Meet the TRIP Team
Thomas Brandon, PhD - Director
Thomas Brandon, PhD, is the Director of the Tobacco Research and Intervention Program and Chair of the Department of Health Outcomes and Behavior at Moffitt Cancer Center. He is also Professor of Psychology and Oncologic Sciences at the University of South Florida. Dr. Brandon’s research focuses on factors that maintain tobacco dependence, as well as the development of novel tobacco-cessation and relapse-prevention interventions. His research has examined the problem of cigarette smoking and smoking relapse via several different modalities, ranging from basic human laboratory research on smoking motivation, through applied research on smoking cessation and relapse prevention across populations. With interventions, he has concentrated on theory-based behavioral treatments and self-help interventions. The Forever Free® self-help programs have been validated in four randomized controlled trials and are disseminated by NCI and health organizations nationwide. Recently, Dr. Brandon expanded his research to study addiction mechanisms and potential clinical utility of electronic cigarettes.
Vani Simmons, PhD - Co-Director
Vani Simmons, PhD, is the Co-Director of the Tobacco Research and Intervention Program. Dr. Simmons’ research interests include the development of smoking cessation and relapse-prevention interventions for special populations (at-risk/vulnerable groups) including cancer patients, college students, and ethnic minorities. Smoking among cancer patients can result in numerous adverse health consequences. Dr. Simmons and her team have developed a line of research to create a novel, theory-based smoking-relapse prevention intervention for cancer patients. Her work with cancer patients has recently extended to electronic cigarette use and to understanding barriers and facilitators to low-dose computed tomography as a screening tool for high-risk smokers. Dr. Simmons has also conducted research on the development of culturally appropriate smoking relapse-prevention and cessation intervention materials for Hispanic smokers and she is currently co-leading (with Dr. Brandon) a randomized controlled trial to test the efficacy of a Spanish-language self-help smoking cessation intervention for Hispanic smokers. Her research has been funded by the National Cancer Institute, Florida Department of Health James and Esther King Biomedical Research Program, and other foundations.
David Drobes, PhD
Dr. Drobes has conducted extensive human laboratory studies of cue reactivity and withdrawal among cigarette smokers, with a long-term goal to translate laboratory findings into novel behavioral and pharmacological smoking cessation treatments. Recent work has focused on effects of low nicotine cigarettes on smoking behavior and cessation. He has served as Principal Investigator on grants from federal, state, and private agencies. Dr. Drobes received his PhD in Clinical Psychology from Purdue University, followed by post-doctoral fellowships at the University of Florida (psychophysiology) and the Medical University of South Carolina (substance abuse).
Jennifer I. Vidrine, PhD
Jennifer I. Vidrine, PhD is Assistant Center Director for Research Strategic Partnerships at Moffitt Cancer Center and Senior Member in the Department of Health Outcomes and Behavior at Moffitt. Dr. Vidrine’s research program focuses on eliminating health disparities through evaluating the impact of tailored health risk communications, examining potential mechanisms underlying changes in risk perceptions over time in the natural environment, and evaluating both healthcare systems-level and community-based tobacco cessation interventions targeted to vulnerable and underserved populations. Her research program has been continuously supported over the past 16 years by grants from the National Cancer Institute, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and the Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas. She is currently leading two large NCI-funded projects. The first is evaluating the efficacy of a novel smoking cessation intervention for cervical cancer survivors. The second (a Multiple PI award with Dr. Damon Vidrine) is evaluating the efficacy of a fully mobile, theoretically-based smartphone-delivered smoking cessation intervention among smokers receiving services through food pantries within the Feeding Tampa Bay network.
