RWJF Center for Health Policy at UNM

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Senior Fellows

Vickie Ybarra

Director, Research & Policy
Washington State Dept. of Children, Youth, and Families

Dr. Ybarra has an interdisciplinary background with an emphasis on social/structural determinants of health and well-being, health/education/early learning/immigration policy, and civic engagement. She holds degrees in Nursing and Public Health from the University of Washington, and in Political Science/Public Policy from the University of New Mexico. She has made contributions to knowledge on immigrant integration and well-being, immigration policy, farmworker health, and Latino racialization. She also has led the implementation and evaluation of numerous family support programs for low-income and marginalized families in the Yakima Valley.


Research Interests 

Dr. Ybarra has served in a number of appointed and elected policy leadership positions, including as an elected member of the Yakima School District Board of Directors and Board President during the 2000s. She also served as Chair of the Governor’s Interagency Council on Health Disparities, and in that role oversaw the development of Washington State’s first Action Plan to Eliminate Health Disparities in 2010.


Kelly O'Donnell

Research Professor
Curriculum Vitae: 

 Kelly O’Donnell, an economist by training, conducts interdisciplinary applied research and policy analysis focusing on local and regional economic development and improving outcomes for disadvantaged populations through public policy and investments in education, workforce development, and healthcare.   Her specialties include program evaluation, economic impact analyses, and fiscal policy. She also consults nationally on the economics of early childhood education. Prior to academia, Dr. O’Donnell held a series of leadership roles in New Mexico state government including Director of State Tax Policy, Deputy Cabinet Secretary for Economic Development, and Superintendent of the New Mexico Regulation and Licensing Department. Kelly also served as research director for New Mexico Voices for Children and director of New Mexico Kids Count. She holds a PhD in Economics from the University of New Mexico.

Shannon Sanchez-Youngman

Research Faculty

Shannon's research interests lie in the social determinants of health, particularly how racism impacts Latina women's health.

Research Interests 

Shannon recieved her doctorate in political science in Spring 2016. She is a native New Mexican from Albuquerque. She obtained her Bachelor of Science from the University of New Mexico before spending nine years working in the field of women's community health. Shannon's research interests lie in the social determinants of health, particularly how racism impacts Latina women's health.

Alexis Handal, PhD, MPH

Assistant Professor
College of Population Health, UNM Health Sciences Center

Dr. Handal earned a B.A. in Biochemistry and Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology from the University of Colorado-Boulder.  She earned a M.P.H. in Epidemiology-International Health and Ph.D. in Epidemiological Sciences from the University of Michigan, where she was a Rackham Merit Fellow and a doctoral fellow in the Center for Research on Ethnicity Culture and Health, and a Fulbright Fellow.  Dr. Handal completed a post-doctoral fellowship in the Division of Epidemiology, Statistics and Prevention Research, National Institute for Child Health and Human Development in Bethesda, MD. 

Research Interests 

Dr. Handal’s research interests include environmental epidemiology, reproductive epidemiology, and child health and development examined within a social/political/economic context and in global settings. Her research focuses on populations who are traditionally underrepresented in research, including Latino and Indigenous populations in the U.S. and Latin America and those who are most exposed to hazardous work conditions and environmental toxins such as farm-workers, with a particular focus on women and their children. Her research approach uses a health equity lens focusing on the interconnection between occupational stress, toxic exposures and difficult social environments, in the context of precarious employment, on maternal health and child development. Dr. Handal is recognized nationally and in Latin America for her research on the impact of export-led flower production on women and their families. Her current research, where she leads a multi-institute/bi-national research team, focuses on the impact of industry-related exposures (chemical, psychosocial, structural) among Ecuadorian female flower workers and on child health and development as well as the impact of this industry on surrounding communities. Dr. Handal’s research interests also include examining the health impact of worker’s rights including an examination of worker protection legislation and the impact on pregnant employees, and the impact of occupational stress and gender discrimination on maternal and child health. 

