Our Research Team


 

Rita Hamad, MD, Ph.D., is the director of the SPHERE Program. She is an Associate Professor in the Department of Family & Community Medicine and the Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies, and the Associate Director of the Center for Health Equity. Since joining UCSF in 2017, she has spearheaded a research agenda to examine the effects of social and economic policies on health disparities across the life course, with the goal of informing state and national policymaking. She specializes in the application of quasi-experimental epidemiologic and econometric methods, and the linkage of large survey and administrative data. This work involves collaborations with other research teams throughout the US, as well as international collaborations in Denmark and Sweden. Prior to joining UCSF, Dr. Hamad was a junior faculty member at Stanford for four years in the Division of Primary Care and Population Health.

 


Akansha Batra, MA, is a Ph.D. student in the UCSF Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics. She has been working as a Research Data Analyst in SPHERE since 2017. Akansha holds a Master's in Health Policy and Management from UCLA and a Master's in Economics from the University of Delhi. She is passionate to explore the underlying social factors that are associated with health disparities, with an emphasis on evaluating social and economic policies and their effect on health. At SPHERE, she is investigating the effects of the earned income tax credit on child health. In her free time, she loves to dance, meditate, do yoga or just sip a warm herbal tea.

 

 


Image previewLeslie Cataño is a Research Data Analyst working on the Covid-19 Citizen Science Study. Prior to joining UCSF, she earned a BS in Public Health Science from Santa Clara University and worked as an undergraduate research assistant to develop a virtual reality memory care training program that has received funding to be commercialized. Leslie is originally from Chicago, IL and is currently residing in the Bay Area. She is passionate about alleviating health disparities and is looking forward to making meaningful contributions to help marginalized communities. In her free time, she enjoys exploring the Bay and spending time with loved ones.

 

 


Matthew Brandner is a Project Manager at SPHERE. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin - Madison with a degree in psychology, he began his career at UCSF and has been managing multiple research projects at UCSF since 2011. On the SPHERE team, Matthew leads the COVID-19 Retrospective Data Collection project and manages the U.S. COVID-19 County Policy (UCCP) Database. He lives in San Francisco and outside of work, Matthew enjoys hiking in the Bay Area, attempting new recipes, and playing volleyball.

 

 


Amy Chiang, Ph.D., is a Full Specialist at SPHERE and the UCSF Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies. Before joining UCSF, she earned her MA in politics from New York University and recently completed her Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Pittsburgh. She studies political violence and collective actions, specializing in comparative politics, political behavior, and research methods. At SPHERE, she works on projects that examine the effects of school segregation on health outcomes. Her goal is to find common ground between public health, social policies, and political science. Outside of work, she enjoys live music, particularly soul and jazz, arts, movies, and anything fashion-related. She is currently looking for tips as she explores the Bay Area for the first time!

 


Daniel Collin, MPH, has been working as a Research Data Analyst with SPHERE since completing his MPH in Epidemiology/Biostatistics from UC Berkeley, School of Public Health in 2018. He is currently working on examining how the earned income tax credit and other economic policies affect health and health behaviors. Future projects include looking at how school and housing policies affect health outcomes among children and adults. In his free time, he enjoys cycling around the East Bay, hiking, camping, and going to the movies and music venues. 

 


 

 

Else Foverskov, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor at the University of Copenhagen, after having completed a postdoctoral research fellowship at SPHERE. She is currently examining the effects of neighborhood socioeconomic characteristics on health among a group of refugees in Denmark who were quasi-randomly assigned to neighborhoods of varying socioeconomic disadvantage upon arrival. Her broader research focuses on evaluating how social policies can help reduce health disparities. She holds a master’s degree in sociology and a Ph.D. in social epidemiology both from the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. In her free time, Else enjoys spending time with her family in the many fantastic public spaces Copenhagen has to offer.

 


Alice Guan, MPH, is a Ph.D. student in the UCSF Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics. She completed her MPH at San Francisco State University and has since been working at UCSF as a Research Associate (and now as a Graduate Student Researcher). Her broad interests include understanding how social and economic policies impact health across the life course, with a particular emphasis on racial/economic disparities. She is currently working on examining the effects of the 2009 revision to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) on maternal and child outcomes. Future projects include evaluating the effects of both restrictive and protective immigration policies on health. In her free time, Alice enjoys live theater, nature, and travel.

 


Kaitlyn Jackson, MPH, is a Project Analyst at SPHERE and the UCSF Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies. Since completing her Master’s degree in Public Health from the University of California Berkeley, she has worked on a diverse portfolio of research projects focused on addressing socio-economic and environmental determinants of chronic disease within vulnerable populations, including investigating chronic kidney disease incidence in Jalisco, Mexico, and the implementation of a Randomized Controlled Trial among chronic uveitis patients at UCSF. Her research interests include evaluating the impacts of health policies on chronic disease outcomes within Latin America and domestically. Kaitlyn loves to go backpacking in the Pacific Northwest and northern California, cook, and spend sunny afternoons in Golden Gate Park with friends in her free time.

 


Deb Karasek, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Ob/Gyn, after having completed a Transdisciplinary Postdoctoral Fellowship with the Preterm Birth Initiative at UCSF. She earned her MPH and Ph.D. in Epidemiology from the University of California Berkeley, School of Public Health. She brings expertise in research design, implementation, and analysis to her work studying social determinants of perinatal and reproductive health. Her research applies a health equity lens to explore how economic insecurity, neighborhood housing conditions, and social policy impact the health and well-being of pregnant women and their families. At SPHERE, she is evaluating the effects of the earned income tax credit on birth outcomes. She is the Co-PI of a study of the effects of San Francisco's paid family leave ordinance on preterm birth and serves as the evaluation lead for a community-academic partnership to establish a pregnancy income supplement program in San Francisco.  She's the mama of two young boys, who keep her busy outside of work. 



