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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.

Clinical Research Coordinators

Dulany Devening, MEd

Dulany is a graduate from the University of Louisville with a Master's in Counseling with a concentration in art therapy. She has worked in a variety of settings, including schools, hospitals and child advocacy centers, providing counseling and art therapy for adults, children and their families. Her research interests include the effects of childhood trauma on development and family systems.

Courtlyn Fields, MA

Courtlyn Fields is a graduate from the University of Denver with a Master's in Counseling Psychology. She has worked in a variety of mental health care sites and is excited to transition into the role of Research Coordinator. Her research interests includes the biopsychosocial model and patients' adherence to treatment. 

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, BSW

Rashema is a graduate of JMU’s Bachelor of Social Work Program. She is currently in the Online Master of Social Work Program at Howard University and is set to obtain her MSW in Dec. 2023. She is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated ®, and 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, criminology, and ancestry research.

Ariel Wood, BSW

Ariel is graduate from VCU’s Bachelor of Social Work Program, while currently obtaining her Masters of Social Work. She has experience in providing intensive case management services for multi-disciplinary, hospital-based violence intervention program, dedicated to reducing re-injury and mortality rates among youth and adults by providing intentionally injured patients and their families with support during their hospital stay and within the community and most recently as a case manager with the Bridging the Gap program under the Injury and Violence Prevention Program. Her research interests include understanding the biopsychosocial risk factors for violence and violence intervention and 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.

Undergraduate Research Assistants 

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. 

Olive Blackstone

Olive Blackstone is a fourth-year undergraduate student at VCU, majoring in both Criminal Justice and Psychology. Her research interests include the intersection of mental illness and crime/antisocial behavior and mitigators to criminal behavior. She plans to pursue a career with a federal law enforcement agency.

Kiana Bragg

Kiana is a fourth-year undergraduate student at VCU majoring in Psychology with a concentration in Pre-Graduate studies. After graduation, she plans to continue assisting with research as she prepares to enter graduate school for Clinical Psychology. Her primary research interests include studying early risk factors for chronic mental illness and deviant behaviors in children and adolescents.

Gina Chan

Gina is a third-year undergraduate student at Virginia Commonwealth University who is majoring in Psychology with a minor in Criminal Justice. Post-graduation she plans on attending graduate school and pursuing a career in the field of Criminal Psychology. Her primary research interests include the relationship between mental illness and crime, as well as the impact of trauma on individuals.

Apoorva Saravanan

Apoorva is a third-year undergraduate student at VCU majoring in Psychology and minoring in Sociology. She plans on pursuing a Master’s in Mental Health Counseling and plans to work towards a PhD in Clinical Psychology. Her research interests surround Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), racial health disparities, and general psychopathology.

Isabella Schneck

Isabella is a third-year undergraduate student at Virginia Commonwealth University working towards a Bachelor's in Psychology. She is interested in researching severe mental illness, substance use disorders, and violence prevention.

Jihad Torky

Jihad is a fourth year undergraduate student at VCU majoring in Biology and Psychology who plans to pursue a PhD in psychology and become a clinical psychologist. Her research interests center around child and developmental psychopathology.

Medical Student Chapter

Saba Ali

Saba Ali is a fourth-year medical student at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine. Her research interests in the social determinants of health and public health bridge together her backgrounds in medicine, business administration, and public policy. She is especially interested in injury and violence prevention amongst pediatric populations.

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.

Chandler Johnson

Chandler graduated from UC Davis with a degree in Neurobiology, Physiology, and Behavior in 2017 and is currently a third-year medical student at the VCU School of Medicine. His research interests include substance use disorders, unintentional injury, and the prevention of violence and suicide.

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.

Miranda Sullivan

Miranda Sullivan is a fourth-year medical student at VCU School of Medicine, planning to complete a combined med-peds residency after graduation. Her interests include intimate partner violence prevention and pediatric injury and violence prevention.

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.