J. Aaron Johnson, PHD

Director of Institute of Public and Preventive Health


Department of Psychological Sciences, School of Graduate Studies

Dr. Johnson’s research is focused on the implementation of evidence-based practices in substance abuse prevention and treatment. He has worked with populations in addiction treatment facilities; medical settings including primary care, emergency department, trauma unit, and urgent care; as well as with justice-involved populations (jails, prisons, transitional centers, drug courts, probation/parole). In is recent work, he has incorporated technology as a means of enacting behavior change within this field. In addition to intervention-based research, Dr. Johnson has published several validation studies of brief alcohol and/or drug screening tools for use in general medical settings, as well as a number of publications related to training health professionals to conduct alcohol/drug screening and brief intervention. Dr. Johnson’s work has been continuously funded for more than two decades with federal grants from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, and the National Library of Medicine and from private foundations including the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and Healthcare Georgia Foundation.

Research Interest: Addiction/Substance use, Substance use prevention and treatment, Correctional Health, Health Education, Health Literacy, and Health Services Research

Aaron Johnson

Dr. Benevides

Teal Benevides, PHD, MS, OTR/L, FAOTA

Associate Professor

Institute of Public and Preventive Health; Department of Occupational Therapy, College of
Allied Health; Graduate School, Augusta University

Dr. Teal Benevides is an occupational therapist and health services researcher. In her role as an
Associate Professor in the Institute of Public and Preventive Health, her research aims to describe,
understand, and address disparities among individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities
(IDD) in alignment with priorities identified by autistic people and other people with IDDs. Dr. Benevides
has been continuously funded since 2017 with 4 PCORI Engagement Awards to include authentic
involvement of people with IDD in research, and leads engagement activities on two PCORI comparative
effectiveness research studies addressing mental health for autistic individuals. In 2022, Dr. Benevides’
work in health services research to understand racial/ethnic disparities in dual enrollment among autistic
adults was named as one of 20 articles identified by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, NIH,
Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee as a top advance in Services and Systems. Since receiving her
PhD in 2014, she has published over 20 peer-reviewed articles in top-tier journals, is an editor for Autism in
Adulthood (Liebert Press) and the American Journal of Occupational Therapy. She is a Fellow of the American
Occupational Therapy Association.

Research Interest: Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities; Autism; Health Service Disparities and
Access; Medicare and Medicaid Data; Patient-Centered Outcomes Research; Community-Based Participatory
Action Research

Curriculum Vitae

Steve S. Coughlin, PHD, MPH


Steve Coughlin

Department of Epidemiology; Department of Population Health Sciences; Institute of Public and Preventive Health; Medical College Georgia at Augusta University

Dr. Coughlin has a broad background in public health, epidemiology, and clinical research. His research interests include health disparities, women’s health, Veterans health, cancer prevention  and control and cancer epidemiology, and cardiometabolic disease. During the eleven years that he was a senior epidemiologist in the Division of Cancer Prevention and Control at the CDC in Atlanta, he participated in numerous collaborative studies on cancer of the breast, cervix, colon, and ovary. 

Dr. Coughlin was a CDC technical advisor for the Cancer Prevention and Control Research Network. While a senior epidemiologist at the VA Office of Public Health in Washington, DC, he was principal investigator of the Follow-up Study of a National Cohort of Gulf War and Gulf War Veterans (n=30,000 men and women); coinvestigator of the National Health Study for a New Generation of US Veterans (n=60,000); and co-principal proponent of Cooperative Studies Program protocol 585 Gulf War Veteran Biorepository and Survey, which includes questions on woman’s health. 

