Clinical Health Psychology Research Labs and Student Profiles:

Each student accepted into the Clinical Health Psychology Program is simultaneously placed with a core faculty research mentor. In fact, compatibility between the interests of applicants and those of a specific core faculty member is an important consideration in admission. In their application, applicants are asked to identify at least one core faculty member as a potential research mentor. Below are links providing more information regarding the research of each core faculty member, followed by profiles for each current student in the Clinical Health Psychology program.

Relationship Studies Lab (Beth Allen)         

  • Dr. Beth Allen labMollie Shin earned her BA in Psychology and Business Administration from Baylor University in 2017. Following her time at Baylor she worked as a project coordinator at the VISN 17 COE for Research on Returning War Veterans. Her research interests include intimate relationship functioning following trauma, especially within the military population, novel couples-based interventions, prevention of interpersonal conflict, and maintenance of healthy romantic partnerships. Mollie is committed to promoting diversity and inclusion in all areas of her work, including research and therapy.
  • Karima Shehadeh earned her B.S. in Psychology at Sam Houston State University in 2018 and her M.S. in Psychology at Arizona State University in 2020. At Arizona State, she completed her Master’s thesis on the role of intimacy, rumination and sleep quality on the psychological and physical health of individuals in relationships. Her clinical and research interests include the interplay of intimate relationships and mental health outcomes.

Grigsby Lab     

  • Bahroze Rakeen graduated from the Metropolitan State University of Denver in 2015 with a BA in Biology and Psychology. He is interested in studying cognitive impairments associated with chronic health conditions. In addition, he is interested in advocating for the psychosocial needs of underserved populations through research aimed at informing public policy. He has served as the student representative for student interviews and enjoys assisting the incoming cohorts. In his spare time, he enjoys hiking, road trips, photography, traveling/daydreaming of traveling to faraway lands, and finding good food.
  • Keegan Walker is a native to Colorado and thrilled to be pursuing his PhD in his hometown.  An alum of Metropolitan State University of Denver, he received Bachelor’s degrees in both Psychology and Philosophy.  After attending one year of a philosophy PhD program at the University of Iowa, Keegan decided that the field was not suited to him and began pursuing a field with more dynamic human interaction.  His research interests are focused around variables that impact cognitive functioning, particularly executive functions such as attention, inhibition, organization, and planning.  He is particularly interested in exploring how microbiotic populations within the body affect the brain.  He hopes to enhance (and possibly create) therapeutic interventions based on his findings.  Keegan is a “foodie” at heart and loves playing in the kitchen, entertaining, and talking food, particularly fermented foods like kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut, etc.  He also enjoys film, hiking, trying new restaurants, and spending time with “his people.”

Infant Lab at CU Denver (Peter Kaplan & Kevin Everhart)       

