Center Scientists

Through the work of its Self-Management Science Center, the UWM College of Nursing is gaining widespread recognition for scientific expertise in this concentrated foci area. UWM CON Center Scientist is a title given to a growing array of researchers with active programs of scholarship/research in self-management of individuals and families. Center Scientists may be from the UWM College of Nursing, from other UWM schools and colleges, or from other institutions. To apply for Center Scientist status, see sidebar application link.

Awardees are expected to:

  1. Be actively involved in Self-Management Research/Scholarship;
  2. Demonstrate ongoing, active relationship with the SMSC; and,
  3. Submit updated vitae annually.

Title Benefits:

  • Ready access to expertise
  • consult leading scientists in this field 
  • Across-the-board support via Methods Core 
  • Funding and other resource-sharing opportunities 
  • Enhanced visibility & recognition within and for field of self-management
CURRENT ROSTERDirector, UWM SMSC:                           Rachel F. Schiffman, PhD, RN, FAAN

UWM College of Nursing (CON) Associate Dean of Research, Professor; and, Director, UWM Clinical & Translation Science Research Support Office. Dr. Schiffman coordinates Center activities with CON resources, and other UWM and community resources. Dr. Schiffman serves on the Executive Committee of the Clinical & Translational Science Institute (CTSI) Southeast Wisconsin and is a co-PI of its CTSA proposal. Her program of research is focused on family health in the context of early childhood intervention programs. Dr. Schiffman received her bachelor's and master's degrees in Nursing and her PhD in Educational Psychology. She is a fellow of the American Academy of Nursing and a certified instructor for the NCAST Parent Child Interaction Teaching and Feeding Scales. She has been involved in the Early Headstart Research and Evaluation Consortium  since 1996.

Director, SMSC Methods Core:             Christine Kovach, PhD, RN, FAANProfessor, UWM CON and SMSC Methods Core Director. Dr. Kovach oversees consulting senior scientists; assists & monitors directors of active studies in their use of Core services; and, works with investigators to implement start-up projects. She has done extensive clinical work and intervention research designed to improve outcomes for people with Alzheimer's disease and other dementia. Specifically, she has been responsible for: (1) opening and researching some of the first hospice households designed to care for people with late-stage dementia; (2) opening Special Care Units (SCU's) for mid-stage dementia and researching specific programmatic, environmental, and behavioral aspects of the SCU model; developing the “Model of Imbalance in Sensoristasis” theory to guide research and practice on activity pacing of people with dementia; and, (4) developing the Serial Trial Intervention—an approach to management of pain and other unmet needs in people with advanced dementia. Dr. Kovach received her B.S. and M.S. degrees from Kent State University, and her doctorate from the University of Rochester in New York. She is a fellow in the American Academy of Nursing.

Scott Adams, PhD

UW-Milwaukee Associate Professor, Department of Economics, is a Center Scientist and coordinates cost measurement services in the Methods Core. In this capacity, his services to SMSC investigators include: 1) determination of costs associated with implementation of a self-management intervention; 2) examination of cost to payors through use of claims data; and, 3) performance of cost effectiveness analysis (CEA) using quality adjusted life years. Prior to his appointment at UW-Milwaukee, Dr. Adams was a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Scholar in Health Policy Research at the University of Michigan. He was recently appointed to a 12-month presidential advisory position, and as of September 2008 is a Senior Economist, Council of Economic Advisors, living and working in Washington DC.

Aaron Buseh, PhD, MPH, MSN

Associate Professor, UW-Milwaukee College of Nursing. Dr. Buseh received the John E. Fogarty International Center, National Institutes of Health Minority International Reserach Training Fellowship at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and this allowed him to complete his doctoral dissertation research in the area of sexual risk behaviors and HIV/AIDS prevention in Swaziland, Southern Africa. Areas of research and expertise span local, national, and international levels with focus on delineating factors associated with HIV/AIDS prevention, social stigman, quality of life, and structural barriers associated with health care delivery in sub-Saharan Africas and the U.S. African-American community. He holds his PhD from he University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, his MPH and MSN degrees from the University of Illinois-Chicago, and his BSN from Cuttington University, Liberia.

Jennifer Doering, PhD, RN

Assistant Professor at UW-Milwaukee's College of Nursing and SMSC Project Director for Self-Management of Postpartum Fatigue in Lower-Income Urban Women. Research interests include self-management of postpartum fatigue and sleep, wrist actigraphy, and postpartum depression. Other recent research conducted at UWM focused on improving the health of mothers who have children with special needs. Dr. Doering is a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Nurse Faculty Scholar (2008-2011). She received her Ph.D. and M.S. from the University of Arizona, Tucson, and her BSN from the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.

