Our Team

HBRT Investigators

Headshot of Mary Velasquez

Mary Velasquez

Mary Marden Velasquez, PhD (velasquez@mail.utexas.edu), is Centennial Professor in Leadership for Community, Professional and Corporate Excellence, Director of the Health Behavior Research and Training Institute (HBRT), and former Associate Dean for Research (2006-2013) at the University of Texas at Austin Steve Hicks School of Social Work. Dr. Velasquez holds a master’s degree in clinical psychology and a Ph.D. in behavioral sciences, with a minor in biostatistics, from the University of Texas Health Science Center-School of Public Health. Prior to moving to UT-Austin, Dr. Velasquez served on the research faculty in the Psychology Department at the University of Houston from 1995-1999 and as faculty and Director of Research in Family and Community Medicine at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston from 2000-2006.Her program of research focuses on the development and implementation of interventions using the Transtheoretical Model and Motivational Interviewing. With over 20 years of continued support from the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Velasquez has developed and studied behavioral interventions in the areas of integrated primary care, screening and brief interventions, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, alcohol and other drug abuse, prenatal health, HIV prevention, and smoking cessation. A more recent emphasis has been on teaching graduate students and health professionals to use brief motivational interventions in medical settings. She also serves as reviewer (eff. 10/16) on NIH-Center for Scientific Review Interventions to Prevent and Treat Addictions (IPTA) study section.Dr. Velasquez is an internationally recognized trainer in both Motivational Interviewing and the Transtheoretical Model, and is a founding member of the Steering Committee for the International Motivational Interviewing Network of Trainers. Her list of publications—available through her PubMed/NCBI bibliography —includes more numerous peer-reviewed journal articles, books, and book chapters.
Headshot of Kirk von Sternberg

Kirk von Sternberg

Kirk von Sternberg, PhD (vonsternberg@mail.utexas.edu) , Associate Director of HBRT, is Associate Professor in the UT Austin Steve Hicks School of Social Work. Dr. von Sternberg has a master’s degree in social work from the University of Houston and a Ph.D. in behavioral science from the University of Texas Health Science Center-School of Public Health.Dr. von Sternberg has more than two decades of experience in designing and implementing large clinical trials to test interventions based on the Transtheoretical Model and Motivational Interviewing (MI). As an investigator, he was responsible for study design and data analysis on several large NIH and CDC funded randomized controlled intervention trials addressing risk of alcohol-exposed pregnancies, alcohol and safer sexual practices, STI screening, cocaine abuse, and screening and brief interventions for alcohol and drugs in medical settings to name a few. He was co-principal investigator / co-investigator on the recently completed CDC-funded CHOICES Plus intervention trial to prevent alcohol- and tobacco-exposed pregnancy, and a NIDA-funded trial to test screening and brief intervention for drugs in a level 1 trauma setting. Dr. von Sternberg has particular interest in the mechanisms of change and recently was the primary data analyst on a study to examine the intervention tapes from the successful Project Choices Efficacy trial. He is currently involved in psychometric analyses of process of change assessments to develop briefer measures for use in a computer adaptive testing format (CAT).

Yessenia Castro

Yessenia Castro, PhD (ycastro@austin.utexas.edu), is Associate Professor in the Steve Hicks School of Social Work. Recipient of a recently completed K01 career development award from the National Cancer Institute (2011-20117), she is PI on the current study, "Assessing smoking dependence among Spanish-speaking Latino smokers," (R21 MD011431), funded  by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities. Dr. Castro's research focuses on disparities‐related research among minority and underserved populations, with an emphasis on smoking cessation among Latinos. More specifically, her research examines how cultural variables, including acculturation, gender, and minority status stressors, combine with known key determinants of smoking to affect determinants of smoking and smoking relapse. She is also involved in collaborative research examining the influences of a variety of social and intrapersonal factors on smoking and alcohol use behavior in racially/ethnically diverse populations of low socioeconomic status and other special populations of smokers. Dr. Castro earned her doctoral degree in clinical psychology from The Florida State University in 2008 and completed her postdoctoral training cancer prevention health disparities at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
Headshot of Catherine Cubbin