Damon Vidrine, DrPH
Damon J. Vidrine, DrPH, is Vice Chair and Senior Member in the Department of Health Outcomes and Behavior at Moffitt Cancer Center. His research program is focused on tobacco use in special and underserved populations, including people living with HIV/AIDS, community-based socioeconomically disadvantaged populations, safety net clinic-based populations, and cancer patients. This work, which has been continuously funded since the time of his postdoctoral fellowship, has focused on the identification of the unique risks of tobacco use in these underserved populations, as well as the development and evaluation of novel cessation interventions. A common theme in Dr. Vidrine’s research program is the use of mobile devices (i.e., cell phones, tablet computers, and smartphones) for both behavioral assessment and intervention delivery purposes. The goal of these efforts is to develop and disseminate efficacious yet low burden treatments. This work has helped to establish the feasibility, acceptability, and efficacy of using mobile health (mHealth) approaches with underserved populations.
Christine Vinci, PhD
Dr. Vinci’s research broadly focuses on cognitive and effective mechanisms (e.g., affect, affect regulation, expectancies) implicated in the development, maintenance, and treatment of cancer-risk behaviors. More specifically, her work aims to understand the mechanisms underlying smoking cessation and decreased alcohol use among underserved populations in order to inform the development and modification of treatment interventions. She has a specific interest in mindfulness-based treatments, as these interventions have the ability to target mechanisms that are central to changing certain behaviors including quitting smoking and decreasing alcohol use. She currently has a K99/R00 award from the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities that is utilizing advanced technology (i.e., ecological momentary assessment, human sensing) to examine the impact of mindfulness strategies sent via text message on key mechanisms underlying smoking cessation among a sample of low socioeconomic and racially/ethnically diverse smokers.
Karen Obremski Brandon, PhD
Karen Obremski Brandon, PhD, is a Research Scientist at the Tobacco Research and Intervention Program. Dr. Brandon received her PhD in Clinical Psychology from Indiana University. She focused on familial and individual difference characteristics of alcohol use and abuse in children, adolescents and adults before joining TRIP. She currently contributes to projects on self-help for smoking cessation, health disparities in smoking cessation treatments, and e-cigarette use for smoking cessation.
Ursula Martinez, PhD
Ursula Martinez, PhD, is an Applied Research Scientist at the Tobacco Research and Intervention Program (TRIP). Dr. Martinez received her PhD in Clinical Psychology from the University of Santiago de Compostela (Spain) in 2015, where she studied how psychopathology influenced the smoking cessation process in smokers receiving treatment. At the end of her predoctoral training, she received a grant fellowship to spend six months at the University of Newcastle (Australia) where she started working in the field of smoking cessation in the cancer patient population. During her postdoctoral fellowship, she is studying smoking cessation treatments in special populations, including cancer patients and Hispanics, and nicotine dependence in e-cigarette users. She completed her postdoctoral training in Behavioral Oncology at Moffitt Cancer Center. Her research interests include smoking cessation among special populations including cancer patients, e-cigarette users and Hispanics. She currently has an R03 award from the National Cancer Institute to create targeted interventions to increase motivation to quit smoking specifically for patients whose cancers are not generally considered to be smoking-related, but for whom smoking cessation is still necessary to improve cancer treatment outcomes.
Lauren Meltzer, MPH, TTS
Research Project Manager
Lauren Meltzer, MPH, is a Research Project Manager for the Tobacco Research and Intervention Program. She has 11 years of research experience and is currently managing several studies developing and testing smoking cessation and smoking relapse interventions among niche populations. Ms. Meltzer earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and her Master’s degree in Public Health at the University of South Florida. Her research interests include smoking cessation and relapse prevention among special populations, including cancer patients and e-cigarette users.
Manuel A. Mayor, MPH
Research Project Manager
Manuel, who also goes by Manny, is a Research Project Manager at the Tobacco Research & Intervention Program (TRIP). Manny is a double alumnus of the University of South Florida, earning his Bachelor of Science in Interdisciplinary Natural Sciences, minor in Public Health, and Master of Public Health in Public Health Administration (Health Policy Management). He has more than nine years of research experience in areas including HIV prevention, colorectal cancer prevention, Alzheimer’s prevention, and, now, tobacco cessation. Manny manages several large NCI-funded RCTs evaluating smoking cessation interventions for vulnerable and underserved populations.
