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Public Health Faculty

The online Public Health program’s diverse practitioner faculty bring years of professional experience with them to the classroom. As leading experts in applied public health, they are committed to using real-world experiences and examples to help students put theory into practice.

They also welcome students to work alongside them on cutting-edge research projects in areas like:

  • Access to Care
  • Community-Based Interventions
  • Drug Use
  • Health Indicators
  • Healthcare Disparities
  • Health Needs Assessment
  • Health Literacy
  • HIV/STD Prevention
  • Physician Practice Patterns
  • Prevention
  • Health Service Utilization Patterns
  • Community-Based Participatory Research
  • Social Psychology of Women: Gender Differences
  • Cognitive Factors that Affect Success with Health Behavior Change
  • Child Health Disparities
  • Violence Prevention
  • Adolescent Health
  • Substance Abuse
  • Health Communication
  • Physical Activity Across the Lifespan
  • Quantitative Methods
  • Qualitative Research Instruction

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Faculty Bios

Sonia Alemagno

Sonia Alemagno, Ph.D.

Dean, College of Public Health; Professor - Health Policy & Management
Department of Public Health
Master of Public Health

Dr. Alemagno joined Kent State University after having spent the past 10 years at the University of Akron. Her most recent roles at the University of Akron were as director of the Institute for Health and Social Policy and chair of the Department of Public Administration and Urban Studies. Dr. Alemagno received the University of Akron Outstanding Researcher Award in 2005. Dr. Alemagno has focused her research on substance abuse and HIV/STD prevention, particularly examining public health services delivered within criminal justice settings such as prisons and detention centers. As principal investigator, she has been awarded more than $5 million in funded research from agencies that include the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the National Institute on Justice, the Centers for Disease Control and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.


PhD, Medical Sociology, Case Western Reserve University, 1991
MA, Sociology, Kent State University, 1984

Tina D. Bhargava

Tina D. Bhargava, DrPH

Associate Professor – Social and Behavioral Sciences

Dr. Bhargava is a Kent native, and after eight years in California and six in Pittsburgh, PA, she is glad to be back in Kent and at the College of Public Health at Kent State University. She joined the Kent State College of Public Health faculty in 2012 and currently serves as the undergraduate studies coordinator for the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, including the new undergraduate concentration in community-based public health. Dr. Bhargava coordinates and teaches the undergraduate Strategies for Prevention, Health Disparities and Capstone Experience courses. Her dissertation, completed at the University of Pittsburgh, focused on cognitive interference in response to weight loss stimuli in individuals in structured weight loss programs.


DrPH, Behavioral and Community Health Sciences, University of Pittsburgh, 2012
MA, Curriculum Studies & Teacher Education, Stanford University, 2003
BA, Human Biology, Stanford University, 1999

Sheryl L. Chatfield

Sheryl L. Chatfield, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor – Social and Behavioral Sciences

Dr. Chatfield joined the social and behavioral sciences faculty at Kent State University in 2015. She previously held faculty positions at the University of South Alabama and the University of Southern Mississippi. Dr. Chatfield’s focus is on development, implementation and evaluation of interventions and programs directed toward acquisition and maintenance of health-promoting behavior practices. Her work is influenced by social cognitive theory, in particular the mechanisms related to self-regulation. Dr. Chatfield’s research methods include qualitative methodologies, multivariate and multilevel statistical models, and mixed and multiple methods designs. Her current favorite data analysis software programs include R, Dedoose, and Quirkos. Dr. Chatfield has specialist training in recreational therapy and holds a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist (CTRS) certification. She also earned a graduate certificate in qualitative research methods from Nova Southeastern University.


Ph.D., Health and Kinesiology, University of Mississippi, 2014
MS, Recreation, University of Southern Mississippi, 2008
BA, Communication, The Ohio State University, 1986

Abbey Eng

Abbey Eng, Ph.D.

