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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.

Research Lab Manager

Salpi Kevorkian, MS

Salpi is responsible for lead project management of all current and future grant-awarded research studies within Dr. Thomson’s laboratory. Her research interests include the interplay of psychopathy, ethical behaviors, and criminal implications in both clinical and organizational settings.

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.

Undergraduate Research Assistants

Shanaz Khan

Shanaz is from Manassas, Virginia and is currently a third year undergraduate student at Virginia Commonwealth University, majoring in psychology, and minoring in chemistry. After graduating, she plans to attend medical school to become a pediatrician. Her research interests include conduct disorder and callous-unemotional traits in children, as well as the association between serious mental illness and crime.

Delaney Desman

Delaney was born and raised in Northern Virginia where she has resided for most of her life. Currently, she is in her third year at Virginia Commonwealth University where she intends to graduate in May of 2021 with her Bachelor’s in Psychology. Delaney aspires to attend graduate school to earn a Ph.D. in clinical psychology. Particularly, she is interested in studying mood disorders, personality disorders, and substance abuse. She hopes to further her research experience while simultaneously learning how to become a compassionate and competent clinician.

Allie Auten

Allie, a second-year undergraduate student at Virginia Commonwealth University, is originally from Northern Virginia and is currently working towards her Bachelor’s in both Psychology and Criminal Justice. She plans to pursue a career in Forensic Psychology and is interested in psychopathy, and serious mental illness and crime.

Kayla Ryans

Kayla was born in San Diego, California and currently lives in Richmond, Virginia where she attends Virginia Commonwealth University. She is a senior at VCU majoring in Psychology and minoring in Criminal Justice. She is interested in working with youth in the future and preventing youth violence.

Graduate Research Assistants

Alvin Chang

Alvin Chang is a MD MHA student graduating 2021 and an aspiring general surgeon. His research interest is in application of data analytics in violence prevention and public health.

Manaswitha Thota

Manaswitha is a second-year medical student at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine. Her interests include injury and violence prevention, specifically interpersonal and intimate partner violence.