  • Kaplan_Everhart_lab_2021Caroline Harrison graduated from Georgetown University in 2014 with a bachelor’s degree in neurobiology and completed her Master of Public Health with a concentration in epidemiology in 2019 at the Colorado School of Public Health. After completing her bachelor’s degree, Caroline worked as a Health Coach for geriatric patients at a primary care clinic, where she cared for patients with complex medical histories alongside a physician. Her work with elderly people taught her the importance of establishing healthy development early in life and inspired her to pursue a degree in public health. While pursuing her studies in public health, Caroline joined the eXtraordinarY Kids Clinic at Children’s Hospital Colorado as a research assistant. She worked with infants, children and adolescents diagnosed with sex chromosome aneuploidies and studied factors that promoted or stymied healthy development. During her tenure at Children’s Hospital, Caroline was also granted a Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (LEND) Fellowship at JFK Partners on the CU Anschutz Medical campus where she worked closely with families and children with a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. In this position Caroline co-lead a group therapy intervention using cognitive-behavioral therapy to help adolescents on the autism spectrum overcome anxiety. She also completed a project investigating the relationship between anxiety, diagnosis of a developmental disability or disorder, and access to healthcare resources. As a member of the Infant Lab at CU Denver, Caroline looks forward to continuing to study infant development and the parent-child bond. Specifically, she is interested in learning about how genetic and environmental interactions predict maternal mental health and infant development, as well as identifying therapeutic interventions to optimize healthy attachment styles. In her free time, Caroline can be found in the mountains or seeking adventure with the people she loves.
  • Maura Gissen is a second year Ph.D. Clinical Health Psychology student. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Western Connecticut State University (2015) and her Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology from the University of Denver (2017). During her time in her master’s program, Maura had two clinical internship placements working with at-risk, systems-involved youth diagnosed with Autism, as well as pregnant teens working towards high school graduation. After graduation, Maura worked for two years at the Denver VA as a Research Assistant studying suicide risk assessment. Maura is interested in maternal and infant health and outcomes, specifically among adolescent and teen mothers. She has a special interest in the intergenerational impacts of trauma and adverse childhood events, with a focus on health disparities and equity, diversity, and inclusion. Maura is passionate about amplifying and centering the voices of those directly impacted by these issues. In her spare time, she enjoys a combination of spending time outdoors, trying new foods at restaurants or ordering in, and quiet time at home with her partner and dog.
  • Reka (Princi) Kovacs is currently a fourth-year Ph.D. Clinical Health Psychology student. Princi received her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology with a minor in Statistics from Salisbury University in Maryland. After graduation, she obtained her Master of Professional Studies degree in Clinical Psychological Science at University of Maryland, College Park. During her master’s program, she was employed at Childrens National Medical Center in Washington D.C. as a research assistant where she became most interested in working with families and children in the medical setting. In addition to working in the Infant Lab at CU Denver, Princi has also worked in the sleep lab at Childrens Colorado Hospital which she also has an interest in clinically. Currently, Princi is working part-time in the Child Clinical externship rotation at Childrens Colorado Hospital where she is practicing integrated care in a pediatric setting. Princi’s research interests focus on genetic and environmental interaction on maternal mental health as well as infant development. Princi’s dissertation focuses on coding mother-infant interactions to test hypotheses related to the development of post-partum depression. For fun, Princi enjoys traveling, watching reality TV with her friends, and being with her two orange tabby cats.   
  • Gabrielle Russo is currently a third-year Ph.D. Clinical Health Psychology student. She earned her B.S. in Psychology with honors at the University of Pittsburgh (2017) and a M.S. in Psychology at Drexel University (2019) in Philadelphia. At Drexel, Gabrielle conducted research in the area of women’s health psychology, with a focus on family adjustment to reproductive life events. She also conducted research and engaged in clinical activities at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) Newborn/Infant Intensive Care Unit (N/IICU). Her master’s thesis examined the relationships among satisfaction with social support, parent mental health, and parent-infant bonding in the new parents. Gabrielle is interested in examining the influence of parental mental health and stress on parent-child bonding and infant learning. She has a specific interest in understanding how parent mental health impacts interactive behaviors between parents and their children, as well as understanding the role of the oxytocin receptor gene in this relationship. In her free time, Gabrielle enjoys hikings, camping, skiing, and reading.

  • Kathryn Saldaña received her Bachelor's degree in Psychology and Health Sciences from California State University, Long Beach. As an undergraduate, she obtained research experience in several areas in health psychology such as health disparities risk factors, the impact of stress on behavior and physiological health, and maternal, infant and pregnancy health. Her clinical and research interests include integrated primary care and maternal and women’s health. She is currently completing her clinical internship at the Long Beach VA and recently defended her thesis examining subtypes of depression among mothers. Her hobbies include traveling, cooking, being outdoors, and spending time with her husband, family, and dog Miller.

