Project Team

Project Director: Melissa Fuster, PhD

Dr. Melissa Fuster, Associate Professor at Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, is a Puerto Rican scholar, writer, and researcher. She completed her PhD in Food Policy and Applied Nutrition at Tufts University (Boston, MA). She then moved to New York City as a New York University Provost Fellow in Food Studies, where she began a new study to examine the sociocultural and historical influences on culinary and nutritional outcomes in the Hispanic Caribbean region and its diaspora communities, which she continued as a faculty at the City University of New York, before moving to New Orleans. This research forms the basis of her forthcoming book, Caribeños at the Table: How Migration, Health, and Race Intersect in New York City (UNC Press), which has been the driving force behind the LARiA Project. The project is funded through a prestigious award from the National Institutes of Health, focused on innovation and out-of-the box approaches to improve community health through food environments.
Website |Faculty Profile | Twitter |LinkedIn

Project Team

Cara Conaboy, Assistant Research Coordinator Cara is an undergraduate student at Brooklyn College, studying nutrition. She has ten years of experience as a professional chef and is extremely passionate about food. She hopes to utilize her experience to work toward promoting food justice, accessibility, nutrition education and community health. Her work with LARiA beyond research coordination includes restaurant outreach, head communication with our restaurant partners in NYC, data analysis, systems design strategy and social media management. LinkedIn

Emily Dimond, Research Assistant Emily is an MPH in Nutrition student at Tulane University and holds a B.S. in Nutrition from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Her previous roles as both a server for over 10 years, and a Community Health Educator in Paraguay and rural communities of Central California fueled her interest in the relationship between food, culture, community health, and food environments. She looks forward to supporting the LARiA team and Latin American restaurant partners in exploring creative methods for making healthy menu options the desirable choice. LinkedIn

Shelby Hipol, Research and Design Consultant Shelby is a full-time graphic designer and part-time graduate student in NYU’s Food Studies program. In both school and work, she is interested in strategic, collaborative design solutions that center ethics, sustainability and systems thinking. Alongside the rest of the LARiA team, Shelby has used her brand strategy and agency experience to help synthesize research insights into actionable initiatives that fulfill both the project goals and the restaurant partners’ business needs. Food Studies | Design + Advertising

Experts and Collaborators:

  • Terry T-K Huang, PhD, MPH, MBA, Professor of Health Policy and Management and Director of the Center for Systems and Community Design at the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy.
  • Krishnendu Ray, PhD, Associate Professor and Department Chair, Food Studies, New York University, and author of The Ethnic Restaurateur, and other titles.
  • Lourdes Castro, MS RDN, Director NYU Food Lab, NYU Department of Nutrition & Food Studies, Food and Nutrition Consultant, author of Cuba Cooks, and other titles.
  • Rosa Abreu-Runkel, Assistant Professor, Hospitality Management, at the New York City College of Technology, author of Vanilla: A Global History.
  • Uriyoan Colon-Ramos, ScD, MPA, Associate Professor, Global Health at George Washington University
  • Margaret Handley, PhD, MPH, Professor of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, School of Medicine, University of California San Francisco.
  • Brian Elbel, MPH, PhD, Professor, Department of Population Health and Department of Medicine, New York University Grossman School of Medicine.
  • Nasim Sabounchi, PhD, Research Associate Professor, CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy.
  • David Loundsbury, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Epidemiology & Population Health (Health Behavior Research & Implementation Science) and Department of Family and Social Medicine

Past Team Members

Michelle Rodriguez, Research Coordinator
Michelle is currently pursuing a Master of Science in Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences at the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health & Health Policy. While completing her undergraduate degree in Biochemistry, she completed a two year research program at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. This motivated to pursue a career in public health that allowed her to combine her passions of research and outreach. With 5 years of research and outreach experience, she hopes to continue to work with the Latinx/Hispanic and minority communities to improve health literacy and health outcomes.

Tamara Alam, Research Assistant
Tamara is currently pursuing master’s degree in nutrition at Brooklyn College. Prior research experience consisted of laboratory work within biochemistry. During Spring 2020, she assisted in the Scoping review portion of this project where various healthy strategies that were being applied in restaurants were identified along with key concepts regarding healthy business model strategies. This was valuable information for the LARiA project. Currently, she is participating in an online workshop on “Human Centered Design” which is designed to generate creative ideas that will help solve wide a range of issues. She hopes to contribute towards the outcomes of the LARiA project with the combination of her research experience and current training.

Fabien Ca, Research Assistant
Fabien’s passion for food and experimentation once led him to pursue a career in the restaurant industry as an aspiring chef. He is now pursuing his bachelor’s degree in nutrition at Brooklyn College. He is excited to be a part of LARiA’s social media team, helping to conduct outreach across the United States. He hopes to use his experiences as a line cook to ultimately aid in the creation of future dishes that are both healthier and cost efficient.

Tara Frank, Research Assistant
Tara is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and completed her MS thesis in nutrition, A Quantitative Assessment of Changes in the Consumer Nutrition Environments of New York City Hispanic Caribbean Restaurants During the COVID-19 Pandemic, by May 2021. She is passionate about food and will pursue a career in culinary nutrition to conduct community outreach and help educate others on healthy cooking and eating habits. She is currently chef assisting in an after-school program for middle school children in NYC, teaching them to prepare healthy meals and understand the basic nutrition concepts from the recipes they prepare.

Elise Harrison, Research Assistant
Elise is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who completed her MS thesis in nutrition, Adapting to the Pandemic: Experiences of Latin American Restaurants During COVID-19 and Potential Implications for Community Health and Food Environments, completed by May 2021. She has four years of laboratory experience, conducting research in the biochemistry field.

Diana Veliz, Research Assistant
Diana received her Master of Science in Nutrition from Brooklyn College. She joined the LARiA team as a Brooklyn College dietetics intern (2021), as part of her research rotation. Her interest in assisting the Latinx/Hispanic community led her to join the LARiA Project. she contributed the project’s social media team and with conducting background research.

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