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Current Scholars and Fellows


VA Women's Health Fellows




Kristin Berg, MD

VA Women's Health Fellow


Education: Earned her MD from Creighton University School of Medicine, and completed her residency in Internal Medicine at the University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics. She then completed a chief resident year at the same institution.

Research: Dr. Berg's main area of interest is in the field of tobacco research. She is completing a project cataloguing alcohol use changes when patients quit smoking, and is planning to take on new projects merging tobacco use disorders and gender disparities. She is currently enrolled in the Master's degree program in Population Health through the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.




Meghan Brennan, MD

VA Women's Health Fellow


Education: Earned her MD from University of Vermont Medical School. She completed her residency in Internal Medicine at University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics and went on to complete an Infectious Disease fellowship at the same institution.

Research: Today, Dr. Brennan's main research interests are in HIV screening as well as outbreak investigation. To aid in these endeavors, she is currently pursuing a Master's degree in Population Health through the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Population Health.





Belinda Gutierrez, PhD

VA Women's Health Fellow


Education: Earned her PhD from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. As a graduate student was an Advanced Opportunity Fellow, and an NIH funded R25 TEAM-Science Fellow. She completed her pre-doctoral internship at the William S. Middleton Memorial VA Hospital. During her internship she completed rotations in the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Treatment Clinic, the Addiction Disorders Treatment Clinic and the Geriatric Research Education and Clinical Center.

Research: Dr. Gutierrez's research interests are implicit social cognition and the use of video games as tools for promoting attitude and behavior change. Currently, she is studying whether a video game designed to foster empathy for a young Black man in a science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine (STEMM) graduate program can reduce implicit racial biases among players. She is also studying whether implicit biases of mental health practitioners impact mental health outcomes for racial/ethnic minorities.





Andrew Katz, PhD

VA Women's Health Fellow


Education:  Earned his Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  He completed his pre-doctoral internship at the Counseling & Psychological Services center at the University of St. Thomas, in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

Research:  His general interests are in Multicultural Counseling Competence (MCC) theory and in healthcare provider factors that lead to outcome disparities among minorities, women, and other stigmatized groups.  In particular, he is interested in the role that implicit prejudice might play when providers form professional relationships and make treatment decisions with patients from such groups.  In addition to having cross-cultural knowledge and skills, MCC theory asserts that culturally competent providers are also aware of their own "assumptions, values, and biases."  However, recent work in social psychology has demonstrated that individuals have little awareness or control over some forms of personal bias, including automatic prejudice.  Andrew's recent dissertation research sought to measure awareness by comparing the difference between therapists' self-report and automatic prejudice scores, and then correlate this index with their clinical decisions about Black and White patients.  Results suggest that therapists' awareness of personal biases did not influence their clinical reactions as much as the strength of their prejudice scores alone.  In other words, MCC theory might put too much emphasis on awareness of personal prejudice, rather than on prejudice reduction itself.  He would like to replicate and broaden this research to other healthcare fields, such as medicine and nursing.  Eventually, he would like to translate his findings into improved multicultural competency training for all healthcare providers.





Nicole Rogus-Pulia, PhD, CCC-SLP
VA Women's Health Fellow

Education:  Earned her master's degree in Speech-Language Pathology from the University of Iowa in 2003. She completed her clinical training at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and received her Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-language Pathology (CCC-SLP). She also went on to earn her Ph.D. in Communication Sciences and Disorders from Northwestern University.
Research:  Nicole's research interests are focused in the area of dysphagia, or swallowing disorders. She is mostly interested in the ways that changes in varying aspects of saliva production as well as oropharyngeal sensation affect swallowing. Nicole's dissertation work focused on changes in saliva production, patient perception of their own swallowing ability, and swallow physiology following chemoradiation treatment for head and neck cancer. She would like to continue to explore radiation-induced changes to saliva and swallowing but also to broaden her research questions to other patient populations.



Tonya Roberts, PhD, RN
VA Women's Health Fellow

Education:  Earned a PhD in Nursing with a minor in Industrial & Systems Engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Research:  Tonya's area of research is aimed at improving nursing care delivery to enhance quality of life and quality of care for older adults in nursing homes.  Specifically, her research has focused on delivery of person-centered care, articulating the interpersonal interactions and organizational structures that support and sustain it. 'Close relationships', particularly between nursing staff and residents, are often considered the fundamental building blocks for successful delivery of person-centered care.  However, what is meant by a 'close relationship' is often undefined, making successful and systematic implementation of relationships difficult in practice.  Her dissertation research explored nursing home resident definitions of 'close relationship' and the role of these relationships in care delivery.  The results demonstrated how 'close relationships' developed and influenced care and the finding will be used to guide future work aimed at further articulating how relationship influence person-centered care delivery and care outcomes. 