Catherine Cubbin

Catherine Cubbin, PhD (ccubbin@austin.utexas.edu), is Associate Dean for Research and Professor in the Steve Hicks School of Social Work, and Faculty Research Associate at the Population Research Center at UT Austin. Dr. Cubbin’s research focuses on using epidemiological methods to better understand socioeconomic and racial/ethnic inequalities in health for the purpose of informing policy. Specific areas of her research include using contextual analysis to investigate how neighborhood environments may explain social inequalities in health, and the measurement of socioeconomic status/position in studies of racial/ethnic disparities in health. Using national and statewide representative data sets, she has studied social inequalities in injuries, cardiovascular disease, health behaviors, mortality, and maternal, infant, and adolescent health. She is principal investigator on a T32 from NHLBI to increase diversity among researchers in behavioral, population, and implementation science who focus on promoting equity in cardiovascular health and its related behaviors. She is also currently investigating the impacts of residential segregation on maternal and infant health in Texas.

Dr. Cubbin received her PhD in Health and Social Policy from the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health in 1998. Her postgraduate training includes CDC fellowship at the National Center for Health Statistics, NIH postdoctoral fellowship at Stanford University (2000), and NIH Health Disparities Scholar (2001-2006). Since 1997, she has been a coordinating committee member of the Spirit of 1848, a caucus of the American Public Health Association which focuses in issues related to health and social justice. She has published widely in public health and medical journals, including the American Journal of Public Health, Journal of the American Medical Association, and American Journal of Epidemiology; Dr. Cubbin’s publications list is available on her PubMed/NCBI bibliography.

Mercedes Hernandez

Mercedes Hernandez, PhD, LCSW (mercedeh@utexas.edu), is Assistant Professor at the Steve Hicks School of Social Work. She completed training as a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Southern California working in a National Institute of Mental Health-funded project examining the duration of untreated psychosis among Latinos. Her research interests are informed by her extensive clinical practice experience in community mental health settings and focus on mental health disparities among racial and ethnic minorities. Dr. Hernandez received support from the National Institute of Mental Health for her research on the role of protective factors in outcomes among Latinos with schizophrenia and their families. In Fall 2017, she was awarded an NIAAA Diversity Supplement under parent grant R01 AA022924 (PI: Velasquez). The parent study is a randomized controlled trial testing tablet-delivery of CHOICES4Health, a behavioral health intervention targeting alcohol-, tobacco-, and marijuana-exposed pregnancy. Dr. Hernandez’s supplement study will examine potential cross-cultural differences in intervention outcomes and the process of behavior change by sociocultural variables including race/ethnicity, acculturation, mental health conditions, and by treatment delivery (person-delivered versus computer tablet-delivered) among women participating in the intervention.


HBRT Affiliated Faculty

Danielle E. Parrish

Danielle Parrish, PhD, is Associate Professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. Dr. Parrish completed her Ph.D. at the UT Austin Steve Hicks School of Social Work, and post-doctoral research training with the Health Behavior Research and Training Institute. Dr. Parrish is interested in developing brief, integrated prevention interventions that have broad reach and impact for women and adolescents. Dr. Parrish’s primary research focuses on adolescents at risk of substance-exposed pregnancy and HIV/STIs. She was the principal investigator on a recent R03 study funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse that adapted the CHOICES intervention for female youth in juvenile justice settings to reduce the risks of alcohol and tobacco-exposed pregnancy and HIV/STIs. She has served as a co-investigator on the CDC-funded CHOICES Plus intervention trial and is currently serving as co-investigator on the NIAAA funded CHOICES4Health intervention trial. Dr. Parrish’s research also focuses on the development of interventions to treat youth social anxiety disorder. In both lines of research, Dr. Parrish is particularly interested in using technology to increase efficiency and reach of interventions. A third focus of Dr. Parrish’s scholarship focuses on the teaching, broad dissemination and implementation of evidence-based practice in social work. Prior to receiving her doctoral degree, Dr. Parrish worked as a clinical social worker in the following public mental health settings - juvenile justice, outpatient children’s mental health and infant mental health.

