Our Team

Contact Us:

Pearl McElfish, Associate Vice Chancellor, Northwest Arkansas Campus, Director of the Office of Community Health and Research, Co-Director of the Center for Pacific Islander Health
479-713-8680 or
Pearl McElfish holds a PhD in public policy, a master’s degree in community and economic development, and a master’s degree in business administration.  Pearl is a certified Project Management Professional and a Certified Community Developer. Prior to joining UAMS, Pearl served as the Chief Development Officer for Ozark Health, where she led the offices of the foundation, marketing, community health, and new business development.  Pearl later served as the Chief Development Officer for the NWA Community Foundation (now Endeavor) and worked for the Georgia Health Policy Center to help rural communities across the nation reduce health disparities.  After working for several years in community health, she joined UAMS as Study Director for the National Children’s Study. In January 2013, she became the Director of Research for UAMS Northwest and holds a faculty position with the UAMS College of Medicine. In September 2016, she was named Associate Vice Chancellor for the UAMS Northwest Arkansas campus.

Dr. McElfish’ published articles can be found at

Lisa Smith, Associate Director of Community Health and Research
479-713-8691 or
Lisa Fury Smith is a native of Colorado with a bachelor’s degree in family and human services with a minor in management from John Brown University. She has worked with over 100 Northwest Arkansas nonprofit organizations, foundations, and other community organizations to improve services to populations in need. She specializes in collaboration, outcomes training, tracking and reporting, process improvement, and project management.  Lisa is working on a master’s degree in business administration with a focus on leadership and ethics from John Brown University.

Chris Long, PhD, Director of Research and Evaluation
479-713-8675 or
Chris Long has 15 years of research experience across the fields of psychology and consumer behavior. He earned a PhD in personality and social psychology in 2003 and moved to Belgium for post-doctoral training in emotion research. Chris then spent 10 years as a psychology professor at Ouachita Baptist University. He has worked on projects funded by the USDA Forest Service and by the Belgian National Science Foundation. In 2011, Chris served as a visiting researcher at the Center on Consumers, Markets, and Society at the Louvain School of Management in Belgium. Since 2012, he has worked as a data analyst, performing program evaluation analyses for the U.S. Department of Education’s TRIO McNair Scholars Program. He has two daughters, Rose and Vivian.

Nia Aitaoto, Co-Director of the Center for Pacific Islander Health
479-713-8673 or
Nia Aitaoto has a PhD in community and behavioral health from the University of Iowa, master’s degrees in epidemiology and community health development, and a bachelor’s degree in psychology, all from the University of Hawaii.  She is an adjunct assistant professor at New York University’s College of Dentistry in epidemiology and health promotion and holds a faculty position in the UAMS College of Medicine. Prior to joining UAMS, she served as a consultant for a number of community health organizations and Pacific Islander nations. She has worked throughout the Pacific region as a project director for the Kokua Kalihi Valley Clinic at the University of Hawaii, an adviser for the National Association of Chronic Disease Directors, a curriculum developer and instructor for the World Health Organization, and in multiple roles for Papa Ola Lokahi.

Britni Ayers, PhD, Post-Doc Fellow
479-713-8662 or
Britni Ayers has a PhD in public policy, a master’s degree in sociology, and a bachelor’s degree in psychology. During her academic career she taught undergraduate and graduate level courses at the University of Arkansas in statistics, research methods, family policy, and American government. Dr. Ayers is currently a post-doc fellow in the Office of Community Health and Research Department. Her current research interests are in family policy, social inequality, and maternal health among minority communities.

Dr. Ayers’ published articles are available at:

Wanna Bing, Community Research Coordinator
CDC Team
479-713-8688 or
Williamina “Wanna” Bing has a bachelor’s degree in management from John Brown University. Prior to joining UAMS Northwest, she worked as an Administrative Specialist and Outreach Worker for the Arkansas Department of Health’s Dr. Joseph Bates Outreach Clinic.  She is a native of the Marshall Islands and is fluent in Marshallese.

Dale Cox, Budget and Operations Manager
479-713-8682 or
Dale Cox has a bachelor’s degree in agri-business from Arkansas Tech University. Dale has more than 30 years of accounting experience including print media, retail establishment, and not-for-profit community organization. He is experienced in negotiation, contract, and grant accounting; A/R, A/P, payroll, and purchasing; fund allocation; donor and donation tracking; accounts payable tracking, payments, and account reconciliation; state and federal government reporting; purchasing; inventory control; and internet operations. Dale and his wife Cheryl have two sons and three granddaughters.

Bonnie Faitak, M.A., M.Ed, Project Manager
479-713-8655 or
Bonnie Faitak has a bachelor’s degree from in international relations and global studies, a master’s degree in diplomacy and international Relations as well as a master’s degree in secondary education. Prior to joining UAMS, she worked in the education and non-profit fields. Her background includes international teaching, public relations, non-profit project management, and cross-sector collaboration. Most recently, Bonnie coordinated a four-county weekend feeding program for children at risk of weekend food insecurity. Bonnie’s work at UAMS is centered around the development of healthier meal programs for children.

