Affiliated scientists

From connection to collaboration, we enjoy strong relationships with researchers across the country. Below, meet the scholars we have designated as affiliated scientists because of their distinguished expertise, their rigor in research and their excellence as MFRI partners.

Sharon Christ, PhD
Associate professor
Department of Statistics, Human Development and Family Sciences,
Purdue University

Sharon Christ’s research includes applications in the social, behavioral, and health sciences, especially statistical models applicable to human health and development processes. Christ’s primary tools are structural equation modeling (SEM) with latent variables, multilevel (mixed effects) models, longitudinal modeling, and analysis of complex sample data using a design based (marginal, population average) modeling approach. Measurement of social constructs, missing data, and selection problems are also foci of Christ’s work, and her projects often involve analysis of existing large nationally representative data sets but also data collected using observation and experimental designs. As a methodologist, Christ collaborate widely on studies where I employ complex modeling and estimation techniques to address important questions about human health and development. Christ is currently working on a project to evaluate the impacts of child maltreatment experiences in adolescence on academic achievement, aggressive behaviors, and mental health. They are using large cohort studies of children in contact with Child Protective Services in the US as well as a cohort of the general population of adolescents.

Heather Eicher-Miller, PhD
Associate professor
Department of Nutrition Science
Purdue University

Heather Eicher-Miller is a nutrition epidemiologist interested in dietary assessment, dietary patterning and dietary behaviors among low-resource population groups. Her research focuses on food insecurity which affects 11% of U.S. households and creates uncertainty in the availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods. Her work has documented immediate and chronic adverse dietary and health outcomes associated with food insecurity among diverse populations and created evidence-based interventions to improved food security.

Jill Inderstrodt, PhD
Medical Informatics Fellow
VA Health Services Research & Development
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Jill Inderstrodt is a perinatal health services researcher with expertise in family health, public health communication and health disparities. She received both a PhD and a Master’s of Public Health from Purdue, where she completed her dissertation on neighborhood stress and resilience under the mentorship of fellow MFRI scientist Steven Wilson. She also served as an MFRI intern, where she conducted a comparison of VA and non-VA medical centers for the Measuring Communities online mapping project. Dr. Inderstrodt’s research uses VA-developed informatics tools to improve perinatal health services for pregnant veterans with the goal of allowing every pregnant veteran to have the pregnancy and birth they choose. Her current work explores how race and past deployment affect breastfeeding status in veteran mothers. Other current research includes using pregnant veterans’ electronic health records to explain future health care utilization and using health information exchange to improve cancer care coordination. Dr. Inderstrodt’s work on veteran and non-veteran families has been published in Journal of Community Health, Journal of Family Communication, and Nursing Research, among others. 

Leanne Knobloch, PhD
Department of Communication
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Leanne Knobloch joined the communication department at the University of Illinois in 2002 after earning a PhD from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Knobloch’s research and teaching interests are in the field of interpersonal communication. More specifically, Knobloch examines how people’s communication both shapes and reflects the ways they think about their relationships. Her teaching focuses on conflict management, relationship development, and research methods. Knobloch’s research work seeks to understand interpersonal relationships during times of transition, because individuals are more aware of their relationships when those relationships are in flux. Knobloch’s most recent work focuses on (a) how military families communicate after being reunited following deployment, and (b) how romantic couples communicate following a depression diagnosis. Both lines of research provide important insights into how to help people have more satisfying relationships. Between 2002 and the present, Knobloch has won over a dozen awards recognizing excellence in her research and teaching in various capacities relating to communication studies.

Patricia Lester, PhD
Jane and Marc Nathanson Family Professor of Psychiatry
Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior
University of California, Los Angeles

Patricia Lester is a child and adolescent psychiatrist and an expert on how families deal with trauma like natural disasters, military deployments, illness, shootings and violence. Lester has applied her experience and expertise in mental health and family resiliency to female veterans, veterans and families/children, military families, formerly homeless female veterans in transitional housing. Lester, who is the director of the Nathanson Family Resilience Center and medical director of Child and Family Trauma Service, co-developed the family-centered preventive intervention program called FOCUS, which was designed to promote resilience and mitigate stress in families facing adversities. FOCUS has been implemented by the United States Navy and Marine Corps. She co-directs the Welcome Back Veterans Family Resilience Center, which includes research trials on family centered preventive and treatment models for Veterans and National Guard and their families, as well as community level education and capacity building to enhance resilience in OEF/OIF Veterans. She has published more than 50 research articles and book chapters.

