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Our Team

Robert Ferrer, MD, MPH - Community Engagement Director is the Dr. John M. Smith, Jr. Professor and Vice Chair for Research in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at UT Health San Antonio. Dr. Ferrer is a practicing family physician with research interests at the interface of primary care and public health. He directs the Community Engagement Team for the IIMS and the School of Medicine’s MD/MPH dual degree program. Dr. Ferrer is on the Board Chair of The Health Collaborative. He is also active in several community health initiatives, including the Mayor’s Fitness Council and partnerships with the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District.   

Elisabeth de la Rosa, MS - Community Engagement Manager serves as the point of contact for the IIMS Community Engagement Team.  She works with the the leaders to develop and implement programs that facilitate the continuation and formation of community and academic research partnerships.  For almost 15 years, she has coordinated different projects and research studies within the UT System.  She has been a part of the IIMS Community Engagement Team since 2009 and has worked alongside various partners to help develop, implement, and evaluate various projects that address community health concerns including diabetes, environmental health, teen pregnancy, and suicide.  

Inez Cruz, PhD, LMSW Director for the Practice-Based Research Network Center also serves as the director of the Residency Research Network of Texas (RRNet) since 2018. Since then, RRNeT's Family Medicine faculty and residents have collaboratively developed new multi-site research projects that respond to PBRN member priorities such as social determinants of health and quality of life, comfort with uncertainty among trainees, physician burnout, and demonstrating accountability to payers and regulators. Under Dr. Cruz's leadership, RRNet has created a trajectory of successful grant applications, presentations, and published manuscripts. Dr. Cruz also provides professional development contracting support for the Department of Pathology at UT Health San Antonio. Currently, Dr. Cruz serves as the Public Health Research Manager for Methodist Healthcare Ministries, a private, faith-based, not-for-profit organization dedicated to creating access to health care for uninsured and low-income families throughout direct services, community partnerships and strategic grant-making in 74 counties across South Texas. Dr. Cruz has also previously served as the administrative lead for the 59th Medical Wing at JBSA-Lackland's Diabetes Center of Excellence as their Research Director. 


Janna Lesser, PhD, RN, FAAN - Community Engagement Co-Investigator is a tenured Professor in UTHSCSA’s School of Nursing, the Director of the South Texas AHEC Program and Director of the Center for Community-Based Health Promotion with Women and Children. She has conducted community-engaged projects with individuals and communities living with a myriad of health and social inequities for over twenty years, for which she has received both internal and external funding. Dr. Lesser works with a diverse group of target populations including inner-city dwelling adolescent mothers and fathers, disenfranchised youth (including youth in the juvenile justice system), families living in predominantly Hispanic, impoverished communities, and individuals and groups living with chronic and severe mental illness.

Manuel Ángel Oscós Sánchez, MD - Community Engagement Co-Investigator  is a native of San Antonio is a Professor in the School of Medicine at UT Health San Antonio and is the Director of Programs for the Society of Adolescent Health and Medicine. His research expertise is focused on Adolescent Health, Community Based Participatory Action Research, Positive Youth Development, Latino Youth Violence, and Cultural Anthropology. Dr. Oscós Sánchez created and directed the local Teen Medical Academy which was conducted for 13 years with the goal of promoting health careers among economically disadvantaged urban youth. He has collaborated with Familias en Acción for over 13 years on family and adolescent violence community based-participatory research studies in the Harlandale Independent School District (HISD) area.

Kathleen Stevens, RN, BS, MS, EdD, ANEF, FAAN - Community Engagement Co-Investigator is the Director of the Improvement Science Research Network (ISRN) which aims to advance the scientific foundation for quality improvement, safety and efficiency through transdisciplinary research in healthcare systems, patient-centeredness, and integration of evidence into practice.  Dr. Stevens was the founding director of ACE-Center for Advancing Clinical Excellence 2000-2015, leading interprofessional efforts to advance evidence-based quality improvement and patient safety. Her federally funded activities emphasize healthcare transformation through scholarly work on the national Improvement Science Research Network, AHRQ Health Care Innovations Exchange, Institute of Medicine’s report Preventing Medication Errors, and team performance improvement. She is a fellow of the American Academy of Nursing and the Academy of Nurse Educators and is the UT System Chancellor’s Health Fellow for healthcare delivery science.

Melissa Valerio-Shewmaker, PhD - Community Engagement Co-Investigator is an Associate Professor at the UTHealth School of Public Health in Brownsville. Dr. Valerio and her team provide research and technical assistance to the Translational Advisory Boards (TABs) and other community-based organizations to help them respond to prioritized health concerns. Dr. Valerio's research interests include using community-based research approaches for chronic disease management and prevention, the design and evaluation of effective health education messages and materials, and survey methods. She is particularly interested in health literacy and cultural competence issues related to health education and communication in minority underserved communities.       

Paula Winkler, MEd - Community Engagement Co-Investigator is the Director of the Translational Advisory Boards (TABs). She works to establish partnerships between UT Health San Antonio researchers and the community, so that they may develop projects to address community-identified health concerns. Ms. Winkler is also the Director of the South Central Area Health Education Center, which serves a twelve county catchment area to foster practice improvement initiatives and to increase opportunity for translational research to community members. She has over 30 years of experience developing linkages between academic programs to community based health promotion/disease prevention initiatives.