Behavioral and Community Health Sciences


Current Doctoral Students

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

Selected Publications

Theall, K.P., M.P. Chaparro, K.D. Denstel, A. Bilfield, S. Drury. (in press). Childhood obesity and the roles of neighborhood and biologic stress. Preventive Medicine Reports. 2019; 14:100849.

Myers, C.A., K.D. Denstel, S.T. Broyles. The context of context: Examining the associations between healthy and unhealthy measures of neighborhood food, physical activity, and social environments. Preventive Medicine. 2016 Dec;93:21-26.

Denstel, K.D., S.T. Broyles, R. Larouche, O.L. Sarmiento, T.V. Barreira, J.-P. Chaput, T.S. Church, M. Fogelholm, G. Hu, R. Kuriyan, A. Kurpad, E.V. Lambert, C. Maher, J. Maia, V. Matsudo, T. Olds, V. Onywera, M. Standage, M.S. Tremblay, C. Tudor-Locke, P. Zhao and P.T. Katzmarzyk for the ISCOLE Research Group. Active school transport and weekday physical activity in 9-11 year old children from 12 countries. International Journal of Obesity Supplements. 2015;5(2):S100-S106.

Broyles S.T., K.D. Denstel, T.S. Church, J.-P. Chaput, M. Fogelholm, G. Hu, R. Kuriyan, A. Kurpad, E.V. Lambert, C. Maher, J. Maia, V. Matsudo, T. Olds, V. Onywera, O.L. Sarmiento, M. Standage, M.S. Tremblay, C. Tudor-Locke, P. Zhao and P.T. Katzmarzyk for the ISCOLE Research Group. The epidemiological transition and the global childhood obesity epidemic. International Journal of Obesity Supplements. 2015;5(2):S3-S8.

Selected Abstracts

Kepper, M.M., C.A. Myers, K.D. Denstel, R.F. Hunger, W. Guan, S.T. Broyles. The Neighborhood Social Environment and Physical Activity: A Systematic Scoping Review. The International Society for Behavior, Nutrition, and Physical Activity. Prague, Czech Republic, June 2019.

Denstel K.D., M.M. Kepper, C.M. Champagne, P.T. Katzmarzyk, R.L. Newton, A.E. Staiano, S.T. Broyles. Neighborhood Disadvantage and Total and Region-Specific Body Fat in Adolescents. Submitted to The Obesity Society Annual Meeting. Nashville, TN, Nov. 2018.

Theall K.P., K.D. Denstel, S.T. Broyles, S. Drury. Neighborhood Stress, Obesity-Related Markers and Telomere Length in Children. The 2016 Epidemiology Congress of the Americas. Miami, Florida, June 2016.

Renee Underwood

Renee Underwood is a fourth year Ph.D. student under the Behavioral and Community Health Sciences (BCHS) concentration. She is also a program 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 measuring organizational supports. Renee is currently working to carry out her dissertation study which will measure organizational supports at the worksite and individual level.

Proposed Dissertation

Exploring successful implementation of organizational supports on employee health behavior at the worksite environment

Rebecca Atkinson

Rebecca Atkinson is a fifth-year PhD candidate in the Behavioral and Community Health Sciences program. She also works as the Director of Special Projects for the City of New Orleans’ Office of Land Use. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering from Mississippi State University and received an MPH in Health Education and Communication from Tulane University. Her prospectus and dissertation research examines the impact of incarcerating individuals with serious mental illnesses in Louisiana jails and prisons. Rebecca chose the LSUHSC School of Public Health because of the work done by the School’s Institute of Public Health and Justice, which studies and evaluates the intersection between public health and criminal justice.

Proposed Dissertation

Assessing the impact of incarcerating individuals with serious mental illnesses

Selected Publications 

Phillippi S., Siegel, G., Scharf, P., Atkinson, R., Vos, S., McCann, E., Arteaga, P. (2016). A legislated study of raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction in Louisiana – The future of 17-year-olds in the Louisiana justice system.

Mundorf, C.,…& Atkinson, R. 2017 (Manuscript in Print). Cultural models of community violence among young women with children. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment.

