Behavioral and Community Health Sciences


Current Doctoral Students

To view published works from BCHS doctoral students, visit our NCBI Page!
Ph.D. Candidates
Kara D. Denstel

Kara D. Denstel is a Ph.D. candidate in the Community Health Sciences (CHS) program at the LSU School of Public Health under Dr. Stephanie T. Broyles. She is also Project Manager of the Physical Activity & Obesity Epidemiology Laboratory at the LSU Pennington Biomedical Research Center under the direction of Dr. Peter T. Katzmarzyk. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences with a Chemistry minor from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. After finishing her undergraduate degree, Kara attended Boston University School of Public Health where she earned a Master of Public Health in both the International Health and Epidemiology programs with a special emphasis in disease control. Her main research interest and dissertation work includes investigating the genetic, cardiometabolic, and behavioral consequences of chronic stress exposure during childhood. She was drawn to the CHS program by the faculty’s expertise and ongoing research projects aimed at better understanding, treating, and preventing obesity and poor cardiometabolic health among pediatric populations.

Proposed Dissertation

The role of chronic psychosocial stress exposure and cognitive-behavioral factors in predicting early obesity, cardiometabolic disease risk, and biological aging in adolescents

Renee Underwood

Renee Underwood is a Ph.D. candidate under the Behavioral and Community Health Sciences (BCHS) concentration. She is also a grant coordinator under the Louisiana Office of Public Health’s Bureau of Chronic Disease Prevention and Healthcare Access. She earned her Master of Arts in Kinesiology and Health Studies, with a concentration in Health Studies from Southeastern Louisiana University and became a Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) in 2011. Upon graduation, Renee found her passion in the field of worksite wellness and has worked in the private sector planning, implementing, and evaluating corporate wellness programs, in addition to working on the state level connecting organizations to resources and recognizing those who are increasing access to healthier options in the workplace. Renee’s dissertation will continue her passion by focusing on worksite wellness at the organization level with particular interest in organizational supports. Renee is currently working to carry out her dissertation study which will seek to understand organizational supports at the worksite and individual level.

Proposed Dissertation

Exploring successful implementation of organizational supports on employee health behavior at the worksite environment, a mixed methods approach.

Casey Thomas

Casey Thomas is a Ph.D. Candidate studying Community Health Sciences with a minor concentration in Health Policy and Systems Management. Under the mentorship and support of Dr. Stephen Phillippi, she is a graduate assistant in the Institute for Public Health and Justice. Her ongoing research examines schools as fundamental structures that can prevent social inequities, particularly health disparities, among children. This research is grounded in a social ecological framework and prioritizes the need for coordinated school policies, processes, and practices to address the needs of the whole child.

Proposed Dissertation

A mixed methods approach to explain the relationship between school-based health centers and educational outcomes


Kaylin Beiter

Kaylin Beiter is a MD/Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Behavioral and Community Health Sciences. Prior to LSU, Kaylin completed her undergraduate degree at the Rochester Institute of Technology. She also completed a Fulbright Research Fellowship in Senegal, studying HIV/STIs in female sex workers and depression in HIV+ medication-resistant patients. Here in New Orleans, she has mentored local teens with the organization Heart of Passion, volunteered at and co-directed the LSU Student-Run Homeless Clinics, and co-founded the School of Public Health Global Health Interest Group. Her research with the LSU Department of Anatomy on fetal specimens was funded by the Gold Humanism Society, and her current work is funded by the Spirit of Charity Foundation through the University Medical Center Hospital. She also currently works at the Louisiana Center for Evidence to Practice. Research interests include community violence and mental health disparities, with a specific emphasis on PTSD.

Fifth-Year Students

Michelle Lawrence Bidwell

Michelle Lawrence Bidwell holds a Master of Public Health from Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center and is currently a third-year doctoral student in Community Health Sciences. She has worked on several research and evaluation projects in the fields of cancer, pharmacology, nutrition, high risk youth, and corrections for organizations like the Louisiana Cancer and Prevention Program (LCP), Educational Testing Service (ETS), Gretna Police Department, LSU Health’s Pharmacology Department, The Moyer Foundation, and SMART CAFE. Michelle is a former member of the School of Public Health’s Research Committee and is the founding president of LSU Health’s Student Organization for the Advancement of Research (SOAR). Prior to attending LSU Health, Michelle graduated from Xavier University with a degree in psychology and a minor in chemistry. Michelle is currently the Director of Impact and Evaluation at Bastion Community of Resilience, a local non-profit community for military veterans and their families. Michelle’s research interests include substance abuse, military veterans’ health, and sustainable community programming.

Fourth-Year Students

Precious Comeaux 

Precious Comeaux, MPH, is a fourth-year PhD student in the Behavioral and Community Health Sciences department. Precious’s area of interest focuses on increasing rates of medication adherence in patients with infectious diseases.  Precious currently works as the Director of Clinical Operations for a multi-site Federally Qualified Health Center.  Originally from Acadiana, she received her Bachelor of Science degree in Biology from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and her Master of Public Health in Health Policy and Systems Management from LSU Health Sciences Center, New Orleans. While in her MPH program, Precious received the Louisiana Association of Health Plans Gil Dupre Graduate Student Scholarship. Precious has worked extensively with Federally Qualified Health Centers and Community Based Organizations to improve healthcare quality and reduce health disparities in the public health areas of infectious disease, maternal and child health, primary care and mental health.

