MEET OUR TCORS TEAM

Directors

Mary Ann Pentz, Ph.D.

Professor, Preventive Medicine
Sidney R. Garfield Chair in Health Sciences
Director, Institute for Prevention Research
Director, Administrative and Career Enhancement Core

Dr. Mary Ann Pentz is Director of the Institute for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Research (IPR), Director of the Division of Health Behavior Research in Preventive Medicine, and co-Director of the Cancer Control Program of the Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center. All of her research and leadership experience over the last 25 years has focused on prevention of chronic diseases of lifestyle, with a primary emphasis on adolescents and their families. Her prevention research has focused on developing and evaluating interventions to prevent the multiple health risk and disseminating both programmatic and policy interventions for tobacco and alcohol use, physical activity, sedentary behavior, nutrition, obesity, stress, and sleep in large randomized trials that involve communities, schools, and families, for all of which she has been PI. As PI of the NIH Tobacco Center of Regulatory Science (TCORS, with Jon Samet), her TCORS research has developed and disseminated evidence-based tobacco prevention strategies and promoted adoption of evidence-based prevention policies. Dr. Pentz has also organized and coordinated large teams of transdisciplinary researchers and resources required for large-scale trials.


Adam Leventhal, Ph.D.

Professor of Preventive Medicine
Director of Health, Emotion, & Addiction Laboratory
Director and Project 4 Lead

Adam Leventhal, Ph.D., Professor of Preventive Medicine and Psychology at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine and USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center, is an addiction psychologist and public health scientist. He is the Founding Director of the USC Health, Emotion, & Addiction Laboratory (USC-HEAL; heal.usc.edu), a group of five faculty investigators and 20 staff and trainees who study the causes, consequences, treatment, and prevention of addiction and mental illness across the lifespan. Having been awarded more than $32M in grant funding from the NIH and other agencies, USC-HEAL’s current areas of focus are: (1) adolescent and young adult use of tobacco, cannabis, and opioids; (2) the co-occurrence of addiction and mental illness; (3) the development of new medications to promote smoking cessation; (4) science to inform public policies for regulating tobacco and other consumer products; and (5) cancer and cardiovascular disease prevention. Dr. Leventhal has authored over 200 peer-reviewed scientific articles, including publications in JAMA, New England Journal of Medicine, and other journals. His work has been covered by the Associated Press, NBC Nightly News, New York Times, and other media outlets. Dr. Leventhal is active in policy arenas, having served on expert panels on the health effects of e-cigarettes and tobacco products for the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine and the US Surgeon General. He is an elected fellow of the American Academy of Health Behavior and American Psychological Association and recipient of awards for early and mid-career contributions to science and mentoring.


Administrative Staff

Lilit Aladadyan

Center Director

Lilit Aladadyan is currently Center Director for the USC Tobacco Center of Regulatory Science (TCORS), a research center that generates scientific evidence to help inform FDA regulations on the manufacture, marketing and distribution of the diverse array of tobacco products. Prior to this, Lilit spent eight years as Director of Health Education for a community-based organization, where she developed and directed several community-wide and school-based health education programs in the areas of obesity, diabetes, asthma, and oral health. During the same time, Lilit earned her MS in Regulatory Science and is currently completing her doctorate in Regulatory Science at the USC School of Pharmacy. Lilit’s interests are in reducing the burden of preventable diseases through effective public policy and regulations.


Directors and Leads

Lourdes Baezconde-Garbanati, Ph.D.

