University of Illinois at Chicago Research Team

Project Director

Frank J. Chaloupka, Ph.D. 

Telephone: 312-413-2287

Frank J. Chaloupka is a Distinguished Professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where he has been on the faculty since 1988.  He is currently Director of the UIC Health Policy Center and holds appointments in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ Department of Economics and the School of Public Health’s Division of Health Policy and Administration.  He is a Fellow at the University of Illinois’ Institute for Government and Public Affairs, and is a Research Associate in the National Bureau of Economic Research’s Health Economics Program and Children’s Program.  Dr. Chaloupka is Director of ImpacTeen: A Policy Research Partnership for Healthier Youth Behavior and Co-Director of the International Tobacco Evidence Network. An economist, Dr. Chaloupka earned his B.A. from John Carroll University in 1984 and his Ph.D. from the City University of New York Graduate School and University Center. 

Dr. Chaloupka's research focuses on the effects of national, state, and local policies and other environmental influences on youth, young adult, and adult cigarette smoking, alcohol use, illicit drug use, physical activity, diet, and related outcomes. This extensive research has resulted in numerous professional publications and presentations. He is on the editorial boards of American Journal of Preventive Medicine and Contemporary Economic Policy, is the economics editor for Tobacco Control, an Assistant Editor for Addiction, and an Associate Editor for Nicotine & Tobacco Research. He is a consultant to numerous governmental agencies, private organizations, and businesses. In 1996 Dr. Chaloupka received the University Scholar Award from the University of Illinois for his research on the economic analysis of substance use and abuse and in 2009 received UIC’s first Researcher of the Year in the Social Sciences and Humanities award for his work on the economic, policy and environmental determinants of health behavior.

Deputy Director

Leah Rimkus, M.P.H., R.D.

Telephone: 312-413-4884



Leah Rimkus is the Deputy Director for Bridging the Gap (BTG) and is based at the Institute for Health Research and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). She leads the nutrition work group for BTG's community data collection project, which is investigating socioeconomic and environmental influences on diet and obesity. Prior to joining UIC, Ms. Rimkus was the program manager for a non-profit project in San Francisco, working with several City and County agencies to explore the potential for increasing enrollment in public food assistance programs, improving the food environment in local public schools, and supporting local/regional agriculture. In 2007, she received a Fulbright fellowship to conduct research on school food programs and policies in Brazil. Ms. Rimkus is a Registered Dietitian and holds a B.S. in nutrition from the University of Texas at Austin and a Master of Public Health from the University of California, Berkeley.

Key Investigators

Dianne C. Barker, M.H.S.

Dianne C. Barker runs a consulting firm based in Los Angeles, and serves as a principal investigator on several research and evaluation projects administered by the Public Health Institute in Oakland, CA. The consulting firm, Barker Bi-Coastal Health Consultants, Inc. (BBHC), specializes in developing and reviewing program initiatives; designing evaluations; and conducting survey research for public health philanthropies, community-based organizations, and government agencies. Prior to establishing BBHC in 1996, Ms. Barker spent seven years in philanthropy, overseeing health services research, program evaluations and public health grantmaking. During her tenure at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), she was responsible for overseeing several public health-related evaluations, as well as co-developing the first RWJF program addressing nicotine treatment, the Smoke-Free Families program, the initial State Medicaid Survey, and the first RWJF program to link environmental and behavioral data, the Bridging the Gap Initiative. Under her leadership as the co-chair of the National Partnership to Help Pregnant Smokers Quit Policy Working Group, the National Partnership has produced the Medicaid Tool Kits for national and state decision-makers. As co-principal investigator of the National Youth Smoking Cessation Survey funded by RWJF, NCI and CDC, Ms. Barker's recent research examines the effect of environmental and policy factors on quitting behavior among older adolescents and young adults. In September 2006, Ms. Barker received a Substance Abuse Policy Research Program Grant to investigate the impact of smoke-free air policies on young smokers' demand for and use of smoking cessation treatments.

Jamie F. Chriqui, Ph.D., M.H.S.

