Indigenous Substance Abuse Medicines, and Addictions Research Training (ISMART) Program

  • ISMART Fellows and MentorsMay 2014
  • ISMART Trainings
  • ISMART & IHART Meet in DC
  • ISMART Cohort One
ISMART Fellows and Mentors1 ISMART Trainings2 ISMART & IHART Meet in DC3 ISMART Cohort One4
carousel bootstrap by v6.1

About us

Indigenous Substance Abuse Medicines, and Addictions Research Training (ISMART) Program, is a mentorship program that allows scholars of indigenous backgrounds to research in the areas of substance abuse, medicines and addictions within their indigenous communities.

ISMART Program Staff


Karina L. Walters, PhD (Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma)

Director, Indigenous Wellness Research Institute
Curriculum Vitae (pdf)


Tessa Evans-Campbell, PhD (Snohomish)

Associate Director, Indigenous Wellness Research Institute
Director, Center for Indigenous Child & Family Research

Curriculum Vitae (pdf)


Meg Meneghel MacDonald, PhD (White Ally)

Project Director, Indigenous HIV/AIDS Research Training Program, Lauhoe (IHART2)
Program Coordinator – Indigenous Substance Abuse, Medicines, and Addictions Research Training Program (ISMART)

[wptabs style=”wpui-android”] [wptabtitle]ISMART Fellows[/wptabtitle] [wptabcontent]
Cohort One

Danica Brown, PhD

Danica Love Brown is a PhD student in the doctoral program in social work at Portland State University. She completed an undergraduate degree in human services and addiction studies at Metropolitan State College of Denver and a master’s degree in social work at Colorado State University. Ms. Brown has practice experience working in mental health, substance abuse, and school social work settings, primarily working for socio economic and ethnically diverse communities. She also has served as an adjunct faculty member at Metropolitan State College of Denver and is currently teaching at the Graduate School of Social Work at PSU.

Her area of research focuses on understanding how the worldview of Indigenous peoples can contribute to the development of behavioral health interventions and programs for urban Native American youth, and transforming historical trauma for Native American communities.

Dr. Brown’s postdoctoral goal is to engage in policy or program development practice and research with Native American populations while continuing to teach as an adjunct faculty member.


Jessica Hope LePak, MSW

Jessica is an Indigenous Social Welfare PhD student and works with IWRI.



Roberto Orellana, PhD

Dr. Roberto Orellana is Associate Professor of Social Work at Portland State University (PSU), where he is also affiliate faculty in the School of Community Health and the Department of Indigenous Nations Studies.

Throughout his doctoral program and early scholarly activities, Dr. Orellana has gained experience in global health research, especially on the science of HIV and substance abuse prevention with vulnerable populations, especially indigenous populations, other racial/ethnic and sexual minorities.

His global health experience includes research studies throughout the Americas:

PERU: An epidemiologic study of interpersonal violence in Lima; community-based studies of HIV/STIs and substance use among indigenous populations in the Peruvian Amazon; and a web-based intervention for high risk men who have sex with men (MSM) in Lima.

GUATEMALA: A qualitative study of the lived experiences of indigenous MSM and their increased vulnerability to HIV and substance abuse.

MEXICO/GUATEMALA: Currently, in collaboration with local and other U.S.–based investigators, Dr. Orellana is working on both sides of the Mexico/Guatemala border examining social and structural factors that increase vulnerability to drug use and HIV among MSM in a region of heavy drug and human trafficking.

UNITED STATES: Domestically, Dr. Orellana has worked on research studies with homeless individuals with mental illness (Seattle); Injection drug user (NYC); and individuals at high risk for HIV in the Pacific Northwest. Currently, he’s conducting a study with homeless youth in Portland, and he is the lead evaluator for Oregon State’s suicide prevention programs.

His training and research studies have been funded by USAID, SAMHSA NIMH, NIDA and NIMHD


Katie Schultz, MSW (Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma)

Katie Schultz completed her MSW from the University of Washington in 2002. Prior to starting the PhD program, she served as the Administrative Director at the University’s Indigenous Wellness Research Institute.
An enrolled member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, Katie’s research interests focus on American Indian/Alaska Native health disparities. More specifically, she is interested in trauma exposure and substance abuse over the lifetime and successful pathways to recovery as well as culturally-based health promotion models and intervention design. She is also interested in the development of innovative conceptual and methodological approaches to research in rural and tribal communities; emphasizing projects that inform health promotion rooted in Indigenous knowledges and sustainable solutions by and for Native peoples. She is currently working on the Yappalli project – a culturally focused, strengths-based outdoor experiential obesity-substance abuse risk prevention and health leadership program.