Sandra Schumacher, PhD, MSN, CNM, WHNP, RN, APNP
VA Women's Health Fellow

Education: Earned her PhD in Nursing from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee with a Graduate Certificate in Women's Studies. Earned a MSN from the University of Minnesota in Midwifery, a MS from the University of West Florida in Health, Leisure, and Sports, and a BSN from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Maintains national certification as a Certified Nurse Midwife and a Women's Healthcare Nurse Practioner.
Research: Dr. Schumacher's entire nursing career has been dedicated to women's health. Her research focuses on better understanding women's lived experiences through qualitative design and multi-staged narrative analysis. Sandy's dissertation research explored the historical impact of society and politics on women's experiences of aboration. She is interested in investigating women veteran's experiences of combat and exploring the effect of combat experiences on women's subsequent pregnancies, parenting, and relationships.


Postdoctoral Researchers


Anna C. Kaatz, PhD, MPH
Postdoctoral Research Associate

Education:  Earned her MPH and a PhD in Clinical Investigation after completing an MA in Comparative Literature at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. As a graduate student she was an Advanced Opportunity Fellow, and an NIH funded R25 TEAM-Science Fellow. She also served as a teaching assistant for the course Women and Their Bodies in Health and Disease for 4 years.

Research:  Anna's research focuses on understanding reasons why women physicians and scientists are more likely than men to leave biomedical research careers, particularly on the "bridge to independence" -a career juncture when post docs and junior faculty transition from applying for research funds under the auspices of mentors and begin to apply for independent research support. One significant determinant of independence is obtaining a Research Project Grant (R01) from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and Anna's dissertation research examined reasons for women's lower R01 success rates. As a post doc Anna is expanding her graduate work, and currently leads multiple studies focused on identifying the extent to which unconscious gender biases disadvantage women in scientific and academic peer review processes. She plans to expand this research to also study how an applicant's race may bias peer review. Anna is working toward an independent research career focused broadly on identifying targets for interventions to recruit, retain and advance traditionally underrepresented physicians and scientists, such as women and racial minorities, in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medical (STEMM) fields.


R25 TEAM-Science Scholars


Mariajose Bedoya, PhD Candidate

R25 TEAM-Science Scholar


Education:  Presently working toward  PhD in Medical Physics. Mariajose earned a MS in Biomedical Engineering at UW-Madison and a BS in Electrical Engineering at UW-Madison.

Research:  Mariajose is currently working in the thermal ablation laboratory. Her research interest is in combining minimally invasive thermal ablation therapy with radiation therapy. Microwave tumor ablation is novel local tumor treatment for lung and liver cancer while radiation therapy is an established treatment option. Mariajose aims to investigate synergistic effect of combining both treatments to improve outcome in patients with large inoperable non-small cell lung tumors and metastatic liver tumors.  

What led Mariajose toward this research:  Mariajose joined Professor Christopher Brace's research group while receiving a Master's degree at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The ability of combining clinical work with research convinced her to continue with the PhD. Mariajose became fascinated with how his research in the field of thermal ablation allows for the participation of engineering, medicine, and physics to address needs of clinical practice and developing applicable solutions.

Hometown:  Bogota, Columbia

Dream Job:  Mariajose's dream job would to be able to complement research with clinical practice.  She wants to work as a clinical medical physicist and conduct research at the same time.

Favorite Hobbies:  Biking, sailing, salsa dancing and traveling.

Ice cream:  Cookies and cream. Vanilla ice cream and cookies can never go wrong.





Theo Braden, PhD Candidate

R25 TEAM-Science Scholar


Education: Currently working toward a PhD in Counseling Psychology. Theo earned a Master's degree in Social work at UW-Madison and a BA in Psychology at Marquette University.

Research: Theo is interested in cross-cultural therapeutic alliances, the mismatch between cultural and societal gender roles and its impact on psychosocial functioning, and how young African American MSM navigate African American and Gay environments, and its impact on psychosocial functioning.

What led Theo toward this research: Theo's two years of clinical experience at Journey Mental Health and research with Dr. Maurice Gattis, under UW-Madison's School of Social Work.

Hometown:  Tampa, Florida

Dream Job:  To have a position that will allow him to be 60% researcher and 40% clinician.

Favorite Hobbies:  Hanging out with friends, movies, reading, opera, and working out.

Ice Cream: Chocolate chip cookie dough is his favorite ice cream; because of the chocolate chip cookie dough.   