Professor of Preventive Medicine
Project 2 Co-Lead and Administrative Core Co-Investigator

Dr. Lourdes Baezconde-Garbanati is Associate Director for Community Engagement of the Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center, Associate Dean for Community Initiatives and a tenured Professor in Preventive Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. She is also Faculty Advisor to Keck Medicine of the University of Southern California (USC), and holds a Courtesy appointment in the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. She is the Director of the KSOM Center for Health Equity in the Americas and of the Community Schomar Collaborative on Health Equity. Dr. Baezconde-Garbanati has a long history of successful Research, teaching and services to protect Californians from the deleterious effects of tobacco use and tobacco exposure. Her work on multiunit housing and second hand smoke is pioneering, as work as on retailers in racial/ ethnic community, and preventing youth from smoking. She continues her regulatory scientific endeavors on  retailers that sell to acco and on vape shops, now expanded use and exposure of smoke from cannabis. Her research  deals with adolescents, acculturation, drug and tobacco use, obesity and physical activity most of it conducted using community based and community participatory methods to address health disparities and social determinants of health. She has five academic degrees from around the world. Dr. Baezconde-Garbanati has a Ph.D. in Public Health and an M.P.H. from the University of California, Los Angeles, and a M.A. in Medical Psychology from Universite Catholique de Louvain, in Belgium. She obtained two bachelor’s degrees in Clinical and Industrial Psychology at the Universidad Nacional Pedro Henriquez Urena; from the Dominican Republic (DR). Raised between Santo Domingo, DR and New York, she has been a resident of Los Angeles for the last 36 years. She is well recognized nationally and internationally for her extensive record of publications in prestigious journals in her field and has won numerous awards and recognitions for her work. Dr. Baezconde-Garbanati speaks multiple languages fluently, including French and Spanish and is highly sought out as a speaker for her work on the role of culture and sociodeterminants of health in helping to eliminate health disparities in vulnerable populations.


Jessica Barrington- Trimis, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Preventive Medicine
Project 3 Co-Lead and Project 4 Co-Investigator

Dr. Barrington-Trimis is an epidemiologist and Assistant Professor in the Department of Preventive Medicine at the University of Southern California, and faculty in the USC Health, Emotion, and Addiction Laboratory, and the USC Institute for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Research (USC-IPR). Dr. Barrington-Trimis completed her postdoctoral training at USC within the USC Tobacco Center of Regulatory Science prior to beginning her faculty position. She co-leads Project 3 of the USC TCORS with Dr. Rob McConnell. Dr. Barrington-Trimis’ research focuses on identifying behavioral and psychological factors associated with tobacco product use (including e-cigarette use) in adolescence and early adulthood, and the biobehavioral consequences of adolescent tobacco us


Tess Cruz, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor of Clinical in Preventive Medicine
Project 1 Co-Lead

Tess Boley Cruz, PhD, MPH, CHES, is an assistant professor of clinical in the Department of Preventive Medicine and the Institute for Prevention Research at USC. Her primary research interests are health disparities, public health communication, health literacy, tobacco marketing and tobacco control. N. Tess Boley Cruz, Ph.D., M.P.H., C.H.E.S. is an Assistant Professor of Clinical in Preventive Medicine at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine. She has been involved in research projects on health communication, health literacy, diversity, and tobacco control, and in teaching and administration for the academic programs of the Keck School. Cruz is the Director of the Health Communications track of the USC Master of Public Health program, past director of the MPH program during its early years, and currently teaches courses on health promotion, public health communications, race and gender issues in public health. Most recently she has been adapting courses for our new online MPH program. She has also trained health professionals in materials development for low-income populations.Her current research projects include development of a fotonovela on second hand smoke in apartment buildings, comparison of a print and audio-visual novela on obesity, and development of a community-based participatory research project on HIV among immigrant Latino families in Los Angeles. She is also Co-Principal Investigator of TEAM Lab, the California materials development lab in tobacco control.


Rob McConnell, M.D.

Professor of Preventive Medicine
Project 3 Co-Lead and Population Core Co-Investigator

Dr. Rob McConnell is a physician and environmental epidemiologist, and Professor of Preventive Medicine. He has led the development of studies examining the role of e-cigarettes as a gateway to cigarette and tobacco product use, and of other risk factors for tobacco product use, in youth in the large cohort studies conducted in the USC Tobacco Center for Regulatory Science Project 3, for which he is the co-PI. He has also studied the effects of e-cigarette use on respiratory health. Dr. McConnell directs the NIH/Environmental Protection Agency-supported Southern California Children’s Environmental Health Center. He has studied the effects of air pollution and smoking on children’s health, including the development of asthma and lung function deficits, early markers for cardiovascular disease, obesity and metabolic disease, and neurodevelopment. He has investigated susceptibility to the effects of environmental exposures conferred by psychosocial stress and social factors, exercise, genetics and co-exposures associated with housing conditions. He co-directs the NIEHS T32 training program in environmental genomics and the Career Development Program of the Southern California Environmental Health Sciences Center. Prior to coming to USC, he directed a World Health Organization regional environmental health center for Latin America and the Caribbean. Dr. McConnell is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.


