top of page



Magela Pons

Clinical Research Coordinator

Magela Pons graduated from the University of Miami with a degree in Biology and is now enrolled in the University of Miami MPH program and preparing to apply for a PhD in Clinical Psychology. As an undergraduate student, Magela was actively involved in social work in underserved communities, including helping in the reconstruction of torn-down buildings in Miami and New Orleans, and assisting with the development of programs that offer continuing education opportunities for adults with disabilities. She was first introduced to research when she worked in the pediatrics department at Jackson Memorial hospital in a study designed for early childhood obesity prevention. Subsequently, Magela performed research with the surgical oncology team at the University of Miami Hospital and worked in studies focusing on cancer treatment and prevention. She was primarily involved in the trial of a novel chemotherapy treatment for mesothelioma, and the development of a biomarker for Melanoma. After graduating, Magela worked in a psychiatry clinic where she became closely acquainted with the administration of behavioral tests and assessment tools to screen for major mental disorders. Born in Cuba and raised in Spain, Magela is thrilled to join Dr. Moreno’s lab in order to improve the integration of palliative care for the Hispanic community, as well as develop her knowledge of psycho-oncology. In her free time, Magela enjoys exploring new places in Miami, visiting museums and spending time with her friends and family.


Jessica Thomas, MA, LCSW

Research Project Coordinator

Jessica Thomas graduated from Georgetown University with a Bachelor of Arts in French and from the University of Chicago with a Master of Arts in Social Service Administration (equivalent to Master of Social Work). Prior to discovering the world of research, Jessica worked primarily with children and adolescents in community and school settings. She initially came to Northwestern University to work on a study involving a technology-based intervention for men with advanced prostate cancer. During this study, Jessica learned that she enjoys group work with older adults, and that the psychosocial aspects of living with cancer are often just as challenging as the physical aspects, if not more so.  Jessica has also contributed to the adaptation and development of a similar intervention for gay and bisexual men and trans women living with both HIV and cancer, as well as other cancer-focused translational research work. Most recently, Jessica has started working with a neuroscience lab, using her clinical skills to administer cognitive function and memory screening tasks. Jessica has not yet worked with couples going through the diagnostic process for cancer, so the Couples Cope study will be an exciting learning opportunity for her. She also oversees the pilot randomized controlled trial with women living with metastatic breast cancer. When not at work, Jessica enjoys traveling, taking long walks, listening to music and podcasts, and spending time with her family (in particular, FaceTiming with her adorable nieces and nephews).


Victoria Escalante is an undergraduate at Princeton University where she is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and on the pre-medical track. As someone who is very interested in psychosocial interventions and medicine, Victoria joined Dr. Moreno’s lab. Through the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) project, she hopes to gain more knowledge on female physicians’ experiences with fertility and family planning, while also learning about the toll a cancer diagnosis can take on dyads through the Couples Cope study. Additionally, reading narratives of cancer patients has given Victoria insight into how Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Stress Management may be an effective interventions for improving cancer survivors’ quality of life post diagnosis. Victoria hopes to continue research in this field as she finds it crucial to have a more holistic understanding of the needs of patients. During her free time, Victoria loves spending time with her dog, baking new desserts, and playing softball.

Victoria Escalante

Research Assistant


Ashley Maras is a fourth year medical student at Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine. She recently graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a Bachelor of Science in Molecular and Cellular Biology and a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish. Throughout her undergraduate career, she was involved in health disparities research focused on developing and implementing a culturally tailored childhood obesity intervention in the Latinx community. In medical school, Ashley is pursuing research in health disparities focusing on the cultural aspects that affect quality of life for Latinx cancer survivors. As the daughter of a Honduran immigrant and a cancer survivor herself, this research hits close to home for Ashley. It is a great opportunity for her to explore potential solutions for the barriers faced by minorities within the healthcare system. In her free time, Ashley loves to go to the movies, explore new places in Chicago with friends, and watch TV.

Ashley Maras

Medical Student


Heidy Medina, PhD, MPH 

Graduate Student

Heidy Medina, PhD, MPH is a recent graduate of the Epidemiology PhD program at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. She also graduated from the University of Miami with a BS in Biology and Psychology where she also completed her Masters in Public Health. Heidy’s interests in cancer health disparities stem from her graduate capstone project in pediatric cancers in which she worked with the childhood cancer survivorship program at Alex’s Place Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center in engaging with childhood cancer survivors in examining long-term effects of treatment and increasing patient knowledge and self-advocacy. She later continued to volunteer at the clinic after her project finalized and enjoyed getting to know the patients and their families on a more personal level which impacted her perspectives on her long-term career goals. Heidy’s doctoral training includes working with Dr. Frank Penedo in evaluating the impact of symptom and toxicities monitoring and management in ambulatory oncology as well as the use of patient reported outcomes in survivorship care. Additionally, under the supervision of her primary faculty mentor Dr. Paulo Pinheiro, her research focuses on examining disparities in incidence, survival, and mortality across various cancer sites amongst racial/ethnic minorities and special populations. Specifically, utilizing population-based, cancer registry surveillance methodology. In Dr. Moreno’s lab, she is excited to be able to find an intersection between her passion for cancer survivorship and epidemiology, while focusing on examining disparities in Hispanics and underrepresented populations. During her spare time, Heidy enjoys going to the gym, exploring new beaches, finding new hole in the wall places in Miami and surrounding areas, and watching true crime documentaries.  

