About My Career Trajectory
I am a productive, innovative, and impactful non-profit leader with 20 years of professional experience in community-engaged research. I received a BS in Psychology from Virginia Tech in 2006, a Master of Social Work degree from the University of Denver in 2009, and a PhD in Social Work from the University of Denver in 2015. My educational and training foci include human-animal interactions (HAI) research; community and organizational leadership; advanced statistics; and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) education. Broadly, my research examines the intersection of human and animal health and wellbeing, with a focus on human populations that experience health disparities (e.g., LGBTQ+ young people, Latine adolescents and adults, children exposed to violence). Throughout the course of my career, my research and scholarship have been funded by a variety of competitive funding sources, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation, and the Human-Animal Bond Research Initiative. I have collaborated with more than 40 non-profit organizations to advance HAI science and policy, disseminated my findings nationally and internationally, and published more than 70 scientific papers/chapters.
Post-PhD Career Trajectory
After receiving my PhD, I was employed as an assistant professor (2015-2020) and tenured associate professor (2020-2021) at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). At VCU, I founded and directed the Children, Families, and Animals Research Group (CFAR Group, LLC) and provided leadership and supervision for a team of student researchers and trainees each year. I balanced the demands of publishing in high impact journals while teaching and seeking funding for my research agenda. During my tenure at VCU, I published more than 40 peer-reviewed articles on HAI and/or childhood adversity, and presented my findings to scientific, professional, and public audiences. I secured nearly one million dollars in grant support, including competitive awards from the NIH and Human-Animal Bond Research Initiative. I also developed and taught a series of undergraduate and graduate courses including classes on DEI, program evaluation, statistics/ psychometrics, HAI, and academic writing. As a faculty member, I supervised more than 30 student researchers across a variety of programs and disciplines. I also served in key leadership positions on a variety of academic program and governance committees such as the Governance and Operations Committee (role: Co-Chair), which developed, altered, and enacted academic policies to ensure productive and high-quality processes.
In 2021, I left my tenured position at VCU to pursue a new role that would allow me to have a more direct impact on animals, their human guardians, and communities. In my new position of Director of Research at the American Society for the Prevention to Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), I developed and led applied animal welfare research and worked to improve access to veterinary care in underserved and systematically excluded communities. I also led research projects to advance the field of forensic veterinary science and related legal advocacy and investigations. My primary projects included evaluation of veterinary, grooming, and other animal support service programs. My primary responsibilities included analyzing data and translating research findings via peer-reviewed publications, reports, and internal and external communications. I also supervised interns in applied animal welfare science (graduate students, post-doc), managed a seed grant program, and served on the DEI committee. During my time at the ASPCA, I directed approximately 20 studies as Principal Investigator and supported leadership across multiple program teams (e.g., Community Engagement, Legal Advocacy, Disaster Response) in the development of short- and long-term research agendas and strategic planning. My work led to positive changes in the delivery of services in underserved and systematically excluded communities in NYC and Los Angeles.
In 2022, I decided to leave the ASPCA to explore opportunities that would allow me to expand my skills as a non-profit leader and find better congruence between my passion for HAI research and commitment to advancing DEI and social justice. To this end, I accepted the position of Director of the Community Research and Evaluation at Denver Zoological Foundation, where I am currently employed. In this role, I oversee research and evaluation projects that progress Denver Zoo’s ongoing development and impact for audiences and wildlife conservation efforts. I work closely with division leaders, executives, and other key stakeholders to determine the Zoo’s priority research projects in the short- and long-term and support data-driven leadership and decision-making. I also lead community-based initiatives to ensure co-designed and data-driven education, engagement, and field-based conservation efforts. Our department’s current research projects span topics such as human-wildlife interactions research, marketing and rebranding studies, guest and user experience research, communication strategy evaluations, health and wellness research (i.e., occupational stress and wellbeing among animal care workers), as well as evaluations of the organization’s education, professional development, and conservation action programs. In addition to working at Denver Zoological Foundation, I maintain active involvement in funded academic research, mentor undergraduate and graduate students, and serve as a faculty affiliate at several universities and research institutions.