Telephone: 312-996-6410

Jamie F. Chriqui is the Director of Policy Surveillance and Evaluation for the Health Policy Center within the Institute for Health Research and Policy and a Research Associate Professor in Political Science at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She has nearly 20 years of experience conducting public health policy research, evaluation, and analysis with an emphasis on obesity, substance abuse, tobacco control, and other chronic disease-related policy issues. Dr. Chriqui has led a number of efforts to develop quantitative measures of the extensiveness of state and local level public health policies. Her research interests focus on examining the impact of law and policy on practices, community environments and individual behaviors/attitudes. For the Bridging the Gap and ImpacTeen projects, she directs all state, local and school district obesity policy research as well as leads the state tobacco control policy research activities. As part of this work, she directs the Bridging the Gap annual nationwide evaluation of school district wellness policies as well as the ongoing annual surveillance of state taxes on sugar and artificially sweetened beverages, snacks, and restaurant sales. Previously, she led the state illicit drug law and substance abuse treatment policy research efforts for the project. Prior to joining UIC, Dr. Chriqui served as Technical Vice-President of the Center for Health Policy and Legislative Analysis at The MayaTech Corporation and previously, as a policy analyst at the National Institute on Drug Abuse. She holds a B.A. in Political Science from Barnard College, Columbia University; an M.H.S. in Health Policy from the Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health; and a Ph.D. in Policy Sciences (Health Policy concentration) from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Lisa M. Powell, Ph.D.

Telephone: 312-413-8468

Lisa Powell is Professor and Director in the Division Health Policy and Administration in the School of Public Health, the Director of the Illinois Prevention Research Center, and the Associate Director of the Health Policy Center in the Institute for Health Research at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Dr. Powell has extensive experience as an applied micro-economist in the empirical analysis of the effects of public policy on a series of behavioral outcomes. Much of her current research is on assessing the importance of economic and environmental factors (such as food prices, sugar-sweetened beverage (SSB) and soda taxes; access to food stores, fast-food restaurants, other eating places, and facilities for physical activity; and, television food advertising exposure) on food consumption and physical activity behaviors and as determinants of body mass index and the prevalence of obesity, including related disparities. Her work has contributed to the policy debates on SSB taxes and child-directed marketing in the U.S. Dr. Powell’s research has been funded by the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Dr. Powell is the recipient of the 2013 University of Illinois at Chicago Researcher of the Year Award in the Social Sciences.

Sandy Slater, Ph.D.

Telephone: 312-413-0475



Sandy Slater is a Senior Research Specialist in the Institute for Health Research and Policy and a Research Assistant Professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Dr. Slater specializes in community-based health research and is involved in numerous community-level studies designed to examine and reduce modifiable risk factors such as physical inactivity, obesity, and tobacco use. Currently, Dr. Slater conducts research aimed at understanding factors in the environment that provide opportunities and those that constrain the ability for children and adolescents to be physically active. Dr. Slater leads the BTG-COMP Physical Activity Built Environment work group, which involves investigating the impact of socioeconomic and other environmental factors on physical activity and obesity. Through Dr. Slater’s NIH-funded research, she is focusing on better understanding racial/ethnic and cultural differences in health behaviors. Specifically, her research activities focus on low income urban communities of color and rural populations; two special populations that research shows are at greatest risk of physical inactivity and high rates of obesity. Her research studies follow an overarching socio-ecological framework which postulates that changes in individual characteristics are affected not only by personal factors (e.g., age, gender, SES, race/ethnicity, genetic profile) but also by interactions with the larger social, cultural, and environmental contexts in which they live (e.g., family, school, community). This framework also accounts for environmental justice principles and deprivation amplification as they relate to the built environment, particularly in low-income minority communities. 

Lindsey Turner, Ph.D.


Lindsey Turner is a health psychologist and research scientist at the Institute for Health Research and Policy. Dr. Turner's research background includes work on a number of health promotion projects aimed at children, families, and communities, in the areas of skin cancer prevention, tobacco control, nutrition, and physical activity. Dr. Turner has a background in health behavior theory, school-based survey and intervention projects, and program evaluation. In her current position, Dr. Turner leads the elementary-school data collection efforts for the RWJF-funded Bridging the Gap program, examining obesity-related policies and practices in elementary schools across the nation. She holds a B.S. in psychology from the University of Washington, and M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in psychology (with an emphasis in health research and statistics) from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Other Investigators

Lisa Nicholson, Ph.D.


Lisa M. Nicholson is a post-doctoral fellow in the Institute for Health Research and Policy (IHRP) at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC).  She graduated from The Ohio State University in 2007 with a doctorate in Sociology and a specialization in urban health. Dr. Nicholson's research focuses on the factors that contribute to obesity and cardiovascular disease among young adults and explains health disparities across minority and disadvantaged groups. Her current work examines the racial and ethnic disparities in eating and activity behaviors that may contribute to racial and ethnic disparities in obesity during the transition to adulthood.  She also conducts several studies investigating the effects of restaurant and soda taxes and weight outcomes among adults.  Dr. Nicholson has published manuscripts in the area of neighborhoods and health, self-assessed health, and adult and pediatric congenital heart disease.

Roy Wada, Ph.D.