James Garcia

R25 TEAM-Science Scholar


Education: Earned his Bachelors degree in Neurobiology at University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Research:  Endocrinology and Reproductive Physiology: The role of the hypothalamus in precocious puberty in female rhesus monkeys

What led James toward this research:  Studying neurobiology as an undergraduate here at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Hometown:  Mukwonago, Wisconsin

Dream Job:  Brain Surgeon

Hobbies:  Running, Biking, Golfing, Fishing, Hiking

Ice Cream:  Chocolate Shoppe Chocolate because it's so rich and creamy





Porsha Howell, PhD Candidate

R25 TEAM-Science Scholar


Education: Earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Biology at New Mexico State University and is presently working on her PhD in Nutritional Sciences at UW-Madison.

Research:  Her current research focuses on the impact of caloric restriction, (a dietary intervention shown to extend the lifespan in multiple species) and aging on white adipose tissue metabolism and structure.

What led Porsha toward this research:  Porsha loves food and when she started taking Biology and Nutrition courses in undergrad she became more interested in how the food we eat affects us at the cellular and molecular level.

Hometown:  Hampton, Virginia

Dream Job:  Any job that makes her happy.

Hobbies:  Dancing, cooking and reading.

Ice Cream:  Anything with vanilla ice cream and chocolate pieces.




Marissa Kraynak, PhD Candidate

R25 TEAM-Science Scholar


Education: Marissa earned a BS in Neuroscience at Drew University and is currently working toward a PhD in Endocrinology & Reproductive Physiology at UW-Madison.

Research: Marissa is currently researching the effects of estrogen receptor alpha in the marmoset brain and how this particular estrogen receptor plays a role in metabolic processes and in marmoset behaviors. This research aims to further the understanding of the fertility disorder that affects many women known as Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS).

What led Marissa toward this research: This research combines neuroscience and endocrinology, which Marissa thinks are the two most interesting areas of biology.

Hometown: Larksville, Pennsylvania

Dream Job: Marissa loves to teach. Her dream job would be to get a job teaching for a smaller school.

Favorite Hobbies: Marissa has a lot of hobbies. She likes to play rugby and plays in Madison for the Wisconsin Women's Rugby Football Club. She loves big cities, so she travels to Chicago (or back east to NYC) whenever she gets the chance. Part of her love for big cities is because she likes going to art fairs and museums. Marissa also likes to read a lot

Ice Cream: Marissa likes soft serve ice cream. A vanilla cone with rainbow sprinkles is her favorite. It's been her favorite forever.  




Patrice Leverett, PhD Candidate

R25 TEAM-Science Scholar


Education: Patrice is working on her PhD in Educational Psychology. Additionally, she earned her Bachelors degree at the University of Pittsburgh and her Masters degree in Special Educations at Queens College of New York.

Research:  Patrice is interested in establishing valid and culturally responsive interventions for students of all ages. Through the R25 grant, she will work to increase minority representation and retention in the STEMM fields through enhancing the mentor/mentee relationship and decreasing the impacts of stereotype threat.

What led Patrice toward this research:  Having spent five years as a public school teacher, Patrice was compelled to advocate for students who are underrepresented in higher education and overrepresented in special education and behavior referrals. Through her work in the field of Educational Psychology, she hopes to address this need and create a framework for future scholars and practitioners.

Hometown:  Jamaica, New York

Dream Job:  Patrice's dream job changes with the needs of the educational community.  While she is interested in training professionals in higher education, she hopes to integrate consultation and practice. Most importantly, Patrice hopes to encourage collaboration across disciplines to close attainment gaps; focusing on the educational and psychological well-being of underrepresented students.

Hobbies:  Patrice enjoys cooking, catching up on recent literature and traveling.

Ice Cream:  Her favorite ice cream is some sort of chocolate, brownie, crunch combination. "If it has all of those things, it's meant for me."




Tolu Oyesanya, PhD Candidate

R25 TEAM-Science Scholar


Education: Earned her Bachelors and Masters degree in Nursing at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and is presently working toward a PhD in Nursing at UW-Madison.

Research:  Tolu is currently focused on persons who have had a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Her current research centers on rehabilitation outcomes and quality of life after TBI.

What led Tolu toward this research:  While working clinically with persons who have had a TBI, Tolu became interested in the rehabilitation and recovery process. She was able to witness the recovery journey after injury and observed people achieving their optimal point of recovery. These opportunities sparked her interest in TBI and rehabilitation.

Hometown:  Franklin, Wisconsin

Dream Job:  Tolu's dream job is to become dean of a nursing school at a research-intensive university. 

Hobbies:  Tolu enjoys traveling, cooking, and shopping.

Ice Cream:  Tolu enjoys vanilla ice cream because it's simple and smooth! 




Adriana Rodriguez, PhD Candidate

R25 TEAM-Science Scholar


Education: Adriana earned a BS in Biology at the University of Houston and is currently working toward a PhD in Endocrinology & Reproductive Physiology at UW-Madison.