Nicholas Edwardson

Assistant Professor
School of Public Administration
Curriculum Vitae: 

Nick’s research focus is innovation implementation in healthcare—including statistical quality methods, cost-effectiveness, and psychometrics/survey design. Prior to joining the faculty at UNM, Nick was the Assistant Director at the Center for Health Organization Transformation (CHOT)—a National Science Foundation Industry-University Cooperative Research Center based out of Texas A&M University, Georgia Tech, Northeastern University, Penn State, and University of Alabama at Birmingham. Dr. Edwardson received a PhD in Health Services Research from Texas A&M University and an MS in Public Policy & Management from Carnegie Mellon University. He served in the U.S. Peace Corps in Nicaragua from 2006-2008.
Nick teaches in the Masters of Healthcare Administration program in the School of Public Administration. He teaches healthcare analytics, health information technology, health economics, and organizational design.

Research Interests 

Innovation implementation in healthcare—including statistical quality methods, cost-effectiveness, and psychometrics/survey design

Sara Niedzwiecki

Assistant Professor
Political Science

Sara Niedzwiecki is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of New Mexico. She received her BA in International Studies from the Universidad Torcuato di Tella (2005) and her MA (2010) and PhD (2014) in Political Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, specializing in comparative politics and methodology. Her work on the politics of social policy and on multilevel governance has been published by Oxford University Press, Latin American Politics and Society, International Political Science Review, and editorials in Brazil, Germany, and Spain.

Research Interests 

Sara Niedzwiecki has two research agendas: (1) the politics of welfare states and health politics in Latin America and beyond and (2) multilevel governance and subnational politics with emphasis on measurement of decentralization. Her book project Multilevel Social Policies and Partisan Alignments combines both research agendas by examining how partisan alignments at state and local levels shape the implementation of non-contributory health policies and conditional cash transfers in Argentina and Brazil.

Anita Y. Kinney, PhD, RN

Anita Y.
Carolyn R. Surface Endowed Chair in Cancer Population Sciences Professor, Department of Internal Medicine Associate Director for Cancer Control & Population Sciences
UNM Health Sciences Center
(505) 925-0731

Anita Y. Kinney, PhD, RN is the Associate Director of Cancer Control and Population Sciences at the University of New Mexico Comprehensive Cancer Center.  She is a Professor in the Division of Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Preventive Medicine, Department of Internal Medicine, holding the Carolyn R. Surface Endowed Chair in Cancer Population Sciences. Dr. Kinney earned her PhD in epidemiology from the University of Texas School of Public Health at Houston and completed a postdoctoral research fellowship at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.   Kinney’s overarching research goal is to understand variation in cancer risk and determinants of risk and outcomes, and to use this information to develop effective interventions that facilitate informed decision-making and healthy behaviors and preventive care delivery.  

Research Interests 

Kinney studies innovative methods of implementing evidence-based guidelines for cancer prevention and reducing health disparities.  She also studies attitudes and preferences about genomic testing for cancer susceptibility, and ways to appropriately and effectively translate genomic discoveries to diverse populations and settings. Her work incorporates community participatory research strategies and includes healthy individuals and families, cancer survivors, underserved populations, mixed-methods, behavioral interventions and telehealth strategies. Her research findings have been incorporated into national health policy, including the US Preventive Services Task Force for BRCA1/2 genetic counseling and testing.  Kinney’s recent cancer risk communication work is serving as a new model for genomic risk counseling and behavior change and is being translated to other contexts and settings.

Recent Accomplishments 

International Society for Nurses in Genetics Founders Award for Research Excellence
YWCA of Salt Lake City, Outstanding Achievement Award in Medical / Health
External Advisory Committee, NIH CA U54 Ponce SOM-Moffitt CC Disparities Partnership
External Scientific Advisory Committee, Simmons Cancer Center, UT Southwestern
Executive Board, Casa Esperanza
Executive Committee, New Mexico Cancer Council
Board of Trustees, Society of Integrative Oncology
Editorial Board, Genetic Testing and Molecular Biomarkers
Senior Editor, Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention
 NIH, NCI Cancer Care Delivery Research Steering Committee (elected), National Clinical Oncology Research Program

Alok Bohara


Dr. Alok K. Bohara is a Full Professor of Economics and the founding director of the Nepal Study Center at the University of New Mexico (UNM).  He has a Masters degree in Statistics and taught at Tribhuvan University, Nepal.  He received his Ph.D. from the University of Colorado (Boulder) in economics (1986).  After spending a year at CU as a visitor, he joined UNM in 1987. He is a senior research fellow at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Center for Health Policy at the University of New Mexico.  His research focus is in the areas of environment, (global) health, and development, and the state of the art econometric methods and application in both primary and secondary data.  He has published close to ninety peer-reviewed papers in the US and European journals.  He has mentored several PhD students with a successful placement in both academic and non-academic positions.  He has worked on various projects funded by the National Science Foundation. 