Associate Professor - Department of Biostatistics, Environmental Health, and Epidemiology
Master of Public Health

Dr. Abbey Eng is an Associate Professor in the Department of Biostatistics, Environmental Health, and Epidemiology. Before coming to the College of Public Health, she spent six years as the primary data analyst on multiple federally and locally funded program evaluations involving a variety of mental health, substance abuse, and juvenile justice programs in the Cleveland area. She also spent three years working as the project coordinator for an NIH-funded longitudinal survey research project examining adolescents’ relationships with parents, peers, and romantic partners, as well as their HIV risk-taking behaviors. She teaches introductory biostatistics at both the undergraduate and graduate level. She is interested in mental health issues involving adolescents and their families, and has worked on a number of research projects involving school-based prevention programs, as well as community-based prevention and treatment programs for both adolescents and adults. She enjoys helping others learn strong research methodology, with a focus on data analysis.

Jeff Hallam

Jeff Hallam, Ph.D, FRSPH

Associate Dean and Professor - Social & Behavioral Sciences
College of Public Health
Master of Public Health

Dr. Jeff Hallam is the interim associate dean for research in the College of Public Health at Kent State University and professor in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences. He came to the College of Public Health in July 2013. Prior to his position at Kent State University, Dr. Hallam was professor and director of the Center for Health Behavior Research at The University of Mississippi. He has held faculty positions at Baylor University and The Ohio State University.

Dr. Hallam's research focuses on the construct validation of health behavior interventions, specifically physical activity behavior. He also conducts community-based participatory research and examines how the built environment and policy influence physical activity. Dr. Hallam has received funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Active Living Research, U.S. Department of Education, NCAA, Anheuser-Busch, National Center for Safe Routes to School, Mississippi Department of Transportation, the Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi and the James C. Kennedy Foundation.

He has extensive experience in developing and testing tools to measure theoretical variables. He currently serves on the board of the Akron Division of the American Heart Association. Dr. Hallam is an elected member of the Executive Board of the American Public Health Association and the immediate Past-President of the American Academy of Health Behavior.


Ph.D., Health Promotion & Education, The Ohio State University, 1995
M.A., Sport Management, emphasis in Fitness Management, The Ohio State University, 1991
B.S., Recreation Education, The Ohio State University, 1988

John Hoornbeek

John Hoornbeek, Ph.D.

Associate Professor
College of Public Health
Master of Public Health

John Hoornbeek joined the faculty of the College of Public Health in 2011, after serving as a Center Director and faculty member in Kent State University’s Political Science Department since 2006. Dr. Hoornbeek has worked on environmental, water, and public health issues at the federal, state, and local levels of government for more than a quarter century. His experiences have included appointments with the Wisconsin State Legislature, the Milwaukee County Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Congress, and the National Environmental Services Center at West Virginia University. His research interests are in environmental policy and regulation, inter-governmental relations, and public management. His recent work has focused on water pollution policy, collaborative inter-governmental relations, and alternative management strategies for health services administration. He has authored multiple publications in peer-reviewed outlets and produced professional research products for a variety of public and non-profit sector organizations. Dr. Hoornbeek has served as a Principal Investigator or Co-Principal Investigator on more than $3.5 million in externally funded projects over the last decade.


Ph.D., Political Science, University of Pittsburgh, 2004
M.A., Public Policy and Administration, University of Wisconsin – Madison, 1986
B.A., Liberal Arts, Beloit College, 1981

Eric Jefferis

Eric Jefferis, Ph.D.

Vice Chair, Graduate Program Coordinator, and Associate Professor – Social and Behavioral Sciences

Dr. Jefferis is one of the founding faculty of the College of Public Health. Currently he is an associate professor, the graduate program coordinator and the vice chair of the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences. He came to Kent State University in 2002 as a research fellow at the Institute for the Study and Prevention of Violence, and he previously taught in the Justice Studies Department. Prior to coming to Kent State, Dr. Jefferis was a social scientist for the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Institute of Justice.


Ph.D., Criminology and Policing, University of Cincinnati, 2004
MA, Criminal Justice, Radford University, 1993
BA, Administration of Justice Department, Pennsylvania State University, 1990

Deric R. Kenne

Deric R. Kenne, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor - Health Policy and Management
College of Public Health
Master of Public Health

Deric R. Kenne, PhD has over 15 years of experience as a researcher and practitioner in the field of substance abuse in both academic and nonprofit settings. He has helped secure over $7.6 million in state and federally-funded research and service grants and has authored or co-authored numerous articles on the topic of substance abuse. His teaching experience includes graduate and undergraduate courses in general psychology, program evaluation, behavioral statistics, drug abuse and policymaking. He has interests in adult and adolescent substance abuse prevention and treatment, community-based interventions, integrated care, policy and evaluation. His current research activities include studies examining the impact of prenatal opiate exposure on neurodevelopment in young children, barriers to treatment and health services access among opiate-using pregnant women, substance use and risk behavior among adolescents and college students, integrated care, and electronic cigarette use, awareness, and perception of harm.


