The University of Texas at Austin Latino Research Initiative


Deborah Parra-MedinaDeborah Parra-Medina | Director | Professor

Dr. Deborah Parra-Medina is the inaugural director of the Latino Research Institute and Professor in the Department of Mexican American and Latina/o Studies. Professor Parra-Medina has extensive expertise in developing culturally competent public health, chronic disease, and healthy lifestyle interventions with underserved communities, including women, Latinos, financially disadvantaged, and immigrant populations. She uses a mixed-methods, community-based participatory approach, often designing and implementing interventions that utilize the promotora model and involve multimedia, text messaging, and other technological communications. Dr. Parra-Medina comes to Austin from the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio’s Institute for Health Promotion Research (IHPR), where she was a professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics from 2008 to 2016. From 1998 to 2008, she served on the faculty of the University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Public Health. She received her Ph.D. in public health epidemiology from the University of California, San Diego/San Diego State University joint doctoral program and her master’s in public health in health promotion and education from San Diego State University.

Laura EsparzaLaura Esparza | Assistant Director

Laura Esparza is the Assistant Director of the Latino Research Institute. Ms. Esparza has more than twenty years of experience in business and project management, including ten years in public health research. Her research and training focus on using participatory research methods to design, implement and evaluate community interventions to promote healthy lifestyles for women, youth, and families. From 2009–16, Ms. Esparza served as project coordinator for multiple research studies at the Institute for Health Promotion Research (IHPR) at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. She also served in a leadership role for multiple community health initiatives on behalf of the IHPR and developed strategic partnerships to advance the IHPR’s research and training programs. Ms. Esparza holds an M.S. in health and kinesiology from The University of Texas at San Antonio and a B.A. in Latin American Studies from Trinity University in San Antonio. She maintains two professional certifications: Physical Activity and Public Health Specialist and Master Certified Health Education Specialist.

Daisy Morales-CamposDaisy Morales-Campos | Area Director for Training Programs | Research Assistant Professor

Dr. Daisy Y. Morales-Campos is a Research Assistant Professor at the Latino Research Institute. Her research interests include public health education, sexually transmitted infections and cancer prevention, and maintenance of behavior change among Hispanics. She is especially interested in health, culture and reproduction issues that immigrant women from Latin America and their children encounter in the U.S. She has extensive experience in the design and implementation of community-based participatory research, culturally appropriate research methods and protocols, cancer screening studies, and interventions for Hispanics utilizing a promotora model. Dr. Morales-Campos received a bachelor’s in Sociology and Spanish (2001) from St. Mary’s University, a master’s in Medical Anthropology (2004) from Southern Methodist University, and a doctorate in Health Promotion and Behavioral Sciences (2009) from the UT School of Public Health, Houston.

Ruben Parra-CardonaRuben Parra-Cardona | Area Director for Research | Professor

Dr. Parra-Cardona is an Associate Professor in the Steve Hicks School of Social Work and the Area Director for Research at the Latino Research Institute. Before coming to UT, he was at Michigan State University where he was an associate professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies, College of Social Science; and the associate director of the MSU Research Consortium on Gender-Based Violence. He was funded by NIMH to investigate the treatment efficacy and relevance of two versions of an evidence-based parenting intervention culturally adapted for Latino families with young children. He is currently funded by NIDA to extend this line of research to Latino families with adolescent children. He is the recipient of the 2013 American Family Therapy Academy Early Career Award for his innovative work on cultural adaptation research. He has a wealth of experience on research collaborations across the U.S.-Mexico border, and is currently vice-president of the Family Process Institute, a member of the board of directors of the Centro de Investigación Familiar (a leading family therapy institute in Mexico and in Latin America), and a clinical faculty member and researcher in the Instituto Regional de Estudios de la Familia (a leading family therapy institute in northern Mexico).

Research Team

Laura DelfausseLaura Delfausse | Health Educator

Laura Delfausse is the Health Educator for the Healthy Frio Project at The University of Texas at Austin. She has experience in community nutrition, medical nutrition therapy and clinical research. She holds a M.S. from Georgia State University in Atlanta, GA and a B.A. from Flagler College in St. Augustine, FL. Her graduate school research focused on childhood obesity and she just completed a dairy and blood pressure research project in the Kinesiology and Health Education Department at The University of Texas at Austin. Laura is a registered and licensed dietitian, and believes that a balanced lifestyle is the key to achieving lifelong health.

Vanessa ErrisurizVanessa Errisuriz | Research Associate

Vanessa Errisuriz is a Research Associate with the Latino Research Institute at The University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Errisuriz’s research focuses on using a socioecological-based approach to identify significant contributors to child obesity, rural health disparities, and program implementation. She has extensive training in the assessment of physical activity and dietary behaviors as well as a broad background in psychology, with knowledge to assess theoretically-related constructs associated with health behaviors and program implementation. Currently, Dr. Errisuriz serves as project coordinator for two, NIH-funded R01s entitled. “Healthy Frio: A Rural Partnership to Advance Latino Obesity Research” and “¡Miranos! Look at Us, We are Healthy”, both of which focus on providing theoretically-based, culturally competent health interventions to Latino families. She received her Ph.D. in Health Behavior and Health Education from The University of Texas at Austin, a M.A. in Health Psychology from Texas State University - San Marcos, and a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Texas at San Antonio.

