Office of COE

Contact us

Looking for more information or to speak with a member of the COE team? Contact us at or (804) 628-0896.

Vanessa Sheppard Vanessa Sheppard, Ph.D.
Associate director for community outreach and engagement

A professor and chair of the Department of Health Behavior and Policy, Dr. Sheppard is a population scientist, health services researcher and expert in health disparities, community engagement and culturally tailored interventions. In her role as associate director for community outreach and engagement (COE), she oversees the strategic direction of COE activities and the implementation of strategies developed with community stakeholders. Key initiatives include leading the cancer burden assessments, developing and monitoring strategies to maximize community engagement, particularly with medically underserved or underrepresented populations, and leading clinical care navigation and evidenced-based education. Dr. Sheppard works closely with leaders from each of Massey’s research programs to promote catchment area-focused, cancer disparities, and community-engaged research. She also works closely with the Offices of Cancer Research Training and Education Coordination and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to align activities across the Center.

Debbie Chatman Bryant, DNP
Executive director for COE operations

Dr. Bryant joined VCU in 2021 as the COE Operations Director. A nationally recognized nurse leader in cancer navigation for screening and cancer care services, Dr. Bryant operationalizes the COE vision. She has extensive experience in cancer control, working both at the administrative and grassroots community-based levels. Over the past decade, she has expanded cancer control outreach programming in terms of geographic reach, scope of services, and number of individuals served. She is recognized for her perseverance and innovation in executing strategies that respect and engage diverse communities as active participants in realistic and practical steps to improve health and health outcomes.

Jennifer ReidJennifer Reid, Ph.D.
Faculty lead for community outreach and engagement

Dr. Reid is an expert in program evaluation and survey research methods with a focus on examining the health risk behaviors and aspects of relationships within emerging adulthood and adolescence populations. As the faculty lead for community outreach and engagement evaluation, she ensures rigorous evaluation at all levels across all COE initiatives. Dr. Reid also serves as the Director for VCU’s Research Institute for Social Equity.

Headshot of Maria D. Thomson, Ph.D.Maria Thomson, Ph.D.
Director for community engagement in research

Dr. Thomson is a social and behavioral scientist whose work, research and teaching are grounded in health equity, and focuses on promoting informed and shared decision making through effective communication and measuring and evaluating sociocultural and health disparities that influence patient information needs, knowledge, attitudes, access and behaviors. As director for Community Engagement in Research, Dr. Thomson provides strategic and administrative direction in the development, and oversees the Community and Faculty Champions program.

Headshot of Katherine Tossas, Ph.D., M.S.Katherine Y. Tossas, Ph.D., M.S.
Director for catchment area data access and alignment (CADA)

Dr. Tossas is an assistant professor and Harrison Endowed Scholar in the Department of Health Behavior and Policy. In her role as director of CADA, Dr. Tossa provides cancer-relevant, catchment-focused data to support Massey cancer research and Community Outreach and Engagement initiatives. CADA leverages external, publicly available datasets such as sociodemographic, cancer and other health behavior and services-related data from local, state and national sources to promote a better understanding of the catchment area.

Jinlei Zhao, B.S., Ph.D. is a research analyst for CADA. Dr. Zhao is responsible for analyzing, packaging and disseminating catchment area data through CADA, contributing to annual updates for health profiles, and responding to requests from Massey Cancer Center members. He has rich experience in data analysis using SAS, R, Python, Excel and ArcGIS.

Tiffani Collins, B.S., M.P.H. is the senior program manager for care coordination and navigation. She joined Massey in January of 2022 to support navigation services to address social determinants of health across Massey’s catchment area, from screening to continuum of care services.

Travis Dieffenderfer B.S., serves as a local engagement coordinator for Richmond and the Petersburg areas. He is responsible for community education and information on cancer prevention, risk reduction, screening and early detection.

Tina Fonteneau, builds collaborative relationships with external organizations focused on cancer education, prevention, early detection and navigation to community screening resources throughout the Commonwealth. Tina also spearheads multiple community-based partnerships in an effort to grow Massey's impact across the catchment area.

Adanari Soria Flores, B.B. A., BMktg is a bilingual navigator working to address social determinants of health across Massey’s catchment area, from screening to continuum of care services.

Charlotte Garrett, B.S., R.N. is a nurse navigator, working with individuals throughout Massey's catchment area to assure access to care along the entire cancer continuum, from risk reduction, to screening, treatment and support services. Charlotte works with partners in and around the Danville area to focus efforts on reducing barriers to care.

Michael Gesme, B.A., M.P.A. is the senior program manager for community outreach and engagement. In his role, Michael is responsible for expanding Massey’s reach by building and maintaining necessary external relationships to better serve communities throughout the Center’s catchment area. Additionally, he oversees a variety of community-based programs and partnerships focused on developing long-term strategic outreach efforts, coalition building, public policy needs and advocacy work.

Jarell Hines, B.S. serves as a clinical trials patient navigator to assist individuals in reducing barriers and providing access to cutting edge, high-quality clinical trials. Jarell is also a COE community tobacco treatment specialist.

Teya Whitehead, B.A., M.A. serves as a local engagement coordinator for the Lawrenceville Resource Center. She is responsible for community education and information on cancer prevention, risk reduction, screening and early detection. Teya is also a COE community tobacco treatment specialist.

Bradley Williams, M.P.H. serves as a senior program coordinator. In this role, Bradley leads cancer prevention initiatives for the We CAN Quit smoking cessation initiative, the Community Grant Initiative and fosters relationships between Massey and vital community partnerships. Brad is also a COE community tobacco treatment specialist.

Katelyn Schifano M.S., C.H.E.S. is the CEnR coordinator, working closely with Dr. Thomson in her role as Director of CEnR. Katelyn is a VCU graduate and a certified community health education specialist (C.H.E.S.). She has been working with VCU since 2011 on various social and behavioral health research projects. In her role, she serves as a conduit between community members and researchers to ensure that research is relevant to the communities served by Massey.