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.
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Project Team

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.

Cara Conaboy, Research Assistant
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, and community health. She is currently working with LARiA on the social media team to help conduct restaurant outreach across the United States.

Tara Frank, Research Assistant
Tara is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, completing her master’s degree at Brooklyn College. 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. Within the LARiA project, she is exploring the barriers preventing many independently owned Latin American restaurants from implementing health promotion strategies. She is also investigating which changes may have already occurred that have positively contributed to the health of the community.

Elise Harrison, Research Assistant
Elise is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who is currently pursuing her master’s degree at Brooklyn College in health and nutrition sciences. She has four years of laboratory experience, conducting research in the biochemistry field. Within LARIA, she is currently investigating what restaurants need to do in order to better adapt and serve the needs of their communities during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Diana Veliz, Research Assistant
Diana received her Master of Science in Nutrition from Brooklyn College. She is currently completing her dietetic internship. Her interest in assisting the Latinx/Hispanic community led her to join the LARiA Project. Her contributions to the LARiA project include being part of the social media team and conducting background research.

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.
  • Rosa Abreu-Runkel, Assistant Professor, Hospitality Management, at the New York City College of Technology.
  • 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
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