Cristina Leal | Measurement Coordinator, Healthy Rural TX 

Christina Leal obtained her Bachelor's and Master's degree from The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. Her educational background is concentrated in direct practice with Latino individuals, families, and groups. Her interests are increasing mental health awareness and increasing knowledge of mental health resources to reduce the stigma associated with mental health in the Rio Grande Valley. She has experience in engaging, assessing, intervening, and evaluating individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities in social service agencies. She was formerly a Research Associate in the Entre Familia project which aims at increasing HPV vaccination among Hispanic adolescents and young adults.

Desiree Ledet | Senior Grants and Contracts Specialist

Desireé Ledet is a Senior Grants & Contracts Specialist at the Latino Research Institute at the University of Texas at Austin. She has more than ten years of experience in the advanced management of federal and charitable grants in the public and nonprofit sectors. She provides pre-award and post-award management for the LRI’s research team and Data Services Group. Desireé holds a Master’s in Public Affairs from the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at UT and dual B.A.s in International Studies and Spanish from Texas A&M University in College Station. She is also a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, specializing in community and environmental health in Northern Peru from 2005-2008. She is currently studying to become a Certified Research Administrator and aspires to become a Project Management Professional (PMP).

Marisol McDanielMarisol McDaniel | Postdoctoral Research Fellow

Marisol McDaniel is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow (T32) at the Steve Hicks School of Social Work at The University of Texas at Austin promoting equity in cardiovascular disease research. Her research interests include the built environment, water and food access, and health equity. She has experience with implementing and evaluating family healthy lifestyle interventions and managing eHealth applications, and is involved in several of the Latino Research Institute’s projects, including Health4Kids, ELCIR, and Healthy Frio. Dr. McDaniel graduated with a Dr.P.H. in Community Health Practice from the UT School of Public Health. She holds a M.P.H. degree from the UT School of Public Health and a B.A. from Rice University. She is interested in how the built environment and the perception of the built environment may lead to health disparities among ethnic minorities and ways to implement sustainable positive changes in the built environment through community-based participatory strategies.

Fran Peña| Administrative Program Coordinator
Jamie Turcios-VillaltaJamie Turcios-Villalta | Data Collection Coordinator, Healthy Rural TX

Jamie is a first-generation student who completed her undergraduate degree in Health and Society in December 2020. She was born in Canada and immigrated to the United States with her Salvadoran parents at the age of two. She is an immigration activist passionate about making higher education more accessible to undocumented students. Her research interests include understanding the connection between eating disorders and trauma among people of color, the undocumented movement, healing and identity, and identifying pathways linking racial discrimination and health outcomes. Her ultimate goal is to apply human-centered design framework to advance solutions to challenge today’s education and health inequities.

Alice VillatoroAlice Villatoro | Research Assistant Professor

Alice Villatoro is a Research Scientist at the Latino Research Institute at The University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Villatoro’s research centers on understanding the psychosocial, cultural, and attitudinal factors that influence racial/ethnic disparities in mental health care access and utilization. Her approach to this research is multidisciplinary in that it fuses theory-driven basic research common in health policy, psychology, and sociology with an applied population health orientation that is the hallmark of public health. As a result, Dr. Villatoro’s work identifies significant points of intervention for improving help-seeking behaviors among underserved populations and reducing disparities in mental health treatment. Dr. Villatoro has extensive experience with analyzing large epidemiologic data sets as well as running and managing longitudinal research studies. She received her Ph.D. in Health Services with a cognate in Sociology from the University of California, Los Angeles and completed her postdoctoral training in Psychiatric Epidemiology at Columbia University in the City of New York.

Student Interns and Research Assistants

Gema AlemanGema Aleman | Undergraduate Research Assistant 



Eva Gonzalez VillanuevaEva Gonzalez Villanueva | Graduate Research Assistant



Elsi HernandezElsí Hernandez | Graduate Research Assistant



Sophia Macias | Undergraduate Research Assistant


Claire MannersClaire Manners | Undergraduate Research Assistant



Rocio MorinRocio Morin | Undergraduate Research Assistant



Sofia OceguedaSofia Ocegueda | Graduate Research Assistant



Pablo PejlatowiczPablo Pejlatowicz | Graduate Research Assistant



Flavia ReinaFlavia Reina | Undergraduate Research Assistant


Melissa SantillanaMelissa Santillana | Graduate Research Assistant



Hilda TorresHilda Torres | Undergraduate Research Assistant