Matthew Town, MPH

Matthew Town, PhD, MPH, is a behavioral health scientist whose research focuses on the HIV and substance use prevention and treatment needs of American Indian and Alaska Natives (AIAN), sexual minorities, and AIAN sexual minorities. Dr. Town received his MPH in Global Health from Oregon State University, and his PhD in Sociology from the Portland State University. During his doctoral training, Dr. Town worked at the Program Design and Evaluation Services for the Oregon Department of Health on the Oregon Medical Monitoring Project, a CDC funded epidemiological study for persons living with HIV. He was awarded fellowships from the Northwest Native American Research Centers for Health Fellowship, the American Sociological Association’s Minority Fellowship Program, and the Indigenous Substance Abuse, Medicines, Addictions Research and Training (ISMART) Program. With his experience and support, his current work examines the social and cultural determinants of HIV and substance use related risk behavior. Specifically, his dissertation examined the impact of multiple forms of discrimination on HIV risk among Native men that have sex with men. Through his fellowship with ISMART, Dr. Town continues to investigate social and cultural mechanisms that influence substance use among AIAN sexual minorities.

His research interests include HIV prevention, treatment, and care; substance use prevention; health disparities; medically vulnerable/underserved populations; American Indian and Alaska Native health; LGBT health; minority identity development; intersectionality; intervention development and evaluation; and community-based participatory research.

Cohort Two

Shanondora Billiot, PhD

Shanondora Billiot (United Houma Nation) is a fourth year doctoral student working on her qualifying exams at Washington University in St. Louis. She has most recently worked in Washington, D.C., as an international public health analyst for the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Global Health Affairs. Ms. Billiot holds an MSW from the University of Michigan (2007) and undergraduate degrees in Psychology and Sociology (2005) from Louisiana State University. She is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force and the Louisiana Air National Guard. She conducts research in the areas of community level trauma among AIAN communities due to environmental injustices and the engagement of tribal communities incommunity based participatory research as well as in designing and implementing culturally relevant environmental change strategies to promote community resilience.

Angela Fernandez, MSW

Angela Fernandez, MSW, LICSW, is originally from the Menominee Indian Reservation in northeastern Wisconsin. She completed her BSW at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and her MSW at the University of Washington. She served as a Youth Development Worker in the Children, Youth and Families Program during her two years of service in Peace Corps, Costa Rica, then returned to Wisconsin where she worked as a social worker and psychotherapist at a federally qualified community health center. While working in Wisconsin, she also served on boards and volunteered within the Latino and American Indian communities, as well as participated in two international social justice (South Africa) and Indigenous human rights (Colombia) delegations. She is a recipient of the McNair Fellowship and is currently a second-year doctoral student at the University of Washington School of Social Work.


Raven Ross

Raven Ross is a doctoral student at Washington University in St. Louis Brown School of Social Work. Born in Flagstaff, Arizona, Raven holds a B.S. in Sociology from Northern Arizona University and an MSW from the Brown School. She is interested in building management capacity within American Indian tribes, increasing health care access for youth and families in rural areas, and cultural awareness and advocacy within the judicial, health care, and legislative systems


Ciwang Teyra, MSW

Ciwang is an Indigenous Social Welfare PhD student and works with IWRI.

Cohort Three

Jessica Black

Jessica Black is Gwich’in Athabascan from the village of Fort Yukon, Alaska. She is currently a doctoral candidate at Washington University in St. Louis and also serves as an Assistant Professor/Special Projects Liaison for the UAF College of Rural and Community Development Vice Chancellor’s Office in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Jessica’s dissertation focuses on the intersection between tribal members’ participation in governance and its relationship to well-being, both at the individual and community level. Prior to returning to Washington University in St. Louis Jessica served as a Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks in the Department of Social Work. Part of her appointment included managing a State of Alaska Grant, which served rural Alaska students obtaining their social work degree through a cohort model. This experience, as well as her knowledge of existing political and social events occurring in her own home area led her to pursue a doctorate at Washington University in St. Louis.

Jessica is in the final phases of analyzing her dissertation data and will soon begin writing her dissertation. It is her plan to finish her doctorate by December 2015 and continue to work at UAF in the CRCD Vice Chancellor’s Office, as well as continue her work and collaboration with Alaska Native Communities to conduct community-driven research.