Zessna Garcia-Rios, Project Coordinator
479-713-8660 or
Zessna Garcia-Rios is a native of Mexico and grew up in Bentonville, Arkansas. She has a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Arkansas. Prior to joining UAMS, Zessna served as an American Dream Fellow with the Cisneros Center for New Americans in Springdale, Arkansas where she assisted newly arrived immigrants and migrants adjust to life in the United States. Her professional background includes communications and marketing and community organization. Zessna is a certified ESL tutor through the ProLiteracy Program and the Benton County Literacy Council.

Chris Jacob, Cultural Program Coordinator
479-713-8674 or
Chris Jacob works with our CDC team on both community outreach within the Marshallese community and on cultural competency training for health care providers. Prior to joining UAMS, Chris worked as an administrative assistant both for the University of Arkansas and for Northwest Arkansas Community College. He served as Financial Aid Director for the College of the Marshall Islands and as a bank recovery supervisor for the Bank of the Marshall Islands. Chris is a graduate of the College of the Marshall Islands and is completing a bachelor’s degree from Columbia College. He is fluent in Marshallese.

Krista Langston, MBA, Associate Director of PCORI Projects
479-713-8657 or
Krista Langston is an Arkansas native and holds a master’s degree in business administration with a focus in ethical leadership and organizational management.  She has decade of experience in non-profits, grants administration, and project management.  Prior to joining UAMS Northwest Regional Campus, Krista provided oversight for a $15 million grant to fund quality preschool programs in the state’s highest-need, most underserved counties.  Krista has a passion for the children and families of Arkansas, primarily focusing on health disparities and access to quality education. She considers herself a lifelong learner, but in her spare time she enjoys spending time with her family, running, and gardening.

McGee Meredith, Senior Communications and Marketing Manager
479-713-8677 or
McGee Meredith has a decade of experience in communications and development for nonprofit and business leaders, academic and government officials, and political candidates. Her work at UAMS includes management of paid and earned media opportunities, social media engagement, photography, and video production. She comes to UAMS Northwest from the University of Arkansas School of Law where she served as a Communications and Development Specialist, managing public relations, social media, photography, and graphic design, as well as grant-writing for the law school’s Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative. She previously served as a Congressional campaign press secretary and as a PR representative for the Missouri Department of Economic Development. Her background also includes work in development and Asia programs for Ipas, an international women’s health NGO. McGee has a degree in political science with an emphasis in health care policy and communications from the University of Missouri.

Sarah Moore, MSN, Associate Clinic Director
479-713-8678 or
Sarah Moore grew up in Northwest Arkansas and has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in community health promotion from the University of Arkansas. She is also a graduate of the nursing program at Northwest Arkansas Community College. Her areas of interest include healthy aging, chronic disease prevention and management, and health disparities. Outside of work, Sarah enjoys riding her bike on the trail systems in Northwest Arkansas and oil painting.

Marie-Rachelle Narcisse, PhD, Senior Data Analyst
479-713-8689 or
Marie-Rachelle Narcisse holds a doctorate in public health with specialization in health care management and a master’s degree in economic with dual specialization in economic evaluation of projects and international economics and finance. She has more than 20 years’ experience in quantitative methods such as Structural Equation Modeling; Longitudinal Data Analysis; Growth Curve Modeling; Survival Analysis; Latent Class Analysis; Factorial Analysis (principal components analysis and hierarchical ascendant classification); Stereotype Logistic Regression and Multinomial Logistic Regression. She is trained in Geographic Information Systems, survey research techniques, and Health Impact Assessment. She is working on a certificate in Social Network Analysis (SNA), and is interested in applying SNA and system-dynamics modeling in public health. Although she has mostly worked with secondary data from large population surveys (e.g. BRFSS, NHANES,YRBSS, NHIS, NSCHS, NS-CSHCN, MEPS) and Medicaid data, she has been trained in the practices of Clinical Research by the Harvard Medical School of Medicine. Marie-Rachelle is Board certified in HealthCare Quality and Management with a sub-specialty in Patient Safety and Risk Management and a Fellow of the American Board of Quality Assurance and Utilization Review Physicians. She is affiliated with American College of Healthcare Executives, the International Health Economics Association, and the Healthcare Financial Management Association. Her research interests are in health economics and health behaviors.

Jenny Post, Research Associate
479-713-8687 or
Jenny Post has a master’s degree in sociology with an emphasis in research methods. She spent a decade working as an analyst and logistics specialist in the private sector. In 2010, she joined Northwest Arkansas Community College as a grant writer. During her tenure, she primarily wrote federal grants, bringing in $1.3 million to fund several Department of Education and National Endowment for the Humanities projects. In her spare time, Jenny works with other members of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) as an active advocate for individuals diagnosed with serious mental illnesses. Jenny and her husband Corey live in Fayetteville with their cats Snapper, Cruz, and Spider.