Steve Sussman, Ph.D., FAAHB, FAPA

Professor of Preventive Medicine
Project 2 Lead

Steve Sussman, Ph.D., FAAHB, FAPA, received his doctorate in social-clinical psychology from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 1984. He is a professor of preventive medicine, psychology, and social work at the University of Southern California (USC), and he has been at USC for 35 years. He studies etiology, prevention, and cessation within the addictions arena, broadly defined, as well as translation research and program development. He has over 500 publications. His programs include Project Towards No Tobacco Use (young teen tobacco use prevention), Project Towards No Drug Abuse (older teen drug abuse prevention), and Project EX (older teen tobacco use prevention/cessation), which are considered evidence-based programs at numerous agencies (i.e., CDC, NIDA, NCI, OJJDP, SAMSHA, CSAP, Colorado and Maryland Blueprints, Health Canada, U.S. DOE and various State Departments of Education). Dr. Sussman also has been involved in research on tobacco products, and retail and vape shops, on the USC TCORS, and he was the co-leader of the previous TCORS-1 National Special Interest Group on Vape Shops (2013-2018). He received the honor of Research Laureate for the American Academy of Health Behavior in 2005, and he was President there (2007-2008). Also, as of 2007, he received the honor of Fellow of the American Psychological Association (Division 50, Addictions). He is the current Editor of Evaluation & the Health Professions (SAGE Publications). His newest text is: Substance and Behavioral Addictions: Concepts, Causes, and Cures (Cambridge, 2017).


Jennifer Unger, Ph.D.

Professor of Preventive Medicine
Project 1 Co-Lead

Jennifer B. Unger, Ph.D. is a Professor of Preventive Medicine at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine. Her research focuses on the psychological, social, and cultural influences on health-risk and health-protective behaviors, with the ultimate goal of developing improved prevention programs to reduce health disparities. She and her colleagues have conducted several longitudinal studies of acculturation and substance use among Hispanic adolescents. Her research also has examined cultural influences on substance use among American Indian adolescents, Chinese adolescents, and African American adults. She is interested in entertainment-education strategies for health education among low-literacy minority populations and has collaborated on the design and evaluation of fotonovelas and telenovelas about secondhand smoke exposure in multiunit housing; diabetes; asthma; immunization; and kidney transplantation. She is a co-investigator in the USC Tobacco Center of Regulatory Science (TCORS), where she studies diffusion of messages about emerging tobacco products to vulnerable populations through social media. Dr. Unger directs the Ph.D. program in Preventive Medicine / Health Behavior Research. She is a Deputy Editor for Nicotine & Tobacco Research and an Associate Editor for Substance Use and Misuse and Tobacco Regulatory Science.


Heather Wipfli, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Clinical Preventive Medicine and International Relations
Career Enhancement Core Co-Director

Associate Professor in the Department of Preventative Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine and Department of International Relations at the USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. Dr. Wipfli holds a Ph.D. in International Studies from the Graduate Institute of International Studies at the University of Geneva. Her research focuses on international cooperation and governance approaches to improve health, specifically global chronic disease control including tobacco use, obesity, and exposure to air pollution. Prior to joining USC, Dr. Wipfli directed research and training for the Institute for Global Tobacco Control at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and worked on the development of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control as a technical officer at the World Health Organization headquarters in Geneva. She has published work on global tobacco control, globalization and health, capacity building in low- and middle-income countries and health security.


