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Nutrition Policy Institute Staff

NPI staff pictured at the NPI summer luncheon in 2023 at the UC Office of the President

The Nutrition Policy Institute team during our 2023 summer luncheon at the University of California Office of the President in downtown Oakland, Calif., where our office is located. Photo credit: Cassandra Nguyen.

NPI Researchers and Staff

Lorrene Ritchie

Lorrene Ritchie
PhD, RD, Director and UC Cooperative Extension Specialist

Lorrene Ritchie is the Director of the Nutrition Policy Institute (NPI). She has devoted her career to sharing, synthesizing, developing and collaborating on nutrition policy research. The goal of her work is the prevention of food insecurity, obesity and diabetes, and the promotion of health and wellness. Her current research interests involve evaluation of the relationship of programs and policies, in particular the federal nutrition assistance programs, on children’s dietary intakes and weight status in school, childcare and other community settings.

Brianna Aguayo

Brianna Aguayo
Student Communications Fellow

Brianna Aguayo is a current undergraduate and second-year studying nutritional sciences with an emphasis on physiology and metabolism at the University of California, Berkeley. Her goals include making nutrition more equitable, addressing health disparities, and providing a holistic view of nutrition.

Kassandra Bacon

Kassandra Bacon
MPH

Kassandra, a project policy analyst, is dedicated to creating a more equitable and sustainable food system through research, advocacy, program evaluation, and improvement to public nutrition policy. Her work at NPI centers around food security, early childhood nutrition, and school nutrition interventions.

Ramsha Baig

Ramsha Baig
MPH

Ramsha is a data analyst who works on evaluation of CalFresh Healthy Living projects in partnership with the California Department of Public Health. She has a Master of Public Health in Epidemiology from the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. She previously worked as a physician for underserved populations in rural India and has experience analyzing parental vaccine hesitancy, promoting childhood vaccination, and reducing infectious burden in Africa. Ramsha’s research interests lie in the field of maternal and child health, nutrition, and infectious diseases.

Sibani Michael Bose

Sibani Michael Bose
BA, Chief Business Officer

Sibani is the head of the NPI Operations Team delivering administrative services to the research arm of the unit. She is a seasoned higher education administrator who specializes in research administration and works closely with other members of NPI to serve our mission.

Carolyn Chelius

Carolyn Chelius
MS

Carolyn is a project policy analyst at NPI. Her research interests converge at the intersection of nutrition, agriculture, and equity. Current projects include expanding access to California-grown produce in corner stores and the California corrections system.

Summer Cortez
Summer Cortez
MS

Summer Cortez serves as the Manager of NPI's CalFresh Healthy Living Evaluation Unit. With a master's degree in community development from UC Davis, Summer has focused her research on strategies to enhance regional food system equity and resilience. Her previous professional background is in nonprofit program management, where for seven years she led community education projects in land stewardship and food literacy.

Celeste Felix

Celeste Felix
MPH

Celeste is a project policy analyst and works on several projects to improve the nutrition of children through changes in food retail, school, and childcare settings.

Wendi Gosliner

Wendi Gosliner
DrPH, RD, Director, Food Policy Research and Translation

Wendi Gosliner leads research projects at the Nutrition Policy Institute and teaches at UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health. She has dedicated her career to understanding and working to improve policies and programs that affect population health and nutrition, with a focus on eliminating health disparities and improving federal food and nutrition programs. She has studied interventions in schools, childcare centers, WIC, SNAP, and SNAP-Ed, and is particularly interested in the nexus of research, public policy and community-based efforts to improve health.

Christina Hecht

Christina Hecht
PhD

Christina’s primary focus area is healthy beverages, particularly drinking water, the healthy alternative to sugar-sweetened beverages. She studies drinking water access and consumption, particularly in children. She works with colleagues across the country to promote and advocate for drinking water access and to reduce disparity in access to and consumption of healthy beverages.

Ken Hecht

Ken Hecht
LLB, Policy Director

Ken Hecht has spent his career as a legal services attorney and as a nutrition advocate developing opportunities for low-income Californians. At NPI he focuses on the federal food programs with special attention to early childhood. He works to ensure that NPI’s research and evaluations have the strongest possible policy impact.

Sri Hewawitharana

Sridharshi Hewawitharana
MPH, BS

Sridharshi works as a Data Analyst at NPI on multiple projects, including the Healthy Communities Study, with the aim of contributing to the fields of public health and nutrition through her skills in data management and analysis.

Janice Kao

Janice Kao
MPH

Janice's primary research interests include evaluation of community-based programs and policies. Examples include examining the impact of school wellness policies and the effectiveness of healthy food retail interventions. She has contributed to several NPI projects such as the Kaiser Permanente Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL) Initiative and the NHLBI-funded Healthy Communities Study, and is currently working on evaluating CalFresh Healthy Living policies, systems, and environmental change (PSE) interventions.

