Pearl McElfish, Ph.D., MBA, M.S., PMP
Division Director, Community Health & Research
Dr. McElfish holds a doctorate in health policy, a Master of Business Administration, and a Master of Science in community and economic development. She also has professional certifications in project management and community development. Dr. McElfish is the division director of the Office of Community Health and Research and co-director of the Center for Pacific Islander Health. Dr. McElfish has been trained and certified as a Project Management Professional. She is also a certified Community Developer and has a strong history of success managing the complexities associated with collaborative, community-based health programs that involve multisector partners. Dr. McElfish has worked with the Hispanic and Marshallese communities in northwest Arkansas for the past five years. She has established strong ties with community leaders and key decision makers, and she has many years of experience leading highly effective cross-functional teams in the design, implementation, and evaluation of large-scale public health initiatives.
Prior to coming to UAMS to lead a multi-site community-based research project, Dr. McElfish spent 12 years serving in executive director and chief level positions in rural health and community development organizations. She has also served as a technical assistance provider and consultant for the Office of Rural Health Policy where she worked with communities across the nation to improve health outcomes through programs and policies. As the executive director of Ozark Mountain Health Network, she was responsible for implementing nutritional interventions in rural and minority communities. She has significant expertise in identifying, planning, and implementing multilevel policy and environmental interventions that address barriers at multiple levels to promote health behaviors that reduce the risk and impact of chronic disease. Dr. McElfish’s prior experience in health policy research, community development, and business have made her particularly effective in working across multiple sectors in the community, including worksites, community-based organizations, public health agencies, food sector partners, and health service providers. Additionally, she has served as the principal investigator of the regional community-based participatory research partnership over the past five years and has developed significant trust with Hispanic and Marshallese communities across the region.
Dr. McElfish has five years of experience working with Hispanic and Marshallese community members; 20 years of experience working in community-based nutrition strategies; 15 years of experience working in physical activity; and 20 years of experience working in community-clinical linkages.
Lisa M. Smith, MBA
Executive Director of Community Health & Research
Lisa M. Smith is the executive director of the Office of Community Health and Research at the UAMS Northwest Regional Campus. Ms. Smith holds a Master of Business Administration with an emphasis on leadership and ethics and a bachelor’s in family and human services. She has over 10 years of experience directing and managing community-based programs, leading high impact teams and successfully implementing health equity projects with Marshallese, Hispanic/Latinx, rural, and low-income communities. Ms. Smith has developed strong relationships with key community stakeholders, achieving sustainable community impact through collaborative work with community members and organizations. In her current role with UAMS, she directs operations, strategic planning/development, fiscal and grants/contracts management, and oversees program and research design and implementation. It is Ms. Smith’s professional goal to create a better, healthier future for our community through the creation of highly effective teams, which produce sustainable high-impact results through community-based programs in northwest Arkansas.
Krista Langston, MBA
Executive Director, Community Programs
Krista Langston is the executive director of community programs for the Office of Community Health and Research at the UAMS Northwest Regional Campus. Krista holds a Master of Business Administration with a focus in ethical leadership and organizational management and a bachelor’s in health care administration from Harding University. She has over a decade of experience in non-profits, grants administration, and project management. Prior to joining UAMS, Ms. Langston provided oversight for a $15 million grant to fund quality preschool programs in the state’s highest-need, most underserved counties. Krista’s passion is to build a stronger and healthier community for the children and families of Arkansas.
Chris Long, Ph.D.
Senior Director of Research & Evaluation
Christopher Long, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. Dr. Long holds a doctorate in psychology with more than 15 years of program evaluation experience across the fields of education, psychology, consumer behavior, and health, including evaluating multiple community-based programs with Hispanic/Latino and Pacific Islander communities. Dr. Long has also served as an evaluator for the U.S. Department of Education’s McNair Scholars program. He serves as lead evaluator for six CDC-funded chronic disease prevention/management programs. In addition to program evaluation, Dr. Long leads a research program focused on improving access to healthy foods for food insecure households and rural communities and effective communication of study results to participants in health research. He is currently principal investigator for USDA- and NIH-funded projects examining the effects of home delivery of diabetes appropriate food and educational materials on improving health outcomes for food pantry clients with Type 2 diabetes. He is also principal investigator for an NIH-funded project evaluating the effects of a comprehensive nutrition intervention in rural Arkansas school districts.