Dr. Coughlin carried out the first case-control study of idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy (IDCM) conducted anywhere in the world. His primary findings were that African Americans have a 2 to 3-fold increased risk of developing IDCM and that persons with a history of asthma, hypertension, obesity, or diabetes are at increased risk. While at Georgetown and Tulane universities, he served as principal investigator of the Washington, DC Dilated Cardiomyopathy Study, which was funded by NHLBI for 6 consecutive years. The study included both case-control comparisons and a longitudinal follow-up of the case series. His primary findings were that African Americans have a 2 to 3-fold increased risk of developing IDCM and, among persons who develop IDCM, African Americans are up to 5 times more likely to die from the condition than whites. He is currently principal investigator of the Gulf War Women’s Health Cohort, which was funded by the U.S. Department of Defense Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs. While at Augusta University, Dr. Coughlin has been engaged in collaborative studies of healthy lifestyle interventions for adult clinic patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus; the effectiveness of patient web portals for improving glycemic control among patients with diabetes; and the health of women veterans. Dr. Coughlin serves on the editorial boards of several journals including the Journal of Environment and Health Sciences and BMC Medical Ethics. He is an Associate Editor of the American Journal of Epidemiology.

Research Interest: Health Disparities; Women's Health; Veteran's Health; Cancer Prevention 
and Control; Cancer Epidemiology; Cardiometabolic Disease

Curriculum Vitae

Dr. Elizabeth Culatta

Elizabeth Culatta, PHD

Assistant Professor

Department of Social Sciences; Institute of Public and Preventive Health

Dr. Culatta's research focuses on mental health during the transition to adulthood, often in response to
forms of sexual victimization. Dr. Culatta's research has been published in Society and Mental Health,
Journal of Interpersonal Violence, Journal of Health and Social Behavior,
and the Journal of Health Psychology
among others.  This includes two linked projects using an original sample of over 500 18- to 29-year-olds
in the United States to understand how identifying as an adult is tied to health risk behaviors and how
unmet expectations during the transition to adulthood relate to specific mental health outcomes.  Another
paper examines risk factors for experiencing sexual harassment at both individual and organizational levels
and another focuses on microaggressions, social support, and mental health in graduate and law school.
A manuscript currently under review examines how sociology helps pre-medical students prepare for the
MCAT and beyond using focus groups and survey data from AU medical students.  Other current research
seeks to identify barriers to reporting and medical services following sexual assault. Dr. Culatta joined the
Department of Social Sciences faculty at Augusta University in 2018, serves on the advisory board for the
Center for Social Science Research (CSSR), and is the curriculum director for the undergraduate Health,
Society, and Policy (HeSP) major.

Research Interest: Social Determinants of Health; Mental Health and Social Stress; Aging and the
Life Course; Identity Processes in Transition to Adulthood, Sexual victimization

Curriculum Vitae

Biplab Datta, PHD

Assistant Professor

Institute of Public and Preventive Health; Department of Population Health Sciences

Dr. Datta is an applied microeconomist. His research explores the niche areas in the junction of economics and public and population health. His works broadly cover the socioeconomic, demographic, and behavioral determinants and risk factors of non-communicable diseases (NCDs); the socioeconomic burden of NCD conditions; and the inequities and disparities related to healthcare access, health risk behaviors, and health outcomes. He has a special interest in investigating the role of life course events such as child marriage and adolescent childbearing in chronic disease outcomes. The far reaching goals of his research are to facilitate strategic interventions for NCD prevention and control, and strengthening the health systems for effective management of both infectious and non-infectious diseases.

Research Interest: Child Marriage; Non-communicable Diseases; Women’s Health; Minority Health; Healthcare Access; Health Disparity; Tobacco Control

Curriculum Vitae
Biplab Dutta

K. Monirul Islam, MBBS/MD, PHD, MPH

Associate Professor

Institute of Public and Preventive Health; Department of Population Health Sciences

Dr. Islam's current research foci are patient-centered outcomes research in cancer, infectious diseases, and interventions program evaluation. He is particularly interested in clinical epidemiology and early detection, diagnosis, treatment, and outcomes of diseases. The overarching objective of his research is to prevent diseases and lead to better treatment outcomes among diverse populations including resource-limited communities such as minorities and rural populations.