Mallory Lucier-Greer, PhD
Associate professor
Department of Human Development and Family Sciences
Auburn University

Mallory Lucier-Greer is a doctor of family science at Auburn University as well as the Principal Investigator of Auburn’s Military REACH program in collaboration with the Department of Defense. Military REACH bridges the gap between research and practice, and its mission is two-fold: to make military family research accessible and practical. We strive to put research into the hands of military families, direct service helping professionals, and those who work on behalf of military families by harnessing collaborative expertise, maximizing technological advances, and actively disseminating products. Lucier-Greer’s accomplishments include awarded recognition as a graduate mentor, an expert in both service and teaching, and she has been recognized with the Military Family Research Institute’s Award for Excellence in Research on Military and Veteran Families.

Christina M. Marini, PhD
Assistant professor,
Gordon F. Derner School of Psychology
Adelphi University

Christina M. Marini (Ph.D., Purdue University, 2017) is an assistant professor in the Gordon F. Derner School of Psychology at Adelphi University and a Faculty Affiliate of the Center for Healthy Aging at The Pennsylvania State University. Her research focuses on the ways individuals and couples cope with periods of stress and transition across the adult lifespan. While one vein of her research focuses on couples coping with military-connected stressors (e.g., deployment) earlier in the adult lifespan, a second vein focuses on couples coping with health stressors (e.g., chronic pain) later in life. In order to understand links between stress, coping, and health within a social context, hers research adopts a multiple timescale perspective, thereby considering both daily-level and long-term associations. Her latest research adopts a 24-hour perspective and includes a focus on sleep and its sensitivity to psychosocial influences. In future projects, she aims to understand the ways in which social network ties may help — or perhaps harm — veterans coping with long-term effects of wartime military service later in life. 

Catherine Walker O’Neal, PhD
Associate research scientist
College of Family and Consumer Sciences
University of Georgia

Catherine Walker O’Neal’s research emphasizes the use of advanced statistical methods to examine families’ and individuals’ relational, physical, and mental health. A large portion of O’Neal’s research focuses on the contexts surrounding military families. O’Neal’s military research focuses on evaluating psychological well-being among military family members, particularly exploring relational and contextual effects, such as community connections, family functioning, and deployment and reintegration experiences. Her work examines protective factors that support military families, such as formal programming and informal networks of support. O’Neal’s funded projects include both military- and health-focused grants, such as ongoing evaluation planning efforts for Air Force family programs and research dissemination efforts with DoD through Military REACH to put research on military families into the hands of policymakers, helping professionals, and families themselves. O’Neal is also a co-investigator on a 5-year longitudinal project funded by the National Institute on Aging following a cohort of older adult couples in their later years during their retirement transition.

Nicholas Rattray, PhD
Core Investigator
VA HSR&D Center for Health Information and Communication
Research Scientist
Regenstrief Institute, IUPUI School of Medicine

Nicholas Rattray is a medical anthropologist with expertise in social determinants of health, disability, health communication, and implementation science. He holds a PhD in anthropology from the University of Arizona and has conducted fieldwork in the United States and in South America. Rattray also works as adjunct faculty at IUPUI in both their Department of Anthropology as well as in the Fairbanks School of Public Health. Rattray’s current research aims to improve community reintegration and rehabilitation outcomes for post-9/11 veterans. He is also a scientist on the Implementation Core of the QUERI-funded “Precision Monitoring to Transform Care” (PRIS-M) project, which employs precision monitoring to improve quality and outcomes of care. Rattray’s other research seeks to understand how context and culture affects communication in clinical handoffs and transitions of care. Rattray is a fellow in the Society for Applied Anthropology as well as a member of the American Anthropological Association, the Latin American Studies Association, the Society for Disability Studies and the Society for Implementation Research Collaboration

