Lab Members


Dr. Lara-Cinisomo

Dr. Lara-Cinisomo, Ph.D.

Dr. Lara-Cinisomo is a developmental psychologist. Dr. Lara-Cinisomo’s research focuses on addressing mental health disparities in women and mothers, particularly racial and ethnic minorities, immigrants, and military populations. Her research approach builds on a framework focused on psychosocial, cultural, structural and physiological factors. Specifically, she examines how contextual factors (e.g., culture, biology) are associated with poor mental health in her populations of interest. As such, she takes an integrated approach to understand mental health disparities in mothers and women. Recently, she completed several studies that examine associations between hormone function (i.e., cortisol and oxytocin) and perinatal depression in Latinas. Her recent studies also tested the effectiveness of a mindfulness-based intervention on reducing stress, depression, anxiety and worry in caregivers of veterans, most of whom were women. Currently, she is conducting a multisite study on prenatal depression, diabetes, and disease management. Dr. Lara-Cinisomo is also exploring brain activation in the context of pain in postpartum women with and without depression. 

Graduate Students

Gabriella Lopez

Gabriella is a Master of Science student in Community Health at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.  She holds an undergraduate degree in Biological Anthropology.  Her current research interests include how migration stressors and traumatic experiences can lead to the onset of Post-traumatic stress disorder in immigrant Latinas.  In addition, she is interested in infectious and chronic disease health disparities. 

Biniyam Melesse

Biniyam received his B.A in Biochemistry & Molecular Biology and Political Science from Wittenberg University in 2014. He earned a Master of Public Health with Environmental Health Concentration and Epidemiology from the University of Illinois in 2016. He worked for two years as a health policy analyst at the Illinois Department of Public Health and as a registered sanitarian at the city of Austin Public Health and Texas Department of State health services for three years. He joined LESA when he began his Ph.D. in Community Health in 2019. Biniyam’s research interests include mental health, maternal and child health. Biniyam’s dissertation work focuses on the associations between neighborhood-level characteristics and the mental health of pregnant women and mothers of children under the age of two. His study aims to address the contextual factors affecting reproductive women’s mental health in the Sub-Saharan African region. On his free time, Biniyam runs competitive road races and enjoys international travel. 

Mary Ellen Mendy

Mary Ellen is a 4th year Ph.D. student in the Community Health Department. She is from The Gambia, West Africa. She received a Bachelor of Science in Biology with a minor in Public Health from the University of The Gambia. In May 2019, she graduated with a Master of Public Health degree and an Epidemiology Graduate Certificate from the University of Illinois at Springfield. Her research interests include immigrants and health disparities in racial and ethnic minorities. In her free time, Mary Ellen runs her fashion blog and sometimes reads fictional novels. Working at the LESA lab has been a wholesome experience for her, so she would encourage anyone interested to join the team. 

Devanshi Bhadola

Devanshi completed her Bachelor’s in Pharmacy and Master’s in Business Administration, specializing in pharmaceutical technology, at Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies (NMIMS University) in 2017. She is currently pursuing a Master of Public Health with a focus on Epidemiology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Joining the LESA lab in February 2023, Devanshi is passionate about exploring health disparities among minority communities, including mental health, women and child health, drug and substance use. In her free time, she delights in exploring new restaurants, traveling, and reading.

Undergraduate Students

Anjali Patel

Anjali is an undergraduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and she is studying Interdisciplinary Health Sciences with a concentration in Health and Diversity on the Pre-Medicine track. She is interested in doing research to learn more about women’s physical and mental health, especially dealing with maternal health and different health disparities that minority women face.

Yetunde Ogunfowokan

As an undergraduate student pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry with a minor in Sociology, Yetunde’s academic journey is deeply rooted in both the natural sciences and the social dynamics shaping our world. Her research interests are fueled by the social and environmental factors contributing to disparities in healthcare within marginalized communities. Her goal is to develop a more holistic and inclusive approach to medicine that addresses the challenges faced by minorities. Beyond academics, she enjoys cooking, hosting game nights, and spending time with friends. This year, she is planning on traveling more and immersing herself in diverse cultures.

Audrey Schissler

Audrey is a freshman studying Kinesiology. She joined the LESA lab as a part of the UIUC SPARK program, which introduces freshmen to undergraduate research experiences. She has been mainly working on research for a podcast surrounding perinatal mental health. Outside of the lab, she plays trumpet in Marching Illini and Hoops Bands.

Zara Mkrtychian

Zara is a junior pursuing a dual degree in Community Health with a concentration in Health Education and Promotion, as well as Psychology with a Clinical/Community concentration. Her interests include a variety of topics including health disparities, nutrition, and disease prevention among underrepresented populations. After she graduates, she would like to work abroad and study the health status of different countries and potentially do research in less developed countries. Outside of the LESA Lab, she also does research for the Developing Equitable Minds Lab. In her free time, she enjoys cooking, going to the gym, and trying new foods. 

Melany Romero

Melany is a Clinical Psychology and Spanish major who wants to have a positive impact on low-income communities. She strives to challenge mental health stigma and inequities among minorities, specifically the Latinx community, through research and implementation of new methods.