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Our Team

IVPP Research Director

Nicholas D. Thomson, PhD

Dr. Thomson is a forensic psychologist and Director of Research for the Injury and Violence Prevention Program at VCU Health Trauma Center. Dr. Thomson’s research expertise includes biopsychosocial risk factors for violence, violence intervention and prevention, developmental psychopathology, and forensic psychology. 

Clinical Research Coordinators

Victoria Blondell

Victoria Blondell is a graduate of Loyola University New Orleans with a Bachelor of Science in Psychological Sciences and a minor in Criminology and Justice. She has interned at multiple hospital-based psychology departments working with both child and adult populations. Her research interests include forensic psychology, PTSD and trauma, and youth with externalizing behaviors. She hopes to one day earn a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology.

Tene'sha Crews

Tene'sha Crews has recently joined the Injury and Violence Prevention team as a Research Coordinator. As a recent graduate from Virginia Commonwealth University with a B.S. in Psychology, she hopes to gain more experience to set a foundation for her career goals and passion before pursuing graduate studies. She is interested in researching mental health, ADHD, and community and interpersonal violence affecting youth with a focus on groups that have been historically underrepresented within psychological research. 

Maggie Emery

Maggie is a graduate of James Madison University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Health Science. She has worked in several patient care roles while working with the incarcerated population. Due to her experience with inmates, she is currently in a CRC role in order to research violence prevention before pursuing medicine. She hopes to one day earn a medical degree.

Laura Hazlett, MA

Laura Hazlett attended Wake Forest's Master in Experimental Psychology program. She has worked in diverse roles within various clinical research projects and dedicates her spare time to volunteer with a nonprofit children's bereavement organization. Her research interests include the behavioral and physiological effects of exercise on generalized anxiety and performance anxiety.

Ade' Mason, MS

Ade’ is a graduate of Virginia State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Criminal Justice while also holding a Master of Science degree in Administration of Justice and Security from University of Phoenix. Ade also holds a Qualified Mental Health Professional credential with a focus on children (QMHP-C) as well being a certified gang specialist through the Virginia Gang Investigators Association (VGIA). Ade’ has held numerous positions within the Social Work, Criminal Justice and Mental Health fields. His research interests include gang criminology/culture, and criminal law.

Rashema Meekins, MSW

Rashema is a graduate of JMU’s Bachelor of Social Work Program and Howard University's Master of Social Work Program and has a concentration in Community, Administration, and Policy Practice (CAPP). She is a proud member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated ®. In addition, she is a military spouse with two sons. Rashema has worked in various roles within the Social Work field, including healthcare, mental health, working with adolescents, and most recently, forensic social work, as a Re-Entry Specialist for a local jail. Her research interests include black maternal health, policy practice, criminology, and ancestry research.

Mayen Obot

Mayen is a graduate from the University of Richmond with a bachelor's degree in health studies and a minor in Biology. She formerly worked as a Clinical Research Coordinator in Ophthalmic Research. Her research interests include interpersonal violence in urban communities, as well as trauma-related dissociation.

Isabella Schneck, BS

Isabella is a graduate from Virginia Commonwealth University with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology. She was a former intern with the Injury and Violence Prevention Research Lab. She is interested in researching severe mental illness, substance use disorders, and violence prevention.

Postdoctoral Fellows 

Kelly O'Connor, PhD

Dr. O'Connor received her PhD in Clinical Psychology from Virginia Commonwealth University and completed her pre-doctoral clinical internship on the child track at the Medical University of South Carolina. Her clinical and research interests focus on prevention and intervention efforts aimed at reducing violence and trauma symptoms among minoritized youth in urban communities. The goal of her work in this area is to inform the development and refinement of programs, policies, and practices that are strengths-based, culturally responsive, and promote positive youth development. 

Dr. Kjaervik received her PhD in Communication from The Ohio State University, with a specialization in quantitative research methods. Her research focuses on the causes, consequences, and cures for aggression and violence in society. The aim of her research is to inform the development of violence intervention and prevention.

Undergraduate Research Assistants  

Bianca Cortes

Bianca Cortes is a fourth-year undergraduate student at VCU, majoring in Psychology with a concentration in Applied Psychology. Her interests surround research topics including ADHD, personality disorders, and how specific mental disorders present themselves in criminal behavior. 

Mikayla Heightshoe

Mikayla Heightshoe is a fourth-year undergraduate student at VCU, pursuing a Bachelor's degree in Psychology and in English, with a minor in Creative Writing. She has worked with students with disabilities with the ACE-IT Program and she had previously worked in a research lab under the Social Psychology division at VCU. Her research interests in post-traumatic stress disorder and complex post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, and sexual violence. After graduation, her future plan is to pursue a PsyD in Clinical Psychology.

Chanel Michael

Chanel Michael is a recent graduate from VCU, receiving a Bachelor’s of Science in Psychology and a minor in Criminal Justice. Her research interests include personality disorders and mental health disorders in relation to criminal behavior and deviancy. Her future plans are to prepare for graduate school with a focus in Social Work and Law.

Maya Singh

Maya Singh is a third-year at VCU, majoring in psychology and criminal justice, with hopes of being a forensic psychologist and working with law enforcement and/or corrections. Her academic interests relate to criminal rehabilitation and the reentry process specifically relating to juveniles. 