Valerie Stander, PhD
Research Psychologist
Millennium Cohort Family Study
Naval Health Research Center

Valerie Stander has worked as a research psychologist at the Naval Health Research Center (NHRC) for over 20 years studying the health and wellbeing of military personnel and their families. Within the NHRC Military Population Health Directorate, Stander is currently the principal investigator of the Millennium Cohort Family Study, a 21-year longitudinal program documenting the impact of military life stress on family relationships. Stander is also co-principal investigator in a research collaboration with Abt Associates evaluating the efficacy of a pilot implementation of a HealthySteps intervention initiated by the Department of Defense Office of Military Community and Family Policy. Stander focuses on risk factors for interpersonal aggression, including patterns of family violence as well as sexual aggression perpetration and victimization among military personnel. Stander collaborates with researchers at the Purdue Military Family Research Institute on a study funded by the National Institutes of Health to understand the long-term implications of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom deployment-related family separations on adolescent development.

Austin Toombs, PhD
Associate Professor
Department of Informatics
Indiana University

Dr. Austin Toombs is an Associate Professor at Indiana University in the Luddy School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering. He and his students in the Community-Computer Interaction Lab study the impact that digital technologies have on how communities are formed and maintained. He is particularly interested in how certain kinds of relationships between individuals within a community are encouraged while others are discouraged, and how various technologies are used to implicitly enforce those distinctions. How interpersonal relationships are sanctioned (in both senses of the word) plays a vital role in the inclusivity, welcomeness, and diversity of a community.

David Ian Walker, PhD
Department of Educational Studies
University of Alabama

Dr. David Ian Walker is Director of the Center for the Study of Ethical Development. His interdisciplinary research explores how to develop character and how character is shaped by context and culture (including military). After a first career as a British soldier, Walker received his PhD from Durham University, UK and completed post-doctoral study at the Military Family Research Institute, Purdue University, USA before leading research at the University of Birmingham in UK. He was awarded a Vice Chancellors’ Senior Research Fellowship at Northumbria University, UK before taking up his current position. Dr. Walker is a Fellow of the UK Higher Education Authority, is a member of the Editorial Board for the Journal of Moral Education and for the Association of Moral Education.

Shawn Whiteman, PhD
College of Education and Human Services Associate Dean for Research
Utah State University

Shawn Whiteman has recognized expertise on the connections between family socialization processes and youth’s health and socioemotional adjustment. He specializes in sibling relationships and their social influence within families. After spending 11 years of his career in the Department of Human Development and Family Sciences at Purdue University, Dr. Whiteman joined the faculty at Utah State in 2016. Broadly, Whiteman conducts research on the connections between family socialization processes and youth’s health and socioemotional adjustment. Whiteman is specifically interested in how siblings directly and indirectly act as sources of social influence and social comparison within families and how their family experiences foster similarities and differences in their relationship qualities, attributes, and health-related behaviors. In collaboration with colleagues from the Military Family Research Institute, Whiteman also investigate the implications of military deployments for individual and family adjustment from pre-deployment through reintegration. His work concentrates on how deployments reverberate throughout the entire family system, shaping family relationships as well as non-service member parenting and mental health and ultimately children’s adjustment.

Steven R. Wilson
Department of Communication
University of South Florida

Steven R. Wilson’s research focuses on processes of influence and identity management in family, health and workplace contexts. Much of his research explores how military families communicate across the deployment cycle, including how adolescents manage privacy with their deployed and at-home parent during deployment and reunion, how couples maintain their relationship during deployment, and how families encourage service members or veterans to seek behavioral healthcare when needed. He is the author of “Seeking and resisting compliance: Why individuals say what they do when trying to influence others,” co-editor of “New directions in interpersonal communication research,” as well as “Reflections on interpersonal communication research” and author of 90 scholarly articles and book chapters on these topics. Dr. Wilson is a fellow of the International Communication Association, and recipient of the National Communication Association’s Bernard Brommel Award for Outstanding Scholarship in Family Communication. Dr. Wilson currently serves as an associate editor for Human Communication Research, published by the International Communication Association.