Roy Wada is a Senior Research Specialist and investigator in the Institute for Health Research and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). Previously he served as Assistant Researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles. He was a Ruth L. Kirschstein-NRSA postdoctoral fellow at RAND and UCLA. Dr. Wada's research focuses on environmental factors and health disparities, employment effects of food and beverage taxation, and environmental determinants of childhood health. He is currently involved in research projects investigating the association of sugar-sweetened beverage taxes and the influence of television with children's dietary habits and obesity outcomes. His past projects include examining Medicare valuation of physician services, the effect of food price on childhood obesity, and the relationship between wages and body composition. His work has appeared in Economics of Human Biology, Health Affairs, Social Science & Medicine, Obesity Reviews, and Journal of Obesity.

Shannon Zenk, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.N.



Shannon N. Zenk is an Assistant Professor in Health Systems Science at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Nursing. Dr. Zenk uses quantitative and qualitative methods to understand social determinants obesity and to identify effective environmental and policy approaches to reverse the obesity epidemic. Of particular interest are contributions of the built and social environment to racial/ethnic and socioeconomic disparities in obesity among urban populations. Dr. Zenk has examined social inequalities in the environment and evaluated the impact of the 2009 WIC food package revision. By extending research to the individual's entire activity-space, rather than residential neighborhood only, she hopes to generate novel insights into environmental influences on obesity. She has applied innovative data collection and analytic methods (e.g., systematic social observation, global positioning systems, ecological momentary assessment, spatial regression) in her research. Much of her work is conducted in collaboration with communities. Dr. Zenk’s research is currently funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Healthy Eating Research Program. Dr. Zenk holds a bachelor’s of science in nursing from Illinois Wesleyan University, a joint M.S./M.P.H. in public health nursing/community health sciences from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and a Ph.D. in health behavior and health education from the University of Michigan. She completed a post-doctoral fellowship in cancer control and population science.

Postdoctoral Fellow

Zeynep Isgor, Ph.D.

Telephone: 312-996-9215

Zeynep Isgor is a postdoctoral fellow at the Health Policy Center within the Institute for Health Research and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). She graduated with a Ph.D. in Economics from UIC in the fall of 2013. Her primary field of specialization is health economics. Dr. Isgor’s major research interests are on the economic, social, environmental, and family- and person-specific determinants of health-related behaviors and health outcomes. Her dissertation thesis offers a theory-based dynamic model of physical activity behavior that simultaneously reflects biological and psychological aspects of behavior learned from various disciplines, and thus is potentially capable of explaining disparities observed by demographic and socioeconomic indicators of adolescent and adult physical activity prevalence in the United States over time.

Key Staff

Sharon Feldman, M.P.H.

Telephone: 312-413-5583



Sharon Feldman is the Grant Administrator for Bridging the Gap. She is involved with managing many of the day-to-day activities that are involved with making this grant run smoothly. This includes working in close contact with subcontractors, managing the budget, and helping to problem solve on challenging administrative issues as they arise.  She is the “go to” person for all kinds of things. Ms. Feldman received her Master in Public Health from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 1994. She has worked on large and small federal grants on high blood pressure (including the landmark NHLBI ALLHAT study) and tobacco control. In 2003 she started working as a grants administrator, and in addition to her role on BTG, she also manages several other grants housed in the Health Policy Center at the Institute for Health Research and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Alison Goldstein, M.P.H.


Alison Goldstein is a Senior Research Specialist in communications and digital media with the Institute for Health Research and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC).  Alison received her Master of Public Health degree in Health Policy & Administration from UIC's School of Public Health, where she cofounded and cofacilitates an organization called Radical Public Health.  Alison began her career working in book publishing in New York.  Since then she has conducted research, policy analysis, and outreach for academic institutions, think tanks, and advocacy organizations in New York and Chicago and taught English abroad.  Alison's interests include economic and social justice, health equity and alternative health care models, and interdisciplinary innovation and collaboration.

Camille Gourdet, J.D., M.A.

Telephone: 312-355-0208


Camille Gourdet is a Research Specialist in the Health Policy Center, which is situated within the Institute for Health Research and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She works extensively on the Bridging the Gap project, collaborating on the collection and coding of state laws and school district wellness policy data.  She holds a B.A. in Anthropology from Mount Holyoke College, a M.A. in Anthropology from the College of William and Mary, and a Juris Doctor degree from DePaul University College of Law in Chicago, Illinois.  Her research interests include myriad legislative efforts to understand and combat childhood obesity, such as farm-to-school efforts, taxation policies, federal agricultural laws pertaining to school food programs, and both state and local laws that govern the school food environment.

Elizabeth Piekarz, J.D.

Telephone: 312-996-5247


Elizabeth Piekarz is a Research Specialist in the Institute for Health Research and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She holds a B.A. in Biological Sciences from Northwestern University and a J.D. from Loyola University Chicago with a certificate in Health Law. Prior to joining the Bridging the Gap team, Elizabeth worked with the Health Justice Project, a medical–legal partnership which strives to overcome the social and legal barriers that prevent long-term health and stability for low-income families in Chicago.

