Faculty & staff
Office of Health Equity and Disparities Research faculty
B. Sheppard, Ph.D.
Professor and Chair, VCU Department of Health Behavior and Policy
Theresa A. Thomas Memorial Chair in Cancer Prevention and Control
Associate Director, Community Outreach Engagement and Health Disparities Director, Office of Health Equity and Disparities Research, VCU Massey Cancer Center
More info about Vanessa B. Sheppard, Ph.D.
Vanessa Sheppard is the Associate Director for Community Outreach Engagement and Health Disparities and Director of the Office of Health Equity and Disparities Research at VCU Massey Cancer Center. She is also Professor and Chair of the VCU Department of Health Behavior and Policy. She joined Virginia Commonwealth University in September 2016 from the Department of Oncology at the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center at Georgetown University where she was a tenured associate professor and assistant director of health disparities research.
She has been recognized by the National Institutes of Health as a Disparities Scholar, and her long-term career goal is to reduce inequities in cancer outcomes through scholarship, teaching and service. She has received funding from the NIH, the American Cancer Society and other entities to pursue this goal. She has harnessed her expertise in health services research, clinical trials and behavioral interventions to address gaps in care for African-American, African-immigrant and Latina populations. Dr. Sheppard has led studies focused on factors that have potential to improve cancer outcomes such as treatment adherence, patient-provider relationships, obesity and physical activity. Her team was the first to develop and test decision support and lifestyle interventions for African-American and Latino women. In 2013 she completed leadership training from the Higher Education Resources Services (HERS), which is focused on supporting women leaders.
Close relationships with community organizations have been a driving force behind her work. Dr. Sheppard is a recipient of the Dr. Herbert W. Nickens Award from the Association of American Medical Colleges and an Outstanding Research Achievement Award from Georgetown University Medical Center. She also received the Torch Bearer award from the African Women’s Cancer Awareness Association and was nominated and selected as a distinguished alumna from the Old Dominion University College of Health Sciences.
Dr. Sheppard received her undergraduate and graduate degrees from James Madison University and Norfolk State University, respectively. She received her doctoral degree in health services research from Old Dominion University and completed postdoctoral fellowships at Eastern Virginia Medical School and the Association of American Medical Schools, funded by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Policy.
L. Cadet, Ph.D., M.S.W.
Program manager for community health education & research, VCU Massey Cancer Center Office of Health Equity and Disparities Research
More info about Debbie L. Cadet, Ph.D., M.S.W.
Debbie Cadet is the project director for education and outreach activities related to cancer prevention and control and health disparities at VCU Massey Cancer Center. She manages the Cancer Research and Resource Centers in Danville and Lawrenceville as well as the activities of Massey’s NCI National Outreach Network (NON) Community Health Educator (CHE). She has been involved in the development and testing of the Breast Health Research Champion Training Program through The National Cancer Institute’s (NCI) Cancer Health Disparities (CHD) research efforts, which involved collection, analysis and dissemination of the findings of the breast cancer project performed in Petersburg, Richmond and Emporia.
Dr. Cadet has more than 20 years of clinical experience as a social worker at Virginia Commonwealth University. She teaches psychosocial care for patients and families to nurses, medical students, residents, fellows and attending physicians. Her research expertise is in health disparities. She is a member of the Cancer Prevention and Control (CPC) Subcommittee of the Massey Cancer Center Protocol Review and Monitoring System. This committee reviews all CPC projects prior to their submission to the IRB and meets quarterly to monitor the overall progress of CPC studies.
Cadet received her undergraduate degree from Binghamton University and her graduate degrees from The University of Pennsylvania and VCU.
Maghboeba Mosavel, Ph.D.
Cancer Prevention and Control research member, VCU Massey Cancer Center
Associate professor, VCU Department of Health Behavior and Policy
More info about Maghboeba Mosavel, Ph.D.
Maghboeba Mosavel is a member of the Cancer Prevention and Control research program at VCU Massey Cancer Center and an associate professor in the VCU Department of Health Behavior and Policy. Dr. Mosavel is an expert in community engagement and participatory research with a focus on prevention and screening behaviors for cancer and hypertension. Her work emphasizes health disparities. She earned her Ph.D. from Case Western Reserve University.
