Faculty & staff
Office of Health Equity and Disparities Research faculty
B. Sheppard, Ph.D.
Associate director for health disparities research and co-leader of the Cancer Prevention and Control research program, VCU Massey Cancer Center
Chair and professor, VCU Department of Health Behavior and Policy
More info about Vanessa B. Sheppard, Ph.D.
Vanessa Sheppard is the associate director of health disparities research and program leader of Cancer Prevention and Control 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 Thomson, Ph.D.
Cancer Prevention and Control research member, VCU Massey Cancer Center Assistant professor, VCU Department of Health Behavior and Policy
More info about Maria Thomson, Ph.D.
Maria Thomson is a member of the Cancer Prevention and Control research program at VCU Massey Cancer Center and an assistant professor in the VCU Department of Health Behavior and Policy. She is a social and behavioral scientist with training in anthropology, population health science and public health.
Dr. Thomson has completed a National Cancer Institute R25 fellowship in psychosocial oncology. She also has considerable experience in the area of patient information needs and decision making with particular expertise in breast, colon and hematological cancer prevention and control. Her program of research focuses on interpersonal communication and decision making in cancer prevention and control; and understanding the role of sociocultural factors and disparities in cancer care seeking decisions.
Currently she is the Site PI on an NCI-funded project, “Communication and Economic Outcomes for Cancer Survivors (7R01CA168647; Siminoff, PI), which is a longitudinal, observational study following hematological cancer patients and their primary informal caregivers for two years. Dr. Thomson is also engaged in pilot work that will lay the foundation for lifestyle interventions targeting modifiable cancer risks, including participation in screening and healthy lifestyle behaviors. This program of research explores how to stimulate and maintain engagement in cancer prevention and early detection activities by individuals at elevated risk.
Office of Health Equity and Disparities Research staff
Education coordinator, Cancer Research and Resource Center, Lawrenceville
More info about Elias Berhanu, M.P.H.
Elias Berhanu is the education coordinator at VCU Massey Cancer Center’s Cancer Research and Resource Center in Lawrenceville. He moved to Lawrenceville in June 2017 from Houston, where he previously worked for The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in the Office of Health Policy.
Berhanu’s main research interests are in cancer prevention, chronic disease prevention through lifestyle modifications, global health and physical activity. He is very 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.
Berhanu received his Master of Public Health (MPH) degree from the University of Texas School of Public Health. He earned his bachelor’s degree in public health from the University of Washington in Seattle.
Eva (Polly) Cole, M.Ed.
Community health and resources administrator, VCU Massey Cancer Center
More info about Eva (Polly) Cole, Med.
Polly Cole is the community health and resources administrator for the VCU Massey Cancer Center grant awarded by the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission. The grant partially supports two Cancer Research and Resource Centers (CRRC) in Lawrenceville and Danville, which were established in 2009 to engage these communities to develop strategies to improve rural health. A successful infrastructure was built in Southside Virginia that has pulled together diverse community leaders and groups to achieve the goal of community education and resources while focusing on cancer prevention and addressing local cancer survivor needs. These activities have been recognized and enhanced by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation through the Community Coaching Program, Roadmaps Action Acceleration Support and Funding Grant.
Additionally, the CRRC has been a partner in the Healthdoers Community Activation Series. From 1994 to 2009, Cole worked with Massey funders, private donors and grants to develop two cancer center libraries, free wig salons and major volunteer programs to bring needed resources to cancer patients and their caregivers. She received the VCU President’s Award of Excellence in 2016 for her outstanding performance, achievement and service excellence as the community health and resources administrator at Massey.
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.
Research assistant, Cancer Research and Resource Center, Danville
More info about Alejandro Estrada
Alejandro Estrada is a research assistant at the Cancer Research and Resource Center in Danville. He is eager to help out the Danville community and the VCU Team with the Virginia Living Well Registry. Estrada is bilingual, speaking both English and Spanish fluently. He is a graduate of Chatham High School.
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.
Research assistant, VCU Department of Health Behavior and Policy
More info about Mishaal Khan
Mishaal Khan is a research assistant at VCU School of Medicine's Department of Health Behavior and Policy. She graduated from VCU with a BS in Psychology in December 2018 and has been working with VCU as a research assistant since January 2019. She is passionate about health disparities, research and mental health advocacy. In her current role, she focuses on project development, participant recruitment and data collection in research studies exploring cancer disparities.
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.
Education coordinator, Cancer Research and Resource Center, Lawrenceville
More info about Vivian Taylor
Vivian Taylor is education coordinator for the Cancer Research and Resource Center located in Lawrenceville. She has been in her current position since the summer of 2013, when the Center was originally located on St. Paul’s College campus before it moved in the fall of 2013 to its existing location on Main Street.
She previously worked in the local public school systems and also at St. Paul’s College until its closure. Taylor’s ties run very deep in the Brunswick area; she received her schooling there and after graduation attended Southside Virginia Community College in Alberta, VA.
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.
Research assistant, Cancer Research and Resource Center, Lawrenceville
More info about Teya Whitehead
Teya Whitehead is a research assistant at the Cancer Research and Resource Center in Lawrenceville. Her main focus is consenting participants for research studies. Whitehead previously worked in the center as program coordinator 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. Whitehead received her Master of Arts from the University of Phoenix in Adult Education. She earned her bachelor’s degree in English with a concentration in Mass Communications from St. Paul’s College.
Patient outreach educator, VCU Department of Health Behavior and Policy
More info about Tikori Whitson
Tikori Whitson is a Patient Outreach Educator in the VCU Department of Health Behavior and Policy. In this role, she serves as a primary point of contact for patient education programs and she conducts recruitment for research studies in the communities we serve. Whitson has been a VCU Massey Cancer Center employee since 2014. She attended the University of Phoenix where she majored in Healthcare Administration with a certificate in Electronic Medical records. She is currently continuing her studies at VCU in the School of Social Work.
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.