Christopher Quinn, M.S.

Telephone: 312-413-9073


Christopher Quinn is a Research Specialist with the Institute for Health Research and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is the data manager for the Community Obesity Measures Project, maintaining the community field observation and local policy data along with telephone surveys on physical activity programs and demographic and built environment data from the U.S. census and GIS sources. He also conducts statistical analyses in collaboration with multiple BTG investigators. Christopher has been a part of BTG-COMP since its inception in 2008. His research interests include physical activity, the built environment and its impact on health, road bicycling safety, and statistical methods. Christopher earned a B.A in Sociology and a M.S. in Public Health Sciences with specialization in Epidemiology, both from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Anna Sandoval, M.P.H.

Telephone: 312-355-2388



Anna Sandoval is a Research Specialist in the Institute for Health Research and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago and currently manages the elementary school data collection efforts for Bridging the Gap. She has worked extensively on the ImpacTeen project overseeing community field data collection, including defining ImpacTeen communities, identifying local jurisdictions, and managing community information databases. Further, Ms. Sandoval worked on the BTG SmokeLess States Evaluation project coordinating and analyzing the legislative database. Ms. Sandoval received her Master of Public Health degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 1999. Her research interests include youth ATOD use, health education and promotion, health policy, youth obesity and physical activity. 

Rebecca M. Schermbeck, M.P.H., M.S., R.D.

Telephone: 312-413-3756

Rebecca Schermbeck is a Research Specialist at the Institute for Health Research and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  Ms. Schermbeck received her Master of Public Health and Master of Science in nutrition degrees from Saint Louis University in 2007.  Ms. Schermbeck is a research dietitian and her previous positions have focused on obesity prevention interventions in youth and federal, state, and local nutrition and physical activity policy.  Ms. Schermbeck works on the Bridging the Gap annual nationwide evaluation of school district wellness policies analyzing policies.  She also provides the nutritional component to the work involving youth, television advertisement and health status.

Emily Thrun, M.U.P.P.

Telephone: 312-413-7906



Emily Thrun is a Research Specialist in the Institute for Health Research and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). She holds a B.A. in Political Science from Northern Illinois University and a Master of Urban Planning and Policy with an emphasis in physical planning from UIC. For the Bridging the Gap Community Obesity Measures Project, she is responsible for overseeing policy collection and evaluating communities’ codes, plans, and policies to determine the extent to which they promote physical activity and healthy food accessibility. Her research interests include urban design and planning policy and their relationship to community health.

Other Key Partners

Jaana Myllyluoma, Ph.D., CPCC

Jaana Myllyluoma is an independent consultant, trainer, and an executive coach, and a faculty member at the Johns Hopkins University Carey Business School. Her role in the Bridging the Gap program is to advise on the development of community data collection instruments and protocols, and to train the field staff. She previously directed the first six years of community data collection for the BTG (ImpacTeen) project, while working as Site Director for Battelle’s Centers for Public Health Research and Evaluation.  Dr. Myllyluoma earned a master of arts degree in demography from Georgetown University in 1980 and her doctorate in population dynamics from the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health in 1988. She has 25 years of experience in directing large scale survey operations projects and has conducted extensive research on minors' access to tobacco, including compliance checks on the sale of tobacco to underage youth. Her expertise includes the design and implementation of community level observational data collection, including the testing of forms and procedures for quality control. She also brings to the team her extensive experience in training of project staff.

Punam Ohri-Vachaspati, Ph.D., R.D.

Punam Ohri-Vachaspati is an Associate Professor of Nutrition at Arizona State University’s College of Nursing and Health Innovation. Dr. Ohri-Vachaspati holds a Master of Science degree from University of Delhi and a Ph.D. in Applied Nutrition and Food Policy from Tufts University School of Nutrition. She is also a Registered Dietitian. Dr. Ohri-Vachaspati has extensive experience in designing and evaluating community based interventions to prevent chronic diseases and promote healthy behaviors. Her current work focuses on understanding the social-ecological determinants of obesity. She is co-leading a 5 city study in New Jersey to investigate the influence of food and physical activity related environments on childhood obesity and related behaviors. She has studied food environments in schools, childcare centers, and in community settings and has assessed the impacts of food access and obesogenic environments on consumption behaviors and weight status.

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Contact Information:

University of Illinois at Chicago

Institute for Health Research and Policy

1747 West Roosevelt Road

Room 558, M/C 275

Chicago, Illinois 60608

Telephone: (312) 413-4884

Facsimile: (312) 355-2801