Project Co-Investigators

Jon-Patrick Allem, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor of Research Preventive Medicine
Project 1 Co-Investigator

Jon-Patrick Allem is an Assistant Professor of Research at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. Dr. Allem’s work focuses on developing cutting-edge methodologies to improve population health surveillance and policy. Dr. Allem’s multidisciplinary expertise in behavioral science, preventive medicine and data science has led to data-driven public health insights featured in prominent media and scholarly outlets such U.S News & World Report, CNN, and the American Journal of Public Health. Using data from online platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and Google Web Search, Dr. Allem’s research includes studies on the effectiveness of mass media campaigns in the U.S. and Latin America, population mental health in the U.S. and Australia, public interest in climate change in the U.S., use and appeal of hookah, e-cigarettes, and flavored cigars in the U.S., HIV education in the U.S., and documented cases of hazardous driving in the U.S. His current projects are focused on understanding user experience with emerging tobacco products, the impact of product placement in music videos on product appeal, and the influences of automated social media accounts (social bots) on health-related attitudes and behaviors.


Kiros Berhane, Ph.D.

Professor of Preventive Medicine
Head of Epi/ Biostatistics Program
Project 3 Co-Investigator

Dr. Berhane is a Professor in the Division of Biostatistics, and Director of Graduate Programs in Biostatistics and Epidemiology. He obtained his B.Sc. from Addis Ababa University (Ethiopia), majoring in statistics, M.Sc. degree in statistics at University of Guelph (Canada), Ph.D. degree in biostatistics at University of Toronto (Canada), and a postdoctoral fellowship at Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore, MD). His main research interests are in the development of statistical methods for environmental research, and their application to examination of health effects of air pollution, occupational exposures and climate change. His research is funded via grants from the NIH, US-EPA, HEI and the Canadian IDRC. He is an elected fellow of the American Statistical Association. He has served on several national and international advisory and review committees such as the US-EPA Science Advisory Board, and is a current member of the Health Effects Institute (HEI) Review Committee, and the Biostatistical Methods and Research Design [BMRD] Study Section of the NIH.


Ricky Bluthenthal, Ph.D.

Professor of Preventive Medicine
Associate Dean for Social Justice
Project 2 Co-Investigator

Ricky N. Bluthenthal is the Associate Dean for Social Justice and Professor in the Department of Preventive Medicine and the Institute for Prevention Research at the Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California. He received a BA in History and Sociology from the University of California Santa Cruz and a PhD in sociology from the University of California Berkeley. His research has established the effectiveness of syringe exchange programs, tested novel interventions and strategies to reduce HIV risk and improve HIV testing among injection drug users and men who has sex with men, documented how community conditions contribute to health disparities, and examined health policy implementation. His current studies include an exploratory, mixed-method study on people who initiated drug injection in their thirties, a community-based participatory research project to reduce multiple health risk among Latinos, and a randomized controlled trial to test the efficacy of a single session intervention to reduce injection initiation risk behaviors among established people who inject drugs. Dr. Bluthenthal has authored or co-authored over 125 articles in peer-reviewed scientific journals such as the American Journal of Public Health, Social Science and Medicine, The Lancet, Addiction, and Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research among others.


Jimi Huh, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor of Research Preventive Medicine
Project 2 Co-Investigator

Dr. Jimi Huh has joined the University of Southern California in 2011. She has a background in psychology and epidemiology, with specific interests in the topics of health disparities, acculturation and immigrant health. Since joining IPR, she has expanded her research to include developmental aspects of various health behaviors and has acquired various analytic skills, with special emphasis on multilevel modeling, mixture growth curve modeling, piecewise growth curve model, latent class analysis and latent transition analysis. Her past projects, funded by Tobacco Related Disease Research Program (TRDRP) examines cultural influences on tobacco use and environmental exposure to smoking among Korean American emerging adults, using mixed methods. With her American Cancer Society (ACS)-sponsored project, she has developed a mobile-based just-in-time (JIT) cessation intervention designed to help young Asian American adult smokers. She is currently working on applying innovative statistical models pertinent to Ecological Momentary Assessment (EMA) and JIT intervention data such as mixed-effects location scale model and time-varying effect models.