Michael Preston, Ph.D., M.P.H.
Assistant Director, Office of Health Equity and Disparities Research, VCU Massey Cancer Center
Assistant professor, VCU Department of Health Behavior and Policy
More info about Michael Preston, Ph.D., M.P.H.
Dr. Michael A. Preston is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Health Behavior and Policy in the School of Medicine and serves as the Assistant Director for the Office of Health Equity and Disparities Research for Massey Cancer Center at Virginia Commonwealth University. His expertise includes the development of diversity initiatives that provide roadmaps for engaging communities that tend to be underrepresented, rural, and poorly-resourced. Dr. Preston has been the principal or co-investigator of multiple funded grants focusing on the implementation of precision public health interventions, cancer health disparities, and health care reform. His scientific interest as a health services researcher is the development of strategies that reduce cancer health disparities. His research agenda includes examining components of health care reform and how provisions of the Affordable Care Act address cancer health disparities among poor, minorities, and underserved communities.
Maria D. Thomson, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, VCU Department of Health Behavior and Policy
Faculty Affiliate, Office of Health Equity and Disparities Research, VCU Massey Cancer Center
More info about Maria Thomson, Ph.D.
Maria Thomson is an Assistant Professor in the VCU Department of Health Behavior and Policy and Faculty Affiliate in the Office of Health Behavior and Policy at VCU Massey Cancer Center. She is a social and behavioral scientist with training in anthropology, population health science and public health.
Dr. Thomson’s program of research focuses on promoting informed and shared decision making through effective communication and measuring and evaluating sociocultural and health disparities that influence patient information needs, knowledge, attitudes and behaviors. Her work focuses primarily in the area of cancer communication with specific expertise in: 1) information provision and sociocultural factors influencing care seeking and cancer prevention behaviors (lifestyle change and screening), and 2) cancer patient-caregiver communication and decision making. Currently she is a MPI (R01CA196576 MPI Thomson/ Siminoff) of a longitudinal study examining subjective and objective burden among cancer caregivers.
Katherine Y. Tossas, Ph.D., M.S.
Director, Catchment Area Data Alignment, Office of Health Equity and Disparities Research, VCU Massey Cancer Center
Assistant professor & Harrison Endowed Scholar, Department of Health Behavior and Policy
More info about Katherine Y. Tossas, Ph.D., M.S.
Dr. Kathy Tossas is an assistant professor and Harrison Endowed Scholar in the Department of Health Behavior and Policy. She is also a member of the Massey Cancer Center where she is responsible for the Catchment Area Data Access and Alignment (CADA) initiatives. Her work and research are grounded in health equity, and center on elucidating how structural determinants of health such as differential access to care impact cancer outcomes for underserved and underrepresented populations (e.g. racial and ethnic, sexual gender and geographic). Most recently, she has started focusing on the use of machine learning methodologies to explore the potential influence of the microbiome on HPV-related cancers.
Prior to joining VCU, Dr. Tossas was a Research Assistant Professor in the division of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), where she authored or co-authored 20 published manuscripts in peer-reviewed journals, and served as Co-PI for numerous NIH, and non-federally funded projects. She also served in various leadership roles within the UIC Cancer Center, including founding the Office of Global Assets and Innovative Approaches (GAIA), and the Office of Catchment Area Research and Data Sciences (CARDS), and serving as co-director for the Office of Community Engaged Research and Implementation Science (OCERIS), within the Community Outreach and Engagement program at the cancer center.
Before re-entering academia, Dr. Tossas held leadership positions at various non-profits (American Cancer Society, American Hospital Association, Equal Hope), and spent nearly 10 years in pharma, developing infectious disease molecular diagnostic tests. Dr. Tossas earned a BS in Biology from the University of Puerto Rico (MARC and Howard Hughes scholar), an MS in Microbiology and Immunology from the University of Michigan (Rackham Merit fellow) and a PhD in Cancer Epidemiology from the University of Illinois at Chicago (Susan G. Komen scholar).
Office of Health Equity and Disparities Research staff
Alisa E. Brewer, M.S.P.H.
Director, Community Engagement and Outreach, Center on Health Disparities School of Medicine, Virginia Commonwealth University
More info about Alisa E. Brewer, M.S.P.H.