Emma Elliott

Emma Elliott

Emma Elliott is a doctoral candidate in the College of Education, Learning Sciences and Human Development program. Committed to practice, she is also pursuing a Master of Social Work. Her dissertation, “Embracing the Sacredness of Life: Understanding Suicide in a First Nations Community,” coordinates future selves literature with settler colonial theory in a study aimed at understanding the explanations and meanings of suicide in one Indigenous community. Her areas of research interest include: Indigenous adolescent suicide, adolescent development, life course narratives, and possible or future selves. Her work includes identifying traditional healing practices of Indigenous peoples and blending them with best social work practices in order to expand Indigenous possible futures, for self and for the collective.

Miigis Gonzalez pharm head shot

Migis Gonzalez

Miigis Gonzalez, MPH, is a member of the Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Ojibwe in Northern Wisconsin. After completing her B.A. from Dartmouth College in 2007, Gonzalez returned to the Midwest to work in community and youth development in the Urban Native population in the Twin Cities. The experience and connections she made in this work influenced her transition into the Public Health field. Her role in the community required that she motivate high school aged youth to complete their education. It was clear, although education was a goal of the families and community; students were searching for wellness, spirituality, and connection to identity.

In order to address community needs, Gonzalez decided to continue her education at the University of Minnesota in the Master’s in Public Health Program, Community Health Promotion. In this program, she was trained in community intervention and prevention program development, research methods, study design, evaluation and statistical analysis. Within this program, Gonzalez developed her research interests in topics including garden and culture-based nutrition, culture-based physical activity, health disparities in American Indian (AI) populations, and increasing AI representation in Public Health careers. Gonzalez continued her education towards a PhD in order to conduct research in Native communities. Currently, she is finishing up her coursework in Social Administrative Pharmacy where she has found considerable support to explore community and cultural opportunities to decrease substance use among AI youth. Outside of the University setting, she devotes much of her time to learning the Ojibwe language, participating in ceremonies and community events, and dancing in local powwows. Gonzalez hopes to return to her reservation to develop culturally meaningful and sustainable programs to improve health and wellness in AI communities.


Melissa Lewis

Dr. Melissa Lewis is an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota Medical School, Duluth in the Department of Biobehavioral Health & Population Sciences. She is also a research fellow at the Research for Indigenous Community Health (RICH) Center in Duluth, MN. Dr. Lewis received her PhD in Medical Family Therapy and is a licensed marriage and family therapist and an American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy approved supervisor. She is an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation, which informs her clinical and research values, goals, and interests. Clinically, she supervises medical and behavioral health students using an integrated care model (the integration of mental health into primary care) and social justice focus. Her research interests span 1) integrated care in both military and Indigenous populations, 2) examining the role of stress and trauma on cardiovascular disease in Indigenous populations, and 3) co-creating and evaluating interventions aimed to empower Indigenous families and communities by privileging Indigenous knowledge and practices.


Miriam Valvidinos

Miriam’s Bio

[/wptabcontent] [wptabtitle]Mentors[/wptabtitle] [wptabcontent]

Ramona Beltrán, PhD

Ramona Beltrán’s (Yaqui/Mexica) scholarship focuses on the intersections of historical trauma, embodiment, and environmental/social determinants of health as they affect health and risk behaviors in indigenous communities.

She is particularly interested in centering cultural protective factors, strengths and resiliencies in indigenous populations as they work to interrupt the intergenerational transmission of historical trauma. She uses decolonizing methodologies with an emphasis on qualitative methods that incorporate innovative geo-spatial, photographic technologies, and digital storytelling to support community-based research.

Beltrán believes narrative is both a powerful clinical practice and research method that helps individuals, families and communities articulate the conditions of their own existence, as well as solutions to their most pressing issues.

Drawing from more than 15 years of experience using arts, dance and movement, digital media, and narrative with Latino and indigenous communities, Beltrán is passionate about teaching and believes that social work classrooms can be uniquely transformative spaces in which students learn to bridge theory and practice through embodied and experiential learning. Whether in the classroom, in community-based research or through community activism, Beltrán believes that social work practice and scholarship have the capacity to mobilize in co-authoring new stories of healing and equity as we strive toward a
socially just society.