Michael Trussell

After 8 years at Newport News Shipyard and graduating from The Apprentice School, Michael Trussell transferred to Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). He is a junior pursuing a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Michael is currently gaining experience through volunteering with The African American Youth Association (AYA) and the Injury and Violence Prevention Research Lab (IVPRL) in pursuit of a PhD. in clinical psychology. In the future, he wishes to use his work experience coupled with the experiences gained from AYA and IVPRL to provide therapy to blue-collar workers. In addition, he also plans to represent blue-collar workers in the field of psychology.

Varsha Vasudevan

Varsha is a second-year undergraduate at VCU, majoring in Psychology and Criminal Justice with a concentration in Justice and minoring in Political Science. After graduating, she hopes to pursue Forensic Psychology. Her academic interests include psychological assessments and the impact of mental illness and crime on children in the Criminal Justice system.

Medical Student Chapter

Michael Kusnet

Michael is a second year medical student at VCU who graduated from DePaul University with a degree in Psychology. He hopes to pursue a career in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and is interested in related research topics in developmental psychopathology and violence prevention.

Chapter Alumni

Saba Ali 

Alvin Chang

Chandler Johnson 

Miranda Sullivan

Research Collaborators

Albert Farrell, PhD

Dr. Farrell is Professor of Clinical Psychology and Director of the VCU Clark-Hill Institute for Positive Youth Development. His research focuses on the development of problem behaviors during adolescence, particularly aggression and bullying; the impact of exposure to community violence and peer victimization on adolescents’ development; and the identification of protective factors that promote the positive development of youth in high risk environments (e.g., those living in communities with high rates of poverty and violence). In 2005, Dr. Farrell founded the Clark-Hill Institute for Positive Youth Development – one of six National Centers of Excellence for Youth Violence Prevention funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

James M. Bjork, PhD

Dr. James Bjork is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychiatry in VCU’s School of Medicine. His research interests include functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), impulsivity and decision-making, adolescent neurodevelopment, health behaviors in physical medicine and rehabilitation populations, addiction and substance use disorders, and disruptive behavior disorders.

Caitlin E. Martin, MD, MPH

Dr. Martin is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. As the VCU Director of OBGYN Addiction Services, Dr. Martin leads efforts to integrate reproductive/sexual health and addiction care. She is a Translational Scholar with the VCU NIH CTSA-funded Wright Center for Clinical and Translational Research (Wright Center). The aim of her research is to elucidate the roles biological factors, such as pregnancy and the postpartum state, and psychosocial contexts together with gender play in the recovery of people with opioid use disorder.

Terri Sullivan, PhD

Dr. Sullivan is Professor and Director of Developmental Psychology at VCU. Her research focuses on understanding the impact of aggression and exposure to violence on children's healthy psychosocial and emotional development. This research includes examination of the relations between aggression and exposure to violence (including witnessing violence and victimization) and psychosocial maladjustment, and identifying risk and protective factors that may magnify or buffer these relations. Another aspect of Dr. Sullivan’s research focuses on the evaluation of school-based violence prevention efforts, especially for students with high incidence disabilities.

Jasmin L. Vassileva, PhD

Dr. Vassileva is an Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Psychology at VCU. Her program of research coalesces around personality and neurocognitive risk factors for drug addiction and externalizing psychopathology and neurocognitive sequelae of chronic drug use. Her more recent studies have addressed potential sex differences in neurocognitive function among different types of substance users. Dr. Vassileva has established a productive research laboratory at Virginia Commonwealth University and a satellite neurocognitive research laboratory at the Bulgarian Addictions Institute in Sofia, Bulgaria.

David Chester, PhD

Dr. Chester is an Assistant Professor of Psychology and Director of Social Psychology at VCU. His research seeks to understand the psychological and biological processes that motivate and constrain aggressive behavior. Dr. Chester’s specific interests lie in how the brain’s reward circuitry promotes and reinforces aggressive responses to threat, provocation and rejection.

Ananda Amstadter, PhD

Dr. Amstadter is an Associate Professor in the Departments of Psychiatry, Psychology, and Human & Molecular Genetics at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). Her program of research focuses on understanding biologic and psychosocial factors that affect the trajectory of symptoms among individuals exposed to trauma (e.g., combat, disasters, interpersonal violence) with a focus on posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and alcohol-related phenotypes.

Robert A. Perera, PhD

Dr. Perera is an Associate Professor in the Department of Biostatistics with an affiliation in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). His research areas of expertise include: structural equation modeling, psychological and behavioral measurement, mediation analysis, mixture and growth mixture modeling, longitudinal data analysis, and analysis and design of clinical trials.

Jack Kennedy, PhD

Dr. Jack Kennedy is a Consultant in Clinical & Forensic Psychology and the Kolvin Service Clinical Lead. He is a Visiting Researcher at Newcastle University and an expert advisor to the National Crime Agency and other governmental bodies. He has varied research interests to include the use of digital technologies in forensic mental health populations.

Annette McKeown, PhD

Dr. Annette McKeown is an Acting Consultant Forensic Psychologist in the Kolvin Service in the North East of England. She is also an Honorary Lecturer at Newcastle University. Dr. McKeown has a special interest in working with forensic adolescents. She has particular research interest and published in the areas of trauma, female violence, forensic adolescents, violence risk assessments, personality difficulties, psychopathy and domestic violence.