Melissa Conn, BA, TTS
Research Project Specialist
Melissa Conn is a Research Project Specialist at the Tobacco Research and Intervention Program and is currently working on a smoking cessation study investigating the impact and feasibility of low-nicotine cigarettes as a smoking cessation tool. Ms. Conn has worked on several studies, including leading a multi-site project evaluating the effects of various nicotine levels on smoking behavior and related outcomes. She received her Bachelor’s degree in psychology at the University of South Florida and is currently pursuing her Master’s in public health degree at the same institution.
Patricia Medina-Ramirez, MPH
Research Coordinator III
Patricia Medina-Ramirez, MPH, is the lead coordinator for ¡Libre del Cigarrillo!, an NIH and FL DOH-funded randomized controlled trial evaluating the efficacy of a self-help smoking cessation intervention for Spanish-speaking smokers. She received her master’s degree in Public Health with a concentration in Global Health and Epidemiology from the University of South Florida. Patricia has a special interest in Latino Cancer Health Disparities and cultural adaptation of health interventions for Latino populations.
Josh Kratz, MA
Research Coordinator II
Josh Kratz, MA, is a Research Coordinator II for the Tobacco Research and Intervention Program. He has a Master of Art degree in Public Administration from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and a passion for empowering marginalized and underserved populations through service. Prior to joining TRIP, Josh coordinated the development, evaluation, and implementation of Positive Peers, a HRSA/SPNS research initiative aiming to improve specific health outcomes and overall retention-in-care rates for young people living with HIV (YPLWH) through the use of mHealth and social media technology. The four year study afforded Josh many opportunities to translate his years of public health work and community outreach experience into an innovative and efficacious research intervention that is now in the process of being scaled-up around the United States. Positive Peers inspired Josh to seek new opportunities to continue to work on cutting-edge research projects such as those he will be coordinating with the Vidrine Team here at TRIP. Josh is currently working on three large RCTs funded by the National Cancer Institute designed to evaluate novel tobacco cessation interventions for vulnerable and underserved populations. These populations include cervical cancer survivors, individuals seeking services at food pantries in the Tampa Bay area, and people living with HIV (PLWH).
Yesenia P. Stephens, MS
Research Coordinator II
Yesenia P. Stephens, MS is a Research Coordinator II for various studies on tobacco cessation interventions for underserved and vulnerable populations. Mrs. Stephens received her Bachelor of Science in Biology from Florida State University and her Master’s in Medical Science degree from the Morsani College of Medicine. Her dedication to these populations stemmed from clinical observations and research with the FSU Center on Better Health and Life for Underserved Populations and the FSU COM Immokalee Health Education Site. Yesenia is currently working on three large RCTs funded by the National Cancer Institute designed to evaluate novel tobacco cessation interventions for vulnerable and underserved populations. These populations include cervical cancer survivors, individuals seeking services at food pantries in the Tampa Bay area, and people living with HIV (PLWH).
Sarah Jones, BA
Research Coordinator II
Sarah Jones is a Research Coordinator for the Tobacco Research Intervention Program. She is currently working under Drs. Jennifer and Damon Vidrine, on projects promoting smoking cessation in underserved populations. She graduated from the University of North Texas with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology.
Yenis Lorenzo, BA
Research Coordinator II
Yenis Lorenzo joined the Tobacco Research and Intervention Program (TRIP) as a Research Coordinator for Dr. Drobes. Yenis is currently working on The Countdown Study, a smoking cessation study using low nicotine cigarettes. Yenis is also taking part in a study aimed at understanding relationships between medical (and recreational) marijuana and tobacco use. Yenis graduated from the University of South Florida with her B.A in Psychology.
Laura Casas, BA
Research Coordinator II
Laura Casas is a Research Coordinator at the Tobacco Research and Intervention Program. She is currently working for ¡Libre del cigarrillo! A nationwide randomized control trial evaluating the efficacy of Spanish-language self-help intervention for Spanish speaking smokers. Laura received her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Anthropology from the University of South Florida.