Research Interests 

My research expertise has a wide applicability in behavioral analysis (and health outcome), with or without the spatial component. For example, at the community level, I am interested in looking at the intervention policies such as micro health insurance, smart stove, solid waste management, new technology and health education and assess its impact on the health care usage, health outcome, and certain practices and behavior (water treatment).  My technical skill is well-equipped to deal with a large scale health care related modeling, and policy simulation at the national level.

Recent Accomplishments 

Justin Tevie,  Alok K. Bohara, and R. Burciaga Valdez, “ Examination of the Geographic Variation in Human West Nile Virus: A Spatial Filtering Approach,” Epidemiology and Infection, (Submitted July 2013, R&R, December 2013; Accepted January 2014)

Price, James I. and Alok K. Bohara, “Maternal Healthcare Amid Political Unrest: The Effects of Political Violence on Antenatal Care Utilization in Nepal,” Journal of Health Policy and Planning, 2012, pp. 1-11
Katuwal, Hari and Alok K. Bohara, “Coping with Poor Water Supplies: Empirical Evidence from Kathmandu, Nepal,” Journal of Water and Health, 2011, Vol 9 No 1 pp 143–158
Halim, Nafisa, Xiomin Ruan, and Alok K. Bohara, “Healthy Mothers, Healthy Children: Does Mothers Demand for Antenatal Care Matter for Child Health in Nepal?,” Health Policy and Planning, Vol. 26. Issue 3, May 2011, pp. 242- 256.
Jenkins-Smith, Hank, C. Silva, R. Berrens, Alok K. Bohara, “Information Disclosure Requirements and the Effects of Soil Contamination on Property Value,” Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, 45 (3), 2002, pp. 323-339.

Jami Nelson-Nuñez

Assistant Professor
Political Science

Jami Nelson-Nuñez is an assistant professor of political science.  Her work focuses on the challenges of development and extending basic services to the poor in developing contexts.  Her recent project explores the political effects of non-governmental organizations on local politics in developing contexts, investigating the ways that NGO service provision affects local government’s support for public health services.  As a policy area, Dr. Nelson-Nuñez focuses on water, sanitation and health, especially the goal of achieving universal access to drinking water and improved sanitation.  Her research is based in the Peruvian Amazon where she directed a four-year NSF-funded project with an interdisciplinary team of engineers and social scientists to explore the sustainability of water and sanitation infrastructure in rural and peri-urban communities.

Research Interests 

What is your area of expertise?

My primary interest is the development of robust service-delivery addressing the needs of the poor. My research is based primarily in Latin America but I have also extended my focus to Somalia and other conflict-affected contexts.  As a policy area, I focus on water, sanitation and hygiene. I specialize in multi-method research methodology, with an emphasis in household surveys.

What are your areas of interest related to health policy?

I am interested in the development of effective governance capable of delivering basic services critical to public health, such as energy access, clean water, improved sanitation and health services.

My research is generally focused on developing contexts in Latin America and Africa but is expanding to address similar challenges in pockets of high poverty in the United States.

Relevant Publications

Boulding, Carew and Jami Nelson-Nunez. 2014. "Civil Society and Support for the Political System in Times of Crisis," Latin American Research Review.  Vol. 49 (1), 128-154.

Andersson, Krister and Jami Nelson-Nunez. 2013. "Rural Development," in The Oxford Companion to Comparative Politics, eds. Craig Murphy, Margaret Crahan and Joel Krieger. New York: Oxford University Press, 332-334.

Maria Vélez

Associate Professor
505 277-2501

Racial and economic inequality, neighborhoods and crime

Research Interests 

Racial and economic inequality, neighborhoods and crime