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Student Training

George Washington University students participate in research and academic activities within the Avance Center, located at the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University. Students receive mentoring from public health faculty and senior level staff while working on current Center projects. To learn more about our projects, visit Our Work.

If you would like more information on how to work directly with the Avance Center faculty members, please contact: or 202-994-3577.

Student Spotlights


Student Spotlight: Picturing Adelante with Gloriana Sojo

Student Spotlight: Enhancing Research Skills with Idalina Cubilla Batista

Student Spotlight: Tutoring Adelante Youth with Alejandro Bernal

Student Spotlight: Latina Leader Marisa Cordon

Student Spotlight: Social Media Advocacy with Allison Beltran

Student Spotlight: Learning Anything and Everything with Lexi Kierstead

Student Spotlight: Water Up! With Chiara Dell’Aira


Previous Avance Center Interns


Chiara Dell’Aira

Ms. Dell’Aira was an exchange student at GW who began interning for the Avance Center in August 2016. She continued working for the center beyond the duration of her exchange program, as a research assistant, and got involved with a variety of health communication activities at the Center.  She managed and monitored the social media campaign of the Water Up! Project to encourage consumption of water among Latino immigrants in Maryland; she created linguistically and culturally appropriate content and graphics to be shared on the social media platforms; she contributed to the development of six educational brochures in Spanish, and assisted in the creation of curricula to educate mothers about healthy beverage consumption. Her main interest revolves around nutrition among minorities, and she will graduate with a MSc in Global Health from the University of Copenhagen in summer 2017.


Lexi Kierstead

Ms. Kierstead began her work at the Avance Center in June of 2015 to assist with a number of aspects of the Adelante program, including contributing to the online resources and youth programming. She assisted in the planning of the Annual Latino Health Disparities Conference, as well as the communications efforts of the Avance Center’s current project to encourage healthy beverage consumption. Ms. Kierstead is interested in research surrounding the Positive Youth Development constructs which guide the Adelante program, as well as combating health disparities throughout society, specifically those leading to chronic illness. Ms. Kierstead will graduate from the George Washington University in 2018 and intends to pursue a career in the health fields.


Allison Beltran

Ms. Beltran joined the Center in June of 2014 to work on coordinating the First Annual Latino Health Disparities Conference. Following the conference, she began several projects including facilitating computer literacy workshops for Spanish speakers and developing a training course on evidence-based programs for local community organizations. Her research interests include environmental health and risk, health disparities, and the effects of immigration and forced migration on health. Ms. Beltran dedicates her volunteer time to promoting college achievement for underrepresented minorities and young Latinas. She graduated GW with a BA in Political Science and is currently pursing an MPH at GW with a concentration on Maternal and Child Health.


Marisa Cordón

Ms. Cordón began interning with the Avance Center during summer 2014 and continued to be involved in various aspects of their work until her graduation from GW. She assisted with the English to Spanish translation of program materials, including a nutrition education program, by creating cooking recipes in Spanish that were easy to understand for people with limited Spanish reading skills. She also helped with literature reviews for grants, contributed to publications, researched sponsors for the center’s annual Latino health conference, and spoke to youth participating in Adelante’s Leadership Program about pursuing higher education. She is interested in mental health and working with the Latino community. Ms. Cordon graduated from GW in December 2015 with a BA in Psychology and a Public Health minor.


Laura Schwartz

Ms. Schwartz studied medicine and biological anthropology in GW’s Honors Program. Ms. Schwartz spent summer 2013 interning on a smoking cessation study at Massachusetts General Hospital’s addiction center. She also worked at the Breastfeeding Center for Greater Washington. Her professional interests include medical anthropology, reproductive health, and LGBT health issues.