Alisa Brewer shares a joint appointment with the Office of Health Equity and Disparities Research (OHEDR) and the VCU Center on Health Disparities (CoHD) where she is Director of Community Engagement and Outreach. In these roles, Ms. Brewer coordinates and provides advisory support to community-engaged activities, outreach and research. Ms. Brewer brings expertise from 15+ years in health promotion by collaborations with varied audiences including community, university, clinical, faith and school-based stakeholders. Working across the University and alongside organizations and individuals throughout the Richmond metro area, and beyond, Ms. Brewer offers insight and support to prioritizing community interests and facilitating feedback and response that promotes understanding, problem-solving, partnership and advocacy.
Ms. Brewer is a graduate of the University of South Carolina where she earned a Master’s of Science in Public Health with a concentration in Health Education, Promotion and Behavior.
Clinical research manager, VCU Department of Health Behavior and Policy
More info about Yvonne Cummings
Yvonne Jennings is a clinical research manager within the VCU Department of Health Behavior and Policy. In this position she works with participants and investigators to meet the overall goals of our various projects. A native of Baltimore, Jennings received her BS in human services at Springfield College in Springfield, MA. Prior to joining the VCU team, she worked as a research coordinator for Georgetown University and as a community interventionist for The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. She currently assists with managing research projects, patient recruitment, interviewing, manuscript preparation, etc.
Megan C. Edmonds, M.P.H.
Doctoral student, Social and Behavioral Sciences, VCU Department of Health Behavior and Policy
More info about Megan C. Edmonds, M.P.H.
Megan Edmonds is a Doctoral student in the Department of Health Behavior and Policy at Virginia Commonwealth University's School of Medicine, working under the advising leadership of Dr. Vanessa Sheppard. She received her undergraduate degree from Spelman College and her Master of Public Health degree from the University of Michigan School of Public Health. Edmonds aspires to be a health equity scientist conducting health disparities research with a focus on breast cancer control and prevention. Her plan after graduating is to build a research program in breast cancer survivorship aimed at understanding the role of race, social determinants, communication and psycho-social factors' influence on screening, adherence regimens and quality of life, among breast cancer survivors.
Community Health Educator, VCU Department of Health Behavior and Policy
More info about Rachel Hunley
Rachel Hunley is the Community Health Educator (CHE) within the VCU Department of Health Behavior and Policy. As CHE, Rachel works with team members to establish and build community collaborations to facilitate the ongoing assessment of available resources, community identified needs, and challenges and beliefs as they relate to cancer prevention, control, and research.
Rachel is a young professional currently pursuing her Masters of Arts in Interdisciplinary Sciences, with concentrations in Public Health and Health Psychology. It is her intent to educate herself in all aspects of public health, health equity, and the social and behavioral aspects that influence health outcomes. Rachel has a passion for addressing lung health and tobacco related disparities in minority populations.
Prior to joining VCU, Rachel has served as the Division Manager for the American Lung Association’s Smokefree Multi-Unit Housing Initiative, as well as Cancer Prevention and Control Specialist for the Virginia Department of Health.
Program coordinator, Cancer Research and Resource Center, Danville
More info about Kathy Hurt
Kathy Hurt started working as program coordinator at the Cancer Research and Resource Center in 2014 to educate the service area about HPV-related cancers, mostly by way of organizing continuing education programs for providers.
After graduating from Kenyon College in 1991 with a degree in political science, she worked in New York City in Court TV’s marketing department before returning to south-central Virginia to work at a regional economic development partnership. She opened and operated an art gallery featuring area artists, but her family with three children pulled her home, where she worked most recently while remaining active in the community.
Patient outreach educator, VCU Department of Health Behavior and Policy
More info about Fiorella Kimbrough
Fiorella Kimbrough is a Patient Outreach Educator in the VCU Department of Health Behavior and Policy. Her role is to help with the recruitment and community outreach of Latinos in the Richmond community. Kimbrough’s native language is Spanish. Her bilingual skills in English and Spanish allow her to continue to help the Hispanic-Latino community with their most common barrier, language. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Social Work and a Minor in Criminal Justice at VCU. Kimbrough is currently continuing her education with her Master’s in Clinical Social Work at VCU.
