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Jini Puma, Michelle Sarche, Betsy Risendal, and Ashley Brooks-Russell headshots

Faculty and Research Spotlight

minute read

Our Department of Community & Behavioral Health faculty research topics such as American Indian and Alaska Native health, skin cancer prevention, health education, mental health, obesity, maternal and child health, and community development, among others. Join our faculty for a quarterly event where we dive into their current research. Our next "Meet Your Faculty" event will take place on Thursday, February 11 from 11:30 am to 12:30 pm via Zoom. To join the event, please use this Zoom link.

This quarter, we are spotlighting Drs. Jini Puma, Michelle Sarche, Betsy Risendal, Sarah Stotz, and Ashley Brooks-Russell.

Jini Puma, PhD

Clinical Associate Professor

Dr. Puma's research areas include early childhood obesity prevention, refugee/immigrant health and well-being, adverse childhood experiences and community-based participatory research. This highlight features Dr. Puma’s obesity prevention research. Dr. Puma is the Principal Investigator of the Culture of Wellness in Preschools (COWP) program which is funded by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program–Education (SNAP-Ed) funding mechanism through the Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS). COWP is a comprehensive and collaborative early childhood obesity program, which aims to promote a “culture of wellness” in preschool settings by increasing fruit and vegetable consumption and physical activity levels. Since its inception, COWP has reached over 45,000 students, parents and teachers in approximately 150 low-income preschools and early childhood education centers in 14 Colorado counties.


Michelle Sarche, PhD

Associate Professor

Dr. Sarche is a clinical psychologist by training, and Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Ojibwe tribal citizen. Her work over the last 20 years has focused on partnerships with tribal communities to grow the field of early childhood research through research, training, and national leadership activities. Along with CU and other colleagues across the country, she leads the Tribal Early Childhood Research Center and the Native Children’s Research Exchange. Other projects include two efforts to reduce alcohol exposed pregnancies through culturally grounded and tailored approaches for Native populations. Drs. Michelle Sarche and Nancy Whitesell received an R13 conference grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse to support three gatherings of the Native Children’s Research Exchange (NCRE). NCRE is a national network of research, evaluation, and tribal community program partners who have gathered annually since 2008, and biennially since 2017.


Betsy Risendal, PhD

Associate Professor

The focus of Dr. Betsy Risendal research is to inform the development, implementation, and dissemination of interventions to improve the control of cancer and reduce cancer-related disparities. Over the last two decades, Dr. Risendal research has included large-scale epidemiologic investigations of quality of life, patterns of care, long-term treatment effects, and health-related behaviors in young adult cancer survivors as well survivors of breast and colon cancer. More recently, her activities have focused on implementing evidence-based approaches in prevention and control, ranging from community-based support programs for cancer survivors to multi-level interventions to increase the uptake and delivery of preventive cancer screenings. Dr. Risendal is currently leading a grant funded by the Lung Cancer Research Foundation to reduce disparities by increasing the uptake of preventive screening for lung cancer. 


Ashley Brooks-Russell, PhD

Assistant Professor

Dr. Brooks-Russell's research interests include adolescent health with a focus on preventing injury outcomes such as violence and suicide prevention. Dr. Brooks-Russell currently directs Healthy Kids Colorado Survey (HKCS) and Smart Source Survey. She is also funded by NIH to investigate cannabis impaired driving. As more states legalize medical and/or recreational cannabis use, there is a growing concern that there may be more impaired drivers on the road. Currently it is difficult to identify who is impaired from cannabis use, at the roadside, and in workplace settings. Dr. Brooks-Russell is studying how cannabis impacts who people drive and other signs of impairment. To do this, she observes participants in a driving simulator, pictured below, before and after they smoke cannabis. This research is designed to better detect cannabis impaired driving.