Student Projects


Laura Mlynarski, MPhil, MSW

Ms. Mlynarski began collaborating with the Avance Center in 2014 when she worked with doctoral candidate, Idalina Cubilla Batista, in developing a research proposal evaluating the impact of intergenerational acculturation gaps. Ms. Mlynarski is exploring the impact of dissonant acculturation between parents and youth and the impact that this creates on family connection and youth depression. Ms. Mlynarski received her BA in Psychology and Spanish from Bucknell University and her MSW from Columbia University. She worked as a psychotherapist at The Child Center of NY in NYC serving youth from Central and South America before returning to graduate school. Laura specializes in internalizing disorders in children and adolescents (depression, anxiety and trauma) and acculturation processes and intergenerational acculturation gaps. Laura is in her last year of her PhD program in Clinical Psychology at the George Washington University.


Ryan Snead, MPH

Ryan began his time with the Avance Center during the summer of 2014 as a Research Assistant. His duties included cohort data collection and management, evaluation of process data, development of questionnaires, performing data cleaning and analysis, and the coordination of Adelante programs. For his practicum, Ryan held focus groups with Langley Park, MD youth to understand the different forms of violence experienced in the community. His culminating experience for the Masters program included an investigation into the variations of acculturative stress between Latin American country of origin, and subsequently, how neighborhood homogeneity modified this effect. Ryan received his MPH  in 2016 and has interests in health disparities and social epidemiology.


Robert Durr, MS, MPH

Robert Durr has a Bachelor of Science with a focus on biology, and a Master of Science with a focus on Medical Sciences. He received his MPH in epidemiology from GW in May 2016. His research interests include infectious diseases, chronic diseases, and health disparities that effect minority and underrepresented populations. His CE focus was to determine whether acculturative stress and depression affect risk behaviors in Latino immigrant young adults. Using study data of young adults who were surveyed in the Langley Park, MD and Culmore, VA study communities between 2012 and 2014, he found both acculturative stress and depression were positive predictors of violence and substance use negative risk behaviors. Only parental support was found to lower odds of negative risk behaviors, and namely violence. He chose to work with the Avance Center because they work with a minority population who has become the second largest group of people in the U.S. over the last two decades. Latino immigrants still endure a great deal of stigma and hardship with trying to adapt to a new culture and country they now call home, and the Avance Center works with these people to understand their barriers and help them transition to a new country.


Leslie Prado, MPH, PA

Leslie Prado received a joint Physician Assistant/Master of Public Health degree from GWU in May 2016. Ms. Prado was born in Peru and migrated to the United States when she was 7. She worked with the Avance Center for her CE, which looked at Latino youth violence among adolescents. She used bivariate and multivariate regression analyses to evaluate the relationships between acculturation (including preference for language, media utilization, and ethnic social relations) and violence among immigrant youth based on length of residence in the U.S and country of origin. The result of her study showed that immigrant youth who reported preference for English language and English media had an increase of violent outcomes such as fighting, feeling unsafe, and being victimized. Increased preference for Spanish social relations was protective against pro-violent attitudes. There were no interactions between acculturation and country-of-origin on violent outcomes. This analysis shows that higher level of acculturation is positively associated with youth violence. It brings awareness on stressors that youth face and influences that can increase youth violence among ethnic minorities and immigrants. Ms. Prado’s interests include pediatric and emergency medicine. She hopes to use her public health skills to contribute to research and address health disparities.


Allison Elkins, MPH

Ms. Elkins completed a secondary qualitative data analysis for the Avance Center’s Water Up! project as part of her Culminating Experience in 2015-16. She coded and analyzed focus group discussion data on concept testing of branding materials, including logos and promotional posters. The results were used to inform a communication-based campaign for increasing drinking water consumption among Latino immigrant youth in Langley Park, Maryland. Ms. Elkins completed her MPH in Global Health Communication at GW in May 2016. She has always had a passion for public service and Latin American language and culture, with experience as a rural health Peace Corps Volunteer in Guatemala and a case manager with homeless and runaway youth at the Latin American Youth Center in Washington, DC. She will continue her work in health disparities and access within the Latin American region and worldwide.