  • Sunny Stophaeros graduated with Honors from San Francisco State University for both her BA in psychology and her MA in Psychological Research. Subsequently, she worked for the Autism Center of Excellence at UC San Diego as the Lead Clinical Coordinator and Director of Education for many years. She is a Leadership and Education in Neurodevelopmental Disorders (LEND) Fellow and recently completed her externship with JFK Partners at the Anschutz Medical School and Children’s Hospital Colorado as part of her fellowship. Her research interests revolve around promoting healthy infant development and understanding the effects of attachment on early brain development and epigenetics. Her clinical interests include the assessment of children who have autism, learning disorders, and developmental delays. In addition, she enjoys providing psychotherapy to very young children through adults using a variety of approaches. She has the honor of working as the Mental Health Liaison for the MARC-U STAR scholarship program and is passionate about increasing diversity within the biomedical community and supporting the mental health of those who are paving the way. In her spare time she enjoys spending time with her husband, son and exploring the many wonderful outdoor activities that Colorado has to offer.

  • M.T. (Mary Taylor) Goeltz is currently a first-year Ph.D. Clinical Health Psychology student. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Dickinson College in Pennsylvania. After graduation, M.T. went on to manage Dr. Audun Dahl’s Early Social Interaction Lab at UC Santa Cruz, where she oversaw a research project investigating the influence of scaffolding upon the emergence of helping behaviors in infancy. She then joined Dr. Isaac Petersen’s Developmental Psychopathology Lab as their coordinator, where she managed a project focused upon advancing understanding of the development of self-regulation in young children. M.T. is interested in genetic and environmental influences upon the development of social behavior in infancy and early childhood. She has a particular interest in the influence of early parenting behavior upon the development of empathy and antisocial behavior in later childhood. M.T. enjoys reading, trying new foods, spending time outside, and watching horror films in her free time.

Kristin Kilbourn Lab       

  • Kilbourn LabEsmeralda "Ezzy" Adolf is currently a third-year Ph.D. Clinical Health Psychology student. She originally hails from Washington State where she received her bachelor’s degree in Psychology at Eastern Washington University. Ezzy received her master’s degree in Applied Developmental and Educational Psychology at Boston College and worked at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute as a clinical research coordinator, where she was responsible for maintaining and supporting the ongoing research activities in the Pediatric Psychosocial Oncology Division.  Her research interests include exploring barriers to psychosocial care in families and patients affected by cancer. She also has an interest neurocognitive late effects and quality of life outcomes in adult survivors of pediatric cancer. Her goal is to work in an academic medical center with families affected by pediatric chronic illness. Ezzy is also a student therapist in the CU-Denver Psychology Clinic where she conducts individual psychotherapy with children and adults of diverse backgrounds.  She enjoys spending time with her husband and daughter, exploring new places, and baking cakes. 
  • Emily Bilenduke is currently a fourth-year Ph.D. Clinical Health Psychology student. She graduated from the University of Redlands in 2016 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology, and then worked at the Summit Community Care Clinic, a primary care clinic, as the grant coordinator. Emily’s time at the clinic inspired her to evaluate how people interact with their health. Her master’s thesis explored the association between mood, cognitive functioning, and microbiome in women with breast cancer being treated with chemotherapy. Emily’s current work is with the Cancer Prevention Control Research Network focused on dissemination and implementation science where she was part of the inaugural CPCRN Scholars cohort. Her research interests include integrative health care, health disparities, and adjustment to chronic conditions. Currently, Emily is completing her externship at UCHealth A.F. Williams Family Medicine clinic where she conducts individual psychotherapy with adults of diverse backgrounds as part of an integrated care facility. In her spare time, Emily enjoys being outdoors in the mountains skiing or hiking. 
  • Alaina Carr graduated from the University of Colorado at Boulder Magna Cum Laude with a B.A. in psychology. She then worked as a clinical research coordinator at Massachusetts General Hospital in the Cancer Outcomes Research Group (CORe). She defended her Master's thesis on a randomized control trial of a psychoeducation and skills based mobile platform to reduce distress in caregivers of patients with advanced illness. Her master's thesis is published in JMIR Cancer and this is her initial first author publication.  Her research interests include developing and evaluating psychosocial interventions to improve mental and behavioral health in cancer patients and caregivers. She is completing her 12-month externship placement at A.F. Williams Family Medicine and enjoys her experience in integrated primary care.