Atkinson, R., Kensler, P., McKnight, C., Pouey, S., & Wiggins, J. (2018, Manuscript in Review). Experiences of service providers delivering care to homeless individuals in New Orleans: A qualitative study. Journal of Social Distress and the Homeless.

Susu Luo 

Susu (Ting) Luo received her MPH degree and a Certificate of Post-Baccalaureate Pre-Medical Study from Washington University in St Louis and a Public Licensed Dietitian Certificate in China. Her project, “The First National Quitline to Decrease Smoking Prevalence, China” was selected by the Clinton Global Initiative University. Her research interests are primarily focused on nutrition related cancer prevention, social media based health education, and tobacco cessation. She worked as a graduate assistant, particularly in data analysis, for the Louisiana Cancer Prevention and Control Programs during her first year and currently she works for the Tobacco Control Initiative. She is a recognized author with the Journal of Health and Nutrition of China, a columnist with the Journal of Doctor of China, and an author and health editor at Chinese Clinical Nutrition Network and the Journal of Nutrition Science. She has published online over 100 health and nutrition related papers, and 100 health related news briefs, which have received over 100-thousand shares and 100-million reads online.

Proposed Dissertation

Examining a WeChat-based smoking cessation program for Chinese smokers

Fourth-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.


Third-Year Students

Brittany Coote

Brittany Coote is a third year Ph.D. student in the Department of Behavioral and Community Health Sciences under Dr. Henry Nuss. Her research interests are in the prevention of infant mortality and morbidity and mental health in underserved populations. Her public health experience spans from studying maternal and child health in the Gambia, West Africa to serving as a clinical research assistant on a research study that evaluates the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder syndrome in an American civilian population. Currently, her dissertation interests focus on creating appropriate interventions using mindfulness to reduce the incidence of low birth weight infants in high risk women experiencing depression. She earned her Master of Public Health degree in Health Management and Policy from Drexel University and Bachelor of Science degree in Community Health from the University of Maryland, College Park.

Selected Presentations

Phillippi, S; Lindau, H; Leonardi, C.; Coote, B & Maus, B (2018, July). Interrupting determinants of abuse, substance misuse, and delinquency: A National OJJDP supported evaluation of an innovative early prevention group mentoring approach with at risk youth Poster session presented at the biennal meeting of the University of Maryland, Baltimore School of Social Work Training Institute in Washington, DC.

Casey Thomas

Casey Thomas is a third-year Ph.D. student pursuing a degree in Community Health Sciences with a minor in Health Policy and Systems Management. Since beginning her doctoral studies, she has been a graduate assistant to Dr. Stephen Phillippi at the school’s Institute for Public Health and Justice. Most recently, she began working with the Louisiana Department of Health’s Office of Public Health to conduct her dissertation research examining school-based health centers.

Selected Abstracts

Thomas, C.L., The Use of Health Information Technology for the Integration of Mental and Primary Health Care Services: A Systematic Review. Submitted to the American Public Health Association Conference. San Diego, CA, Nov 2018.

Selected Publications 

Phillippi, S.W., Beiter, K., Thomas, C.L., Sugarman, O., Wennerstrom, A., Wells, K., & Trapido, E. (2019). Medicaid utilization before and after natural disaster in the 2016 Baton Rouge-area flood. Am J Public Health, 109. 109:S316-S321. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2019.305193

Kao, Y.H., Lin, W.T., Thomas, C.L., Lin, H.Y., & Tseng, T.S. (2019). Association between smoking and neutrophil to lymphocyte ratio among prostate cancer survivors: The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Transl Cancer Res, 8. doi:10.21037/tcr.2019.05.23

Mase, W.A., Bickford, B., Thomas, C.L., Jones, S.D., Bisesi, M. (2017). After-action review of the 2009-10 H1N1 influenza outbreak response: Ohio’s public health system performance. J Emerg Manag, 15, 325-334. doi:10.5055/jem.2017.0340

Meehan, T.P.S., Elwell, A., Meehan, T.P.J., Ho, S.Y., Van Hoof, T.J., Ray, D., Thomas, C.L., et al. (2016). Description and impact evaluation of a statewide collaboration to reduce preventable hospital readmissions. Am J Med Qual, 32, 353-360. doi:10.1177/1062860616659356

Precious Comeaux 

Precious Comeaux, MPH, is a third-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.