Danielle Lee

Danielle Lee
MPH, RD, Director of Communications & Research Engagement 

Danielle Lee is a registered dietitian and public health nutrition researcher working to increase access to healthy and sustainable food. Her work at NPI focuses on internal and external communications and research related to healthy beverage policies, early childhood feeding and federally funded food programs including the Special Nutrition Assistance Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs, and the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP).

Meirong Liao

Meirong Liao

Meirong develops and prepares budgets for NPI, as well as financial reports for grants and proposals. She is responsible for managing, planning, monitoring and administering budget and payroll functions.

Amanda Linares

Amanda Linares
MS

Amanda’s primary research interest is outcome evaluation of school-based nutrition and physical activity interventions. She provides training and technical assistance to local health departments implementing such interventions through the California Department of Public Health’s CalFresh Healthy Living (CFHL) Program. Additionally, she supports local health department evaluation of direct education interventions delivered to CFHL’s adult audience.

No Photo - NPI Logo

Julia Nguyen
B.S.
Julia is the personnel manager at NPI. She is currently pursuing her master’s in business administration ]at the University of California, Davis and studied international agricultural development there for her undergraduate education. She has worked in the public and private sector and is passionate about equity and cultural literacy.

Dania Orta-Aleman
Dania Orta-Aleman, PhD, MPH

Dania Orta-Aleman is a nutritional epidemiologist. Her research interests include the evaluation of policy and environmental interventions for healthy eating promotion and obesity prevention, as well as investigating the associations between food insecurity and chronic disease. She has experience in evaluating health and nutrition programs domestically and internationally.

Richard Pulvera

Richard Pulvera
MPH

Richard is a data analyst who primarily works on evaluation and reporting projects for CalFresh Healthy Living in partnership with the California Department of Public Health. Previously, he worked on projects related to school-based interventions and chronic disease prevention among children.

Carolyn D. Rider

Carolyn D. Rider
MA

Carolyn has devoted her career to improving the lives of underserved populations in California through evaluation and applied research. Her primary focus at NPI's CalFresh Healthy Living Evaluation Unit is to provide overall project coordination and technical assistance for local health department evaluations of nutrition education interventions. She also provides research and evaluation expertise to the California Department of Public Health and other SNAP-Ed agencies.

Samantha Sam-Chen photo

Samantha Sam-Chen
MPH

Samantha is a project policy analyst at NPI. She has a Master of Public Health in Nutrition from UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health. Her primary research interests include food and nutrition insecurity, evaluating food and nutrition programs, and early childhood nutrition interventions. Through her work she hopes to contribute to research that will result in policies that eliminate nutrition related health disparities. Samantha works on several projects at NPI, such as evaluating the California Nutrition Incentive Program and California’s Universal Meals Program.

Ron Strochlic

Ron Strochlic
MS

Ron works to promote a more equitable and sustainable food system. Areas of interest include policy and systems change to increase access to healthy food in low-income and immigrant communities and promoting improved diet, nutrition and health among agricultural workers. Ron enjoys opportunities to conduct fieldwork and community-based research. He has lived and worked in Central America and is fluent in Spanish.

Evan Talmage

Evan Talmage

Evan has worked with the Nutrition and Physical Activity Branch (NPAB) of the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) since 2009, and with NPI's CalFresh Healthy Living Evaluation Unit since 2015. His primary research interest is process evaluation for California SNAP-Ed nutrition education interventions.

Hannah Thompson

Hannah Thompson
PhD, MPH, Senior Epidemiologist

Hannah's primary research interests are in increasing access to quality physical activity and physical education programs in schools and communities. She contributes to several NPI projects, including Kaiser Permanente's Thriving Schools and Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL) projects, CalFresh Healthy Living evaluation in partnership with California Department of Public Health, and the USDA/San Francisco Unified School District's Lunchroom Redesign evaluation.

Marisa Tsai

Marisa Tsai
MS, MPH

Marisa Tsai is a public health nutrition data analyst who works on a variety of child nutrition projects, including WIC, school meals and child care standards. Through her work, she hopes to contribute to the development of evidence-based, policy-relevant strategies that improve equity and health outcomes of all communities.

Reka Vasicsek
Reka Vasicsek
MS

Reka is a program assistant at NPI. She is passionate about working at the intersection of nutrition, public health, and social justice and working with communities to mitigate the impact of climate change on food security. Her past research focused on the cardiometabolic impacts of fiber supplementation, as well as iodine bioavailability after modulation of the gut microbiome. Reka supports NPI operational and research project functions, working collaboratively with NPI researchers and business departments at UC ANR and other UC and non-UC locations.

Nicole Vitale

Nicole Vital
MA

Nicole Vital contributes to the evaluation of a number of school health projects, including the Kaiser Permanente Thriving Schools and Water First projects. Her work at the Nutrition Policy Institute builds upon her background of raising awareness about and access to healthy and sustainable food.

Miranda Westfall

Miranda Westfall
PhD, MPH, RD

Miranda Westfall is the director of NPI’s CalFresh Healthy Living Evaluation Unit. Miranda is a registered dietitian and public health nutrition researcher dedicated to conducting research that informs local, state, and national policies which shape the environments of children and families to promote healthy eating and active living.