Jana L. Casteel
Director of Finance
Jana L. Casteel is the associate research finance director for the Office of Community Health and Research at the UAMS Northwest Regional Campus. Ms. Casteel holds a master’s degree in health services administration from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and a bachelor’s in community health education from the University of Central Arkansas. She began her health care administration career at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in 2001, and for more than 18 years, held various positions within the institution — director of finance for the Myeloma Institute, fiscal officer for the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement, and program manager for the Institute on Aging. Before joining the Office of Community Health and Research, she held the position of manager–finance and grants at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. Ms. Casteel has extensive experience in financial management and reporting as well as pre- and post-award grants/contracts management, primarily in the health care setting. It is Ms. Casteel’s professional goal to use her knowledge and skills to help leverage sustainable community-based health care programs for the citizens of Northwest Arkansas.
Bonnie Faitak, M.A., M.Ed.
Director, Community Programs
Bonnie Faitak is the community programs director for Healthy Food Systems at the UAMS Office of Community Health and Research. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in international relations and global studies, a Master of Arts in diplomacy and international relations, and an Master of Education in secondary education. Her background includes international teaching, public relations, and recruiting. Before joining UAMS, Bonnie coordinated a four-county weekend feeding program for children at risk of weekend food insecurity at the largest community food nonprofit organization in northwest Arkansas. In her current role, Ms. Faitak provides strategic leadership and oversight to the Office of Community Health and Research Healthy Foods team, whose focus is on the development of programs and research projects with food pantries, community meals, food banks, early childhood centers, public schools, and national organizations to increase access to healthy foods in Arkansas and nationwide. The goal of this work is to create a better state of health for all through healthy food access.
Jessica Presley, M.P.P.
Senior Director of Evaluation
Jessica Presley leads the evaluation team in managing the Office of Community Health and Research’s portfolio of program evaluations. She received her Master of Public Policy from the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan. She has worked in research and program evaluation over the last ten years. She has served as evaluator for a wide range of social, educational, and community health programs. She brings a unique perspective for understanding the complex and historical contexts in which programs are implemented. She empowers individuals served by community initiatives through a participatory approach. With more than ten years of experience working within university and medical campus settings, she brings depth of knowledge to her work with UAMS. In her current role, she evaluates the implementation and impact of federal and foundation funded community health initiatives across the state of Arkansas. Her expertise in qualitative and quantitative data collection and analysis includes the use of methodologies such as social network analysis, GIS mapping, and bibliometric analysis. She has culturally diverse experiences that enrich the landscape of her work. She is a member of both the Diné and Osage Tribes and lived in Japan teaching English in public high schools with the Japanese Exchange and Teaching program. She is committed to advancing social and health equity in communities across Arkansas.
Program Director, Teen Outreach Program and Fatherhood FIRE
Hershell West is a research program director in the Office of Community Health and Research at the UAMS Northwest Regional Campus. Mr. West has a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from the University of Arkansas and is an Assistive Technology Professional. He has over 26 years of experience directing programs and providing effective strategies to empower youth and adults with disabilities overcome barriers, disparities and inequalities within their schools, communities and workplace. In addition to helping students and families directly, Mr. West has provided technology and consultation services that alleviate barriers to accessibility to schools, businesses and communities. He has worked collaboratively with local and state agencies to empower transition age youth to sustained gainful employment using evidenced based best practices. He has also supported youth and families with success sequencing for poverty prevention.
Ayoola Carleton, M.A.
Associate Director of Research
Ayoola Carleton is an associate director of research in the Office of Community Health and Research. She holds a master’s degree from Columbia University, New York, with a concentration in strategic planning and finance in international educational development. She has over ten years of project management experience leveraging strategic cross-sector partnerships and data to advance access to health and education for marginalized groups around the world. Before moving to northwest Arkansas, Ayoola worked at the Ford Foundation where she managed strategy development, impact assessments, research and special projects for the education grant-making portfolio. She has extensive multicultural field experience, from leading program evaluation team meetings in Bogotá, Colombia, to teaching and conducting research in a rural village in Namibia, Africa, through the Harvard-affiliate WorldTeach. In her current role, Ms. Carleton oversees the implementation of health research projects in Arkansas and the Marshall Islands. Ayoola’s professional goal is to increase access to preventative health care and evidenced based interventions to improve health outcomes and well-being for marginalized communities.
