Courtney D. Cogburn, Director

Courtney D. Cogburn

  • Dr. Courtney D. Cogburn joined the faculty at the Columbia University School of Social Work in July 2014 as an assistant professor and she was also invited to join the Faculty of the Columbia Population Research Center. Her research aims to characterize and evaluate the function of toxic social environments in producing racial disparities in health and disease. She is particularly interested in examining associations between multiple dimensions of racism and stress-related disease as well as in identifying psychosocial processes that attenuate those effects.

    In one line of research, Dr. Cogburn is using data science techniques to develop a model and measure of media-based cultural racism and psychophysiological approaches to examine the effects of exposure to cultural racism on physiological, psychological and behavioral stress responses. She is also working closely with a community health center and global non-profit to educate and build community activism around social and structural inequities and health.

    Dr. Cogburn completed the Robert Wood Johnson Health & Society Scholar program at Harvard University. She received her Ph.D. in Education and Psychology as well as her MSW from the University of Michigan. She received her BA in Psychology from the University of Virginia.

  • The Team

  • Roni Shani, Lab Manager

    Roni Shani

    Research Coordinator

    Roni began working for the Cogburn Research Group in January 2013. She joined Dr. Cogburn's team at Harvard University as a Research Assistant and quickly transitioned into Research Coordinator. Roni was responsible for managing the study by scheduling participants and staff, setting up all laboratory equipment, and submitting IRB protocols. She screened, recruited, and educated study participants as well as conducted the experiments and trained staff. Roni also collected, cleaned, and analyzed data using AcqKnowledge, MindWare, and SPSS.

    Roni now works for Courtney as Research Coordinator at Columbia University, where the team was further developed and is pursuing new projects, extending the limits of Courtney's research.

    Roni is a graduate student at New York University, working towards her Master's in Communicative Studies and Disorders for Speech-Language Pathology. She received her BA in Psychology and Communication from Boston University.

  • Teff Nichols

    Teff Nichols

    Research Coordinator

    Teff Nichols is a recent graduate of the Columbia School of Social Work. Teff’s work focuses on early childhood development, with a focus on supporting families who are involved in the child welfare system. Teff is dedicated to examining race and racism in all spaces, including how systemic racism shows up in a clinical context. Prior to coming to CSSW, she spent six years working non-profit theatre as a director and fundraiser.

  • Christina Villegas

    Christina Villegas

    Christina Villegas is currently a Team Leader at a holistic public defender office in the South Bronx and is currently pursuing a graduate degree in social work at Columbia University. She is a native New Yorker and daughter of Ecuadorian immigrants with nearly ten years of experience in community organizing and direct legal services in various regions and with various populations. Christina brings to this team, her passion for broadening an understanding around racial and cultural disparities across the life course. Christina brings her passion for broadening an understanding around racial and cultural disparities across the life course to this team.

  • Danielle Noel

    Danielle Noel

    Danielle Noel is a community-based full-time student and part-time festival photographer from Brooklyn, NY. With a background in Public Health, Danielle's primary research interests include: mass media's effect on young black girls, photo voice projects and community based participatory research. She will begin Columbia University's Postbac Premed program this fall, then continue into the school's MPH program.

  • Nakita Joseph

    Nakita Joseph

    Nakita Joseph is currently a student at the Columbia School of Social Work in the Accelerated Policy Track, and graduates May 2017. Prior to CUSSW, Nakita worked as a Preventive Caseworker for Harlem Children’s Zone. It was there that Nakita’s passion for addressing systemic oppression deepened. Her research interests include: inequality, poverty, social policy, global health and historic trauma.

  • Dominic Cathey

    Dominic Cathey

    Dominic Cathey MSW’17 (Social Enterprise Administration) worked with the New York State Office of Children and Family Services (NYS OCFS) in the Division of Juvenile Justice and Opportunities for Youth Enhancement Program Fund (DJJOY EPF), an organization dedicated to developing alternative placements and establishing education as a source of esteem and worth for young people.

    As the EPF Technical Assistant, Dominic oversaw the management of the enhancement funds for 12 detention facilities which provided a curriculum that empowers men of color to deconstruct the consistent exposure to oppressive rhetoric from mass media, politics, education, and policy structures to develop a holistic narrative for success.

  • Makeena Rivers

    Makeena Rivers

    Makeena graduated with Bachelor’s degrees in Psychology and Sociology from Emory University in 2015. At Emory she worked as a lab assistant in the Goodman lab exploring the relationship between maternal depression and infant development. Specifically she worked with editing EEG data and attended meetings that tied her work to the larger aims of the research. Currently Makeena is a candidate for her Masters in Social Work at Columbia University where she is delving deeper into the countless nuances of systematic and cultural racism, intersectionality, environmental justice, the juvenile justice system, and the criminal justice system as a whole. In efforts to take part in mitigating the detrimental racialized disparities blatantly existent in this age of mass incarceration, Makeena hopes to open a rehabilitative diversion program for youth labeled juvenile delinquents in the future. She is especially passionate about supporting those most targeted by our system, the Black and Brown people of this country.

