Lab Members


Dr. Lara-Cinisomo

Dr. Lara-Cinisomo, Ph.D.

Dr. Lara-Cinisomo is a developmental psychologist. Dr. Lara-Cinisomo’s research focuses on addressing mental health disparities in women and mothers, particularly racial and ethnic minorities, immigrants, and military populations. Her research approach builds on a framework focused on psychosocial, cultural, structural and physiological factors. Specifically, she examines how contextual factors (e.g., culture, biology) are associated with poor mental health in her populations of interest. As such, she takes an integrated approach to understand mental health disparities in mothers and women. Recently, she completed several studies that examine associations between hormone function (i.e., cortisol and oxytocin) and perinatal depression in Latinas. Her recent studies also tested the effectiveness of a mindfulness-based intervention on reducing stress, depression, anxiety and worry in caregivers of veterans, most of whom were women. Currently, she is conducting a multisite study on prenatal depression, diabetes, and disease management. Dr. Lara-Cinisomo is also exploring brain activation in the context of pain in postpartum women with and without depression. 

Graduate Students

Gabriella Lopez

Gabriella is a Master of Science student in Community Health at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.  She holds an undergraduate degree in Biological Anthropology.  Her current research interests include how migration stressors and traumatic experiences can lead to the onset of Post-traumatic stress disorder in immigrant Latinas.  In addition, she is interested in infectious and chronic disease health disparities. 

Mary Ellen Mendy

Mary Ellen is a 4th year Ph.D. student in the Community Health Department. She is from The Gambia, West Africa. She received a Bachelor of Science in Biology with a minor in Public Health from the University of The Gambia. In May 2019, she graduated with a Master of Public Health degree and an Epidemiology Graduate Certificate from the University of Illinois at Springfield. Her research interests include immigrants and health disparities in racial and ethnic minorities. In her free time, Mary Ellen runs her fashion blog and sometimes reads fictional novels. Working at the LESA lab has been a wholesome experience for her, so she would encourage anyone interested to join the team. 

Undergraduate Students

Audrey Schissler

Audrey is a freshman studying Kinesiology. She joined the LESA lab as a part of the UIUC SPARK program, which introduces freshmen to undergraduate research experiences. She has been mainly working on research for a podcast surrounding perinatal mental health. Outside of the lab, she plays trumpet in Marching Illini and Hoops Bands.

Zara Mkrtychian

Zara is a junior pursuing a dual degree in Community Health with a concentration in Health Education and Promotion, as well as Psychology with a Clinical/Community concentration. Her interests include a variety of topics including health disparities, nutrition, and disease prevention among underrepresented populations. After she graduates, she would like to work abroad and study the health status of different countries and potentially do research in less developed countries. Outside of the LESA Lab, she also does research for the Developing Equitable Minds Lab. In her free time, she enjoys cooking, going to the gym, and trying new foods. 

Melany Romero

Melany is a Clinical Psychology and Spanish major who wants to have a positive impact on low-income communities. She strives to challenge mental health stigma and inequities among minorities, specifically the Latinx community, through research and implementation of new methods.