Our Researchers

UNC Health Sciences at MAHEC research scientists and staff are clinical and public health research experts with a passion for interdisciplinary community-based research and inquiry.

Robyn Latessa, MD
Interim Chair for the Department of Research, UNC Health Sciences at MAHEC
Director and Assistant Dean, UNC School of Medicine Asheville
Professor, Department of Family Medicine, UNC Chapel Hill

Robyn Latessa, MD, is an innovative educator and leader, recognized internationally for her expertise in the longitudinal integrated clerkships (LIC) model of medical education that prioritizes continuity of care and relationships. As director and assistant dean of the UNC School of Medicine Asheville campus since 2012, Dr. Latessa has been a catalyst for growth, expanding the program from four students per year in 2009 to 35 students by 2021. Many of the graduates of the UNC School of Medicine Asheville branch campus have remained in our MAHEC residency programs and are practicing here in Western North Carolina. Dr. Latessa has been a family physician in Asheville since joining MAHEC in 1999 and is a professor in the Department of Family Medicine at UNC Chapel Hill. In addition to these roles, she currently serves as interim chair of the Department of Research at UNC Health Sciences at MAHEC. She enjoys mixed-methods educational research and has published several manuscripts, many specific to LIC medical education.  Dr. Latessa is passionate about collaboration, mentorship, and transparent leadership in service to MAHEC’s mission for training healthcare professionals for Western North Carolina.

Outside of work, Dr. Latessa enjoys connecting with her daughters who are in college in Vermont, spending time with her partner and with her parents who recently moved to Asheville, cooking, hiking, and reading.

C. Micha Belden, PhD
Research Scientist, Mixed Methods

Micha is a mixed methods health services researcher and implementation scientist with 20 years of experience studying interventions that address health disparities for underserved populations. He completed his PhD at the Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a postdoctoral fellowship in Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services and Systems Research at UNC’s Cecil G. Sheps Center and Duke University’s Global Health Institute.

He is passionate about the dissemination and implementation of innovative interventions for people experiencing mental illness, substance abuse, and physical health conditions. His experience includes working with populations in the US Deep South with HIV, HCV, mental illness, and substance abuse; children with disabilities, clergy health and wellbeing; orphan care, sexual and gender minority health in low- and middle-income countries; and veterans. His work has been funded by foundations, HRSA, NIH, SAMHSA, and the Veterans Health Administration.

When not at work, Micha enjoys spending time with his dog, paddleboarding, and touring the mountains in WNC.

Scott A. Davis, PhD
Research Assistant Professor

Scott A. Davis, PhD, is a research assistant professor in the Division of Pharmaceutical Outcomes and Policy at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy. He completed his PhD at UNC in Pharmaceutical Outcomes and Policy, and an Implementation Science fellowship with NC TraCS. He works closely with MAHEC investigators to execute and publish the results of MAHEC's innovations in practice. Among his more than 110 peer-reviewed publications, recent publications include studies on improving preconception health and reproductive health counseling by implementing routine screening in primary care clinics.

Outside of work, he enjoys music, the outdoors, and playing Fantasy Premier League.

Jacqueline Halladay, MD, MPH
UNC Health Sciences at MAHEC Research Liaison
Faculty, Department of Family Medicine, UNC School of Medicine
Research Fellow, UNC Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research

Jacquie serves as a research liaison, connecting and developing teams of researchers that span Chapel Hill and Asheville, while also working with regional medical and public health professionals to develop their research portfolios. She is a professor in the Department of Family Medicine at UNC School of Medicine in Chapel Hill and a research fellow at the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research. She also serves as co-director of the North Carolina Network Consortium, a statewide practice-based research network. 

Jacquie's research interests focus on enhancing care delivery for patients with chronic conditions, which complements the population health research that is a priority at UNC Health Sciences at MAHEC.

Kathleen Thomas, PhD, MPH
Research Scientist
UNC Health Sciences at MAHEC
Associate Professor, UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy
Senior Research Fellow, UNC Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research
Adjunct Professor, UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health
Kathleen_Thomas@unc.edu, 828-348-3629

Kathleen is a behavioral economist whose research seeks to enrich the knowledge base for ways to improve access to care for underserved populations with mental health needs, ranging from minority populations to disability policy and childhood autism.

She is deeply engaged in understanding how people live – what motivates them to be transactional around the most important things in their lives – family, health, and well-being. Her work has been funded by a variety of federal, state, and foundation sources.

