Community Engagement Core Personnel

Program Leadership

Marc S. Atkins, PhD

Dr. Atkins is the Director of the CCTS's Community Engagement and Collaboration Core. He is a Professor of Psychiatry and Psychology, and Director of the Institute for Juvenile Research where he also directs a research group focused on community-based mental health services for urban children. He has worked on policy-related projects both locally in Chicago and nationally, and has been funded by NIH grants consistently since 1990 including as PI of a center grant focused on developing innovative community-based mental health programs for children in poverty. 

Tara G. Mehta, PhD

Dr. Mehta is an Assistant Professor at the Institute for Juvenile Research in the Department of Psychiatry, College of Medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the Director of Psychology Training. Dr. Mehta has a longstanding interest in the implementation and dissemination of alternative models of community mental health practice to support positive youth development. Her research focuses on the development and implementation of organizational structures that promote the sustainability of effective services in community settings (e.g., professional learning communities and leveraging workplace-based support) and social network mechanisms related to implementation and sustainability of effective practices in community settings. She has worked closely with the Chicago Public Schools and Chicago Park District and collaborated with key policy stakeholders in Illinois, including the Illinois Department of Mental Health Evidence Informed Training Initiative and the Illinois Department of Mental Health Evidence Informed Practice Board to advise on the scaling-up of evidence based practices in community mental health settings. Currently, Dr. Mehta is collaborating with Urban Initiatives, a non-profit foundation that utilizes active play as a context to promote physical and mental health for children, to design and test an organizational infrastructure to enhance staff capacity to promote mental health in recreational settings.

Dana Rusch, PhD

Dr. Rusch is a Visiting Research Assistant Professor at the Institute for Juvenile Research in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Dr. Rusch has an overarching interest in addressing mental health disparities among ethnic minority youth and families living in urban poverty. Her program of research focuses on implementing relevant and sustainable models of mental health promotion for Latino immigrant families, guided by a Community-Based Participatory Research framework. This work aims to build upon community resources and workforce strengths through collaborative partnerships with non-specialty settings (e.g., schools, community-based organizations, after-school programs) and the non-traditional providers that play a critical role in family engagement and advocacy. Dr. Rusch has collaborated with the Chicago Public Schools, the Chicago Park District, and various community-based organizations serving Latino/immigrant families throughout the city. 

Amparo Castillo, MD, MS, PhD

Dr. Castillo is acting Director of the UIC Midwest Latino Health Research Training and Policy Center, as well as the Center’s Training Coordinator. She develops and implements educational programs for community health workers and other health care professionals assisting the Hispanic and African American minorities. Dr. Castillo is also co-author and Senior Trainer of the Diabetes Empowerment Education Program (DEEP) and other health education programs addressing low health literacy among minority groups. Additionally, she conducted intervention research using Tai Chi for glycemic control and stress reduction among Latino older adults. Her current interests continue to address health disparities by implementing health education interventions, and facilitating the training and capacity building of community health workers. 

Consultants and Support Staff

Erika Gustafson, MA

Erika Gustafson is a graduate student in the Clinical Psychology program at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Broadly, her research focuses on community-based interventions to promote healthy psychological development for underserved children and families. Her specific research interests include broadening the boundaries of mental health treatment through a focus on upstream ecological factors impacting mental health (i.e. the social determinants of health), non-traditional service providers such as community health workers, non-traditional settings such as schools and neighborhoods, and Latino mental health. She has conducted qualitative and quantitate research with community health workers examining their processes of parental engagement, as well as with homeless youth examining their executive functioning. Erika is also an active advocate for promoting diversity within the field, having served as co-chair of the Diversity Advancement Committee within her clinical program.

Sandra Morales-Mirque, MUPP

Sandra Morales-Mirque is a Research Specialist with the Community Engagement & Collaboration Core. She has many years of experience in the areas of research in academic settings as well as community involvement through her work in non for profit organizations. Her roles in community-based organizations have included: direct services, organizing, managing programs, and serving in boards of directors. She has experience in outreach, recruitment, and retention, as well coordination of all aspects of research projects. Sandra holds a BA in Arts from Northeastern University and a Masters Degree in Urban Planning and Policy from UIC.

Kevin Rak, MA

Kevin Rak is a Research Specialist with the Community Engagement & Collaboration Core. He has several years’ experience working in community-based organizations on a variety of issues, including homeless services, support for domestic violence survivors, and violence prevention. Kevin has analyzed and presented data to make it useful to community groups and residents. He has contributed to several reports on the Little Village community, as both a researcher and writer. Kevin holds a BA in History from Northwestern University and an MA in Public Policy from King’s College London.