Julia's headshot.JPG

Julia Megura 

Medical Student

Julia Meguro is a second-year student at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine's MD/MPH program. She graduated with a BS degree in Biochemistry and Nutrition with minors in Public Health and Chemistry from the University of Miami in 2020. While earning her undergraduate degree, Julia pursued research at the University of Miami's Neonatology Department and the Geography and Inequalities Lab. In addition to research, she is passionate about translating technical content to the public and education. Prior to entering medical school, Julia worked as an English teaching assistant at a vocational school in Spain and in digital marketing for a psychotherapy practice and an MCAT tutoring company. Currently, she is working on developing a capstone project for her MPH degree and is involved as the program director for the Human Rights Clinic of Miami and assistant public relations chair for the DOCS Ft. Lauderdale Health Fair. Julia is excited to be joining Dr. Moreno's lab to work on research that combines her interests relating to palliative care, oncology, and improving the health Hispanic/Latino communities. In her free time, Julia enjoys running and testing new recipes.


Aidan Scagel is a second year MD/MPH student at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. He graduated from St.Lawrence University in 2018 with a Bachelor of Science in Biology and a minor in Chemistry and African Studies. While earning his undergraduate degree, he volunteered with Hospice and extensively hiked the Adirondack Mountains. After college, he served in Peace Corps Ethiopia as a community health educator in the Woliata Zone, focusing on health behaviors related to water, hygiene, sanitation (WASH), care seeking, and malaria prevention. Before coming to Miami, he was involved in high school education and worked on a pandemic response project addressing PPE shortages. Currently, he is in the beginning stages of developing a public health capstone project and is involved with the Miami Rescue Mission DOCS clinic. His research interests include international health, health disparities in East Africa, informal caregiver support, and the health of people experiencing homelessness. When he has free time, you can find Aidan running around Miami training for a marathon or watching documentaries.

Aidan Scagel 

Medical Student


Robert Sommer is a third-year graduate student in the Counseling Psychology Doctoral Program at the University of Miami. He graduated in 2017 from the University of Massachusetts Amherst with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and a minor in Jazz Performance. Following his undergraduate education, Bob worked for three years as a clinical research coordinator at Massachusetts General Hospital. Throughout this time, he oversaw multiple research studies within the Cancer Center and worked closely with researchers from the Division of Palliative Care and the Department of Psychiatry. Bob now works with Dr. Lydia Buki and Dr. Frank Penedo, focusing on areas such as patient-clinician communication and health literacy within oncology, as well as the impact of existential issues on survivorship. He is excited to work with Dr. Moreno, initially attracted to her work on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and her focus on how meaning, purpose, and other existential issues may impact quality of life in cancer survivors. In his free time, Bob loves to play the drums, watch soccer, and try new restaurants in Miami.  

Robert K. Sommer

Graduate Student

Sarah M. Worch, PhD, LMFT

Post-Doctoral Fellow

Sarah Worch is a Postdoctoral Scholar in the Cancer Control Training in Disparities and Equity (C-TIDE) program at the University of Miami. She completed her PhD in Human Development and Family Science with specializations in Quantitative Research Methods and Couple and Family Therapy at The Ohio State University. Sarah also has master’s degrees in Experimental and Counseling Psychology, and is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in the state of Florida. Her research interests include family systems and health, with specific interest in the influence of relational factors on racial-ethnic minority health. As a Postdoctoral Scholar, Sarah is focused on bringing a family systems lens to research with under-represented oncology patients and their family members. Her postdoctoral mentors are Drs. Frank Penedo and Patricia Moreno.  


Julienne E. Bower, PhD, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)

David Cella, PhD, Northwestern University

Elaine O. Cheung, PhD, Northwestern University

Ann Marie Flores, PT, PhD, Northwestern University

Sarah C. Flury, MD, Northwestern University

Sarah M. Friedewald, MD, Northwestern University

William J. Gradishar, MD, Northwestern University 

James W. Griffith, PhD, Northwestern University

Mariana Khawand-Azoulai, MD, University of Miami

Kimberly S. Kenton, MD Northwestern University

Sheetal M. Kircher, MD, Northwestern University

Shilajit D. Kundu, MD, Northwestern University

Bharat B. Mittal, MD, Northwestern University

Judith T. Moskowitz, PhD, MPH, Northwestern University

Frank J. Penedo, PhD, University of Miami

Amelie G. Ramirez, DrPH, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio

Edward M. Schaeffer, MD, PhD, Northwestern University

Melissa A. Simon, MD, MPH, Northwestern University

Annette L. Stanton, PhD, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)

Marcia Tan, PhD, University of Chicago

Joanna (Jodi) Burg Torzewski, PhD, Northwestern University

David Victorson, PhD, Northwestern University

Betina Yanez, PhD, Northwestern University

bottom of page