Third-Year Students

Ashley Fenton

Ashley Fenton’s area of interest focuses on decreasing obesity rates among African American youth to influence obesity rates among adults in the African American community. She hopes to focus her research on identifying factors of influence such as cultural cooking habits, genetics, and/or environmental factors.


Dana Smiles 

Dana Smiles’ research interests include maternal health, birth equity, and prevention of maternal mortality and morbidity, prevention of premature births and infant mortality, access to contraception and reproductive health knowledge and services for adolescents in Louisiana, and social determinants of health. Dana’s methods of choice include: qualitative, ethnographic, and community-based participatory research. Dana has extensive experience designing, implementing, and evaluating social and health programs for non-profit organizations and institutions in sub-Saharan Africa, the Caribbean, and the United States. Dana’s 2017 publication, “I Didn’t Tell Anyone Because I Was Very Afraid: Girls’ Experiences of Menstruation in Contemporary Ethiopia,” in Women’s Reproductive Health draws on her experience conducting ethnographic research on girls’ transition to womanhood in Ethiopia. Dana earned a Master of Public Health from the Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University in 2010 and a Masters in Sociology from Brown University in 2014. Dana also serves as the Women’s Health and Equity Program Evaluation Manager at the Center for Healthcare Value and Equity, a collaboration between LSU Health and the Louisiana Department of Health.


Mirandy Li

Mirandy Li is a MD/Ph.D. graduate student and researcher for the Louisiana Tobacco Control Initiative. She received her undergraduate degree in Biology and Global Health from Emory University in 2016. Her research interests involve combating smoking cessation health disparities for racial, ethnic, gender, and sexual minorities. She is currently co-president of Tiger Pride at LSUHSC and previously served as president of Medical Students for Choice and Asian Pacific American Medical Student Association. She has also helped establish the Diversity Advisory Council at LSUHSC. In 2017, she was selected as a Reproductive Health Extern at Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts. She was also selected as a 2018 Women In Medicine Leadership Scholar, a national scholarship for female medical students who have made significant contributions in the LGBTQ community. She hopes to enter the field of medicine as either an OB/GYN or Emergency Physician. In her spare time, Mirandy loves spending time with her son, Coco (who is a dog).


Olivia Sugarman

Olivia is a third year Ph.D. student in the Behavioral Health and Community Sciences department. She received her Bachelor of Science in Pre-Professional Sciences from the University of Notre Dame and her Master of Public Health at Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. Olivia’s previous and current work is founded in community partnered research to address mental and behavioral health disparities in underserved communities. As a doctoral student, Olivia seeks to extend her current work into incarceration and reentry health disparities and services, and HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment.

Second-Year Students

Malesa Pereira

Malesa is a second year Ph.D. student in the Department of Behavioral and Community Health Sciences. She obtained her Bachelor of Science degree in Biochemistry from Binghamton University and her Master of Public Health in Maternal and Child Health from University of South Florida. Prior to joining LSUHSC, Malesa was a Research Coordinator working on research projects and trials focusing on developing and applying biomedical imaging techniques to interventions in oncology. Malesa’s research interests include improving outcomes for Pediatric, Adolescent and Young Adult Cancer Patients and Survivors.


Meaghan Donewar

Meaghan is a second year Ph.D. student in the Behavioral Health and Community Sciences department. She received her Bachelor of Science in Biology from Tulane University and her Master of Public Health at LSUHSC School of Public Health. She is a program manager for the LA CaTS Pilot Grants Program at Tulane University and a graduate assistant for Dr. Stephanie Broyles. Meaghan’s area of interest focuses on the role of stress in cardiovascular disease in women. She hopes to investigative biological and behavioral consequences of chronic stress and their effect on cardiovascular disease in women to inform intervention and policy development.

First-Year Students

Sara Crosby Juneau

Sara is a first year Ph.D. student studying Community Health Sciences. She received her Bachelor of Arts in English from The University of Southern Mississippi. After working as a medical transcriptionist, she decided to return to Southern Miss to earn her Master of Public Health with an emphasis in health education. Her master program research was heavily involved with working with both senior citizen health as well as working with victims of domestic violence. She is an advisory board member for the Harrison County Senior Companion Program and will begin working as a graduate assistant for Dr. Stephen Phillippi. During her doctoral studies, Sara aims to further research how the justice system functions as a determinant of health.


Willandra Whiting

Willandra Whiting is a first-year Ph.D. student in the Department of Behavioral and Community Health Sciences. She is very passionate about sexual health and hopes to focus her research on how childhood trauma and early sexual initiation shape male sexual behaviors and sexual health outcomes. Originally from Las Vegas, Nevada, Willandra received her BS in Biology from Clark Atlanta University and obtained her MPH with a concentration in Environmental and Occupational Health from University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She obtained a Registered Environmental Health Specialist certification and currently works as an Environmental Health Specialist II in Food Operations at the Southern Nevada Health District.