Suzanne Feetham, PhD, RN, FAAN

Senior/Consulting Center Director, SMSC & Visiting Professor, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee College of Nursing. Dr. Feetham has held clinical, research and leadership positions in academia, health systems and the US Federal government. She is recognized nationally and internationally for her research and scholarship in nursing research of families, system change in health care and the integration of genetics and genomics in national education, practice and policy.

 Rachel Neff Greenley PhD

Pediatric Psychologist and Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, Medical College of Wisconsin; Investigator, Children's Research Institute; member, Children's Hospital of Wisconsin staff. Dr. Greenley's work focuses on family functioning and adherence to treatment regimen in the context of pediatric chronic illnesses. and She received her MA and PhD in clincial psychology from Loyola University Chicago. Dr. Greenley completed an internship in clinical child and pediatric psychology at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago, IL and an NIH-funded fellowship in pediatric psychology and child behavioral health research at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, OH.

Susan Heidrich, PhD, RN

Professor in the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Nursing and Co-Project Director for the SMSC's Patient-Centered Intervention to Improve Symptom Management in Older Heart Failure Patients. Dr. Heidrich's research focuses on understanding and improving physical and psychological well-being and quality of life in old age. In addition to her current work through the SMSC, Dr. Heidrich has examined social-cognitive mechanisms related to successful coping and mental health in old age in both cross-sectional and longitudinal studies. She holds a PhD in Nursing and Psychology from UW-Madison, an MS in Nursing from UW-Madison, a BS and RN in Nursing from Cornell University, and a BA in Sociology from Eastern Michigan University.

Jeanne Hewitt, PhD, RN

Associate Professor, UWM CON, is Co-Coordinator of Physiological Measurement services in the Methods Core. She assists Center researchers in the a) selection of biophysical markers that are appropriate for their study, b) selection and proper use of measurement tools and c) analysis and interpretation of the results. Dr. Hewitt is an environmental and occupational epidemiologist whose research focuses on reproductive, developmental, and chronic health effects of chemical exposures and the built environment. She is a co-investigator on the National Children's Study—Waukesha Vanguard Center and Associate Director of the UW-Milwaukee Institute of Environmental Health. Dr. Hewitt is also Director of Community Outreach and Education Programs for the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences Marine & Freshwater Biomedical Sciences (MFBS) Center at UW-Milwaukee. 

Eugenie Hildebrandt, PhD, RN

Associate Professor, College of Nursing, UW-Milwaukee, provides consultation, mentorship and skill development to Center investigators in study development and qualitative analysis. Dr. Hildebrandt received her Ph.D. from the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg , South Africa; her Master's degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison; and, her Bachelor's degree from George Mason University. She has expertise in primary health care and international nursing, and her work is directed toward strategies that build effective self-management for individuals and enhance community competence. Current Center-based research explores the effects of work-based welfare programs on the health and well being of families in poverty and she was a co-investigator of a longitudinal, qualitative study of women living with HIV.

Penninah Kako, PhD, RN, FNP, BC, APNP

Assistant Professor, UWM CON. Dr. Kako's areas of researchand experise include improving health care access for underserved populations and international research in HIV/AIDS. Before joining UWM, Dr. Kako held mulitiple FNP positions at various southeastern Wisconsin health care facilities and was coordinator for community partnerships for Aurora Heath Care. She received her PhD and MS degree from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Astrida Kaugars PhD

Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology, Marquette University. Dr. Kaugars’ research focuses on socioemotional processes in children and families representing diverse pediatric populations and represents an integration of child development, pediatric psychology, and developmental psychopathology perspectives. Recent research collaborations include partnerships with Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin/Medical College of Wisconsin and National Jewish Medial and Research Center in Denver, CO. She completed her MA and doctoral work in Clinical Child and Pediatric Psychology at Case Western Reserve University. After her predoctoral internship at The Children’s Hospital in Denver, Colorado, Dr. Kaugars completed postdoctoral training at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center and National Jewish Medical and Research Center.