Research: Adriana is currently working in a Mammalian Embryology laboratory where she investigates how the fetal-umbilical-yolk sac arterial connection is established in the mouse. While the absence or improper alignment of communication between the three major circulatory systems during development can lead to a number of birth defects and early pregnancy loss, little is known about how the connection between the fetal, umbilical and yolk sac arteries is established and regulated. Using the mouse as a model system, Adriana's research will provide insight into the cellular and molecular cues that govern the fetal-umbilical-yolk sac arterial connection in humans.

What led Adriana toward this research: While studying biology in undergrad, Adriana became fond of embryology. Fascinated by the immense power one gene or protein could have on a developmental program, working out the mechanism by which the fetal-umbilical-yolk sac arterial connection is established fit her interest quite well.

Hometown: Katy, Texas

Dream Job: Adriana's dream job would be head a lab that investigates ways to naturally regenerate human tissue and organs. The lab's findings would lead to revolutionary advancements in human health by being able to functionally restore failed tissues or organs that arise either from development (birth defects), disease, or injury.

Favorite Hobbies:  Song writing, dancing, biking, and reading or watching paranormal books and movies.

Ice Cream: Coffee because it's the cool way to get caffeine.




Erika Starks

R25 TEAM-Science Scholar


Education: Earned her Bachelors degree in Molecular and Cellular Biology at University of Arizona.

Research:  Erika is currently working in a Neuroimaging laboratory.  Her specific project will hopefully shed light on the function and anatomical brain alterations that accompany corrective electrical tongue stimulation in patients with balance disorders.  Electric tongue stimulation was found to be a non-invasive method of correcting certain symptoms in balance disorders as well as other pathologies.

What led Erika toward this research:  When Erika started graduate school she knew she wanted to focus on the brain and imaging seemed like the most interesting way to go about it.

Hometown:  Tucson, Arizona

Dream Job:  Erika's dream job would be splitting her professional time between a lab focused on brain pathology and a clinical career.  

Hobbies:  Exercise, eating, reading classic novels

Ice Cream:  Butter Pecan.  I don't really know why, other than it's delicious!




 Yacob Tedla, PhD Candidate 

R25 TEAM-Science Scholar  



Education: Yacob is currently working on his PhD in Epidemiology. He also earned a Master of Science degree in Epidemiology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Research:  Yacob's research interest focuses on Cardiovascular Diseases (CVDs).  Currently he is investigating the association between pulse wave velocity and hypertension, and the independent risk of arterial stiffness on different cardiovascular events.  Yacob is also examining the sensitivity and specificity of different drug-adherence-measures, and the effect of drug-adverse-effects and drug-complexity on medication compliance among patients taking antihypertensive drugs.  He is also interested in understanding emerging risk factors and risk markers for CVDs.

What led Yacob toward this research:  The global burden of CVDs and the emerging epidemic of CVDs in developing nations caught the attention of Yacob.  He then started to get interested to study CVDs, their risk factors and preventive approaches and is convinced that he needs to have grounding knowledge in cardiovascular research.

Dream Job:  Yacob hopes to get a faculty position and engage in research and teaching.  In the future he plans to continue to investigate emerging risk factors and biomarkers of CVDs and the role of biological, behavioral, socioeconomic and environmental differences on development and progression of CVDs.  

Hobbies:  Yacob likes to play soccer, swim and visit new places with friends.

Ice Cream:  If he had to choose, Yacob prefers chocolate-peanut butter.




Rosalina Villalon Landeros

R25 TEAM-Science Scholar


Education: Earned her Bachelor of Science in Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior at University of California, Davis.

Research:  Rosalina's current research interests are fertility treatments, in-vitro fertilization and embryonic development.  The project that she will become involved with for her first rotation looks into the effects of estrogen on uterine artery endothelial cell mitogenesis and tube formation.  All this is done with the purpose of having a better understanding of the effects of estrogen in capillary formation at the placenta and uterine connection during normal pregnancy.

What led Rosalina toward this research:  In order to understand in-vitro fertilization and embryonic development she needs to understand the basic foundation of the connection between the mother and embryo.  It can't get any more basic than uteroplacental connection.  She wants to study something that will help her work in one or all the previous fields and ultimately will provide her with the tools necessary for what she wants to do in the future.

Hometown:  Santa Paula, California

Dream Job:  Rosalina's dream job would be to be able to conduct research and at the same time be able to put my research to work in clinical trials.  She would like to work in human fertility treatments and in-vitro fertilizations.   

Hobbies:  Reading, watching movies and walking

Ice Cream:  Black cherry because of its perfect combination of fully ripen cherries mixed with just the right amount of vanilla.  It can't get better than that.  Plus it brings back memories of good times spent with friends and family.