Ph.D., Public Administration, The University of Akron, 2010
M.S., Psychology, Mississippi State University, 1998

Kristina Knight

Kristina Knight, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor – Social and Behavioral Sciences

Dr. Knight has more than 15 years of experience in the field of public health, having worked in academic, community-based and governmental sectors. Most recently, she was the director of community initiatives and assistant program director for the MPH program at Case Western Reserve University, where she also held an adjunct faculty appointment in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics.

Dr. Knight has served as a lead trainer for the Cuyahoga County Youth Work Institute and the national training cadre of National Health Promotion Associates, where she has provided training and technical assistance to national prevention and youth development organizations.

Prior to this, she worked as a project director in a local health department to support the development, implementation and evaluation of community-based substance use prevention programming. Her teaching and research interests include community-based and participatory approaches, social determinants and health disparities, health and learning, adolescent health and youth development.


Ph.D., Health Education and Promotion, Kent State University, 2014
MPH, Public Health Policy & Management, Case Western Reserve University, 2003
BS, Biology, University of Toledo, 2000

Bethany Lanese

Bethany Lanese

Assistant Professor
College of Public Health
Master of Public Health

Bethany Lanese, PhD, is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management. Dr. Lanese is the coordinator for the Online MPH Program, as well as teaches courses in the MPH and BSPH programs. Dr. Lanese has taught both graduate and undergraduate courses in Public Health, Public Administration, and Healthcare Management. She has also taught public policy, state and local politics, organizational behavior, public personnel, human resource management, public budgeting, and American government. Dr. Lanese worked for almost five years at a non-profit community hospital in healthcare management as the Co-Management Administrator/ Coordinator of Special Projects. She also held appointments at Cleveland State University and Eastern Michigan University.


PhD, Political Science, Wayne State University
Graduate Certificate, Healthcare Administration, University of Akron College of Business

Peter Leahy

Peter Leahy

Professor — Health Policy and Management

Peter J. Leahy holds a Ph.D. in social science from Syracuse University. Leahy has previously held tenure-track appointments at Texas Christian University, Southern Methodist University and The University of Akron. Leahy retired as senior research associate from the Institute for Health and Social Policy at The University of Akron in 2013. He returned to academia at the Kent State University College of Public Health in 2016 as a professor of Health Policy and Management, with an appointment in the Center for Public Policy and Health, where he is currently managing several evaluation projects. Leahy's area of academic specialization is program planning and evaluation, especially program evaluation in human service organizations.

Leahy has published over 46 refereed articles and book chapters. He is also the author of numerous evaluation reports and monographs. He has presented evaluation workshops at the state and local levels, and has conducted workshops on program evaluation in Hungary and Russia through a grant from the United States Information Agency. He has worked with a wide range of evaluation sponsors in the area of the social determinants of health, and has also conducted strategic planning and needs assessment efforts for health partners.

Ken Slenkovich

Ken Slenkovich, M.A.

MPH Online Coordinator - College of Public Health
College of Public Health
Master of Public Health

Ken Slenkovich is the MPH Online Coordinator of Kent State University’s College of Public Health and a member of the faculty in the department of health policy and management. Mr. Slenkovich has over 25 years of professional experience including serving as the William C. and Elizabeth M. Treuhaft Chair in Health Planning at the Center for Community Solutions, a Cleveland-based nonprofit policy think-tank. He was the founding Program Director for the Ohio Tobacco Prevention Foundation and oversaw the State of Ohio’s tobacco prevention and cessation programs. He has also served as the Local Health Department Liaison for the Ohio Department of Health, and Director of Policy & Planning for the Cuyahoga County Board of Health. He holds a master’s degree in Cross-Cultural Studies, and received his graduate training from the University of Florida, Fuller Theological Seminary, and Case Western Reserve University. His undergraduate studies were done at the University of Colorado. Mr. Slenkovich is a sought after consultant with extensive experience facilitating strategic planning processes and conducting community needs assessments for non-profit organizations and governmental agencies. Examples of organizations he has consulted with include Ohio Department of Health, Summit County Health Department, Mahoning County Health Department, Union County Health Department, Summa Health System, Akron General Health System, and Coalition for Hispanic Issues and Progress (Lorain County, OH). Mr. Slenkovich teaches graduate courses in health policy and program management in the College of Public Health.


