Dr. Anka Vujanovic, Ph.D.
Dr. Vujanovic is an Associate Professor of Psychology and Behavioral and Social Sciences at the University of Houston, where she serves as Director of the Trauma and Stress Studies Center and Director of Graduate Education in the Department of Psychology. She is a licensed clinical psychologist. Her research program is oriented to understanding the complexity of PTSD and some of its most prevalent and high-risk correlates, including substance use disorders (SUD) and suicide risk, through the study of underlying psychological mechanisms relevant to treatment development. Dr. Vujanovic’s work is comprised of interrelated lines of inquiry: (1) investigation of psychological and behavioral processes relevant to the etiology and maintenance of (a) PTSD symptoms and (b) PTSD/SUD; (2) examination of suicide risk among trauma-exposed populations; and (3) development of theoretically and empirically driven, novel interventions for PTSD and co-occurring conditions that target the psychological mechanisms isolated in more basic research. She has utilized various methodological approaches, including clinical trials, longitudinal methods, health services research, and experimental laboratory paradigms. Dr. Vujanovic’s studies have been conducted in academic clinical research centers, first responder departments, medical and mental health clinics, and acute-care psychiatric inpatient hospitals. Her work encompasses various populations exposed to diverse types of trauma, including community residents, adults receiving psychiatric inpatient services, military veterans, first responders, and human trafficking survivors.
Graduate and Undergraduate Students
The TaSSC is actively recruiting creative and energetic graduate students, undergraduate students, and post-baccalaureate research assistants to join the team. For more information, please visit the Join Our Team page.
Nathaniel Healy, M.A. - Research Program Co-Coordinator
Nate is a third-year doctoral student in the clinical psychology program and a Research Program Co-Coordinator in the TaSSC at the University of Houston. He received his B.A. in psychology from the University of California, Los Angeles in 2017. Before joining the TaSSC, Nate worked as a research assistant at the University of Michigan with Dr. Ewa Czyz as part of the Youth Depression & Suicide Prevention Program. Here, he helped launch a SMART pilot study aimed at reducing suicide-related outcomes for adolescents transitioning from psychiatric inpatient care and examining the feasibility and acceptability of a text-based support program. At U-M, Nate also worked with Dr. Mark Ilgen on a DoD multi-site randomized controlled trial seeking to evaluate how a CBT intervention compares to a supportive psychoeducational control condition on subsequent suicidal thoughts and behaviors in veterans with substance use disorders. Nate received his M.A. in Clinical Psychology from the University of Houston in 2020, focused on posttraumatic stress, sleep disturbance, and suicide risk among firefighters. Nate's current research interests include studying the etiological and maintenance processes involved with PTSD and related concurrent conditions (e.g. suicidality, substance use, sleep) in addition to improving treatments for these conditions, particularly among first responder and veteran populations. At the University of Houston, Nate recently gained clinical experience working with the Lone Star Circle of Care, a federally qualified health clinic, while also working with a private practice conducting assessments for Social Security and Disability services. Nate is currently completing a year-long clinical practicum working directly with first responders at the Houston Fire Department.
Antoine Lebeaut, M.A.
Antoine is a fourth-year doctoral student in the clinical psychology program and a graduate research assistant in the TaSSC at the University of Houston. He received his B.A. in psychology with a minor in sociology from Franklin & Marshall College in 2015. Following graduation, Antoine completed a research assistantships with Dr. Dean McKay at Fordham University and with Dr. Steven Silverstein at Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care. Antoine received his M.A. in clinical psychology from the University of Houston in 2019, focused on posttraumatic stress, anxiety sensitivity, and alcohol use among firefighters. Antoine's current research interests involve identifying risk and maintenance factors for PTSD and co-occurring disorders, particularly alcohol use disorder, in first responder populations. Antoine's dissertation, entitled “An Integrated Personalized Feedback Intervention for Hazardous Drinkers with Elevated Anxiety Sensitivity and Subclinical PTSD,” is funded by an NIAAA F31 National Research Service Award. He has completed clinical practica with the Lone Star Circle of Care, a federally qualified health clinic, and the Houston Fire Department. He is currently completing a year-long clinical practicum at the Michael E. Debakey VA Medical Center in Houston, TX.
Samuel Leonard, M.S., M.A. - Research Program Co-Coordinator
Sam is a third-year doctoral student in the clinical psychology program and a Research Program Co-Coordinator in the TaSSC at the University of Houston. He graduated from Colorado State University in 2013 with a double major in Biomedical Sciences and Psychology. He completed his undergraduate honors thesis in a cognitive neuroscience research lab. After graduating, he served two years in AmeriCorps, primarily working with lower income and homeless populations in community non-profit and healthcare settings. This experience led to a role as a care coordinator for a combined assertive community treatment and integrated dual diagnosis behavioral healthcare team. Sam completed his M.S. in General Psychology at the University of Memphis in 2019 and his M.A. in Clinical Psychology at the University of Houston in 2020. His long-term research goals involve examining the relationship between attachment mechanisms and social cognition in the context of trauma-related and substance use disorders. He recently completed a year-long clinical practicum with the Lone Star Circle of Care federally qualified health clinic and is currently completing a year-long clinical practicum at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center.
Shelby is a first-year doctoral student in the clinical psychology program and a graduate research assistant in the TaSSC at the University of Houston. She received her B.S. in psychology from the University of Southern Mississippi in 2018. After graduating, Shelby worked as a research coordinator at the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System in the Distress, Anxiety, and Trauma Disorders Laboratory. Here, she worked with Dr. Amanda Raines on an anxiety sensitivity-based pilot intervention for veterans with opioid use disorder. She also assisted Dr. Joseph Boffa with coordinating a CBT and ACT-based treatment program designed to target suicidality among veterans. Shelby’s current research interests involve identifying risk and maintenance factors for PTSD and co-occurring conditions, especially substance use and suicidality.
