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 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.
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Project Team

Emily Dimond, Graduate Research Assistant
Emily is an MPH in Nutrition student and Dietetic Intern at Tulane University and holds a B.S. in Nutrition from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Her previous dual careers in the restaurant industry as a server for over ten years and as a Community Health Educator in Paraguay with the Peace Corps and SNAP-ed in California fueled her interest in the relationship between food, culture, community health, food environments, and policy. She is grateful for the opportunity to support the research team and collaborating partners in exploring creative methods for making healthy menu options the desirable choice at Latin American restaurants and investigating policies that shape our eating and food environments. 
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Lisa Hofmann, Research Assistant
Lisa Hofmann is a Master of Public Health in Nutrition candidate at Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. While attending Tulane Lisa has worked on several food access projects, including assisting with the implementation of a COVID-19 food access program, managing social service referral databases, creating questionnaires on effectiveness of programming, analyzing data, and conducting nutrient analysis of recipes to assess health benefits. Previously Lisa worked in the communications industry and as an educator. She has always been passionate about social justice and policy issues. Lisa received her undergraduate degree in Communication from University of Colorado. She is thrilled to be a part of the LARIA Project team!
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Hannah Smith, Research Assistant
Hannah is currently pursuing her MPH at Tulane University in the Social, Behavioral, and Population Science Department. Prior to joining the LARiA Project, she received her B.S. in Bimolecular Science and a minor in Gender and Health from the University of Michigan and worked at the University of Kansas Medical Center on cancer biology and COVID-19 research projects. She is excited to join the LARiA Project and work with this awesome team!
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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:

  • Diego Rose, PhD, MPH, RD, Nutrition Program Director, Professor, Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine
  • 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

Cara Conaboy
Cara holds a B.S. in Food and Nutrition Science from Brooklyn College. She has ten years of experience as a professional chef and is extremely passionate about food. She hopes to utilize her experience to promote 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.
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Michelle Rodriguez, Research Coordinator
Michelle contributed as research coordinator, while completing her master’s degree at the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health & Health Policy for Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences. Before joining the team and CUNY, she completed a two year research program at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. This motivated her to pursue a career in public health that allowed her to combine her passions of research and outreach. She continues to work with the Latinx/Hispanic and minority communities to improve health literacy and health outcomes.
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Tamara Alam, Research Assistant
Tamara holds a master’s degree in nutrition from Brooklyn College. 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. She also participated in an online workshop on “Human-Centered Design” designed to generate creative ideas addressing a range of issues.

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 pursues a bachelor’s degree in nutrition at Brooklyn College. He contributed to the LARiA social media team, helping to conduct outreach across the United States.
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Tara Frank, Research Assistant
Tara is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who 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 in May 2021. She is passionate about food and pursues a career in culinary nutrition to conduct community outreach and help educate others on healthy cooking and eating habits.
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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 in May 2021. She has four years of laboratory experience, conducting research in the biochemistry field.
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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 to the project’s social media team and with conducting background research.

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