Rachel Purvis, PhD, Research Associate
479-713-8693 or
Rachel Purvis earned her PhD in history from the University of Mississippi in 2012 with her dissertation project,“‘Maintaining intact our homogeneousness’: Race, Citizenship, & Reconstructing Cherokee.” Purvis’s dissertation examined the rebirth of the Cherokee Nation after the Civil War by emphasizing the intersection of race, citizenship, and nationalism in the postwar period. In September 2012, she was awarded the Cassius Marcellus Clay Fellowship from the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at Yale University. Purvis’s research interests include the history of Native Americans, specifically Southeastern Indians, as well as nineteenth-century America, race, slavery, the U.S. Civil War, and Reconstruction. Purvis has published numerous reviews and has written two opinion pieces for the New York Times Disunion series. She is currently utilizing her writing and researching skills as a Research Associate for UAMS Northwest.

Peer reviewed published works by Dr. Purvis include:

Family Model of Diabetes Education With a Pacific Islander Community

Community-Driven Research Agenda to Reduce Health Disparities

Mandy Ritok, Community Research Coordinator
479-713-8694 or
Mandy Ritok has a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Saint Mary in Kansas. She comes to UAMS Northwest with four years of experience in project management. She is fluent in Marshallese and is also a Parent Liaison, Translator, and Interpreter for Marshallese families at Southwest Junior High School in Springdale. She enjoys working in a team environment to achieve objectives.

Tori Rowe, Project Coordinator
479-716-8661 or
Victoria “Tori” Rowe has both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in community health from the University of Arkansas. While completing her master’s degree, Tori worked as a graduate assistant, teaching the “Foundations of Public Health” course and supervising public health interns who worked at a variety of Northwest Arkansas organizations. She has previously worked with the missions and community health department at Susan G. Komen North Texas, and she enjoys volunteering for local health, education and social justice organizations. Currently, she coordinates research efforts for the PCORI family-centered DSME study, and also contributes to data collection efforts for the RISE program.

Jellesen Rubon-Chutaro, Community Research Coordinator
479-713-8685 or
Jellesen Rubon-Chutaro was born in the Marshall Islands and raised in the Fiji Islands.  She graduated from high school in Hawaii and received an Associate of Arts degree in Liberal Arts from the College of Marshall Islands. Jellesen attended the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington, where she majored in economics. She currently attends the University of Arkansas and will graduate with a degree in nursing in 2016. Jellesen provides diabetes self-management education to the Marshallese community in Arkansas as part of a grant funded by the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI).

Community-Driven Research Agenda to Reduce Health Disparities

Karra Sparks, Project Manager
479-713-8690 or
Karra Sparks is a certified diabetes educator of 20 years, as well as a registered dietitian. Prior to joining UAMS Northwest, she worked for the Creek Nation tribe in Oklahoma where she developed her interest in diabetes. She has extensive experience working with minority and underserved populations including Native American, Hispanic, and Marshallese communities. She enjoys working with and developing health education curricula for low-income, ethnically diverse populations. She also enjoys cooking for her family.

Mike Stephens, CDC Program Director
479-713-8683 or
Michael ‘Mike’ Stephens is the CDC Program Director for the Office of Community Health and Research at UAMS Northwest. Mike has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and a master’s degree in community health from the University of Arkansas. He is also a Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES). Mike is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and serves in the Arkansas Air National Guard. His primary areas of interest include health disparities among underserved populations and veterans’ health. He and his wife Stephanie have two children, Chloe and Christopher. Mike enjoys reading, traveling, and volunteering in his free time.

Carolina Vargas, Project Coordinator
479-713-8684 or
Carolina Vargas was born in Arizona and is of Latin descent. She has an Associate of Science degree from Northwest Arkansas Community College and a bachelor’s degree in sociology and criminal justice with minors in business, human development, and family sciences from the University of Arkansas. She is experienced in assisting displaced workers, immigrants, homeless adults, and children through positions with H.O.P.E., the Salvation Army, and the UAMS  Sentinel Network Project. She is an advocate for higher education, and was previously a leader for the iConnect organization in the Multicultural Center at the University of Arkansas. Carolina is fluent in Spanish and enjoys traveling, spending time at the beach, and working to empower those in her community.

Gwen Wiley, Research Coordinator
479-713-8676 or
Gwen Wiley manages research operations, including all data collection activities and QA/QC oversight for the PCORI DSME study. Prior to joining the Office of Community Health and Research, Gwen was a field interviewer and data collector for the National Children’s Study. Her professional background also includes work in donor and community relations for the United Way and Opera of the Ozarks. She has a bachelor of science degree in speech communication and organization communication from Northwest Missouri State University.

Ralph Wilmoth, MPH/MPA, Project Manager
479-713-8692 or
Ralph Wilmoth has served as the Chief of the STI/HIV/Hepatitis C/TB Section at the Arkansas Department of Health since April 2013. He has more than 25 years of experience in public health at the county, state and federal levels, primarily in the area of infectious disease, specifically tuberculosis and sexually-transmitted infections. One of his areas of focus is prevention strategies in youth, particularly the development of positive decision-making strategies for young people.  Ralph has a bachelor’s degree in health education from the University of Central Arkansas, a master’s degree in public health from the University of Tennessee, and a master’s degree in public administration from Drake University in Iowa. Ralph and his wife Ellen have three children and five grandchildren.