Meet the TRIP Team
Thomas Brandon, PhD - Director
Thomas Brandon, PhD is the director of the Tobacco Research and Intervention Program 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
Senior Member Emeritus
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 the Assistant Center Director for Research Community Partnerships and a 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 including cancer survivors. A prominent focus of her recent projects is on the use of mHealth approaches to efficiently and effectively deliver smoking cessation treatments. Dr. Vidrine’s research program has been continuously supported by grants from the National Cancer Institute, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas and the Florida Biomedical James and Esther King Research Program.
Damon Vidrine, DrPH
Damon J. Vidrine, DrPH, is Chair of 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 received her PhD in Clinical Psychology from Louisiana State University. Her research focuses on developing and testing behavioral interventions that address cancer-risk behaviors (e.g., tobacco, alcohol use) and stress management. To date, most of the interventional research she has conducted is specific to mindfulness-based interventions and strategies, with a primary focus on mHealth and underserved populations.
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.
Kristina Bowles, MPH
Senior Research Project Manager
Kristina Bowles is a Senior Research Project Manager at the Tobacco Research and Intervention Program (TRIP) and has over 15 years of experience managing research projects. Ms. Bowles received her Master in Public Health with a concentration in Epidemiology from the University of Arizona in 2005 and worked for 10 years as federal epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention. Ms. Bowles 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, including individuals seeking services at food pantries in the Tampa Bay area and people living with HIV.
Melissa Conn, MPH, CPH, TTS
Research Project Specialist
Melissa Conn is a Research Project Manager at the Tobacco Research and Intervention Program and has worked in tobacco research for nine years. Ms. Conn is working on several studies focused on innovative smoking cessation interventions for a range of populations, including: cervical cancer survivors, underserved smokers, and persons living with HIV. She received her Bachelor’s degree in psychology and holds Master’s degree in public health, with a concentration in behavioral health, from the University of South Florida.
Patricia Medina-Ramirez, MPH
Patricia Medina-Ramirez is the lead coordinator for Libre del Cigarrillo, a state and federally-funded randomized controlled trial evaluating the efficacy of a self-help smoking cessation intervention for Spanish-speaking smokers, under the supervision of Drs. Vani Simmons and Thomas Brandon. She received her master’s in public health with a concentration in global health and epidemiology from the University of South Florida in 2015. Patricia has a special interest in Latinx cancer health disparities, cancer control and prevention, and cultural adaptation of health interventions for Latinx populations.
Sierra Washington, M.P.H.
Research Coordinator II
Sierra is a Research Coordinator at the Tobacco Research and Intervention Program. She graduated from Florida State University with a Bachelor’s of Science in Social Work and the University of South Florida with a Master’s in Public Health. Her research interest includes behavioral and communication interventions for equitable health outcomes.
Valerie Yepez, M.M.S.
Research Coordinator III
Valerie is a Research Coordinator at the Tobacco Research and Intervention Program. She graduated from the University of South Florida with degrees in Psychology and Biomedical Sciences and also graduated from Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine with her Master’s in Medical Sciences. Valerie is currently contributing to studies focused on the emotional well-being of primary caregivers of patients at Moffitt Cancer Center.
Rashmi Gupta, B.S.
Research Assistant II
Rashmi Gupta is a Research Assistant in Dr. Vinci’s lab at the Tobacco Research and Intervention Program. She graduated from the University of South Florida with a major in Biomedical Sciences and a minor in Psychology. Rashmi hopes to go to optometry school in the future
Cherell Cottrell-Daniels, PhD
Dr. Cherell Cottrell-Daniels is an Applied Postdoctoral Fellow at the Tobacco Research and Intervention Program in the Department of Health Outcomes and Behavior. She received her PhD in Public Health with a concentration in Health Promotion and Behavior from Georgia State University, School of Public Health. Her professional and research experience has centered on health disparities among low-income and underserved populations in urban and rural settings. During her doctoral training, she focused on addressing tobacco health disparities among low-income and African American smokers. She also held roles in NIH-funded clinical trials that utilized mHealth as a modality for intervention delivery. Building upon her previous training, Dr. Cottrell-Daniels is particularly interested in utilizing mixed methods to understand stressors and protective factors related to marijuana and tobacco co-use among priority populations (i.e., low-income, African Americans). Her work aims to promote tobacco cessation; eliminate tobacco-related cancer health disparities among priority populations; and to develop culturally relevant interventions.
Bethany Shorey Fennell, PhD
Bethany Shorey Fennell, PhD, is an Applied Postdoctoral Fellow at the Tobacco Research and Intervention Program in the Department of Health Outcomes and Behavior. She received her PhD in Experimental Psychology from Washington State University in Vancouver, Washington in 2020, where she focused on health communication techniques and messaging for smoking, heavy alcohol use, cannabis use, and sun protection. Her research interests are primarily in eliminating disparities in tobacco prevention and cessation for underserved populations, the role of effect in health communication, and tobacco and cannabis co-use. During her postdoctoral fellowship, she is working on multiple projects specific to targeted and tailored smoking cessation for underserved populations, such as nondaily smokers, cancer survivors, people living with HIV, and food pantry clients. She is also interested in mHealth interventions and ecological momentary assessment approaches.
Min-Jeong Yang, PhD
Min-Jeong is an Applied Postdoctoral Fellow at the Tobacco Research and Intervention Program in the Department of Health Outcomes and Behavior. She received her PhD in Clinical Psychology from Rutgers University in New Jersey in 2020, where she focused on cognitive, affective, and biological mechanisms that contribute to the maintenance of smoking and alcohol use, utilizing behavioral tasks on implicit bias and psychophysiology. Her research interests are primarily in cue reactivity and mechanisms of mindfulness- and exposure-based interventions in smoking cessation and relapse prevention. During her postdoctoral fellowship, she is working on multiple projects specific to smoking cessation treatments based on mindfulness and cue exposure, and that also utilize various research methodologies including ecological momentary assessment, wearable sensors, augmented reality, and very low nicotine content cigarettes.
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.
Graduate Student, MS
Honor Woodward is a graduate student in the clinical psychology doctoral program at the University of South Florida. She is pursuing her PhD under the mentorship of Drs. Vani Simmons and Jennifer Vidrine. Broadly, her research interests involve promoting health in marginalized communities and developing efficacious smoking cessation interventions for vulnerable or at-risk groups. At TRIP, she is working on multiple projects related to smoking cessation among cancer patients. Previously, she received her Master's of Science in Clinical Psychology at the Illinois Institute of Technology, studying HIV-related health disparities and intersectional minority stress.
Administrative Support Staff
Samantha Diaz-McGimsey is the Division Coordinator for the Tobacco Research and Intervention Program (TRIP), the Health Outcomes and Behavior Department (HOB) and Coordinator for the Moffitt Fowler Campus Building (MFC). Sam currently provides administrative support to TRIP faculty, graduate students, staff members, and undergraduate research interns, as well as coordinating support from other Moffitt departments. Sam was nominated and recognized among the top honors of the H. Lee Moffitt 2019 Award of Excellence by her colleague for her extraordinary service of Moffitt’s mission and values. She has been with Moffitt Cancer Center since 2005.
Yanid Grullon, BA
Associate Grants Administrator
Yanid Grullon is an Associate Grants Administrator for the Tobacco Research and Intervention Program. She joined Moffitt Cancer Center in 2017 and is currently providing administrative and grant support to the faculty at TRIP. Yanid received her Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Universidad Ana G. Mendez in Puerto Rico.
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.