Ramona Beltrán, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Graduate School of Social Work
University of Denver


Tessa Evans-Campbell, PhD (Snohomish)

Associate Director, Indigenous Wellness Research Institute
Director, Center for Indigenous Child & Family Research

Curriculum Vitae (pdf)



Joseph P. Gone, PhD

Joseph P. Gone, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Department of Psychology
University of Michigan




Jane Simoni, PhD

My research interests lie primarily in clinical psychology in the context of global health. I study coping with trauma, chronic illness, and other stressful life events and am particularly interested in whether individuals from historically oppressed or stigmatized groups experience unique stressors or exhibit culturally specific coping processes. Much of my research, therefore, targets ethnic/racial minorities, women, gay men and lesbians, and persons living with HIV. The health disparities and unmet needs in the oppressed communities I study have motivated my efforts to develop and empirically test culturally relevant disease prevention and health promotion interventions. My research has included an RCT to evaluate the effectiveness of peer support and two-way pager messaging to enhance antiretroviral medication adherence among a population of HIV+ clinic patients in Seattle. In Beijing, China, we conducted a nurse-delivered HIV medication adherence intervention for HIV+ outpatients. On the US-Mexico Border, we adapted an intervention to treat depression as a way to improve medication adherence among HIV+ individuals. New work in Beijing will explore how online/nurse-facilitated/peer interventions can address the needs of newly diagnosed HIV-positive persons, including disclosing their HIV status to their children. With Karina Walters from the Indigenous Wellness Research Institute ( Social work, we have studied stress and coping among urban two-spirit Native Americans in six cities across the U.S. in a major study that employed both qualitative and quantitative methodologies. I am also collaborating with IWRI on a cardiovascular disease prevention study at the Tulalip Indian Reservation. I am actively involved in the Socio-behavioral and Prevention Research Core of the UW Center for AIDS Research as well. With my K24 award, I am focusing on mentoring both at the graduate and junior faculty level as well as developing my expertise in computer technologies for mental health interventions. Within the Department, I provide supervision in our clinic, employing a time-limited interpersonal process approach. I direct the practicum program and teach Minority Mental Health.

Jane M. Simoni, Ph.D.
Department of Psychology
University of Washington


Melissa L. Walls, PhD

Melissa L. Walls (Ph.D., Bois Forte and Couchiching First Nations Anishinabe) is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biobehavioral Health and Population Sciences at the University of Minnesota Medical School-Duluth. She is also a Co-Director of the Research for Indigenous Community Health (RICH) Center at UMN. Dr. Walls is a social scientist committed to collaborative research and has over a decade of experience working with tribal communities in the United States and Canada. Her involvement in community-based participatory research (CBPR) projects to date includes mental health epidemiology; culturally relevant, family-based substance use prevention and mental health promotion programming and evaluation; and examining the impact of stress and mental health on diabetes. Dr. Walls’ collaborative work has received funding from the National Institutes of Health and the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Assistant Professor
Department of Biobehavioral Health & Population Sciences
University of Minnesota Medical School-Duluth
Co-Director, Research for Indigenous Community Health (RICH) Center



Karina L. Walters, PhD (Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma)

Director, Indigenous Wellness Research Institute
Curriculum Vitae (pdf)



Nancy Rumbaugh Whitesell, PhD

Dr. Nancy Rumbaugh Whitesell, Associate Professor in the Centers for American Indian and Alaska Native Health at the Colorado School of Public Health, University of Colorado, focuses on child and adolescent development in American Indian communities and on using developmental science and community/university partnerships to improve outcomes for Native youth. Dr. Whitesell recently led a project funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and partnering with a tribal health administration to improve infrastructure for health-related research on a Northern Plains reservation. She is completing another NIDA-funded study of emergent substance use among young American Indian adolescents, and has recently begun an extension of that work (also funded by NIDA) to adapt an evidence-based early substance use prevention program for Native youth and families. Dr. Whitesell is Director of Research and Measurement for the Tribal Early Childhood Research Center (TRC, funded by the Administration for Children and Families); the TRC works with Tribal Head Start, Home Visitation, and Child Care grantees to support early childhood research within American Indian and Alaska Native communities and build local capacity for research to inform early childhood programs. Dr. Whitesell co-directs the Native Children’s Research Exchange (funded by the NIDA), which focuses on child and adolescent development within Native communities, shares research findings annually, develops collaborative relationships, and provides mentorship opportunities to junior Native researchers.



[/wptabcontent] [wptabtitle]Resources[/wptabtitle] [wptabcontent] [/wptabcontent] [/wptabs]
website security