Administrative Team

Oversees the management of agreements, budgets, facilities and equipment. The Administrative Team plans meetings and events, sets long-term goals and evaluates the overall operations of the Center.

Guadalupe X. “Suchi” Ayala, PhD, MPH

Co-Director, SDSU HealthLINK Center
Co-Leader, Community Engagement Team
Co-Leader, Intervention Methods Group

Dr. Guadalupe X. “Suchi” Ayala is a Professor in the School of Public Health at SDSU, Director of the Institute for Behavioral and Community Health, Director of the SDSU HealthLINK endowment, and Co-Director of the SDSU HealthLINK Center. Her combination of masters’ degrees in experimental psychology and health promotion and doctoral degree in clinical health psychology reflect her interest in identifying effective solutions for reducing health disparities. Dr. Ayala’s research focuses on the development and adaptation of family and system-based interventions to prevent and control obesity, diabetes and asthma among Latinos and other underserved populations. She co-leads the Administrative and Community Engagement Teams and coordinates transdisciplinary intervention efforts under the Research Infrastructure Team of the SDSU HealthLINK Center.

See Dr. Ayala’s profile for details on publications and projects.

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Photo of Dr. Kristen Wells

Kristen “Kristi” Wells, MPH, MPI, PhD

Co-Director, SDSU HealthLINK Center
Leader, Research Infrastructure Team
Co-Leader, Measurement Methods Group

Dr. Kristen “Kristi” Wells is a Professor of Psychology at SDSU. She is also Director of the Cancer Disparities and Cancer Communication Lab. Her graduate training was in clinical psychology and public health, followed by post-doctoral training in behavioral oncology. Her research focuses on improving the quality of healthcare delivered to underserved populations, with a specific specialty in patient navigation. Since 2006, Dr. Wells has led or contributed to five studies which have developed and evaluated patient navigation interventions to improve quality of cancer and HIV-related care. She also leads studies developing technological solutions to improve adherence to recommended cancer care and oral medications for cancer.

In addition to her leadership as a Co-Director, Dr. Wells oversees the operations of the SDSU HealthLINK Center’s Research Infrastructure Team including five specialized research groups concentrating on measurement methods, health sensor methods, intervention methods, biomedical methods, and health data analytics.

See Dr. Wells’ profile for details on publications and projects.

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Mariaelena Concha

Mariaelena “Elena” Concha

Administrative Director

In her role as Administrative Director for the SDSU HealthLINK Center, Ms. Mariaelena (Elena) Concha, conducts a full range of executive responsibilities performing high level managerial, fiscal, and administrative functions. Some activities include engaging SDSU and SDSU Research Foundation  departments to leverage resources and identifying synergies; overseeing facilities planning including alterations and renovations of the Center’s physical locations; contributing to infrastructure development; analyzing current processes, and recommending and implementing procedural or policy changes to improve day-to-day operations.

Ms. Concha is bilingual and bicultural with over 12 years of work experience in contract/fiscal management. Over the last nine years, she has worked in various administrative roles for SDSU Research Foundation supporting public health and health disparities research work and service in conjunction with a number of Principal Investigators, Co-Investigators and Managers. Previous to her current role, Ms. Concha was the Administrative Coordinator of the SDSU HealthLINK Endowment, also funded by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, which was awarded to help build a more technologically and computationally advanced approach to population health and health disparities research at SDSU. She was also the Institute Manager for the Institute for Behavioral and Community Health (IBACH) at SDSU Research Foundation. IBACH is a non-profit research institute whose mission is to identify and ameliorate Latino, sexual and gender identity-based, and other health disparities through community-engaged, multi-level, multi-sector changes.

See Ms. Concha’s profile for details on publications and projects.

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Dr. Maria Zuniga Profile Photo

María Luisa Zúñiga, PhD

Evaluation Lead

Dr. María Luisa Zúñiga is a Professor in the School of Social Work at SDSU and Associate Adjunct Professor in the Division of Global Public Health and Department of Pediatrics, UC San Diego (UCSD). She serves as the Campus Director of the SDSU-UCSD Joint Doctoral Program in Interdisciplinary Research on Substance Use.

Dr. Zúñiga is an epidemiologist who conducts transnational and Community-Based Participatory Research to study the intersection of alcohol and drug use, mental health, TB/HIV and sexual risk behaviors in order to reduce problems that contribute to poor health. She has worked extensively with communities in the U.S.-Mexico border region as well as Mexican transnational and domestic migrants and their families in Mexico. Her ongoing research is designed to understand and improve health care engagement, patient and clinician communication, and care continuity among Latinos, including persons living with HIV and/or Tuberculosis, and persons impacted by substance abuse. Dr. Zúñiga is currently developing new interdisciplinary collaborations in HIV/TB/Substance use research with colleagues in the US and Brazil.

See Dr. Zúñiga’s profile for details on publications and projects.

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Tanya Penn, MPH

Evaluation Team

Ms. Tanya Penn is a Senior Research Scientist at the Institute for Public Health, Adjunct Professor at SDSU, and Director of HealthDAT San Diego, a web-based portal that enables collaboration between researchers and practitioners to address health disparities. As a researcher, Ms. Penn leads the evaluation of the NCI-funded U54 SDSU/UCSD Cancer Partnership and manages the evaluation of an NIH-funded center grant, the NIMHD-funded U54 SDSU HealthLINK Center for Transdisciplinary Research. Ms. Penn’s research focuses on population health, health disparities, and developing, implementing, and evaluating community based participatory research.


See Ms. Penn’s profile for details on publications and projects.

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Photo of Kanako Sturgis

Kanako Sturgis, MPH

Evaluation Team

Ms. Kanako Sturgis joined SDSU’s Institute for Public Health in 2001 and has been working as the website manager, data/evaluation specialist, and information scientist. Prior to earning a Master of Public Health from SDSU, she worked as a pharmaceutical affairs specialist in Japan. At the SDSU HealthLINK Center, Ms. Sturgis serves on the Evaluation Team where she supports various evaluation activities. She is an Adjunct Associate Professor at SDSU and a licensed pharmacist in Japan.


See Ms. Sturgis’ profile for details on publications and projects.

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Robert Vargas-Belcher, MSW, MPH

Center Staff Supervisor

Mr. Robert Vargas-Belcher is the Center Staff Supervisor at the SDSU HealthLINK Center. He supports the partnership with San Diego Health and Human Services (HHSA). Facilitating collaborations on research to help promote healthy outcomes in all communities within San Diego County. As the Health Equity Research Associate he also supports the development of new partnerships within the broader community.

He obtained a Master of Social Work from the University of Washington and a Master of Public Health from SDSU. He spent the last 15 years focusing on improving and developing treatment protocols for treating tobacco and nicotine dependance within disproportionately affected communities. He is currently a Council Member with the Council for Tobacco Treatment Training Programs (CTTTP) – an accrediting organization.

See Mr. Vargas-Belcher’s profile for details on publications and projects.

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Fernando Sing

Computer Systems Administrator

Mr. Fernando Sing is the Computer Systems Administrator at the SDSU HealthLINK Center and Institute for Behavioral and Community Health. He plans, implements, directs and maintains applications and the use of technology. He also evaluates and provides recommendations regarding complementing research activities with software applications and computer technology.



See Mr. Sing’s profile for details on publications and projects.

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