Min Hee Kim, Ph.D. is a postdoctoral research fellow at SPHERE. She received her Ph.D. in Sociology and Social Work from the University of Michigan. Her work focuses on social and spatial determinants of mental and cognitive health in aging populations. Using large-scale data, including national surveys, census data, and administrative records, Min Hee examines how neighborhood contexts impact clinical, social, and psychological health outcomes. She is interested in developing and implementing innovative place-based social policies to reduce cognitive health risk among vulnerable populations. During her postdoctoral training, Min Hee will collaboratively investigate the effects of area deprivation on dementia and its vascular risk factors among a cohort of immigrants to Denmark. She will also be involved in projects that examine the effects of other social policies on health leveraging natural experiments. Outside her work, she enjoys spending time with her family.

 


Natasja Koitzsch Jensen, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral research fellow at SPHERE. Her primary research interests and expertise are in the evaluation of social policy, social epidemiology, socioeconomic health disparities, and marginalized groups. In her current research, she investigates the effect of contextual factors at the neighborhood level on cardiovascular outcomes and utilization of health care services based on a natural experiment, where refugees were quasi-randomly assigned to neighborhoods with varying degrees of socioeconomic deprivation upon granting of residence due to a dispersal policy previously in place in Denmark. She holds a master’s degree and a PhD in Public Health and Epidemiology from the University of Copenhagen. In her free time, she enjoys the cultural scene in Copenhagen, traveling, surfing, and studying French.   

 


 

Claire Purcell is a Data Analyst working on the Covid-19 Citizen Science Study at UCSF. After graduating from Tulane University with a degree in Public Health in 2020, Claire began working at the Louisiana Public Health Institute where she first joined the CCS Study team. Claire now works at UCSF along with SPHERE to continue her research on the study which will capture large-scale data on the impacts of Covid-19. Outside of work, Claire likes to run, enjoy eclectic fashion, spend her time in nature, and cook. 

 

 


Eva Raphael, MD is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Epidemiology & Biostatistics and a family physician doing research on neighborhood effects on health, including drug-resistant infections, and she also examines refugee health. She completed a fellowship in Primary Care Research at UCSF. She studied Molecular and Cell Biology and completed an MPH in Environmental Health Sciences at UC Berkeley. She completed her medical studies at Emory and trained in Family and Community Medicine at UCSF. She enjoys reading, hiking, movies, and martial arts.

 


 Joanie Rothstein, MPP, MPH, is a Senior Program Manager at SPHERE. In her role, she helps develop SPHERE's strategic priorities and assists with overseeing SPHERE's people, programs, and research projects. Joanie also works to disseminate SPHERE's research to policymakers and the public. She holds Masters Degrees in Public Health and Public Policy from UC Berkeley and lives in East Bay, where she keeps busy with her husband, two sons, and pandemic puppy, Bandit.

 


Gabriel Schwartz is a social epidemiologist and postdoctoral fellow at SPHERE. His research examines how social policy, social stratification, and the places we live shape health inequalities across the life course. On the SPHERE team, he is leveraging natural experiments to assess whether worsening school segregation worsens the health of children and young adults. Ongoing projects investigate the health impacts of eviction and the population health burden of police violence. Gabriel earned his doctorate in Population Health Sciences at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Outside of work, he enjoys taking care of plants, exploring the city on his bike, and learning about ocean animals.

 


Marilyn D. Thomas, MPH, Ph.D., is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Departments of Epidemiology & Biostatistics and Psychiatry at UCSF. She earned her MPH from San Francisco State University and her Ph.D. in Epidemiology from the University of California, Berkeley. Her primary interest is to understand how social policies, practices, and norms contribute to racial and socioeconomic health disparities. She has expertise in integrating social theory, measuring exposure to racism, and estimating the intersections of race, socioeconomic position, and socio-environmental factors using statistical interaction and case-only study designs. Her research investigates the role that structural, institutional, and everyday social marginalization plays on disparities in accelerated aging and physiologic dysregulation; police use of fatal force; and how socioeconomic and demographic factors modify these effects. To practice self-care, she likes to hike, dine out, see live music/comedy/theater, travel, and play guitar.


Guangyi Wang, Ph.D. is a Full Specialist at SPHERE. She received her PhD in Consumer Sciences from the Ohio State University. Her work focuses on policy-based research on family wellbeing, especially in the areas of health and social policy. During her doctoral training, Guangyi used a variety of quasi-experimental designs and survey data to examine the economic and social impacts of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and Earned Income Tax Credits (EITC), including homeownership, marriage, and health outcomes, etc. On the SPHERE team, she will work on projects that examine the effects of school segregation on health outcomes. Outside of work, she enjoys spending time with her cat and friends, baking, and traveling.

 


Jordan Vogel is a Data Collector working on the COVID-19 Citizen Science Study at UCSF. After graduating from the University of Kentucky in 2018 with a degree in history, anthropology, and education, she began her career as a special education teacher. She earned an M.S. in adolescents with disabilities from Canisus College in 2021. Jordan now works with UCSF along with SPHERE to collect data that will capture large-scale impacts of COVID-19. Outside of work, Jordan enjoys hiking and spending time with her family. 

 

 


Joseph Yeb is a Research Data Analyst at SPHERE. After obtaining his undergraduate degree at Boston University, he joined SPHERE through the UCSF PROPEL program for post-baccalaureate fellows. He is broadly interested in the interface between social determinants of health and pediatric health outcomes. In his free time, he enjoys powerlifting, attending concerts, and exploring new food spots in the Bay!