Former Lab Members

  • Tam Duong

    Tam Duong


    Tam Duong, MS, is currently a Project Manager at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) in Cambridge, MA. She manages a range of improvement capability programs for hospitals and health systems in the U.S. and Middle East/Asia Pacific region. Prior to joining IHI, Tam worked as a Research Coordinator with Dr. Courtney Cogburn’s lab at the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies to examine how racial stressors affect physiological, emotional, and behavioral stress reactivity. She is passionate about health equity and social justice, and she is interested in how race, income disparities, and neighborhoods impact access and quality of healthcare in communities of color. Tam has over six years of experience serving refugee and undocumented immigrant populations as a community organizer in Los Angeles, CA. In 2010, Tam was awarded the Fulbright Fellowship and spent a year working in Central Viet Nam. Tam holds a Master of Science degree from the Harvard School of Public Health.

  • Abayo Itabiyi

    Abayo Itabiyi


    Abayo received his Bachelor's degree from the University of Minnesota with a major in Biology and a minor in Public Health. His role in the lab was as a research coordinator. Abayo designed study stimuli, carried out study protocol and ran participants. He helped with the training of the undergraduate research assistants. Abayo is an MPH candidate at George Washington University, focusing on Epidemiology of Global health and a research interest in health disparities. Abayo was also a Research Coordinator and Clinical Administrator at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

  • Sarah Simpson

    Sarah Simpson


    A native of North Dakota, Sarah Simpson graduated from the Harvard School of Public Health in 2014 with a Master of Science in Social and Behavioral Sciences. She also holds a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and a Bachelor of Individualized Studies in American Indian Studies, Geography, and Public Health from the University of Minnesota. During her time at Harvard, Sarah worked as a research coordinator in the Racism and Stress Lab, where she initiated an independent study on the associations between physiological reactivity, sociopolitical ideology, and previous experiences with racial discrimination. She currently works as a social epidemiologist at the Urban Indian Health Institute in Seattle. Sarah has a broad interest in the effects of stress and trauma on health with a particular focus on the ways that racial stressors affect the health status of American Indians and Alaska Natives who migrate between reservations and urban areas.

  • Nicole Dube

    Nicole Dube


    Nicole worked as a Research Coordinator, responsible for training/managing RAs, recruiting, running participants, cleaning/entering data, and more. This past May, she graduated with a BA in Psychology from Emmanuel College with cum laude honors, as well as recognition for Distinction in the Field of Psychology. In the fall, Nicole will be attending the University of Edinburgh to earn a Master's degree in the Psychology of Individual Differences, with a specific focus on emotional intelligence and mental health. She is currently working as a Research Assistant at the Harvard School of Public Health with Dr. Selena Ortiz, examining the online advertisement of adolescent bariatric surgery. For the future, she hopes to return to Boston to earn a Ph.D. and continue her research.

  • Edirin Sido

    Edirin Sido


    While enrolled at Harvard College, Edirin joined our lab in April 2013 as an undergraduate research assistant. Her interests include studying the intersection of race, religion, and health particularly in the context of marginalized populations within the socioeconomic stratified societies of America. While a member of our lab, Edirin analyzed qualitative data, assisted with data entry, and helped facilitate on-site study visits. Starting August 2015, she will be pursuing a degree in dental medicine at Harvard School of Dental Medicine.

  • Jennifer Cardin-Smith

    Jennifer Cardin-Smith


    Jennifer is a highly motivated critical-thinker with a passion for helping others and becoming an agent for social change. With experience in interpersonal affairs, scientific technique, and effective leadership Jennifer has an interest in neuroscience and holds degrees in both Public Health, and Nutrition and Dietetics from Simmons College. She has recently returned to her alma mater and is now pursuing a Master’s of Science in Nutrition and Health Promotion with a concentration in Entrepreneurship. She is currently the President of the Massachusetts Student Dietetic Association and is grateful to have been granted the opportunity to participate in the progressive research conducted at Harvard School of Public Health under Principal Investigator Dr. Cogburn.

  • Jilan Shimberg

    Jilan Shimberg


    While working at the Cogburn laboratory, Jilan conducted weekly experiments as Operator or Experimenter, collecting data to examine the relationship between race, stress, and health. She collected and analyzed ECG, impedance, and executive functioning data from over 10 research subjects. Jilan is currently an undergraduate student at Harvard University studying Anthropology and Global Health and Health Policy. She is planning to attend medical school or work within the health industry after graduating from Harvard in 2016.

  • Katherine Fazioli

    Katherine Fazioli


    Katherine is a junior at Emmanuel College studying Biostatistics and hopes to enter the research world when she graduates. In the lab, Katherine worked mainly as an operator and made sure the experiment ran smoothly.