L. Litzenberg, R.N.
Coordinator, Cancer Research and Resource Center, Danville
More info about Charlotte L. Litzenberg, R.N.
Charlotte Litzenberg received a BS in nursing with honors from Virginia Commonwealth University/The Medical College of Virginia in 1991 and worked in various acute and ambulatory care settings until 2010, when she became coordinator of the newly formed Cancer Research and Resource Center in Danville.
Research assistant, VCU Department of Health Behavior and Policy
More info about Reuben Retnam
Reuben Retnam is a Research Assistant in the Department of Health Behavior and Policy at VCU and a Ph.D. student in the Department of Biostatistics. A large part of his applied research has focused on health disparities, particularly in the field of oral health. As a research assistant, Retnam works to manage and facilitate the use of data in identifying and reducing disparities.
He received his Bachelor's degree from Hampden-Sydney College in 2017 as a double major in Mathematics and Biology. His Ph.D. research is centered on the development of novel robust models for longitudinal data.
L. Sutton, Ph.D., M.L.S. (ASCP)
Postdoctoral fellow, Cancer Prevention and Control, VCU Department of Health Behavior and Policy
More info about Arnethea L. Sutton, Ph.D., M.L.S. (ASCP)
Arnethea Sutton is a trained medical laboratory scientist. She was employed by VCU Health for more than 10 years. During that time she gained experience and developed expertise in the areas of transfusion medicine, flow cytometry and immunology. While working for the health system, Dr. Sutton gained an affinity for health disparity and community-engaged research.
She earned a Ph.D. in health related sciences from the School of Allied Health Professions at VCU, and in June or 2017, she accepted a position as a Cancer Prevention and Control postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Heath Behavior and Policy, VCU School of Medicine. Her research interests include development, evaluation and dissemination of behavioral interventions for the prevention and treatment of breast cancer. She is also interested in exploring methods to increase African American representation in clinical trials and biospecimen provision.
Matthew Wells, M.S.
Clinical research assistant, VCU Department of Health Behavior and Policy
More info about Matthew Wells, M.S.
Matthew Wells is a clinical research assistant (CRA) within the VCU Department of Health Behavior and Policy. As the CRA, Matthew works with the team to establish recruitment plans, create surveys, establish patient relations and helps navigate the team to overall success in clinical trials and research. As a native of Chesterfield, Virginia he has been involved in numerous community services and several outreach programs. He received his bachelor’s degree in Biology at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. After receiving his B.S. he attended The George Washington University and received his Master’s in Clinical and Translational research in 2018. He plans to develop and expand his knowledge and skills in the health field in order to create change for those in need.
Coordinator, Cancer Research and Resource Center, Lawrenceville
More info about Teya Whitehead
Teya J. Whitehead is the Cancer Research and Resource Center Coordinator in Lawrenceville. Her focus is to facilitate the availability of local, state and national cancer programs and resources to the population within the Southside counties and communities. Whitehead previously worked in the center as a Program Coordinator and Research Assistant and is excited to contribute to the VCU team and diligently work in Southern Virginia to mitigate the health disparities that are a reality for so many. She received her Master of Arts from the University of Phoenix in Adult Education and Distance Learning and earned her bachelor’s degree in English with a concentration in Mass Communication from St. Paul’s College.
Education coordinator, Cancer Research and Resource Center, Danville
More info about Dianne Whittle
Dianne Whittle has been employed as an education coordinator for the Cancer Research and Resource Center located in Danville, since October 2014 and volunteered for this organization two years prior to becoming officially employed. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in elementary education from Averett University, and she was previously employed by the Pittsylvania County School System.
Unfortunately, life changed dramatically in 2000 when Whittle lost her husband to Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. She then became the sole owner and operator of the family retail business. Nine years later she was diagnosed with cancer but is a proud and active survivor.
Whittle is most fulfilled when interacting with cancer patients as well as survivors and caretakers. She was one of the founding members of the local Danville-Pittsylvania Cancer Association’s Bridge to Bridge 5K, 10K and Cycling fund raiser, which has grown to approximately 750 participants. She also founded the Step by Step nutrition and walking program for the CRRC (now a part of Living Well) and attends the local food pantry monthly.