Laura Hernandez, BA
Research Coordinator I
Laura Hernandez is a Research Coordinator at the Tobacco Research and Intervention Program. She is currently the coordinator for Time2Quit and Project DART. Time2Quit utilizes human-sensing technology (AutoSense) and mindfulness-based strategies to aid in smoking cessation, while Project DART explores Augmented Reality (AR) as a quit-smoking aid. She also assists with Countdown, a randomized control trial that delivers a smoking cessation intervention with reduced nicotine cigarettes. Laura graduated from the University of South Florida with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a minor in Public Health.
Research Assistant I
Alissa Pena is a Research Assistant I working under Drs. Thomas Brandon and Ursula Martinez. She will be completing her B.A in Psychology at the University of South Florida and plans to attend graduate school after graduation. Ms. Pena is currently working on studies examining changes in smoking and e-cigarette use over time among dual users, as well as smoking cessation among the cancer patient population.
Research Coordinator I
Mikaela Hemenway is a Research Coordinator at the Tobacco Research and Intervention Program. She is currently the coordinator for Project RISE, a study exploring the impact of two interventions in aiding smoking and reducing alcohol consumption. Mikaela graduated with her B.A. in Psychology and B.S. in Behavioral Healthcare from the University of South Florida.
Research Coordinator I
Marco Cid is a Research Coordinator at the Tobacco Research and Intervention Program (TRIP). He is currently one of the coordinators for the Countdown Study under Dr. Simmons, which is a randomized control trial that delivers a smoking cessation intervention with reduced nicotine cigarettes. Marco also works on the NCI Cancer Moonshot funded study under Dr. Simmons which has an ultimate goal of providing all Moffitt patients with access to evidence-based smoking cessation treatment. Marco graduated from the University of South Florida with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology.
Leslie Sawyer, BS
Leslie Sawyer is a graduate student in the doctoral program in clinical psychology at the University of South Florida. Dr. Thomas Brandon is her major professor. Her research and clinical interests are broadly geared toward elucidation of behavioral processes that promote or attenuate substance misuse, including processes that correlate with improved treatment outcomes. At TRIP, Leslie is currently working on studies involving e-cigarettes and smoking cessation utilizing low-nicotine cigarettes.
Amanda Palmer, MA
Amanda Palmer entered the clinical psychology doctoral program at University of South Florida and began working at TRIP in 2014. Dr. Thomas Brandon is her major professor, and her clinical and research interests lie at the intersection of addictions and health psychology. Amanda works on various projects in the lab, including studies utilizing e-cigarettes, interventions with Moffitt patients, and providing smoking cessation group therapy. Amanda is currently serving her clinical psychology internship at the Medical University of South Carolina.
Patricia Calixte-Civil, B.A.
Graduate Student, Health Policy Research Scholar
Patricia Calixte-Civil is a graduate student at the University of South Florida pursuing a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and working under the guidance of Dr. Thomas Brandon. At TRIP, she is exploring tobacco-related health disparities among under-resourced populations, primarily Black smokers. Patricia is also receiving funding and policy training from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation as a Health Policy Research Scholar. She is a proud alumna of the Ronald E. McNair Post-baccalaureate Achievement Program, Project L/EARN, and Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey-New Brunswick, where she completed an honors major in psychology with a focus on substance use disorders. Previously, Patricia worked as a research assistant in the department of Addiction Psychiatry at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School on a study testing the efficacy of a computer-based intervention for smokers with psychosis.
Administrative Support Staff
Samantha Diaz-McGimsey is the Division Coordinator for the Tobacco Research and Intervention Program (TRIP) and the Health Outcomes and Behavior Department. She has been with Moffitt Cancer Center since 2005 and currently provides administrative support to TRIP faculty, graduate students, staff members, and undergraduate research interns, as well as coordinating support from other Moffitt departments.
Grant Administrator II
Terri White-Jones is a Grant Administrator for the Tobacco Research and Intervention Program. She has 13 years of experience in the financial and administrative management of sponsored projects. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Anthropology from Bryn Mawr College. Prior to Moffitt she worked at the University of South Florida and Raymond James Financial.