  • Jennifer Kim

    Jennifer Kim


    Kim was involved with data collection and management of participants during a series of laboratory-based tasks. She graduated from Boston University in 2013 as a biology major and is now studying at Tufts University as a MPH candidate with a concentration in epidemiology and biostatistics. In the future, Jennifer hopes to become involved in research to better understand the effects of family life and socioeconomic status on child nutrition.

  • Robert Backer

    Robert Backer


    Robert received his Master's degree in psychology from University of Pennsylvania. He is currently a lab manager at Columbia's Laboratory of Intergroup Relations & the Social Mind. He has collaborated broadly across six psychology laboratories, spanning UPenn, Columbia, Yale, and NYU. He enjoys rigorous, multi-methods approaches to social psychology and appreciates working in teams to produce intelligent programs of research.

  • Rayven Plaza, PhD Candidate

    Rayven Plaza


    Rayven Plaza is a PhD candidate at the Columbia University School of Social Work, concentrating in social policy and policy analysis. Her research focuses on uncovering the reasons people choose to abstain from interacting with social and medical services that might aid them in living longer, healthier lives. Formerly, she worked as a research assistant at the NYC Department of Health and as a research coordinator at Rutgers University.

    She currently works with Dr. Courtney Cogburn on developing a measure of racism in mass media and with the Columbia Population Research on a study of the composition and drivers of poverty in New York City. She received a BA in anthropology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and an MA in sociocultural anthropology from Columbia. Long ago, she worked as a special education teacher in a public high school in NYC.

  • Nnenna Onyema, PhD Candidate

    Nnenna Onyema


    Nnenna Onyema graduated summa cum laude from the Columbia School of Social Work with a concentration in Policy Practice, additional focus on Contemporary Social Issues, and minor in Law. Upon entering her second year Nnenna was awarded the Benjamin and Agnes Louard Fellowship, an award given to CSSW students with academic and leadership potential who demonstrate a commitment to serving the African American population through public non-profit sector work. Her interest areas are health/mental health disparities as it relates to women, communities of color, and immigrant populations.

    In her last semester, she was chosen to be a Fisher-Cummings Washington Fellow and was placed in the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions in Senator Patty Murray’s Health Policy Office.

    Nnenna has worked at social justice organizations including the International Justice Project, Legal Aid Society, and the Vera Institute of Justice. She is also a graduate from Rutgers University where she received her BA in Sociology and minored in Business Administration

  • Adanna Eke, Research Assistant

    Adanna Eke

    Research Assistant

    Adanna Eke is currently a masters student at the Columbia University School of Social Work. She graduated from University of California Riverside with a B.A. in Psychology and a minor in Women’s Studies in 2013. Before entering the social work program, she served as a family advocate and preschool classroom coach in the Bay Area, through Americorps. Adanna attributes her experience as a corps member for her strong commitment to improving the macro level processes that affect marginalized communities of color.

    Her current research interests include organizational structure, in addition to gender and cultural inclusivity, particularly among organizations involved in social justice and public service work.

    As a research assistant in the Cogburn Research Lab Adanna contributes through conducting literature reviews, aiding with experimental studies, and acquiring knowledge in various statistical and analysis tools, such as R and Provalis.

  • Adanna Eke, Research Assistant

    Princess Manuel


    Princess Manuel is an artist, teacher, activist and social justice advocate. She received her Bachelor’s Degrees in Ethnic Studies and Sociology from the University of California, Berkeley. Currently she is pursuing a Master’s Degree in Social Work from Columbia University with a focus on contemporary social issues in order to become a licensed clinical social worker, start a non-profit and affect social policy.

    Princess is the National Organizing Director and co-founder of AF3IRM, wherein she advocates for marginalized communities surrounding issues of state violence, trafficking of women and children, and migrant/immigrant rights. She also created “Beatz”, a support group within Getting Out and Staying Out, Inc. that serves to empower formerly incarcerated young men within Harlem, NY through the use of music and its connections to history. Princess Manuel has served as a Budget Delegate for District 8 of New York City as a part of Participatory Budgeting within the New York City Counsel wherein the community plans how to spend one million dollars on “brick and mortar” projects and is currently working with other women of color to formulate an organization the builds women of color leaders within politics.

    Princess has taught at AF3IRM’s Summer School of Women’s Activism as well as served as a guest lecturer in several sociology and history courses, nationally. She currently works as a Technical Assistant for the Office of Children and Family Services Enhancement Program (OCFS/EPF) wherein she co-created the Youth Leadership Board to provide justice involved youth within facilities as well as in the community, access to resources as well as tools to advocate for their community and build youth leadership. Within this position she also oversees Enhancement Program budgets, program development, and quality assurance within the juvenile OCFS state facilities. She also works part-time as a student fundraiser at the Columbia University Alumni center to raise scholarships for incoming students of all departments of Columbia University. She currently resides in New York, NY and loves to learn more about indigenous healing practices, history and she loves to travel, run, swim, do yoga, create art via drawing, painting, writing poetry/spoken word and playing the piano or guitar on her free time.