Selected Abstracts

Ty Runet Bryant, MPH, Ashley Larche, BS, Precious Comeaux, MPH. (October, 2018). “Utilizing Rapid Cycle Quality Improvement Methodology to Increase Adolescent STD/HIV Screening” CDC STD Prevention Conference, Washington, D.C.


Second-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.

Kaylin Beiter

Kaylin Beiter is a MD/Ph.D. student in the Department of Behavioral and Community Health. 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 in PTSD treatment is funded by the Spirit of Charity Foundation through the University Medical Center. She also currently works at the Louisiana Center for Evidence to Practice. Research interests include mental health, community violence, and healthcare payment models.

Selected Publications 

Phillippi SW, Beiter KJ, Thomas CL, et al. Examining Medicaid utilization pre and post natural disaster: A case study of the 2016 Baton Rouge Area Flood indicating a need for increased behavioral health access. (In press: American Journal of Public Health, May 2019)

*Diop-Ndiaye H, *Beiter KJ, Gheit T, et al. Human Papillomavirus infection in Senegalese Female Sex Workers. Papillomavirus Research. 2019: S2405-8521(18)30121-6.

*Fourniquet S, *Beiter KJ, Mussell J. Ethical Rationales and Guidelines for the Continued Use of Archival Collections of Embryonic and Fetal Specimens. Anat Sci Educ. 2019. doi: 10.1002/ase.1897. [Epub ahead of print]

*Okatch H, *Beiter KJ, Eby J, et al. Brief Report: Apparent Antiretroviral Over-adherence by Pill Count is Associated with HIV Treatment Failure in Adolescents. J Acquir Immune Def Syndr. 2016. 72(5):542-545.

Beiter KJ, Wentlant Z, Hamouda A, Thomas BN. Nonconventional opponents: A review of Malaria and Leishmaniasis among United States Armed Forces. PeerJ 2019;7:e6313. doi:10.7717/peerj.6313

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 second 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.

Selected Publications

Mango, J. D.; Griffith, K.; Kacsits, O.;.. Williams, P. Commentary: Community Partner Experiences in CPPR: What Participation in Partnered Research Can Mean to Community and Patient Stakeholders. Ethn. Dis. 2018, 28, 311–316, doi:10.18865/ed.28.S2.311.

Arevian, A. C.; … Sugarman, O. K.; …Wells, K. B. The Community and Patient Partnered Research Network (CPPRN): Application of Patient-Centered Outcomes Research to Promote Behavioral Health Equity. Ethn. Dis. 2018, 28, 295–302, doi:10.18865/ed.28.S2.295.


First-Year Students

Malesa Pereira

Malesa is a first 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. Malesa’s research interests include improving outcomes for Pediatric, Adolescent and Young Adult Cancer Patients and Survivors. Prior to LSU, Malesa was a Research Coordinator working on research projects and trials focusing on developing and applying Biomedical Imaging techniques to interventions in oncology.

Selected Abstracts

Niell, B. L.; Abdalah, M.: Stringfield, O.; Pereira, M. M.; Raghunand, N.; Balagurunathan, Y.; “Quantitative Analysis of Background Parenchymal Enhancement in Breast MRI May be Predictive of Breast Cancer Risk.” Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) Annual Meeting 2019, Chicago, IL, USA December 2019. (Accepted)

Kis, B.; Pereira, M. M.; El-Haddad, Ghassan; Choi, Junsung; Fontaine, Jacques; Creelan, Benjamin; Tanvetyanon, Tawee; “Feasibility and Safety of Transarterial Chemoperfusion Treatment for Advanced Stage Pleural Mesothelioma: Interim Results of a Phase 2 Study.” Cardiovascular and Interventional Radiological Society of Europe, Barcelona, Spain, September 2019

Niell, B. L.; Abdalah, M.: Stringfield, O.; Pereira, M. M.; Raghunand, N.; “Agreement between radiologist-assigned categories and quantitative measures of background parenchymal enhancement on breast MRI.” Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) Annual Meeting 2018, Chicago, IL, USA December 2018.

Meaghan Donewar

Meaghan is a first 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.