Ryan Williams

Ryan Williams
RD

Ryan is experienced promoting health and wellness, has expertise in human nutrition and is a registered dietitian. He will be supporting data collection, project management and communications among several of NPI’s largest studies to improve the health of preschool-aged children in childcare centers as well as very young children that will impact policy decisions for California and the US.

Monica Zuercher

Monica Zuercher
PhD

Monica is a nutritional epidemiologist with experience in teaching, health research, data analysis, scientific communication, and nutritional interventions. She is committed to working as a collaborative and positive team member to address population health, disease prevention and to reduce health disparities.

Affiliated Researchers

Lauren Au

Lauren Au
PhD, RD, Assistant Professor of Nutrition, UC Davis

Lauren Au's research involves the assessment of dietary intakes and the food environment for the prevention of obesity in low-income, racially diverse populations. Her focus is on understanding how to promote healthier eating and prevent obesity in federal nutrition assistance programs, such as the Women Infants and Children (WIC) Program and the National School Lunch Program.

Jen Falbe

Jennifer Falbe
DSc, MPH

Jen is an assistant professor in UC Davis' Department of Human Ecology. Her research focuses on identifying modifiable determinants of childhood obesity and developing and testing programmatic, policy and environmental interventions to prevent obesity. Jen led an evaluation of the nation’s first soda tax in Berkeley, California. She has also examined primary care interventions for underserved youth, healthy retail programs, multi-sector community interventions to address childhood obesity, and the impact of screen time on adolescent sleep and health.

Barbara Laraia

Barbara Laraia
PhD, MPH, RD

Barbara's research focuses on the influence of contextual level effects on dietary intake, cardiometabolic risk factors and pregnancy outcomes, especially among vulnerable populations. Contextual level effects refer to the household food environment, namely household food insecurity, as well as the neighborhood or built environment measured as one's food, physical activity and social environment. Her research focuses on pregnant women, children and adults with diabetes. Her research includes surveys, direct observation of neighborhood attributes, data collection using anthropometric, questionnaire and a number of dietary intake approaches.

Kristine Madsen

Kristine Madsen
MD, MPH

Kristine’s research focuses on identifying policies and programs to promote physical activity and reduce obesity and weight-related health disparities. She has conducted interventions in both the clinical and community setting with hundreds of children and their families, with a focus on low-income families, and has developed techniques that yield consistently high recruitment and retention in her studies. She has developed strong academic-community partnerships with multiple organizations, including health departments, public health clinics and community-based service organizations. Her research team has measured physical activity using accelerometers, pedometers and structured observation (SOFIT and SOPLAY) in thousands of children and adolescents. She mentors undergraduate, masters and doctoral students, as well as postdocs and fellows, and is committed to supporting our next generation of researchers and practitioners working to address obesity.

Suzanna Martinez

Suzanna Martinez
PhD, MS

Suzanna’s research interests include investigating biological, behavioral, social and environmental contexts of health behavior among vulnerable child populations. Her approach to helping prevent chronic disease is by understanding how to improve lifestyle behaviors—namely sleep, nutrition and physical activity—among children and their families. Her long-term career goal is to conduct research that makes an impact on reducing health disparities in underserved communities.

NPI Researchers Emeritus

Pat Crawford

Pat Crawford
DrPH, RD, UC Cooperative Extension Specialist - Emeritus

Pat Crawford is the former Senior Director of Research at the Nutrition Policy Institute (NPI), and she is a Cooperative Extension Specialist, emeritus. Prior to coming to NPI, she co-founded and directed the Center for Weight and Health at the University of California at Berkeley for 15 years. She is also an Adjunct Professor in the School of Public Health at UC Berkeley. Dr. Crawford studies ways in which nutrition programs and policies can improve children’s dietary intake and reduce obesity. Dr. Crawford served on the California Legislative Task Force on Diabetes and Obesity and is an expert advisor for the Let’s Get Healthy California Task Force. She chaired the Institute of Medicine’s Workshop on Food Insecurity and Obesity and served on the IOM’s Committee on WIC Research, the Committee on Accelerating Progress on Obesity Prevention, and the IOM’s Standing Committee on Childhood Obesity Prevention.

Karen Webb

Karen Webb
PhD, MPH, BSc

Karen’s primary research interests are food insecurity, charitable food assistance, obesity prevention, food system changes that incorporate population health and environmental protection objectives. Additional research interests include nutrition epidemiology and nutrition surveillance, nutrition program planning and evaluation in communities, dietary assessment methods, technical assistance to field and mentoring students and young evaluation researchers.

Gail Woodward-Lopez

Gail Woodward-Lopez
MPH, RD

Gail's research focuses on the evaluation of school- and community-based programs and policies that aim to reduce obesity, improve dietary intake and/or increase physical activity. She also leads or participates in other activities (literature reviews, expert panels, etc.) to inform program and policy directions concerning obesity, nutrition and physical activity.

NPI staff at Alameda County Food Bank

Nutrition Policy Institute staff volunteering at Alameda County Community Food Bank.

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