Calm Heart Lab website (Kevin Masters)       Dr. Masters will not be accepting a Clinical Health Psychology student to start Fall 2022.

  • Christianne Biggane graduated in 2015 with Bachelor of Science degrees in Nutritional Sciences and Cognitive and Behavioral Neuroscience from the University of Florida. As anMasters Lab members undergraduate, she worked with electroencephalography (EEG) and psychophysiology equipment to examine the fear response. She currently works as a Behavioral Health Resident with UC Health and as a lecturer on CU’s campus. She is interested in the intersection of mindfulness and exercise with mental health. Her Master’s work examined the relationships between religiosity/spirituality, purpose in life, and health outcomes. Christianne’s dissertation will examine how viewing images of nature impacts the stress response and executive function. Outside of school, she enjoys backpacking, yoga, lingering in coffee shops, cycling, and live music, and since moving to Denver has come to love skiing. 
  • Christina Rush received her Bachelor of Arts in English and Spanish from Ohio State University in Columbus, OH, and her Master of Arts in psychology from American University in Washington DC. She has been involved in cardiovascular and cancer research at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, and Georgetown University. Her current research interests include strengths-based areas of human functioning, such as grace and meaning and purpose, which contribute to health and well-being. At CU Denver she has been involved in research exploring theory-based health behavior change mechanisms and techniques, cardiovascular reactivity and recovery, and construct measure development. She is also working on a mixed-methods qualitative study examining parallels between Hispanic culture and health outcomes (i.e., the Hispanic Paradox) as related to perceptions of divine grace and well-being among Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Christina loves spending time with her family exploring Colorado. E-mail: 

  • Katie Vagnini received her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology with a minor in Spanish from Kalamazoo College in Kalamazoo, Michigan. She received her Master of Arts in Psychology from the University of Colorado Denver. Prior to her graduate studies, Katie worked with diverse clinical populations in both inpatient psychiatric and inpatient medical settings. Katie completed a behavioral sleep medicine practicum with National Jewish Health during her 3rd year of the program and currently works with veterans with severe mental illness at the Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center. Katie has a particular interest in working with existential influences in clinical work and in research; specifically, meaning, purpose, and spirituality. In collaboration with Drs. Kevin Masters and Stephanie Hooker, Katie recently developed the Meaning Awareness Scale (MAS): a brief measure assessing salience of personal meaning in life that can be used for research or clinical purposes. Katie has also been involved in research related to behavior change, cardiovascular reactivity and recovery, and health policy. She loves spending time with her husband, friends, and dog in the Colorado outdoors. Email: 

Healthy Couples Lab (Dr. Krista Ranby); Dr. Ranby's Lab Page and Facebook page      

  • Ranby lab membersStephanie Callan received her BA in psychology from the University of Pennsylvania and her MS in psychology from Drexel University. She joined the Healthy Couples Lab with a diverse background including research in alcohol misuse and smoking cessation and matters related to professional psychology, such as training and self-care. She brought that experience to the study of health behaviors within romantic couples, particularly those facing serious health issues such as heart failure and bone-marrow transplant. She defended her thesis in 2020, which focused on the development and psychometric validation of a measure assessing the degree to which partners are invested in one another’s health and physical activity. She is currently working on her dissertation, which examines health behavior concordance within military couples and the relationship between partners’ sleep and deployment. In her downtime, Stephanie enjoys watching her Philadelphia sports teams, loving on her chihuahua mix, and attempting to plan a wedding.; Cohort: Year 4 
  • Zane Freeman  earned a BA in Psychology from the University of Texas at Austin where he subsequently worked as a research coordinator for a community-based exercise intervention for smoking cessation. He then went on to work with oncology and diabetes patients on several FDA pharmaceutical trials from both the patient and sponsor side. In graduate school, he hopes to continue working with these populations to increase engagement in healthy behaviors and improve health outcomes. In particular, he is interested in determining how one's social environment affects their physical activity levels and understanding the mechanisms of change behind successful exercise interventions. In his free time, Zane likes stay active by doing yoga and playing tennis.; Cohort: Year 1 
  • Sydneyjane  Roberts received her BA in psychology from the University of South Alabama and her MA in clinical psychology with a concentration in research methods from Columbia University. Sydneyjane’s research interests include studying the complex interactions between close romantic relationships, health and health behaviors, particularly as they relate to women’s health issues, such as the impact of interpersonal influences on chronic illness and reproductive health. Her thesis (defended December 2019) and dissertation projects are focused on examining data collected from the Pregnant Couples Study- a longitudinal, dyadic study exploring patterns, predictors, and outcomes of daily physical activity from the first trimester of pregnancy to 6 months postpartum among couples experiencing the birth of their first child.

