Principal Investigator

Payan_Denise_170828-1 new-page-001Denise Diaz Payán, PhD, MPP, is an Assistant Professor of Public Health at UC Merced. She is the founder and principal investigator of the Community Health & Innovative Policy (CHIP) Lab. Dr. Payán obtained a PhD in Public Policy and Management from USC Sol Price School of Public Policy and MPP from Harvard Kennedy School. She received a BA in History and Science, Certificate in Health Policy, and Citation in Spanish from Harvard College.​ She was also a Health Services Research post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Health Policy and Management at UCLA Fielding School of Public Health and the RAND Corporation.

Postdoctoral Scholar

FrehnJ_profileJennifer Frehn, PhD, MPH, is a Postdoctoral Fellow at UC Merced. She holds an MPH in Community Health Sciences from UCLA, and a PhD in Health Policy from UC Berkeley. Her research interests include examining how linkages between health care, public health, and community-based services and supports can work to address social determinants of health and reduce health disparities for vulnerable populations. Her work at the CHIP Lab includes understanding how to advance telehealth implementation for low-income Californians in response to COVID-19.

Graduate Student Researchers

100198331Kimberly Sánchez, MPH, is a Public Health PhD student at UC Merced. She received a triple B.A. in Spanish, Public Health, and Psychology at UC Merced and completed a Master’s in Public Health (MPH) with an emphasis in Community Health Education at CSU Long Beach. Her research interests include immigrant health, specifically how policies affect the health of undocumented Latinos as well as research on obesity prevention. She is a 2020 CARE-UC Fellow and was awarded grant funding to conduct research on food insecurity among immigrants in California. After receiving her Ph.D., she hopes to continue her research to improve access to resources and health among minority populations.


Kesia Garibay is a Public Health PhD student at UC Merced who focuses on health policy. She received her B.A. in Public Health from UC Merced. Her research interests include the impact of health policy on underserved communities and understanding how policy addresses health disparities. She is currently working to develop a state obesity policy database with the CHIP Lab. Kesia is the 2020 recipient of the Future History Makers Award from Hispanas Organized for Political Equality (HOPE).

IMG_2798Vanessa Mora is an M.D. candidate at UCSF School of Medicine and is part of the SJV PRIME program. She obtained a B.S. in Biological Sciences from UC Santa Barbara and completed UCSF School of Medicine’s Post Baccalaureate Program. Her research interests include health disparities research and policies/interventions to help address gaps in access to routine and specialty medical care for Spanish-speaking, low-income, and uninsured populations. After medical school, Vanessa hopes to return to the Central Valley to practice medicine and advocate for healthcare accessibility for Latinx communities.

Undergraduate Student Research Assistants

luis-image-1-1Luis Garay is an undergraduate student majoring in Public Health at UC Merced and is also completing his pre-requisites for medical school. He is currently involved with the Health Promotion department on campus as a Peer Health Educator where he can connect, educate, and advocate for student wellbeing. His interests include learning about community health and how social factors such as health determinants, health disparities and many other factors contribute to the lack of quality healthcare for Latinx communities, specifically in the Central Valley.

corbinCorbin Farias is an undergraduate student majoring in Public Health and Psychology at UC Merced. His interests include health policy and law, and health equity. He is currently assisting with the development of a state obesity policy database in the CHIP lab. He is also captain of the UCM Cross Country team and a member of the Student Athletic Advisory Committee. In 2021, he received the Arthur Ashe Jr. Sports Scholar award in recognition for his excellence in both academic and athletic pursuits. Corbin plans to pursue law school to represent communities in the Central Valley to achieve health equity.