Our Team / Nuestro Equipo

The University of Texas at Austin

Sandy Magaña, PhD, MSW (she, her)

Professor, Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disabilities
Steve Hicks School of Social Work
Website: https://socialwork.utexas.edu/directory/sandy-magana/

Dr. Magaña is the Professor in Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disabilities at the University of Texas at Austin in the Steve Hicks School of Social Work. Previously she was Professor in the Department of Disability and Human Development and Occupational Therapy at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She is a Hartford Geriatric Social Work Scholar and her research has been funded by NIH and NIDILRR. Her research focus is on cultural variation of families who care for persons with disabilities including IDD. She has extensive knowledge and experience conducting studies with Latino families who have children or adult family members with a disability, and has published extensively on this area of research. Dr. Magana is the mother of two children with disabilities.

Deborah Parra-Medina, PhD, M.P.H.

Professor, Mexican American and Latina/o Studies
Director, Latino Research Initiative
Website: https://liberalarts.utexas.edu/lri/

Dr. Parra-Medina is a Professor in the Department of Mexican American and Latina/o Studies and she is also the director of the Latino Research Initiative. She is a Fellow of the American Academy of Health Behavior and has served as Co-Director of the South Texas Area Health Education Centers Program. Dr. Parra-Medina has extensive expertise in developing culturally competent public health, chronic disease, and healthy lifestyle interventions with underserved communities, including women, Latinos, financially disadvantaged, and immigrant populations. She has extensive expertise in mixed-methods, community-based participatory approach, intervention design and implementation.

Vanessa Errisuriz, PhD (she, her)

Dr. Errisuriz is a Research Associate in the Latino Research Initiative at the University of Texas at Austin. She has extensive training and experience using accelerometry, currently the gold standard, to assess children and adults’ free-living physical activity, assessing child and adult dietary intake using the Block Food Frequency Questionnaire, and collecting anthropometric data (e.g., height, weight, and waist circumference). Her experience with project management – supervising staff for data collection efforts as well as managing large data sets related to physical activity, nutrition, and anthropometric outcomes will support the goals of the proposed research.

Nazanin Heydarian, PhD (she, her, ella)

Dr. Heydarian is a social health psychologist who examines disparities in chronic disease self-management and outcomes experienced by persons with disabilities. She is the project director of the PODER Project. On the weekends, Dr. Heydarian enjoys strapping on her roller skates and hits her local skate park.

UT Student Team Members

Hilda Torres (she, her, ella)

Research Assistant at the Latino Research Institute and a first-generation undergraduate student at The University of Texas at Austin, majoring in Health & Society with a minor in Sociology. Hilda was born in San Luis Potosí, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States in 2009. She is a St. David’s Neal Kocurek and a Michael and Susan Dell Foundation scholar. On this project, Hilda assists with conducting participant interviews/data collection and questionnaire development on the REDCap database. She is passionate about immigrant rights, healthcare policy, and dismantling language barriers. Her ultimate goal is to conduct interventional research and practice clinical Social Work to serve the growing Latinx and immigrant community. In her spare time, she enjoys going for a run and painting with her friends.

Carlos Pavon

Carlos is a first-generation master student at the University of Texas Steve Hicks School of Social Work. As a Graduate Research Assistant, Carlos helps by contacting potential participants to determine eligibility as well as conducting participant interviews and data collection. He is interested in doing clinical work with minority and marginalized groups with a focus on mental health. During his free time, he enjoys spending time with friends playing video games or on social outings.

María Angélica Ortiz (she, her, ella)

Maria Angelica is a first-year student in the MSSW program at the University of Texas at Austin. Her current role as a Graduate Research Assistant in PODER is to conduct interviews and collect data. She loves to be in nature, hike and run outside.

Maria Angélica es estudiante de trabajo social en la Universidad de Texas en Austin. Su rol en proyecto PODER como asistente de investigación es de entrevistadora y organizadora de datos. Le encanta estar en la naturaleza, caminar en las montañas y correr.

Paula Morales (they, them) & (she/hers)

Paula is a Colombian immigrant interested in working with Latinx identifying populations and families who have a member with a developmental disability. As a Graduate Research Assistant, Paula conducts interviews, collects data, and develops social media content to engage potential participants with the study. They enjoy spending time with their cat and being in nature.

Paula es inmigrante de Colombia con interés de trabajar con poblaciones y familias que se identifiquen como Latinas y que tengan miembros con discapacidades del desarrollo. Como Asistente de investigación, sus responsabilidades incluyen entrevistar, recolectar datos y generar contenido para redes sociales para dar mas información de proyecto. Disfruta de pasar tiempo con su gata y estar en la naturaleza. 

