Behavioral and Community Health Sciences

Doctoral Students

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

Kara D. Denstel is a Ph.D. Candidate 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 dissertation investigates 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.

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.

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.


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.

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.

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.

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.

Ty-Runet Bryant

Ty-Runet Bryant is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Behavioral and Community Health Sciences. Originally from New Orleans, she received her BS in Chemistry from Loyola University New Orleans and obtained her MPH from Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. Currently, Ty-Runet is the Program Manager for research the Louisiana Tobacco Control Initiative at LSU Health Sciences Center. She is passionate about using community partnered research to improve health outcomes for underserved communities. As a doctoral student, Ty-Runet seeks to explore healthcare delivery systems’ approaches to smoking cessation interventions for HIV positive smokers.

Gabrielle Gonzalez

Gabrielle’s goal at the School of Public Health is to further her knowledge in her field of interest, childhood obesity. She received a BS from LSU in Biological Sciences in 2019, and recently graduated from the LSU Health Sciences Center School of Public Health in 2021 with an MPH from the BCHS department. She has previous research experience with Pennington Biomedical Research Center in one of their childhood obesity programs, Team Up, under the direction of Dr. Amanda Staiano. This family-centered childhood obesity intervention was delivered in primary care to underserved populations. Additionally, she acted as program manager for the Healthier Together program at LSUHSC SPH for her practice experience under the supervision of Dr. Melinda Sothern. Through this program, she implemented a family-based behavioral intervention to improve metabolic function in pre-diabetic children with obesity in a clinical setting. She later transformed this program into a remote learning format during COVID-19’s stay home orders and presented at The Obesity Society conference in 2020. Gabrielle hopes to spend her time furthering her knowledge of childhood obesity during her doctoral studies to positively impact children and adolescents struggling with obesity.

Victoria Sacco

Victoria Sacco is a second-year doctoral student in the Department of Behavioral and Community Health Sciences at the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center (LSUHSC). She currently works in the Psychiatry Department at LSUHSC managing grant and contract coordination. Victoria holds a Master of Public Health with a concentration in Health Policy and Systems Management from LSUHSC and a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from the University of New Orleans. Her research interests include racial and social inequities, criminal justice, and social determinants of health.