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Shannon Monnat | Lerner Chair & Director

Shannon Monnat is the Lerner Chair for Public Health Promotion and Lerner Center Director. She is also Associate Professor of Sociology and Co-Director of the Policy, Place, and Population Health Lab at SU. Dr. Monnat received her Ph.D. in Sociology at the State University of New York at Albany in 2008. Monnat’s research interests broadly fall at the intersection of place, public policy, and population health. A common theme binding much of her research is a concern for rural people and places. Her most recent research has focused on fatal drug overdose and other diseases and deaths of despair, particularly trying to understand why rates of substance abuse and mortality are higher in some places than others. She has published over 70 peer-reviewed academic journal articles, book chapters, research briefs, and reports, and has presented her research to numerous public, academic, and policy audiences, including the United Nations, the National Academy of Sciences, the Aspen Institute, and at Congressional briefings. Her research has been featured in several media outlets, including CNN, NPR, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and the Atlantic.

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Alexandra Punch | Associate Director

Lerner Center Associate Director Alexandra Punch

Alexandra Punch received her Master’s Degree in Public Administration from Northeastern University in 2012; where she is now pursuing her doctoral degree in law and public policy. Prior to working at Syracuse University, Alexandra served as the Director of Drug User Health at ACR Health. There, she focused on innovative treatment practices and community collaborations for addressing opioid dependence using the Harm Reduction model of care.  Alexandra also worked at the Onondaga County Health Department as a Research Technician in the Bureau of Disease Control, where her primary focus was HIV/STIs, Tuberculosis, and other communicable diseases. She is the Chair of the Harm Reduction subcommittee for the Onondaga County Drug Task Force. 

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Office phone number: 315-443-9343

Mary Katherine (Mary Kate) Schutt| Program Coordinator

Program Coordinator Mary Kate Lee

Mary Kate Schutt received her Bachelor’s of Arts in Human Development from the State University of New York at Oswego. The focal point of Mary Kate’s work at SUNY Oswego was developing and delivering positive psychology-based outreach initiatives to students. This work has translated to her professional life as the Center’s Program Coordinator, where she oversees the national public health initiative, Healthy Monday. She also serves as a research assistant in the Syracuse University Mind Body Lab. Her research interests broadly include the benefits of positive psychological and mindfulness interventions on youth and their families. Mary Kate’s passion lies in empowering others to improve their wellbeing through the teaching and application of positive psychology.

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Office phone number: 315-443-4526

Danielle Rhubart | Lerner Postdoctoral Scholar

Danielle Rhubart earned her dual Ph.D. in Rural Sociology and Demography from The Pennsylvania State University in 2016. Her research focuses on the intersection of health and the environment, with particular attention to the importance of place and context. She uses quantitative analyses of secondary data and mixed methods to examine how policies and structural change explain place-level health and well-being. For example, her dissertation examined the disparate impacts of Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act on health insurance coverage. Her research has been published in Population Research and Policy Review and SSM-Population Health. She also has collaborative and interdisciplinary research published in Maternal and Child Health, Society and Environment and Climatic Change. She has written public research briefs and reports for the Carsey School of Public Policy (University of New Hampshire) and the Center for Rural Pennsylvania. Finally, she has extensive teaching experience within the field of sociology as well as in interdisciplinary courses like Health Disparities, Society and the Environment, and Sustainability.

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Research Assistants

Mariah Brennan | Lerner Graduate Fellow

Lerner Fellow Mariah Brennan

Mariah received her Bachelors degrees in Political Science and Anthropology at the University of Connecticut in 2016. While studying political science, Mariah interned for Congresswoman DeLauro in Washington DC. As an intern she focused on health and military policies. Following her internship, Mariah pursued her Masters in Public Administration while maintaining a research fellowship with the Connecticut Democrats. Her experience in local and national politics combined with her background in policy research has inspired her to more closely examine veteran policies through a public health lens. Mariah will be beginning her PhD in Social Science this fall.