Jessica Kichler PhD

Clinical psychologist with a specialization in pediatric psychology. Recent research foci include adjustment and self-management interventions for children and adolescents with diabetes and their parents, and eating disordered behaviors. Dr. Kichler is an Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine at the Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine Center, with the Children's Hospital of Wisconsin. She received her B.A. from Washington University in St. Louis, MO and her M.A. and Ph.D. from Kent State University in Kent, OH. She completed her internship at Rush University Medical School in Chicago, IL and her fellowship at the University of Michigan Health System in Ann Arbor, MI.

Mary Pat Kunert, PhD, RN

Associate Professor, UWM CON, is Co-Director of the Method Core's biophysical measurement services. She assists Center researchers in: a) study-appropriate selection of biophysical markers; b) selection and proper use of measurement tools; and, c) results interpretation. Dr. Kunert received her BSW and BSN degrees from UW-Milwaukee and her PhD from the Medical College of Wisconsin. Areas of expertise include physiology, hypertension, microcirculation, and tissue oxygen delivery. Past appointments include Adjunct Assistant Professor, Scientific Project Supervisor of Physiological Genomics, Medical College of Wisconsin, Physiology Department, Milwaukee; and Associate Professor, Marquette University College of Nursing, Milwaukee.

Marcellus Merritt, PhD

Assistant Professor, Health Psychology program at UWM. In his Stress, Coping and Cardiovascular Health Disparities program, Dr. Merritt studies psychosocial and biological influences on hypertension and chronic diseases among racially/ethnically diverse populations as well as the link between health buffering behaviors and reduced risk for poor health outcomes. Recent findings focus on how psychosocial and physical stressors such as anger provocation and racial discrimination predict cardiovascular, neuroendocrine, and immune responses among young and older adult populations. Dr. Merritt is currently studying caregiver stress among diverse adult Alzheimer’s/dementia caregivers. He is part of a research team examining how Alzheimer’s/dementia family caregivers cope with their caregiving responsibilities. Dr. Merritt, together with other Center for Age and Community (CAC) scholars, plans to conduct a clinical trial that examines how nursing home patients with dementia respond to the 12-week TimeSlips storytelling program. He is a former research fellow at the National Institute on Aging and is currently a scholar in the Cardiovascular Health Disparities program at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

Sarah W. Morgan PhD, RN

Assistant Professor, UWM CON and SMSC Project Director for Family Caregiver Self-Management of the Unmet Needs of Persons with Dementia study. Dr. Morgan is also a Center Scientist with the Center for Urban Population Health, a scholar with the UWM Center on Age and Community and is a member of the UWM Institutional Review Board . Her research interests include pain and community dwelling elders, cultural diversity, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender health issues. She has lent support to numerous UWM CON studies in recent years, including research focusing on women and TANF, alcohol use among college students, and women living with HIV. Dr. Morgan received her PhD in Nursing and Certificate in Women's Studies from UWM; an MSN in Midwifery and BSN in Nursing from Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland; and a BS in education from Bowling Green State University.

Karen Morin, RN, DSN

Professor and Director, Graduate Programs, UWM CON, is the SMSC's Project Co-Director for Self-Management of Postpartum Fatigue in Poor Urban Women. She received a DSN in Nursing from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, her MS in Nursing and Community Health from the University of Central Arkansas, and her BSN from the University of Ottawa, Ontario. Past appointments include Professor of Nursing, Western Michigan University; Professor of Obstetrics & Gynecology, Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center College of Medicine; and, Professor of Nursing, Pennsylvania State University. Dr. Morin is President-Elect of Sigma Theta Tau International (STTI).

Sandra Plach, PhD, RN

Associate Professor UWM CON and Project Director, Patient-Centered Intervention to Improve Symptom Management in Older Heart Failure Patients. Dr. Plach is a Cardiovascular and Critical Care Clinical Nurse Specialist and has an extensive background in critical care nursing practice. Her program of research is focused on chronic disease with particular focus on women and social role quality. She received her PhD and MS degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Beth Rodgers Ph.D., RN, FAANProfessor at the UWM CON and Project Director of Experiences of Persons Living With Obstructive Sleep Apnea. Areas of expertise include Philosophy of Science, nursing knowledge development, concept development, qualitative research methods and computer applications for qualitative research. Dr. Rodgers received a B.S. in nursing from Georgia State University, her M.S.N. (with a focus in adult health and chronic illness) and Ph.D. from the University of Virginia, and she is a Fellow of the American Academy of Nursing. Current projects include an NIH-funded study of experiences of women with HIV, and studies focusing on pesticide reduction, and the experiences of women with myocardial infarction (funded by Wisconsin Women's Health Foundation).