Matt Kirkpatrick, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor of Research Preventive Medicine
Project 1 and 4 Co-Investigator

Matt Kirkpatrick, PhD is an Assistant Professor of Research in the Department of Preventive Medicine in the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California. He is associate director of the USC-Health, Emotion, & Addiction Laboratory (USC-HEAL), which conducts interdisciplinary research at the intersection between drug abuse, emotion, and health-related behaviors. He earned his B.A. in Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Ph.D. in Psychology at Columbia University. Dr. Kirkpatrick completed postdoctoral training in neuropsychopharmacology at the University of Chicago. Dr. Kirkpatrick’s research utilizes human behavioral pharmacology methods to investigate how interactions between drugs of abuse and environmental contexts alter mood, cognition, behavior, and physiological function.Dr. Kirkpatrick is also investigating the impact of various e-cigarette product characteristics (for example, flavorings) on the appeal and abuse potential of e-cigarettes.


Raina Pang, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor of Research Preventive Medicine
Project 4 Co-Investigator

My research utilizes human behavioral pharmacology and Ecological Momentary Assessment (EMA) methods to investigate mechanisms underlying tobacco related health disparities (e.g., sex/gender differences, female-specific factors in tobacco addiction, psychiatric comorbidity). Currently, I am PI on an EMA study investigating ovarian hormones on naturalistic smoking patterns. Additionally, I am PI on a laboratory behavioral pharmacology study investigating negative reinforcement mechanisms of smoking reinstatement in Major Depressive Disorder, and whether these associations are amplified in women compared to men.


Jonathan Samet, M.D., M.S.

Dean of the Colorado School of Public Health
Administrative Core Co-Investigator

Jonathan M. Samet, a pulmonary physician and epidemiologist, is Dean of the Colorado School of Public Health.  Previously, he was Flora L. Thornton Chair, Department of Preventive Medicine at the University of Southern California and Director of the USC Institute for Global Health.  Dr. Samet received a Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry and Physics from Harvard College, an M.D. degree from the University of Rochester, School of Medicine and Dentistry, and a Master of Science degree in Epidemiology from the Harvard School of Public Health.  His research has focused on the health risks of inhaled pollutants—particles and ozone in outdoor air and indoor pollutants including secondhand smoke and radon.  He has also investigated the occurrence and causes of cancer and respiratory diseases, emphasizing the risks of active and passive smoking.  For several decades, he has been involved in global health, focusing on tobacco control, air pollution, and chronic disease prevention.  He has served on and chaired numerous committees of the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine. He also chaired the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) of the U.S. EPA and the FDA’s Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee (TPSAC). Dr. Samet has served as editor and author for Reports of the Surgeon General on Smoking and Health since 1984, receiving the Surgeon General’s Medallion in 1990 and 2006 for these contributions. He was the Senior Scientific Editor for the 50th Anniversary 2014 report. Dr. Samet received the Edward Livingston Trudeau Medal from the American Thoracic Society/American Lung Association, the Luther L. Terry Award for Distinguished Career from the American Cancer Society, and the Fries Prize for Health.  He was elected to the National Academy of Medicine (Institute of Medicine) of the National Academy of Sciences in 1997.


Sabrina Smiley, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor
Project 2 Co-Investigator

Dr. Sabrina L. Smiley is a social and behavioral health scientist who conducts mixed methods analysis and health disparities research, with an emphasis on tobacco marketing, tobacco product use, and addiction risk in vulnerable populations, including young adults, African Americans, and Tribal communities. Through the USC TCORS, she has published manuscripts examining the role of tobacco regulations on retailer compliance, point-of-sale marketing, and community engagement, and she is currently examining marketing practices of brick-and-mortar vape shops in multiple racial/ethnic neighborhoods.


Thomas Valente, Ph.D.