  • Kelsey Nogg earned her BA in psychology from Occidental College and her MA in psychology from San Diego State University. Her background is in behavioral health research, through which she has examined psychosocial factors related to health behavior change (e.g., physical activity, tanning, medication adherence) in diverse populations. Her thesis at San Diego State University examined motivation for physical activity within the parent-child dyad. She is excited to begin her dissertation work, which will focus on sexual minority couples’ relationship factors and health. She enjoys cooking, checking out new restaurants, and live music.; Cohort: Year 3 

  • Gillian Ulrich  graduated from Wake Forest University with a BS in Biology and then completed a Pre-Clinical Psychology Post-Baccalaureate Certificate Program at Northwestern University. During the post-baccalaureate program, she worked as a research assistant at Feinberg School of Medicine and studied the determinants and health outcomes of physical activity participation in breast cancer survivors. As a PhD student in Dr. Krista Ranby’s Healthy Couples Lab, Gillian conducts dyadic research on cancer survivors’ and their caregivers’ health behaviors, relationship factors, and physical and mental health outcomes. Her thesis focused on predictors of physical activity interest among couples following a cancer diagnosis, and her dissertation examined distress and coping among medically underserved head-and-neck cancer and lung cancer patients and their caregivers. In her free time, Gillian loves exploring Colorado with her husband and golden retriever.; Cohort: Year 5 

Behavioral Cardiology Lab (Jonathan Shaffer)     

  • Alex Presciutti is a 3rd-year CHP doctoral student and is finishing his MS in clinical science at the University of Colorado Anschutz. Alex received his MA in clinical psychology fromSchaffer Lab Columbia University in 2018. His research focuses on the neuropsychological and emotional implications of acquired brain injuries (namely, stroke and cardiac arrest). He is particularly interested in formulating interventions to improve the quality of survival in these patients. Recently, Alex was awarded a TL1 training grant through the Colorado Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute to study the associations between provider-patient communication, readiness for discharge, and illness perceptions with patient-centered outcomes after cardiac arrest. In his free time, Alex enjoys writing, reading, visiting art galleries, playing soccer, hiking, and traveling.
  • Tiffany Ju graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor's degree in Psychology from UCLA. Prior to graduate school, Tiffany was involved in research on chronic pain and digestive diseases at the UCLA Center for Neurobiology of Stress and Resilience. She has also worked on studies of depression in heart failure at the University of Southern California. Her research interests include improving treatment outcomes and coping with chronic illness. 

  • Amy Frers graduated from Eastern Washington University with a BA in Psychology in 2016. She is interested in chronic pain and disease management, mindfulness, and the efficacy of third wave therapies for improving quality of life in these patient populations. She is also interested in patient attitudes and outcomes of telehealth interventions. As part of Dr. Shaffer’s lab, Amy worked on a project which adapted an ACT based group intervention for survivors of spontaneous coronary artery dissection to a mobile app. For her master's thesis, she is examining the relationship between opioids and sleep in a group of chronic pain patients. When she has free time, she enjoys exploring the outdoors, playing board games, and rock climbing.