Betsy O’Connor, M.A.
Associate Director of Research
Betsy O’Connor has a Master of Arts in sociology and focused her master’s thesis on place-based perspectives on homelessness in northwest Arkansas and Birmingham, Alabama. She has managed and implemented large scale multi-national based projects to reduce diabetes in at-risk Pacific Islander populations for the CDC. She has experience in developing protocols and research designs for many health-related studies involving vulnerable communities including the homeless population and Marshallese communities in northwest Arkansas. She has strong project management experience in the management of research projects and quantitative and qualitative data analysis. As an associate director of research, she provides leadership and supervisory oversight for programs of the Office of Community Health and Research. She is responsible for strategic planning, directing, and oversight of community health programs as well as fiscal management and directing team members in projects.
Kacie Simpson, B.S., C.C.R.P.
Associate Director of Research
Kacie Simpson is an associate research program director in the Office of Community Health and Research at the UAMS Northwest Regional Campus. Mrs. Simpson holds a bachelor’s degree in community health education. Prior to joining the Office of Community Health and Research at UAMS, Mrs. Simpson spent nearly 14 years working at the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute in the Cancer Clinical Trials Office. During her time in oncology clinical trials, Mrs. Simpson severed many roles including regulatory specialist, clinical research coordinator, clinical research coordinator manager, and director of clinical research operations with a focus in solid tumor diseases. Mrs. Simpson has been a Certified Clinical Research Professional through the Society of Clinical Research Associates since 2011. In 2016, Mrs. Simpson was the recipient of the UAMS Bonny Hope Wallace Award for Excellence in Human Subject Research; an award nominated and voted on by her peers. She has experience working with oncology patients, providers, leadership, and protocol sponsors including UAMS for local investigator initiated protocols, federally funded cooperative groups, and industry/pharmaceutical sponsors. Mrs. Simpson is excited to continue her career goals by providing innovative research opportunities to improve health care to all communities in northwest Arkansas.
Shani Worrell, Ed.D.
Associate Director of Evaluation
Dr. Worrell holds a doctorate in education from The George Washington University. She has almost two decades of experience designing, implementing, and managing evaluations for federal, state, local government, and non-government clients. She works closely with these clients to design tailored and rigorous evaluations that meet their needs and is aligned with their resources. In her current role at UAMS, she oversees the design and implementation of internal and externally funded program evaluations. She applies a culturally responsive and equitable lens to these evaluations with the goal of eliciting and disseminating lessons that are reliable, valid, and actionable; so that application of these lessons will accelerate the pace of change and maximize benefits to individuals and communities.
Rudy Burns, CPA
Rudy Burns, CPA., is an assistant director of programs with Office of Community Programs and Research at the UAMS Northwest Regional Campus. Rudy has a Bachelor of Science in accountancy from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. He completed his Certificate of Public Accountancy in the State of Arkansas following graduation. Rudy began his current position with UAMS Northwest in 2022. He previously worked with the UAMS College of Medicine and Jones Eye Institute from 1999 until 2006 and served as the administrator. Following a career in leadership in private medicine, Rudy has been a small business owner in the food service industry since 2011. Rudy’s variety of experience brings a relatable understanding the importance of reaching the community while providing financial guidance and support to a variety of program. Rudy’s career goal remains the desire to help others achieve their goals by supporting those who make a difference in the lives of others.
Assistant Director, Community Programs
Stephanie Kruger holds a master’s degree in health care administration with an emphasis on accounting and a bachelor’s degree in health care management. She has over 20 years of health care experience in a broad range of settings and has spent the last 11 years managing and directing teams of frontline staff and leaders. Most recently, Stephanie obtained her LEAN certificate and studied under a Leadership and Organizational Development expert; with that knowledge, she has worked with many different departments and setting to increase efficiencies in daily processes. In her current role at UAMS, Mrs. Kruger oversees the departments statewide effort to address vaccine hesitancy through Community Health Workers. It is Mrs. Kruger’s professional goal to continue to learn and grow her health care knowledge, and use her skill set to reduce health inequities in the community through the development of highly engaged and efficient teams.