Professor of Preventive Medicine
Interim Chair of Preventive Medicine
Project 1 Co-Investigator

Thomas W. Valente, PhD, is Professor and Interim Chair in the Department of Preventive Medicine, Keck School of Medicine, at the University of Southern California. He is author of Social Networks and Health: Models, Methods, and Applications (2010, Oxford University Press); Evaluating Health Promotion Programs (2002, Oxford University Press); Network Models of the Diffusion of Innovations (1995, Hampton Press); and over 175 articles and chapters on social networks, behavior change, and program evaluation. Valente uses social network analysis, health communication, and mathematical models to implement and evaluate health promotion programs designed to prevent tobacco and substance abuse, unintended fertility, and STD/HIV infections.  He is currently working on specification for analyzing network models of diffusion and contagion with the R package NetdiffuseR. Valente is also well-known for his work developing network models of program implementation and network interventions. Valente has received the Simmel Award from INSNA and the Rogers award from APHA.  Valente has also received the USC Melon award for graduate student mentoring.  Valente earned his BS in Mathematics from the University of Mary Washington, his MS in Mass Communication from San Diego State University, and his PhD from the Annenberg School for Communication at USC. From 1991 to 2000 he was at the Bloomberg School of Public Health; in 2008, he was a visiting senior scientist at NIH (NHGRI) for 6 months; and in 2010-2011 he was a visiting Professor at the École des Haute Études en Santé Publique (Paris/Rennes).  Valente is co-editor (with Martin Everett) of Social Networks, and on the editorial boards of Network Science and the Journal of Health Communication.


Trainees

Jessica Braymiller, Ph.D.

Post-doctoral Scholar

Dr. Jessica Braymiller is a Postdoctoral Scholar in the Department of Preventive Medicine at the University of Southern California. Dr. Braymiller earned her B.A. in Psychology from Mercyhurst University (2014) and her MS and PhD in Biobehavioral Health from Penn State University (2016, 2019). Her research seeks to identify population-level patterns and trends in tobacco product use during adolescence and young adulthood, with a specific focus on the use of novel nicotine delivery systems (e.g., e-cigarettes). Dr. Braymiller is interested in using advanced statistical models (e.g., finite mixture models, time-varying effect models) as tools for better understanding transitions in tobacco use patterns as individuals age, as well as differences in product use over historical time.


Anuja Majmundar

Pre-doctoral Scholar

Anuja Majmundar is a fourth-year doctoral student in the Health Behavior Research program. She is interested in using her multidisciplinary background to investigate ways in which technology and media shape health behaviors and policies. Anuja’s current work is focused on developing computational social science and data science methodologies to address tobacco control priorities at scale. Her research interests leverage several years of experience in marketing research. Anuja completed her M.B.A. in Communication Management from Symbiosis International University, and M.A. in Communication from San Diego State University. She was awarded the TCORS pre-doctoral fellowship in 2019 and was also a recipient of USC’s Provost Fellowship (2016-2017). 


Samantha Cwalina

Pre-doctoral Scholar

Sam is a third-year doctoral student in the Department of Preventive Medicine and has been involved in tobacco regulatory research for six years, beginning during her undergraduate studies at the University of Pittsburgh. During her time at Pitt, she researched nicotine reduction paradigms in two settings: 1) nicotine self-administration in rodent models, and 2) low nicotine content cigarettes in samples of adult current smokers. Since starting her doctoral program at USC, she has worked closely with her faculty advisors, Drs. Mary Ann Pentz, Jennifer Unger, and Jessica Barrington-Trimis, to extend her tobacco regulatory science knowledge to research on adolescent and young adult menthol cigarette smokers using large national datasets. Her other research interests include e-cigarette use, poly-tobacco product use, and mental health outcomes among adolescents and young adults.


The University of Southern California's Tobacco Center of Regulatory Science (USC TCORS) for Vulnerable Populations is one of 9 Tobacco Centers of Regulatory Science in the U.S. We were created to serve in the production of relevant scientific data to inform the regulatory decision making at the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) Center for Tobacco Products. Additionally, we are here to educate and train the next generation of tobacco regulatory scientists.

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