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Who We Are

Roshanak Mehdipanah

Roshanak Mehdipanah (she/her) is an Associate Professor in the Department of Health Behavior and Health Education in the School of Public Health. She completed her PhD at the University of Pompeu Fabra, Spain and her MS from the School of Public Health and Health Systems at the University of Waterloo, Canada. Her research focuses on how urban policies, particularly related to the built environment, impact health and health inequities of individuals, neighborhoods and cities. Dr. Mehdipanah has brought particular attention to how housing policies and real estate markets shape health inequities among individuals and across neighborhoods. Through community-based participatory research that is supported through grants from the NIH, the WHO, and foundations, she has developed an understanding of how housing is a determinant in health, and has established how housing instability exacerbates health risks.

Director

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Mara Cecilia Ostfeld

Dr. Mara Cecilia Ostfeld (she/her) serves as the Associate Faculty Director of Poverty Solutions, the research director at the Center for Racial Justice, and an Assistant Research Scientist in the Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan. In addition, Mara is a faculty lead at the Detroit Metro Area Communities Study - an ongoing representative survey of Detroit households that asks residents about their expectations, perceptions, priorities and aspirations. She is an expert in survey research and the analysis of public opinion, with a particular focus on the relationship between race, gender, media and political attitudes. Her work has been published in journals that include Social Forces, Political Behavior, Political Psychology and Political Communication, and been funded by places including the National Science Foundation and the Russell Sage Foundation. Mara is the primary investigator of the Puerto Rico Public Opinion Lab with the University of Puerto Rico in which they are implementing the first representative study of political attitudes in Puerto Rico. During national elections, Mara also works as an analyst at NBC and Telemundo.

Faculty Research Advisor

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Melika Belhaj

Melika Belhaj (she/her) received a Master of Urban and Regional Planning (MURP) from Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning and a Bachelor of Arts in Community Development and Indigenous Nations Studies from Portland State University. She has a rich professional background in community-based work that weaves together the values of public health and equitable places.

Program Manager

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Kate Brantley

Kate Brantley (they/them) received an MSW in Interpersonal Practice from the U-M School of Social Work. Previously, Kate worked as a graduate student clinician in community mental health and managed the housing stability and homelessness agenda at Poverty Solutions. Their work focuses on eviction injustice, the consequences of forced displacement for mental health and community well-being, and structural change that affirms housing as a human right.

Research Area Specialist

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Caitlin Lynch

Caitlin Lynch (she/her) is an undergraduate student majoring in Environment and minoring in Public Policy and Spanish. Caitlin became interested in housing policy after interning at Bridging Neighborhoods, an organization in Southwest Detroit that runs housing and home repair programs for people affected by environmental justice. In this role she researched Community Benefits Agreements, conducted interviews of residents in English and Spanish, and worked on program evaluation. Prior to this, she worked as an Educator at the Leslie Science and Nature Center. Caitlin is excited to pursue climate-related work and feels passionately about building diverse climate coalitions that connect Michigan’s rural and urban communities. 

Research Assistant

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Eliyas Asfaw

Eliyas Asfaw (he/him) is an MD student and holds a Bachelor's Degree in Public Health, also from U-M. During his undergraduate studies, he conducted research on modeling risk factors of HPV infections under Dr. Meza. Additionally, he studied the impact of COVID-19 on undergraduate students under Dr. Mehdipanah. He has strong interest in quantifiably understanding the impact of key determinants of health. Prior to returning to U-M for his medical education, he worked as a management consultant in the banking and manufacturing sector.

Research Assistant

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Sarah Small

Sarah Small (she/her) is an MD/MPH student. She graduated with her BA in Anthropology from Washington University in St. Louis in 2019. For her undergraduate thesis, she studied the history of urban planning and racial segregation in St. Louis and interviewed residents of a historically Black neighborhood about plans for a new large-scale development project. She then spent a year as an AmeriCorps volunteer at a Community Development Corporation in St. Louis organizing youth sports. In medical school, Sarah is a co-director of Wolverine Street Medicine, which works with unsheltered and unhoused individuals in Washtenaw County and Detroit. Sarah believes that recognizing how racism, the built environment, and other social determinants lead to health disparities is vital for her career as a primary care physician. She is interested in combining her medical practice with community engaged interventions to address health and neighborhood disparities.

Research Assistant

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Nic Harriott

Nicholas (Nic) Harriott (he/him) is an undergraduate student majoring in Psychology and minoring in Intergroup Relations and Community Action and Social Change (CASC), seeking to eventually pursue an MSW. Nic’s passion for housing policy and research began during his time with Restore Justice, a non-profit organization in Chicago that works with formerly incarcerated individuals by providing support services and policy recommendations. At Restore Justice, Nic set up information packages with accessible, county-specific necessities including housing, food, and legal assistance, and facilitated communications between volunteers and incarcerated individuals. Along with Restore Justice, Nic interned with The CornerStore NFP in Chicago, helping structure mental health education programs for high schoolers.

Research Assistant

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Samantha Rich

Samantha Rich (she/her) is an undergraduate student majoring in Public Health and minoring in Community Action & Social Change. Growing up in New York City, Samantha has long been interested in how housing policy shapes urban communities. Since beginning her studies in the School of Public Health, Samantha has grown more interested in the intersection between built environment and health, specifically family and mental health. Most of her previous research and advocacy work has been centered on reproductive health and justice, including an internship with the Region 9 Perinatal Quality Collaborative. With Region 9, Samantha helped pilot a trauma-informed care toolkit for healthcare providers and wrote and designed the organization’s annual health equity challenge to be sent to local and state-level stakeholders in maternal-infant health.

Research Assistant

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Previous HSHE Collaborators

Hannah Rubens, MPH, Research Assistant

Devishi Suresh Kambiranda, MS, Research Assistant

Jamison Koeman, MPH, Program Manager

Kiana Bess, PhD, MPH

Victoria Fisher, MPH, Research Assistant

Kyra Powers, MPH, Research Assistant

Esha Bingi, BS Candidate, Research Assistant

Maxwell Ryner, MPH, Research Assistant

Thank you for your hard work and dedication!

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