Team

Principal Investigator 

Denise 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 Fellow

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.


Research Specialist

Neha Zahid, MPH, is a Research Specialist at UC Merced. She received a double B.A. in Public Health and Molecular Biology, and earned an MPH in Public Health Nutrition from UC Berkeley. Her research interests lie at the intersection of global health, chronic disease prevention, and health policy. She is specifically interested in identifying and addressing the ways in which structural factors affect disparities in maternal and child health. With the CHIP Lab, she is currently working on evaluating the sustainability of policy advocacy interventions to improve infant and child feeding practices in Vietnam. 


Public Health PhD Students

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.

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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).


Undergraduate Student Research Assistants

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Arbab Alam is an undergraduate student majoring in Public Health at UC Merced. His interests include learning how politics and health outcomes are intertwined and how policy interventions affect health disparities. He is currently assisting with the development of a state obesity policy database with the CHIP Lab. Additionally, he works as a medical scribe on weekends at Adventist Health Bakersfield. After graduating, he hopes to use all of the knowledge he learns to help communities become healthier, and ultimately, happier.

Luis 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.  

Jaerika Vega is an undergraduate student majoring in Public Health at UC Merced. Her interests include learning about how health policies, community outreach interventions, and health in media contribute to socioeconomic inequalities. After graduating, she hopes to promote health education and work with health outreach programs to create healthy communities.

Lisa Vu is an undergraduate student majoring in Public Health and minoring in Political Science at UC Merced. Her interests include health policy, healthcare disparities, and supporting students in low-income communities to pursue higher education. She is currently an intern for Congressman Jim Costa as part of the Maddy Institute Legislative Intern Scholar Program and is a Learning Assistant for UC Merced’s Center for Educational Partnerships. She also volunteers for Merced County’s Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Program (HICAP) as a Medicare Counselor. She hopes to pursue a Master of Healthcare Administration degree in the future.  

Daniel Navarro is an undergraduate student majoring in Human Biology with Public Health & Psychology minors at UC Merced. His interests include minority health, health disparities, health policy and management, LGBTQ+ health, and primary care. He is assisting with a School Meals Spatial Analysis Project that is part of the UCANR Nutrition Policy Institute. He plans to pursue a Master in Public Health after graduation to help promote healthier and safer environments in Central California.

Corbin 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. Corbin plans to pursue law school to represent communities in the Central Valley to achieve health equity.