Maya Zegel, M.A.
Maya is a fourth-year clinical psychology doctoral student, NIAAA Pre-Doctoral Fellow, and graduate student member of the TaSSC at the University of Houston. She received her B.A. in psychology with a minor in public health from Boston University in 2016. After graduation, Maya worked at McLean Hospital with Dr. Amy Janes in the Functional Integration of Addiction Research Laboratory and Dr. Scott Lukas in the Behavioral Psychopharmacology Research Laboratory, where she coordinated multiple neuroimaging projects focused on substance use. Maya received her M.A. in clinical psychology from the University of Houston in 2019. She has charted a research path examining distress tolerance, PTSD symptomatology, and substance use, with a particular focus on alcohol use and related motives. Maya’s dissertation, entitled “Daily State-Like Distress Tolerance and Alcohol Use Motivation Among Hazardous Drinkers with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder,” is funded by an NIAAA F31 National Research Service Award. Maya has gained clinical experience as a predoctoral clinician at a federally qualified health center and the Houston Fire Department, and as a predoctoral clinical assessor for Social Security and Disability assessments. She also serves as the Clinical Administrative Director of the TaSSC Trauma Recovery Clinic.
Affiliated Doctoral Students
Christian Paige Owen, MSN, RN, CEN
Paige is a third-year doctoral student in the PhD program at Cizik School of Nursing at UTHealth in Houston, Texas. She received her BSN in 2007 and MSN in Nursing Leadership and Administration in 2019 from the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. Paige’s clinical experience began as an emergency nurse in the Texas Medical Center and evolved into various roles including forensic nurse examiner, high school health science educator, emergency department educator, and EMS instructor. She holds board certification as an emergency nurse and currently serves as an instructor teaching pre-licensure nursing students in the undergraduate program at Cizik School of Nursing at UTHealth. Her experiences working directly with trauma patients and fellow nurses inspired her concern for the negative impact of vicarious trauma on emergency nurses. As a Jonas Scholar in Mental Health, her current research goals involve examining factors underlying and influencing work-related traumatic stress responses in emergency nurses. Through this research, she hopes to develop a program that facilitates understanding of psychological and physiological responses to vicarious trauma in order to develop evidence-based interventions that mitigate traumatic stress and enhance the physical and mental well-being of nurses chronically exposed to trauma during patient care.
Undergraduate Research Assistants
Amena Alhassan is a research assistant at the TaSSC who is pursuing a B.S. in psychology and a minor in health communications. Her research interests include trauma, addiction, and mental health stigma in middle eastern culture. After graduating, she hopes to pursue a Ph.D. in clinical psychology.
Angela Angulo is a junior and an undergraduate research assistant in the TaSSC. She is currently pursuing a B.S. in psychology, along with a minor in Spanish. Her research interests include trauma and substance use disorders. After graduating from the University of Houston, Angela hopes to attain a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology.
Jana Bittar is obtaining a B.S. in psychology with a Minor in Human Development and Family Studies. While completing the IB program, she obtained extensive experience with volunteering in refugee camps and hospital settings such as the American University Hospital of Beirut, Saint Jude, and Sesobel Center for the disabled. Through these experiences, she developed an interest in PTSD and the progression of symptoms with aging. She plans on attaining a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology.
Aliza Brown is a Senior at Rice University and an undergraduate research assistant in the TaSSC. She is currently pursuing a B.A. in Psychology and Neuroscience. Aliza’s research interests include trauma and resilience amongst survivors of interpersonal violence. After graduating, she plans to pursue her PhD in clinical psychology.
Erin Cortez is an undergraduate research assistant in the TaSSC. She is currently pursuing a B.S. in Psychology, with a minor in Human Development and Family Studies. Her research interests include PTSD and the effects of interpersonal violence. After graduation, Erin plans to pursue a Ph.D. in counseling psychology.
Lukas Taylor Isley
Lukas T. Isley is an undergraduate research assistant obtaining a B.S. in Biology. Upon graduation, Lukas hopes to attend medical school and pursue a career in the military as a doctor. His research interests include PTSD among active service members and veterans.
Barbara Lomeli is a research assistant at TaSSC who is pursuing a B.A. in psychology and a minor in sociology. Her research interests include traumatic life events and the development of substance use. After graduating, she hopes to obtain a Master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling and work with Latinx/Hispanic immigrants.
Isabelle Parra-Valencia is an undergraduate research assistant. She is currently pursuing a B.S. in psychology with a minor in philosophy at the University of Houston. Her research interests include trauma and resilience in minority populations. After graduating, she hopes to pursue a Ph.D. in clinical psychology.
Aniqua Salwa is an undergraduate research assistant. She is currently pursuing a B.A. in Psychology with a minor in Medicine in Society at the University of Houston. Her research interests include the effects of trauma on minority and immigrant child populations. After graduating, she hopes to pursue a doctorate in Clinical Psychology and focus on improving trauma-focused treatment outcomes among child and adolescent populations.
Breeana White is a senior undergraduate research assistant at the TaSSC who is pursuing a B.S. in Psychology with a minor in Business Administration at the University of Houston. Her research interests include resilience among those in the African American community and the effects of traumatic life experiences among children and adults. After graduating, she hopes to pursue a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology.