Welcoming RISE Cohort 10 for summer institute

Below are introductions to the amazing researchers who make up the final cohort of Research in Implementation Science for Equity (RISE). This program has empowered a host of health advocates and researchers whose lasting contributions are only beginning.

Elizabeth Adams, PhD, MS, is an assistant professor in the Arnold School of Public Health and the Research Center for Child Well-Being at the University of South Carolina. During her PhD studies in nutritional sciences, Adams was USDA Childhood Obesity Training Program Fellow at Penn State. She completed a postdoctoral fellowship in pediatrics at the Children’s Hospital of Richmond. Her research aims to promote healthy lifestyle behaviors (diet, sleep) during early childhood to prevent obesity and reduce health inequities. Her work focuses parenting and family-based influences for children's obesity-related behaviors, and federal nutrition policies to ensure children from all income levels have access to healthy nutrition for chronic disease prevention. Her ultimate goal is to design and disseminate effective interventions for low-resourced families that improve children’s overall health and well-being.

Bridgette E. Blebu, PhD, MPH, is an investigator with the Lundquist Institute at Harbor-UCLA and a K12 scholar with the AHRQ/PCORI-funded Stakeholder-Partnered Implementation Research and Innovation Translation (SPIRIT) program at UCLA. Blebu received her PhD in Public Health from the University of California, Irvine, and completed her BS in health promotion and disease prevention and her MPH at the University of Southern California. Her research interests include social and psychosocial drivers of adverse birth outcomes, including preterm birth within the Black/African diaspora, and strategies to optimize equitable access and delivery of support resources during pregnancy. Blebu’s current research centers on embedded research to investigate the impacts of a community-based care coordination prenatal care model on preterm birth and experiences of care in the Los Angeles Department of Health Services. Her postdoctoral research sought to describe the implementation of enhanced prenatal care and support services for Black women and birthing people, using an equity lens. As a population health and implementation researcher, Blebu seeks to rigorously align her work with stakeholder wisdom and priorities to advance the field of equity-focused implementation in perinatal care.

Michael David Celestin, Jr., PhD, is an assistant professor of behavioral and community health sciences and director of the Louisiana Tobacco Control Initiative in the LSU Health New Orleans School of Public Health. Dr. Celestin obtained his doctorate in public (health) policy at Southern University, his master's degree in health promotion at the University of New Orleans, and his bachelor's degree in Interpersonal and public communication from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. He maintains certification as a Health Education Specialist and Tobacco Treatment Specialist. Celestin has more than 20 years of experience in tobacco control program development, implementation, and evaluation in community and healthcare settings. His work aims to prevent cancer and promote smoking cessation through health services research, dissemination and implementation science, and optimization of behavior change interventions for high-prevalence smokers at greater risk of smoking-related diseases. He recently received a KL2 Mentored Career Development Award from the Louisiana Clinical and Translational Science Center to improve tobacco use treatment in rural health centers.

Christopher Gonzalez headshot RISE Cohort 10Christopher J. Gonzalez, MD, MS, is an assistant professor of medicine in the division of general internal medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine and a practicing primary care physician at a federally-qualified health center in East Harlem. Dr. Gonzalez received his MD from Columbia University and completed his internal medicine residency training at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center. He received research training including a master’s in clinical epidemiology and health services research as the inaugural Health Equity Research Fellow at the HRSA Diversity Center of Excellence at Weill Cornell Medicine. Driven by his personal background as a first-generation Cuban-American physician and his established history of clinical practice in predominantly Hispanic communities, his research aims to understand and leverage social and cultural behaviors to improve the health of diverse Hispanic populations in the United States. Through ongoing collaborations with investigators of the national Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos, the Duke Network Analysis Center, and New York Regional Center for Diabetes Translation Research, he has explored the heterogeneity of health behaviors and health outcomes of the Hispanic population, with a specific focus on understanding the roles of migration, acculturation and social networks. His research predominantly assesses how these factors relate to inequities in cardiometabolic health, including obesity and diabetes prevention. 

Cristina GonzalezCristina M. Gonzalez, MD, MEd, is a professor of medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine - and an alumna. She completed her internal medicine residency at New York Presbyterian Hospital-Weill Cornell Medical Center, and her medical education research fellowship at University of Cincinnati, earning a master’s degree in medical education. She was selected as a Scholar in the Harold Amos Medical Faculty Development Program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. This prestigious four-year award launched her research program designing, implementing and evaluating interventions aimed at implicit bias recognition and management in clinical encounters. She was subsequently selected as a Scholar in the Macy Faculty Scholars Program of the Josiah Macy, Jr., Foundation to continue advancing her work.

Charles Muiruri, PhD, received his degree in health policy and management from the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill. He is an assistant professor of population health sciences and global health and a visiting lecturer at the Kilimanjaro Christian Medical University College, Moshi, Tanzania. Muiruri’s research interests seek to improve outcomes and reduce disparities for persons with multiple chronic conditions (PWMCC) both in and outside the United States. Given the diversity of barriers that PWMCC face, is adaptation of disease specific evidence-based interventions feasible and acceptable to improve the overall quality of healthcare at a population level? His current research, with findings transferable to other patient groups with multiple chronic conditions, focuses on improving outcomes for persons living with HIV and cardiovascular disease. Muiruri received a Diversity supplement from NHLBI and he is also a former recipient of an internal Duke career development award (REACH Equity). He is currently funded by a career development award from NHLBI and by other research grants as a PI and investigator from NIMHD, NIDA and FIC. Muiruri is a dual citizen of the United States and Kenya.


Chinedum Ojinnaka, PhD, MPH, MBBS, is an assistant professor of biomedical informatics in the College of Health Solutions at Arizona State University. She is a health services/population health researcher who trained and practiced as a physician in her home country of Nigeria. Her research focuses on identifying the associations between individual and population-level social determinants of health, and disparities in health outcomes and health care utilization. Her research leverages databases such as administrative claims, cancer registry and population-based survey data, to identify factors that affect health outcomes and disparities. Her research also involves implementing and evaluating interventions aimed at improving health outcomes and healthcare access and reducing health disparities.


Gezzer Ortega, MD, MPH, a Brooklyn native born to immigrant parents from the Dominican Republic, is the Lead Faculty for Research and Innovation for Equitable Surgical Care at the Center for Surgery and Public Health, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School. Ortega is also adjunct faculty at the Patient Reported Outcomes, Value & Experience Center at BWH. Ortega received his medical degree from Howard University College of Medicine, Master of Public Health from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and Bachelor of Science from Syracuse University. Ortega is a health services researcher with a focus on developing and implementing solutions to address surgical inequities. Ortega is the project director for the Provider Awareness and Cultural dexterity Toolkit for Surgeons Trial, which aims to develop and evaluate a curriculum for surgical residents to improve communication and engagement during cross-cultural encounters. Within the work to eliminate health disparities, Ortega has focused on improving surgical care for patients with limited English proficiency. His inspiration for comes from his background and motivation to diversify the medical workforce. In doing so, Ortega is a co-founder of the Latino Surgical Society, which aims to cultivate, nurture, and support the advancement of Latinx surgeons. His commitment to service extends to the global community as he has conducted and planned surgical education courses and advocacy programs in the Dominican Republic, Ghana, Liberia, and Malawi. As a physician-scientist, his focus is to contribute to the field of surgery and eliminate health inequities through research and humanitarian efforts.

Jen Sanchez-Flack, PhD, MPH, is an assistant professor in the department of pediatrics and the University of Illinois Cancer Center at the University of Illinois Chicago. Sanchez-Flack has a background in behavioral sciences and public health with experience in qualitative and quantitative research methodology, implementation of behavioral-based interventions to prevent obesity and cancer in multiple settings and with diverse populations, and in dissemination and implementation science. Her research focuses on using dissemination and implementation science principles to examine the external validity of obesity prevention interventions to translate and replicate behavioral-based interventions in "real-world" settings (e.g., clinics, communities, schools). She is particularly interested in how multilevel interventions, including digital health interventions, can improve Latinxs and African American families’ food and beverage purchasing behaviors to reduce obesity and cancer inequities. This research aims to identify sustainable approaches to reach and engage underserved families in obesity prevention and cancer risk reduction that can be applied in clinical settings and in policy research to reduce health disparities.

Fiona Strasserking, MD, received her medical degree from the McGovern Medical School at UTHealth and went on to complete her residency in internal medicine at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and a cardiology fellowship at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center. This summer, she will be joining the UT Southwestern Medical Center as assistant professor in the division of cardiovascular diseases and office of global heath. Her areas of research interest include health disparities in cardiovascular diseases and global health. She recently completed a Fogarty International Fellowship in Zambia where she described the characteristics and outcomes among women with peripartum cardiomyopathy and developed management strategies to help guide the local medical team. While a novice to the field of implementation science, she understands the value of translating evidence-based guidelines into clinical practice especially in health disparate communities. As a RISE scholar she intends to broaden her knowledge base and develop tools that will help her provide the best possible care to the communities she serves.

Find previous RISE fellows here.