Assistant Director, Education Design
Lance Larson has a bachelor’s degree in English-expository writing from San Diego State University, and a master’s degree in education/instruction design from San Diego State University. He has more than 19 years of experience in instructional and curriculum design, along with the training of teachers and community members. He also has extensive experience in website design, multimedia creation, graphic design, and video production. Lance spent four years working in Paraguay for the Ministry of Education, and was also a classroom teacher for nine years in an urban high school in California. Through his position with the Office of Community Health and Research, his goal is to use education to improve the health of the northwest Arkansas community.
Brett Rowland, M.A.
Assistant Director, Data Quality & Management
Brett Rowland is the associate director of research in charge of data management and analytics for the Office of Community Health and Research at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. He holds a master’s degree in sociology from the University of Arkansas, and a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Central Arkansas. Mr. Rowland has more than 10 years of experience in social and health equity research, quantitative data analysis, and program evaluation. His research has focused primarily on nutrition, obesity, and Type 2 diabetes disparities among marginalized populations, including racial and ethnic minorities, food insecure individuals, and homeless individuals. He has implemented and evaluated community-based research and programs funded by NIH, CDC, PCORI, and HUD. In his time at UAMS, he has co-authored more than 50 peer-reviewed articles. Mr. Rowland is a member of numerous professional organizations, including the American Public Health Association, the Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior, and the American Evaluation Association. As a native Arkansan, Mr. Rowland hopes to continue to improve the health of all Arkansans.
Assistant Director, Community Programs
Sarah Moore is an assistant director in the Office of Community Health and Research at UAMS Northwest Regional Campus in Fayetteville. Sarah is a registered nurse with a master’s degree in community health promotion, with an emphasis on health education and messaging to address health disparities among vulnerable populations. She has worked as a nurse in a variety of fields including adolescent residential psychiatry, ICU, chronic disease education and management, and health care administration. In her nearly eight years with the Office of Community Health and Research, Sarah has managed multiple community-based programs, leading and collaborating with multi-disciplinary teams to plan, implement, and manage multiple community-based projects. As a professional, Sarah strives to foster innovative practices and meaningful community collaboration to promote equitable access to health care as a means to eliminate racial and ethnic health disparities.
Preston Tolliver, B.A.
Assistant Director of Communication
Preston Tolliver has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication from the University of Central Arkansas, where he studied journalism and history. He has more than 10 years of experience in writing, editing and communicating messages and information among communities through his work with various publications. He also has experience in building audiences through both print and online communications. Through his position with the Office of Community Health and Research, his goal is to increase public awareness of programs and resources available to populations facing health disparities so that they can live healthier, longer and better lives.
Whitney Parker holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism with an emphasis in public relations from San Diego State University. She has extensive experience in coordinating client transactions involving many moving parts and collaborating with a variety of internal team members. In her current role with UAMS, she manages office functionality as well as the administrative team, and is the primary contact between the department and other UAMS departments. Ms. Parker enjoys conducting research, analyzing information and processes in order to develop more effective strategies and policies for the department. It is through this position that Ms. Parker hopes to create a highly functioning, collaborative and organized work environment, where all members of the team feel involved and welcomed.
Meet the Community Health and Research Staff
The leadership team manages research programs and administrative duties related to community health and research programs.Learn More
The administration team oversees day-to-day operations of office procedures, finances and grant-writing.Learn More
Our faculty and research teams are leading the way toward better health in Arkansas and beyond.Learn More
The community programs team works with community partners to improve access to resources, healthy foods, health care, and safe places for physical activity for all.Learn More
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, our outreach team has worked to ensure that our communities continue to have access to their best health.Learn More
Diabetes Health Team
The diabetes and cardiometabolic team engages with the community to better understand and address significant health issues that exist.Learn More
Family Wellness Team
The family wellness team provides and connects individuals and families to health services available in the community.Learn More
Healthy Food Systems Team
The Healthy Food Systems team works with schools and community to ensure that everyone has access to healthy food.Learn More