Nicole Barrett

Ms. Barrett joined the Avance Center as a Senior Research Assistant in 2015, supporting the Center’s Community Engagement and Outreach Core. For her Culminating Experience, Nicole conducted secondary qualitative data analysis for Water Up!, an initiative that promotes drinking water among Latinos in order to reduce the risks of obesity and diabetes. She coded and analyzed focus group discussion data on water access and availability, barriers and facilitators to drinking water, and promotional slogans, brand names, and ad concepts that would encourage Latino immigrant youth to drink water. Results were used to inform a communications campaign in Langley Park, MD. Ms. Barrett is pursuing her MPH in Global Health Communication and will graduate from GW in 2017. Nicole’s research interests include health disparities and social marketing and behavior change.


Molly Gribbin, MPH

Ms. Gribbin began interning for the Avance Center in 2014 where she assisted with data collection and data management with Adelante partner, Maryland Multicultural Youth Center. In addition to developing processes to organize and maintain the process data she assisted the Adelante investigators in developing a measure of exposure to the Positive Youth Development constructs. As part of her culminating experience she validated this measure of exposure using the data from the first Adelante cohort.  Ms. Gribbin graduated with her MPH in Epidemiology and has research interests in health disparities. Ms. Gribbin has always been interested in health disparities having achieved a Bachelor of Science in public health and previously worked on community health projects in Thailand and Panama.


Will Seymour, MPH

Will Seymour researched curriculum-based Positive Youth Development sports programs as a foundation for what became a youth soccer league with Adelante partner, Maryland Multicultural Youth Center. Mr. Seymour graduated with his MPH in Epidemiology and has previous experience in mental health and community services. He worked at Mon Yough Community Services (MYCS) in McKeesport, PA where he was a mental health counselor in a Comprehensive Mental Health Personal Care Home (CMHPCH). Mr. Seymour’s interest in this project came from his work experience, psychology bachelor’s degree, and running track & field and cross country for Washington & Jefferson College.


Paige Kulie, MPH

Ms. Kulie worked with the Center’s Research Core on the Resource Mapping project for her Culminating Experience. She graduated with a Masters of Public Health in Epidemiology in May 2014. Ms. Kulie received her BS in Community Health at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. After she graduated, she was an AmeriCorps member serving at the Evanston (a suburb of Chicago) Health Department, where she piloted a health ministry with houses of worship, worked on a tobacco-free grant in collaboration with the state quitline, and assisted with a women’s physical fitness program. She is interested in how neighborhood dynamics and the environment a person lives in can affect health. She believes that mapping this information completes an important piece of the puzzle that public health professionals need to implement successful interventions.


Gloriana Sojo, MA Geography

Ms. Sojo studied international development, and mass communication and journalism at The George Washington University. As a Costa Rican, she has both a personal and academic interest in Latino immigration. She has worked with immigrant populations since 2008 when she co-founded a tutoring center in a Nicaraguan immigrant settlement in Costa Rica. She conducted research on Latin American immigration throughout her time at GW. She was a finalist for the Eckles Prize for Freshman Research Excellence for a paper about the limitations of discourse on Latin American immigration in the United States. Ms. Sojo continued her study of migration and border regions under the aegis of the Elliott School Undergraduate Scholars Research Program and the GW Undergraduate Research Award. She also assisted GW faculty with projects studying immigrant inclusion, Indian and Asian entrepreneurs, and Ethiopian immigrants in the Washington metropolitan area. In addition, she worked with the Avance Center to launch a community garden in Langley Park. Watch a video of the project here. She completed her MA in Geography at GW in 2016.


Rebekah Elstad, MS 

Ms. Elstad worked on the Center’s Research Core Resource Mapping project for her Practicum. She has a Masters of Science in Biostatistics. Ms. Elstad received her undergraduate degree in Mathematics and Computer Science, with a minor in Spanish, at the University of Virginia. Prior to pursuing graduate studies, Ms. Elstad spent 5 years working in the GIS field and she has been a volunteer EMT for Sterling Volunteer Rescue Squad for 10 years. She decided to choose the Center as her Practicum because she felt it was a perfect fit given her experiences, and it interested her to see how GIS could be used in a practical public health setting to make a difference.