnson Distinguished Alumnus Award for Exemplary Leadership Skills Class XX-Leadership Houston. He is very passionate about research and giving a voice to those he feels are voiceless.

Kaylan Henderson

Division Manager for Area A, 

Houston Health Department

The Division Manager oversees the Third Ward Multi Service Center, Sunnyside Multi Service Center, Magnolia Multi Service Center, Denver Harbor Multi Service Center, and Sunnyside Health Clinic.

Kaylan Henderson is a public servant who has spent 16 years in Public Health where she has primarily focused on community health and identification of program outcomes and effectiveness. Kaylan Henderson received her Bachelor of Arts in Science from Hampton University and her Masters of Science in Public Health from Meharry Medical College.

Kaylan began her Public Health career in Nashville, Tennessee with the Tennessee Department of Health where she served as Director of Policy and Legislation. Kaylan returned home to Houston to work with the Department of Aging and Disability Services as a Compliance Monitor for Quality Assurance. Kaylan worked with SUNNY Futures Healthy Start, a program within Neighborhood Centers, Inc. as a Health Education Coordinator. The programs primary focus was to reduce infant mortality in the Houston community. Kaylan served as the Committee Chair for the Access to Care Subcommittee and participated in the Public Information Committee within Sunny Futures Healthy Start Consortium. After working with Neighborhood Centers, Inc. Kaylan accepted the position of Executive Director for a private company that advocated for individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.

Her career path has led her to the Houston Health Department where she currently is an Administration Manager for the Care Coordination Program. The Care Coordination Program is an 1115 Waiver Program working to expand Medicaid Managed Care. The Care Coordination program provides care navigation services to clients who are frequent users of crisis care systems, individuals who need to be connected or re-connected to a medical home and those who need support to effectively utilize a medical home. In addition, the program addresses the social and physical environments of its clients by providing services that address barriers to access and utilization of primary care, due to the complexity of the health care system, resulting in better outcomes by engaging and developing the whole person.

Kaylan is an active member of the Missouri City Chapter of the Links, Inc.; a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.; The American Public Health Association; and St. Mary’s of the Purification Catholic Church.

Lynne H. Nguyen

Founder and Board Member, 

Asian American Health Coalition

Lynne Nguyen is Director of the Community & Populations Core in the Center for Community-Engaged Translational Research at MD Anderson Cancer Center. She leads MD Anderson’s efforts to increase minorities & women’s awareness, understanding, and participation in cancer clinical trials. In addition to monitoring and reporting on clinical trial participation trends and patterns, advising research teams on strategies to increase participation of minorities and women to clinical trials, and helping with recruitment planning and grant writing, Lynne leads a team of community health engagement experts that facilitate long-term, equitable research partnerships between MD Anderson researchers and community-based organizations. Her expertise and background includes more than 20 years’ experience facilitating community-academic research partnerships, community planning and needs assessment, program planning, implementation and evaluation, and health literacy and cultural competency training, with specific focus on addressing health disparities in medically underserved populations.

A passionate community volunteer and health advocate, Lynne founded the Asian American Health Coalition, the parent organization of HOPE Clinic in Houston. From its beginnings as a 4-hour a month volunteer-led clinic in 2002, HOPE Clinic is now a fully-staffed Federally Qualified Community Health Center that serves all patients regardless of insurance or income status. Today HOPE serves as the medical home for more than 9000 patients, providing care during more than 45,000 patient visits in 2014. She also serves on the boards and leadership committees of local and statewide organizations focused on women’s health, demographics, literacy, and comprehensive cancer control planning. Lynne received her Bachelor of Science from the University of Houston and her Master in Public Health from the University of Texas School of Public Health here in Houston.

Courtney Taylor

Vice President and Community Development Officer at Green Bank

Courtney Taylor is the Vice President and Community Development Officer for Green Bank. She is responsible developing partnerships with nonprofit organizations, creating volunteer opportunities for the bank, and seeking innovative ways to impact the community. Courtney serves on the advisory council for the Fifth Ward Enrichment Program, Inc., Chairperson for the San Jacinto College District Business Management Advisory Committee, and Advisory Board Member to Kids r Strong 2 Cancer Non-Profit Organization, Mentor for Dress for Success Women 2 Women Mentoring Program, and is a current member of the Junior League of Greater Houston.  She is previous board member for the National Black MBA Association Houston Chapter, Houston Area Urban League of Young Professionals (HAULYP), alumna of United Way of Greater Houston Project Blueprint : Class XXXI, alumna of Houston Black Leadership Institute Class III,  and was recognized as one of Houston’s Top 30 Under 30 in 2013 . Courtney holds a Bachelors of Arts in Public Relations from University of Texas at San Antonio and an MBA from Texas Woman’s University. Courtney’s expertise is in community development, nonprofit management, grant writing, communications, and community outreach.

Sara Oussar

M.S.  ADA Director of Development

  Sara Oussar is passionate about health care access and equity. As a Director of Development for the American Diabetes Association, her focus is to increase and diversify sources of revenue to support the mission of the Association, to prevent and cure diabetes and improve the lives of all people affected by diabetes. 

Sara has 12 years of non-profit management and fundraising experience. She is a contributing member of  PARTNERS supporting nurses’ education at UTHealth, the Association of Fundraising Professionals, the Planned Giving Council of Houston, ACLU, and the UN-Houston Chapter. She is a past conversationalist at the University of Houston annual Table Talk and a panelist at the Houston Women’s Conference.


Dr. Nathan Grant Smith

Associate Professor
Health and Human Performance
Director, CORE Research Team
UH Department of Psychological, Health, and Learning Sciences

Dr. Marcel Alejandro de Dios

 Assistant Professor in the Psychological Health and Learning Sciences. 

Dr. Virmarie Correa-Fernandez

 Associate Professor Department of Psychological, Health and Learning Sciences 

Dr. Brian Reed

 Chair, Professor 

Department of Clinical Sciences

Dr. David S. Buck

 Associate Dean of Community Health

CEO, Patient Care Intervention Center

Dr. Winston Liaw

Clinical Associate Professor and Department Chair

Health Systems and Population Health Sciences

College of Medicine 

Dr. Olivera Nesic-Taylor

Cullen Endowed Chair of Biomedical Sciences 

Department of Biomedical Sciences

College of Medicine

Dr. Chakema Carmack

Assistant Professor

Department of Psychological, Health and Learning Sciences