Research Interest: Epidemiology Research Methods, Epidemiology of Infectious Diseases and Cancer, Clinical Epidemiology, and Global Health

Curriculum Vitae
Monirul Islam


Paul Seale, MD


Institute of Public and Preventive Health; Department of Psychiatry and Health Behavior MCG

A graduate of the University of Texas (Austin) and Baylor College of Medicine, Dr. Seale is a clinician researcher with board certification in Family Medicine and Addiction Medicine. Since completing an NIAAA-NIDA sponsored faculty development fellowship in 1987-1988, he has been involved in practice, teaching and research related to substance use screening, brief intervention, and referral for treatment (SBIRT) for more almost three decades in both the U.S. and abroad. Recent interprofessional SBIRT training grants in collaboration with Johns Hopkins University, Mercer University, Augusta University and U. of Georgia have trained more than 1,500 primary care providers including 1,000+ advanced practice nursing students, 100+ nursing faculty & preceptors, and dozens of physician assistants. With over 14 years’ experience in office-based opioid treatment (OBOT) practice, training, dissemination and mentoring, he has a special interest in bridges and barriers to treatment of opioid use disorder and is principal investigator of a pilot study of opioid use disorder in older adults. His involvement for more than a decade in full-time global health in Asia and the Americas led to the development of resilience and recovery training programs taught through storytelling which have been translated into seven different languages and are now being used with indigenous and other vulnerable populations across Latin America and Africa. He has served as author or co-author of more than 70 peer-reviewed journal articles. Dr. Seale’s research has been funded with federal grants from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases and the Centers for Disease Control and from private foundations including the Betty Ford Foundation, the Conrad Hilton Foundation and the John Templeton Foundation.

Research Interest: Improving and disseminating the use of storytelling approaches for resilience and recovery training, recognition and treatment of opioid use disorder in older adults, substance use screening, and improving delivery of SBIRT and Medications for Addiction Treatment (MAT) in rural and underserved areas.

Curriculum Vitae
Paul Seale

Ashwini Tiwari, PHD

Assistant Professor

Institute of Public and Preventive Health; Department of Psychiatry and Health Behavior MCG

Dr. Tiwari’s research program is focused on reducing health disparities among high-risk and victimized populations in a family violence context. Her work focuses on biobehavioral trajectories and responses to trauma-based prevention and intervention efforts, while considering the impact of non-modifiable contextual stressors and intra-individual variation. She has a special interest in stress physiological and genetic profiles among victimized youth populations who receive trauma-based care. Her recent research has focused on understanding the implementation, barriers and effective components of trauma-based treatments for youth victims of sexual abuse in community settings.

Research Interest: family violence, child maltreatment, evidence-based parenting interventions, mental health, biobehavioral stress, trauma-based interventions.
B-Strong Lab   

Curriculum Vitae
Ashwini Tiwari

Michael Vitacco, PHD


Institute of Public and Preventive Health; Psychiatry and Health Behavior

Dr. Vitacco is a board-certified forensic psychologist whose research focuses on best practices in the broad area of psychology and the law. Specifically, his research has focused on the treatment and prevention of violence among individuals found not criminally responsible and returned to the community (i.e., conditional release), evaluating how forensic psychologists can appropriately utilize social media information in their forensic practice, detecting atypical response styles (e.g., malingering) in forensic evaluations, legal applications of psychopathy, and evaluating and treating violence potential with individuals housed in forensic inpatient hospitals. Dr. Vitacco has extensive experience working with justice-involved individuals, especially those adjudicated not competent to proceed to trial or not criminal responsible because of mental illness. He has also worked with individuals on probation/parole and individuals who have been civilly committed. As part of his work on conditional release, Dr. Vitacco has partnered with multiple states to evaluate conditional release effectiveness with individuals with serious and persistent mental illness. He has also researched psychopathy and its correlates, including stress reactivity, with juveniles placed in detention facilities. Dr. Vitacco has over 100 publications in the area of mental health law. In 2020, he co-edited a book titled, Forensic Mental Health Evaluations in the Digital Age: A Practitioner’s Guide to Using Internet-Based Data with Dr. Ashley Batastini.