Kathleen is recipient of the John Eisenberg Excellence in Mentorship Award from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and the Steven M. Banks Award for mentorship im mental health services research from the American Public Health Association. Her undergraduate degree is in classical languages from Pomona College. She holds an MPH from Yale University and a PhD in health economics from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Chelsea Atkins, MS, MPH(c.)
Research Project Coordinator
UNC Health Sciences at MAHEC

As a Research Project Coordinator at MAHEC, Chelsea provides research support to a variety of faculty, learners, and MAHEC employees.

Chelsea received an undergraduate degree in Exercise Science from the State University of New York, and a master’s degree from Mercyhurst University. She worked for over a decade as an educator and behavioral health clinician. She is currently pursuing a Master of Public Health degree with a concentration in epidemiology through East Carolina University. Chelsea’s research experience includes work with vector-borne illness, single-subject behavior analytic studies, and environmental epidemiology. Additionally, she has worked to assess occupational stress in public school educators.

Chelsea’s research interests include Neglected Tropical Diseases, infectious disease, epidemiology, vector-borne illness, parasitology, occupational health, and environmental health.

Outside of work, Chelsea enjoys spending time with her husband and dogs, kayaking, traveling, reading, and running.

Lorinda Baker, BA
Inpatient Research Project Coordinator
UNC Health Sciences at MAHEC
Lorinda.Baker@mahec.net, 828-257-4744

As an Inpatient Research Project Manager, Lorinda provides a point of contact for MAHEC residents working at Mission Hospital, particularly in the Department of Surgery. She connects residents and Mission faculty with UNC Health Sciences at MAHEC personnel to assist in developing, executing, presenting, and publishing research projects. Lorinda is located full time at Mission Hospital. She ensures that researchers at Mission have easy access to the resources at UNC Health Sciences at MAHEC.

Lorinda earned her bachelor’s in biology at University of California, Santa Cruz. She began as a technician in neuroscience laboratories, exploring drugs of abuse with animal models. This evolved into lab and project management. She began work in research administration at the University of Chicago, supporting the animal research ethics and biosafety committees. Lorinda grew up in California, then became a Chicagoan, before moving to Chapel Hill then Asheville. She enjoys volunteering on the weekends at the Western North Carolina Nature Center, reading science fiction, and finding free live music outdoors.

Sarah Friedman, MPH, MA
Research Project Coordinator
UNC Health Sciences at MAHEC

Sarah supports research and scholarly efforts across various departments at MAHEC. Sarah provides expertise in qualitative research methods. Sarah’s previous experience in health services research is contraception access and trends, cultural considerations in palliative oncology, prostate cancer, care for transgender and gender non-comforming patients, a vaccine communications campaign, and evaluating community based perinatal healthcare. Her research interests include reproductive health and justice, understanding sexual violence and consent, and addressing social needs in health inequity. She studied at San Diego State University with a focus in Health Promotion and Behavioral Science. During her time in the San Diego/Tijuana Borderland region Sarah spent time as an intern at UCSD Moores Cancer Center and at multiple programs in the Pro-Salud organization around Tijuana.

Sarah cherishes her time spent as a volunteer with the California Center for Equality and Justice in Long Beach as Restorative Justice Circle support and Youth Program Facilitator. She enjoys baking, learning about nature, and to spend as much time as possible in the ocean.

Phillip Hughes, MS
Research Data Analyst
UNC Health Sciences at MAHEC
Phillip.Hughes@mahec.net, 828-407-2107

Phillip provides support to various research activities at MAHEC based on project needs including data management and quantitative analysis. He has experience working with complex modeling techniques to assess underlying causal relationships. Phillip’s research interests include the psychosocial development of at-risk populations, disparities in healthcare access and outcomes, evidence-based policy, and statistical analysis.

When not at work, Phillip enjoys spending time with his wife and dog, eating at local restaurants, collecting antique books, and watching movies.

Wendy Nuzzo, MS
Research Data Analyst
UNC Health Sciences at MAHEC

As a Research Data Analyst at MAHEC, Wendy provides data analysis support to Graduate Medical Education programs. Wendy’s educational history consists of an undergraduate Chemical Engineering degree from the University of Wisconsin – Madison, a Secondary Math Education Licensure from North Carolina State University, and, most recently, a Master in Statistics from Portland State University in Portland, OR. Her research experience has focused on program evaluation of topics such as early childhood interventions, juvenile justice, youth education and engagement, suicide prevention, and substance use disorders. Her research interests include education at any level, mental health, and substance use. In particular, she enjoys investigating equity, racial and otherwise, in these areas.

When she is not at work, she loves festivals and outdoor entertainment, traveling, reading, and playing cards and board games.