  • Adam Harris graduated with a BA in Psychology from the University of Connecticut in 2016. He is a currently a third-year graduate student in the Clinical Health Psychology PhD Program at CU Denver, and his research interests include health behaviors, mindfulness, self-compassion, and therapy processes and outcomes. In his free time, he does stand-up and improv comedy and plays jazz piano and saxophone. ADAM.HARRIS@UCDENVER.EDU

  • Caitlyn Wilson​ Caitlyn received a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from University of Massachusetts Amherst. Previously, Caitlyn worked as a research assistant exploring associations between dimensions of positive psychological well-being (e.g., positive affect, purpose, optimism), mindfulness (e.g., self-compassion, emotion regulation, interoceptive awareness), and health at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Center for Health and Happiness and at the Cambridge Health Alliance’s Center for Mindfulness and Compassion. She plans to continue exploring the relationship between dimensions of psychological well-being, particularly meaning in life, and mindfulness, interaction with nature, and health behaviors in her doctoral work at CU Denver. In her free time, Caitlyn enjoys hiking, snowboarding, and playing board games.  CAITLYN.WILSON@UCDENVER.EDU

Pediatric Research in Equity and Prevention (PREP) Lab (Sneha Thamotharan)  Dr. Thamotharan will not be accepting a Clinical Health Psychology student to start Fall 2022.

  • Nevita George earned her BS in Psychology from Texas A&M University in 2019. Prior to joining the PREP lab, she gained experience in bipolar disorders and integrated health. Her research interests include amplifying minoritized voices to responsively address health and healthcare disparities burdening young women of color, in particular South Asian young women. She is currently planning her thesis, with an anticipated focus on the impact of colorism on the health outcomes of minoritized youth, including an examination of gender-dependent variations. Nevita is also a member of the CHP Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) Committee. In her free time, Nevita enjoys spending time outdoors with friends and family, traveling, and binging Netflix shows.  

Bio-psycho-social Pain Management Lab (Amy Wachholtz)      

  • Dr. Amy Wachholtz lab membersDaniel Luedtke graduated from the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities in 2017 with BAs in Psychology and French. He is interested in studying the relationship between chronic pain, stress, and trauma as well as social and cultural means of resilience. In his free time he enjoys watching movies, listening to music, and hanging out with his friends. 

  • Dustin Goerlitz graduated from the University of California Santa Cruz in 2013 with a BA in Psychology. His research interests are in positive psychology and complementary and integrative medicine (CIM) for chronic pain and pain management, as well as biopsychosocial factors for quality of life in chronic pain populations. He enjoys numerous outdoor activities, playing music, spending time with friends, puns, and is apparently a big fan of tea. 

  • Caitlin Kienzler received her Bachelor of Science in Psychology from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Following graduation, Caitlin continued her work with the University of Illinois, first as a lab manager and then as coordinator of the Lifelong Brain and Cognition Laboratory, studying cognition over the lifespan with an emphasis on neuroplasticity. Her research interests include chronic pain and pain management, substance use, and spirituality. She enjoys coffee, reading mystery novels, and running the Cherry Creek trail.

  • Sarah Martin graduated from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in 2016 with a BA in Psychology and from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2019 with a MS in Clinical Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling. Her research interests include biopsychosocial factors affecting opioid misuse in people with chronic pain and interventions for comorbid chronic pain and opioid use disorder. In her spare time, she enjoys outdoor activities with her two Siberian Huskies and spending time with friends.

  • Alex(andra) Otto graduated from University of Alabama Birmingham in 2018 with a Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Sciences and a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish. Her research interests include behavioral interventions and ethnic disparities in comorbid chronic pain and opioid use disorder. She enjoys reading, baking, and anything outdoors, namely skiing and hiking.

  • Dallas Robinson graduated from Missouri State University with a BA in psychology in 2017, and a MS in Clinical Psychology in 2019. Her interests include the role of stress in chronic pain and substance use disorders, as well as research using psycho-physiological measures. In her free time she enjoys rock climbing, kayaking, and dancing.