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Austin McNeill Brown | Graduate Research Assistant

Lerner Graduate Research Affiliate Austin McNeil Brown

Austin is the former Associate Director of Research at the Center for Young Adult Addiction and Recovery at Kennesaw State University. His work has spanned the breadth of recovery science, from theories of addiction recovery, recovery support systems, and collegiate recovery programs. Mr. Brown holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from Texas Tech University, and Master’s Degree in Social Work from the University of Vermont.  Austin has worked as both a clinician and a researcher since 2016.

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Kent Jason Cheng | Graduate Research Assistant

Lerner Graduate Research Assistant Kent Jason Cheng

Kent is currently a PhD Social Science student and a holder of a Master of Arts in Economics degree from the University of the Philippines Diliman. He is interested in population health, health and aging, and intergenerational relations. Prior to enrolling in Syracuse, Kent worked as a health policy researcher at the premier health sciences center in the Philippines, the University of the Philippines Manila. Some of his notable involvements in Philippine health research include the cost-effectiveness of dengue vaccination, cost-effectiveness of influenza vaccination, modeling of flu mortality, drug procurement policy, and smoking behavior. His recent works appear in peer-reviewed journals like PLOS One, Preventive Medicine, and World Medical and Health Policy and he also contributes to the Lerner Center Population Health Research Brief Series.

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Mary “Emmy” Helander | Lerner Graduate Fellow

Lerner Fellow Mary Helander

Mary “Emmy” Helander received her Bachelor’s in CIS and Math from the State University of New York at Potsdam, and Master’s and PhD degrees in Industrial Engineering & Operations Research from Syracuse University and the State University of New York at Buffalo respectively.  Mary was a Senior Researcher and Software Architect at IBM’s T.J. Watson Research Center.  Mary returned to graduate study at Syracuse University so that she could redirect her skills in data and network science, problem solving, and IT to study societal issues through the pursuit of a PhD in Social Sciences.  Mary is interested in:  research that explores topics in public health and its intersection with emergency medical services; social inequity in health care, education and employment and how they affect older adults; and incorporating machine learning into social science research methodology.

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Claire Pendergrast | Lerner Graduate Fellow

Graduate Research Affiliate Claire Pendergrast

Claire Pendergrast is a Sociology PhD student interested in aging, social policy, and health disparities. She received her Master of Public Health from the University of Washington in 2019, where her research focused on public health policy, healthy aging, and community resilience to disasters. Claire has worked at the New Hampshire Division of Public Health Services, where she focused on environmental health communications and community engagement, and as the Research Translation assistant for the Dartmouth Toxic Metals Superfund Research Program, where she supported science policy and risk communication programming and research. Claire is passionate about working in partnership with communities and policy stakeholders to support evidence-based public health.

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Yue Sun | Graduate Research Assistant

Yue Sun is a PhD student in the Department of Sociology. She holds a Master of Sociology from Zhejiang University and a Bachelor of Public Administration from East China University of Science and Technology. Her research interests include health disparities, environmental justice, demography, political economy, and spatial modeling. Specifically, Yue is interested in how natural, social, and policy environments interact, and how this interaction shapes health disparities.

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Xiaoyan (Amanda) Zhang | Lerner Graduate Fellow

Lerner Fellow Xiaoyan (Amanda) Zhang

Xiaoyan (Amanda) Zhang is a doctoral student in the department of Human Development and Family Science (HDFS) at Syracuse University. She received her Master’s Degree in HDFS at SU in 2018.  Her broad research interests are on the impacts of social determinants on health disparities. She is particularly interested in how adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) impact health and well-being. She aims to conduct research and evaluation that can be translated into programs or treatments to help children and their families promote their health. Her most recent research examines the effects of economic hardship and children’s adjustment using the Family Stress Model. She expanded the model by incorporating the role of neighborhood interpersonal trust.

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See our Lerner Fellow Alumni and Research Affiliates.