Research Interest: Psychopathy; Conditional Release; Stress Reactivity; Malingering and related response styles.

Curriculum Vitae
Michael Vitacco

Melanie Willcox

Melanie Wilcox, PHD, ABPP

Assistant Professor

Department of Psychological Sciences; Institute of Public and Preventive Health; Department of

Dr. Wilcox is a Counseling Psychologist whose research focuses on issues of racial and social justice. Her research agenda has the primary pillars: (1) Culturally and structurally responsive psychotherapy and psychotherapy training, (2) Racial and socioeconomic inequity in higher education, and (3) Whiteness, racial justice, and social justice more broadly (including LGBTQ+ issues). Dr. Wilcox’s published research spans these areas and more. She has published some of the first research on Multicultural Orientation in clinical supervision and is working to develop a model of structural competencies to help mental health professionals better understand systemic and structural determinants of mental health. She has also published major studies of student loan debt and economic stressors in doctoral psychology education, and racial and socioeconomic disparities therein; her award-winning research in this area has been used to advocate for education policy on Capitol Hill. Dr. Wilcox’s primary aim is to contribute to improving conditions and outcomes for Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color as well as individuals from other minoritized backgrounds through her research and practice. Dr. Wilcox is also a Licensed Psychologist and Board Certified in Counseling Psychology, and works part time in private practice conducting both psychological assessment and psychotherapy. Her clinical areas of expertise, in addition to culturally responsive, and LGBTQIA+ affirming care, include substance abuse, addiction, and trauma. Dr. Wilcox has experience with psychological practice in college counseling settings including campus-based addiction recovery, community clinics, substance abuse clinics, residential treatment, and correctional settings. She additionally has served in a number of leadership positions in the American Psychological Association and its divisions, including currently serving as a member (and former chair) of the APA Board of Educational Affairs.

Research Interest: Culturally and Structurally Responsive Psychotherapy; Culturally and Structurally
Responsive Psychotherapy Training; Culturally and Structurally Responsive Psychological Assessment;
Racial and Socioeconomic Inequity in Higher Education; Economic Barriers to Higher Education; Food
Insecurity; Student Loan Debt; Whiteness; Racism; Anti-Racism; LGBTQIA+ Issues; Social Class and Classism;
Intersectionality; Social Justice; Advocacy Trauma; Quantitative; Qualitative; Mixed-Methods; Scale Development 


Laura Williamson, PHD

Director, Center for Bioethics and Health Policy

Associate Professor

Institute of Public and Preventive Health

Dr. Williamson is a Health Ethicist. Her research focuses broadly on public health, with a particular interest in substance use problems, vaccination uptake, and the impact of stigma on wellbeing. As part of this work, Dr. Williamson investigates the challenges associated with engaging citizens in ethical debates that impact on their health. This includes the importance of helping people think through issues that span clinical care and public health. Dr. Williamson’s research has been published in a range of leading journals including the American Journal of Public Health, American Journal of Bioethics, Journal of Medical Ethics, and the International Journal of Drug Policy. She has co-authored two books: Xenotransplantation: Law and Ethics (Ashgate, 2005) and Impairment and Disability: Law and Ethics at the Beginning and End of Life (Routledge, 2007). She has held a Wellcome Trust, Biomedical Ethics Research Fellowship and grant funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, British Academy and Medical Research Council (UK).

Research Interest: Health Ethics, Substance Use/Addiction, Person and Citizen Engagement, Stigma and Vaccination

Curriculum Vitae
Laura Williamson






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