Tara C. Smith, Ph.D.

Professor - Epidemiology
College of Public Health
MS in Clinical Epidemiology

Dr. Smith joined the faculty of Kent State University College of Public Health in August 2013. An Ohio native, she previously spent nine years in the Department of Epidemiology at the University of Iowa College of Public Health, where she directed the College’s Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases and attained the rank of Associate Professor with tenure. She completed postdoctoral training in molecular epidemiology at the University of Michigan prior to beginning her professorship at the University of Iowa. She obtained her Ph.D. at the University of Toledo and her BS in Biology from Yale University.

Dr. Smith’s research generally focuses on zoonotic infections (infections which are transferred between animals and humans). She was the first to identify livestock-associated strains of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in the United States, and has pioneered the investigation of this organism in the U.S. Dr. Smith has published over 80 peer-reviewed papers and book chapters. (Full publication list can be found at Google Scholar; a full CV including presentations can be found here. She has received over $3 million in funding from AHRQ, USDA, and NIOSH to carry out these studies. She has presented her research at numerous national and international platforms, including talks on Capitol Hill on the topic of agriculture and antibiotic resistance. Her work has been profiled in many major publications, including Science, Nature, and The New York Times, as well as in "Superbug: the Fatal Menace of MRSA" by Maryn McKenna and "Pig Tales: an Omnivore's Quest for Sustainable Meat" by Barry Estabrook.

Dr. Smith is also very active in science communication and outreach. She has maintained a science blog since 2005, and has written books on Group A Streptococcus, Group B Streptococcus, and Ebola. A second book on Ebola, "Ebola's Message," was published by MIT Press in 2016. She also writes about infectious disease for several national sites, pens a column for, and serves as a member of the advisory board of the Zombie Research Society. She lives in rural Ohio with her partner and her three children.


Ph.D., Microbiology, University of Toledo, 2002
BS, Biology, Yale University, 1998

Mary M. Step

Mary M. Step, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor – Social and Behavioral Sciences

Dr. Step received her undergraduate and graduate training in communication studies and has taught public speaking, interpersonal communication, nonverbal communication, persuasion and media effects. She is a trained group facilitator and was recently certified as an Executive Coach through the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University. Dr. Step also completed a NCI-sponsored postdoctoral fellowship in cancer prevention and control at the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center. Her research reflects various clinical communication processes, including breast cancer decision-making, prognosis discussion, cancer prevention in primary care, tobacco dependency and cessation, HIV support and health related social media. She has secured over $4 million in funding as a primary or co-investigator of independently sponsored projects. She currently serves as a member of the Planning & Oversight committee of Cuyahoga County Alcoholism, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board.


Ph.D., Communication Studies, Kent State University, 1998
MACT, Communication Studies, Cleveland State University, 1992
BA, Communication Studies, Cleveland State University, 1990

Peggy Stephens

Peggy Stephens, Ph.D.

Professor - Social & Behavioral Sciences
College of Public Health
Master of Public Health

Dr. Stephens (Tonkin) joined the Kent State University faculty in 2012 as a non-tenure track instructor, after thirteen years as a researcher and faculty member at the University of Akron. Her area of expertise is in substance abuse prevention and treatment. Her research agenda has focused on quantitative methodological approaches and the application of social theories to examine the health and social problems associated with substance abuse and risky behaviors. She has been involved in several large, multi-site evaluations of drug abuse prevention and treatment programs and has been awarded more than $250,000 in extramural funding in these areas. Dr. Stephens is an author of more than 18 peer reviewed articles.


Ph.D., Sociology (Social Psychology), University of Akron, 1999
M.A., Sociology, University of Akron, 1997

Jonathan VanGeest

Jonathan VanGeest, Ph.D.