Weiwen Zeng, PhD (he, his) & (they, them)

Weiwen Zeng is a doctoral student in the Steve Hicks School of Social Work at the University of Texas at Austin. He obtained his master’s degree in Social Work from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. He has substantial experience in working with persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities, across different cultural backgrounds, and at both research and practice levels. His research focus on disability policy and research grounded in his clinical experience as a social worker. Currently, he is working with Dr. Sandy Magaña on developing evidence-based treatment for underserved children with autism spectrum disorder and their families.

Danna Quiriarte (she, her, ella)

Danna Quiriarte is a third-year undergraduate student at the University of Texas at Austin studying Public Health with a minor in Communications and Social Change. At the Latino Research Institute (LRI), she conducts Spanish and English interviews with study participants while collecting quantitative and qualitative data for the PODER study. In assisting the LRI as a Research Assistant she hopes to improve her understanding of public health and passions for teaching/mentorship, non-profit work and advocacy for the economically disadvantaged community.

Danna Quiriarte es una estudiante de tercer año de la Universidad de Texas en Austin, que estudia Salud Pública con una especialidad en Comunicaciones y Cambio Social. En el Latino Research Institute (LRI), ella hace entrevistas en español e inglés con los participantes del estudio mientras recopila datos cuantitativos y cualitativos para el programa PODER. En el LRI como asistente de investigación, espera mejorar su comprensión de la salud pública, el trabajo sin fines de lucro, la defensa de la comunidad de bajos recursos y su entrega por ayudar a las personas.

The University of Illinois at Chicago

Yolanda Suarez-Balcazar, PhD (she, her, ella)

Professor, Department Head, Occupational Therapy
University of Illinois at Chicago
Website: https://ahs.uic.edu/occupational-therapy/directory/suarez-balcazar-yolanda/

Dr. Suarez-Balcazar is Professor and Head of the Department of Occupational Therapy, College of Applied Health Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). She is also a faculty member in the Department of Disability and Human Development and an Affiliate Faculty in the Department of Psychology. Trained as a community psychologist, Dr. Suarez-Balcazar brings over 20 years of experience conducting community-based participatory research in collaboration with Latinos individuals with disabilities and their families. In her research, she studies the design, implementation, and evaluation of obesity prevention and health promotion interventions targeting Latino youth with disabilities and their families.

She is currently a Principal Investigator of a Postdoctoral Training grant funded by NIDILRR. She has also received funding from the Chicago Community Trust for the last 4 (1/2) years to develop, implement, and evaluate culturally relevant healthy lifestyles programing for Latino youth and young adults with disabilities and their families (Healthy Families). As Co-PI on this project, she will provide oversight on all aspects of the research and dissemination activities to ensure that we meet our goals. She will co-chair the National Advisory Board and the Consumer Board and assist in the rigorous implementation of the research studies. Dr. Suarez-Balcazar is the mother of a child with a learning disability.

Mansha Mirza, PhD (she, her, hers)

Associate Professor, Occupational Therapy
University of Illinois at Chicago
Website: https://ahs.uic.edu/occupational-therapy/directory/mirza-mansha/

Dr. Mirza is an Associate Professor in the Department of Occupational Therapy at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). Dr. Mirza is an occupational therapist by clinical training and has experience working with individuals and families across the lifespan. She has advanced doctoral and postdoctoral training in disability studies and health services research. Her research focuses on identifying and addressing disparities in health and rehabilitation services among low-income, underserved communities, with a special interest in new immigrant and refugee groups. She has authored and co-authored 35 peer-reviewed papers and six book chapters related to her research.

Dr. Mirza serves as UIC CO-PI on PODER. In this role, Dr. Mirza collaborates with the rest of the UIC team on reviewing existing research on health promotion for children and adolescents with developmental disabilities, recruiting families in the Chicago area, and monitoring data collection and analysis. Dr. Mirza likes spending time with her family, doing yoga, reading fiction, and watching political satire.

UIC Student Team Members

Jasmine Brown (she, her)

Jasmine Brown is a licensed occupational therapist and doctoral candidate in Disability Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her research focuses on health disparities, critical race and disability theories, empowerment interventions, and related issues for racially and ethnically diverse children with disabilities and their families. She serves as a research assistant for the PODER study. She coordinates the systematic review focused on health promotion for youth with IDD and project coordination at the UIC site. Jasmine enjoys spending her free time with her puppy Milo, Zumba dancing, and traveling.

Texas State University

Sandra Vanegas, MS, PhD

Assistant Professor, School of Social Work
Texas State University
Email: s_v248@txstate.edu

Dr. Vanegas is an Assistant Professor in the School of Social Work at Texas State University. She completed a postdoctoral fellowship in the Illinois Leadership in Neurodevelopmental and Other Related Disabilities (LEND) program funded by the Maternal Child Health Bureau. Her research examines the role of culture and language on the developmental outcomes of children with neurodevelopmental disabilities, including IDD. She has extensive knowledge on child development, assessment methodologies, quantitative and qualitative analyses, and community-based participatory research.