Polly Ryan, PhD, APRNAssociate Professor, UWM CON, coordinates the SMSC Method Core's Theory-Based Development and Testing Service. In this capacity she assists Center investigators with defining, developing and testing self-management interventions. Dr. Ryan has expertise in development, implementation, and testing of patient centered interventions, especially tailored and targeted processes and use of electronic delivery methods. Her Integrated Theory of Health Behavior Change (ITHBC) has recently been expanded to Individual and Family Self-management Theory, in collaboration with Dr. Kathy Sawin of UWM and Children's Hospital, Milwaukee, WI. This expanded theory provides the theoretical foundation for UWM's SMSC. Model testing is in progress with two of her studies: one related to weight management of young women (link to more info) and the other related to bone health (link to more info). Theory testing is being done in collaboration with UWM's Helen Bader School of Social Welfare, Center for Addiction and Behavioral Health Research, Applied Gerontology, and Center on Age and Community.

Kathleen Sawin, DNS, CPNP, FAANProfessor, UWM CON and Nursing Research Chair, Children's Hospital of Wisconsin. Dr. Sawin is the coordinator of the Behavioral Measurement service of the Methods Core. She assists Center investigators in the a) selection of behavior measures that are appropriate for their research, b) selection and proper use of measurement tools and c) interpretation of the results. Dr. Sawin has more than 40 years experience as an educator, researcher, and clinician. Her practice and research addresses health, adaptation, self-management, and quality of life outcomes in individuals with disabilities and their families, as well as the risk and protective factors associated with these outcomes. Dr. Sawin completed her postdoctoral fellowship at Indiana University and received MS degrees from UW-Madison and the University of Minnesota.

Rachel Schiffman, PhD, RN, FAANUWM CON Professor and Associate Dean of Research and Professor, assists the Center Director and Methods Core Director in coordination of Center activities with CON resources, and other UWM and community resources. Her program of research is focused on family health in the context of early childhood intervention programs. Dr. Schiffman received her PhD and MS degree from the University of Connecticut.

Julia Snethen, PhDAssociate Professor, UWM CON. Dr. Snethen's research foci include varying aspects of chronic conditions in children from the perspectives of mothers, fathers, children and siblings. Recent research focus is obesity in children; particularly within the Latino community. Dr. Snethen received her MS from the University of Texas and her PhD from UWM.

Hayeon Song, PhD

Assistant Professor, UWM Department of Communication. Dr. Song's research focuses on new media and health communication, including communication technology for health promotion; health disparities and health literacy in diverse populations; and, the relationship between media use and identity management. Recent research includes investigation of ways to promote exercise motivation in self-representation exercise video games. Dr. Song received her PhD and M.A. degree from the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Southern California.

Patricia Stevens, PhD, RN, FAANProfessor, UWM CON, is Co-Director of the Qualitative Inquiry service of the SMSC Methods Core. She provides consultation on qualitative study design and conduct, mentorship and skill development to Center investigators. She is also a Center Scientist at the UWM Center for Urban Population Health and a Fellow in the American Academy of Nursing. She received her Bachelor of Science in Nursing and Master of Arts degrees from University of Iowa and her Doctor of Philosophy degree from University of California, San Francisco followed by a 2-year Postdoctoral Fellowship at University of California, San Francisco. She has done extensive research in the area of HIV/AIDS and is expert in qualitative research methods and community based participatory research. She has over 80 publications in scientific journals.

Sandra Underwood, PhD, RN, FAAN Professor, College of Nursing, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, is the coordinator of the Recruitment and Retention service of the Methods Core. Dr. Underwood assists Center investigators in thoughtful plans for recruitment and retention, taking into consideration potential barriers that may be encountered. This service provides Center investigators assistance in connecting with various communities, especially projects that involve difficult to access populations.


Sheetal Vora, MD, MS

Assistant Professor of Pediatrics Section of Rheumatology, Medical College of Wisconsin/Children's Hospital of Wisconsin. Dr. Vora's current research focuses on chronic disease self-management in children and adolescents and includes translational projects for these populations. She received her BSN from UW-Milwaukee, her MSN from Marquette University (Milwaukee), and her PhD from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.


Jose Karlos Zafra, MBA

UW-Milwaukee CON Assistant Dean for Business Affairs, is responsible for Center financial management. He maintains the Center's financial records and assures compliance with University and federal standards related to fiscal matters. In collaboration with the Center Director, he is responsible for budget planning and forecasting, monthly budget reconciliation, and annual fiscal reporting.