Professor and Faculty Graduate Coordinator - Health Policy and Management and Social and Behavioral Sciences
College of Public Health
Master of Public Health

Dr. Jonathan VanGeest is Professor and Chair of the Department of Health Policy and Management in the College of Public Health at Kent State University. Prior to his arrival at Kent State, Dr. VanGeest served as a Department Chair in the School of Community Health and Policy at Morgan State University, where he also directed the university’s Center for Health Informatics, Planning and Policy. He also has previous experience working as a Senior Scientist and Program Director in Science, Quality and Public Health at the American Medical Association (AMA) and as a Scientist in the AMA’s Institute for Ethics, an academic research and training center uniquely situated within the nation’s largest medical professional association.

Dr. VanGeest’s research focuses on racial and ethnic disparities in health care, limited health literacy, and care outcomes associated with structural changes in medicine. He also has extensive experience in survey research methodology and program evaluation. Dr. VanGeest has published in leading health and policy journals and co-edited one of the first textbooks on limited health literacy. He is an Associate Editor for BMC Medical Research Methodology and he is on the Editorial Boards for Evaluation and the Health Professions (EHP), a quarterly journal providing a forum for health professionals interested in health evaluation research and practices, and the Journal of Substance Abuse and Alcoholism. A guest-edited special issue of EHP on surveying clinicians was published in September 2013. Dr. VanGeest has served on numerous state and national committees, including the Institute of Medicine’s Liaison Panel on Assuring the Health of the Public in the 21st Century and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Panel to Evaluate U.S. Standard Certificates and Reports. He currently serves as a Section Councilor for the Medical Care Section of the American Public Health Association.


Ph.D., Medical Sociology, University of Illinois at Chicago 1998
M.A., Sociology – Urban Studies (Dual Degrees), Michigan State University, 1991
B.S., Sociology, Michigan State University, 1988

Ken Zakariasen

Ken Zakariasen, Ph.D., DDS, M.S., M.S. (ODA)

Professor - Health Policy and Management
Master of Public Health

Dr. Ken Zakariasen is a Professor in the College of Public Health at Kent State University. He is the Director of the Health Policy and Management MPH Program (Concentration in Leadership and Organizational Change) at the new Twinsburg Regional Academic Center. Dr. Zakariasen has served as an academic in six universities, including 13 years as a Dean of colleges of dentistry and health professions. Dr. Zakariasen’s academic and consulting work is in the area of leadership and organization development, particularly in healthcare and universities. He focuses on innovative whole systems approaches to organizational change, and leadership and leadership team development. He currently has funding from Health Canada First Nations and Inuit Health Branch for developing the use of virtual communities of practice to connect reserve healthcare workers and leaders in widely dispersed communities for professional development, problem solving, idea exchange, etc. He also recently completed a Worldwide Universities Network-funded project with colleagues from the University of Leeds and the University of Wisconsin looking at the development of future public health leaders who can function effectively at the highest levels of multi-sectoral collaboration for public health improvement. When not enthusing about the wonders of the “human equation”, Dr. Zakariasen can be found totally captivated by his little granddaughter Lily, swimming or covering long distances on his favorite motorcycles.


B.A., DDS, M.S., and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Minnesota
Advanced Management Program Certificate, Harvard Business School
M.S. in Organization Development and Analysis and the Certificate in Developing Leadership through Emotional Intelligence, Case Western Reserve University


Melissa Zullo, Ph.D., MPH

Associate Professor - Epidemiology
College of Public Health
MS in Clinical Epidemiology

Dr. Zullo joined the faculty of Kent State University as part of the new College of Public Health in August 2009. Since joining the faculty, Zullo has been awarded RO3 funding from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, was a co-investigator on a successful grant with SUMMA Health Systems, and has received grant funding from the Initiative for Clinical and Translational Research. She has multiple peer-reviewed articles and has presented at numerous conferences at both the national and regional level. Her research on metabolic syndrome management was presented the Beginning Investigator Award from the Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation. Zullo's research is related to cardiovascular disease, obesity, disability and illness burden, and quality improvement.


Ph.D., Epidemiology, Case Western Reserve University, 2009
MPH, Kent State University/Northeastern Ohio University College of Medicine, 2003
MA, Exercise Physiology, Kent State University, 1998 Intelligence, Case Western Reserve University
BA, Psychology, Kent State University, 1994
BA, Sociology, Kent State University, 1994

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