HBRT Project Team

Diana Ling

Diana Ling, MA (diana.ling@austin.utexas.edu), is HBRT Outreach Program Coordinator. An experienced health communications professional with a master's degree in English (Middlebury College), Ms. Ling is highly skilled at managing, tracking, and reporting on projects involving multiple teams. She also has extensive background in developing reports, presentations, and training materials. Prior to joining HBRT, she was a staff writer at the nonprofit 1199SEIU Funds in New York City, creating digital and print communications to reach over 400,000 members of the nation's largest healthcare union.
Headshot of Leslie Sirrianni

Leslie Sirrianni

Leslie Sirrianni, LCSW (lsirrianni@austin.utexas.edu), is HBRT Training Coordinator. A member of the international Motivational Interviewing Network of Trainers (MINT), Ms. Sirrianni earned her MSSW degree from UT Austin and is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW). She works with HBRT senior trainers to coordinate and deliver MI training, coaching, coding, and supervision to clinicians, human service providers, and program staff from diverse work settings. She was a member of the clinical team on HBRT's recently completed NIDA-funded Traumatic Injury Prevention R01 study (PI: Dr. Velasquez and Dr. Craig A. Field). Before joining HBRT, she was program manager and clinical therapist delivering interventions in support of the NIMH-funded study, “Telehealth Problem-solving Therapy for Depressed Homebound Older Adults”(PI: Dr. Namkee Choi). She also has provided direct counseling services to homebound older adults through the Counseling Services Department of Family Eldercare, a local nonprofit service organization, and is a long-time CASA volunteer.

Kyndal Hammock

Kyndal Hammock, BSW (kyndalhammock@austin.utexas.edu), is research associate on the NIH-funded CHOICES4Health R01 study. Ms. Hammock is responsible for coding, data management, and team training to support the development and testing of the multiple-behavior C4H intervention which HBRT has adapted for tablet delivery using CIAS software (developed by Dr. Ondersma). She also produced the short psycho-educational prevention animations incorporated throughout the tablet intervention. As a member of HBRT’s CDC project team, she assists with environmental scans and literature reviews, and provides graphic design and production support for project reports and resources. With a BSW and BA in Psychology from Auburn University (2016), Ms. Hammock has clinical experience working with low-income maternity patients in rural public health clinics in Alabama; she is passionate about health promotion and prevention efforts within underserved and at-risk populations.

Cherisha Williams

Cherisha Williams, LPC (Cherisha.Williams@austin.utexas.edu), is the Houston-based Project Coordinator on the NIH-funded Choices4Health R01 study. She earned her master’s in counseling from Louisiana Tech University and is a Licensed Professional Counselor. Ms. Williams is responsible for the implementation, coordination, and administration of the Choices4Health research project within the Harris Health District System, providing extensive training, coaching, and procedural guidance to Houston-based team members. Equipped with over 10 years of experience in the field of behavioral and mental health, Ms. Williams also conducts clinical assessments and delivers a motivational interviewing-based intervention to participants involved in the study. Before joining the HBRT family, Ms. Williams used her clinical skills to provide outpatient counseling services and case management to students and their parents in an elementary school setting for a national nonprofit. She has also worked with victims of trauma and abuse and helped rehouse military veterans dealing with homelessness. One of Ms. Williams’ professional goals is to help destigmatize mental illness and treatment services, especially in the African American community.

UT Austin graduate and undergraduate students participating in research activities at HBRT include: 

  • Jose “Joey” Velasquez, a social work doctoral student, Army officer, and clinical social worker researching health behavior change and performance optimization, with special interest in military and special operations populations
  • J. P. Hare, a social work doctoral student and Army officer examining behavior change, with a particular interest in military populations and prevention strategies
  • John Moore, a social work doctoral student examining alcohol/substance use and health behavior change
  • Qi Chen, MSW, a social work doctoral student whose research focuses on dyadic functioning and coping between cancer patients and caregivers, with a particular interest in dyadic data analysis and intervention development and implementation
  • Ana Kearney, a first-year MSW and Latin American Studies student, interested in how the Latinx population accesses social services
  • Jaylon Sorrells, a first-year MSW student whose research interest is in the mental health of military populations
  • Hanan Alwan, a third-year undergraduate majoring in Health & Society
  • Karina Garcia, an undergraduate psychology major in her senior year
  • Camilla Arguedas, a pre-med sophomore majoring in biology and minoring in social work
  • Fernanda Loya, a bi-lingual Spanish/English third year undergraduate in Finance and French who assists with CHOICES4Health screening and scheduling for Spanish-speaking participants
  • Paola Piña, a pre-pharmacy junior majoring in neuroscience & chemistry, aspiring to work in neuro-pharmaceutical research
  • Camila Pulliza, a senior in UT Austin’s public health undergraduate major, with a concentration in biostatistics and health informatics
  • Other undergraduate students participating in various HBRT activities include Martha Cardenas and Victoria Garfinkel