First 1,000 Days Speaker and Panelists

Kelly Bost 


Dr. Kelly Bost  is a professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies and affiliate of the Family Resiliency Center and Department of Psychology. Her core research program examines the dynamic interplay between emotion processes and close relationships. She studies how children co-construct beliefs about relationships through the nature and quality of interactions with family members and peers, and how early attachment security and child temperament impact the development of (mal) adaptive emotion regulation strategies and stress responses across development. Her research program incorporates longitudinal designs using multi-method and multi-level approaches and has been funded by NIH and NSF. Dr. Bost is also an investigator on the STRONG KIDS 2 (SK2) birth cohort study which examines genetic and environmental phenotypes predictive of unhealthful eating, weight, and health trajectories. Her work in this area focuses on how family mealtime environments, parent-child attachment histories, and the emotion-cognition interface may influence the development of pediatric obesity and behavioral regulation. With SK2 collaborators, Dr. Bost also examines gene x environment interactions that confer risk for physical and mental health outcomes.

Neal Cohen

Neal J. Cohen is Professor in the Department of Psychology, the Neuroscience Program, and the Beckman Institute at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He serves as (founding) Director of the Center for Nutrition, Learning, and Memory (CNLM), a public-private partnership between the University of Illinois and Abbott Laboratories that is the nation’s first nutritional neuroscience research center, in addition to his role as (founding) Director of the Interdisciplinary Health Sciences Institute (IHSI), supporting efforts to catalyze, facilitate, enhance, and coordinate health sciences-related research activities at Illinois.

Dr. Cohen’s work on the cognitive neuroscience of memory has been instrumental in the discovery and characterization of multiple memory systems of the brain, and has advanced the development of novel methods and paradigms for assessing memory in various populations and in interventions aimed at improving memory and cognition. Dr. Cohen is an elected Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and a Fellow of the Association of Psychological Science.

Sharon Donovan

"STRONG Kids: A Cell-to-Community Approach to Health in the First 1,000 Days"

Dr. Donovan received her PhD in Nutrition at the University of California, Davis. She served as Director of the Division of Nutritional Sciences between 1999 and 2009 and as Director of the Graduate Dietetic Internship from 2008-2014. Dr. Donovan teaches both basic and advanced nutrition classes to undergraduate and graduate students. Dr. Donovan has over 130 peer-reviewed publications and book chapters, and receives grant support from the National Institutes of Health, the United States Department of Agriculture, and other various programs within the food and pharmaceutical industries. Her research efforts have been recognized with several awards from both national and international organizations, and her graduate students have been the recipients of prestigious fellowships, scholarships and awards for their research accomplishments. Dr. Donovan's complete bio can be found here.

Barbara Fiese

"First Relationships: Family factors associated with health in the first thousand days"

Barbara H. Fiese, PhD, is a clinical and developmental psychologist whose research focuses on family factors that promote health and wellbeing in children. She holds the Pampered Chef, Ltd., Endowed Chair in Family Resiliency and is Professor and Director of the Family Resiliency Center at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, with affiliated appointments in the Departments of Pediatrics and Psychology. She is considered one of the national experts in the role that shared family mealtimes may play in promoting health.

She is a principal investigator or co-investigator on multiple federally funded projects aimed at examining environmental and biological factors contributing to early nutritional health including the STRONG Kids 2 Project which takes a cell-to-community approach to dietary habits from birth and the I-TOPP program, an innovative transdisciplinary MPH/PhD training program in obesity prevention. She is also the PI on several projects aimed at increasing the efficiencies of summer and after school feeding programs for food insecure children and youth.

She is past-president of the society of Family Psychology, editor of the Journal of Family Psychology, and inaugural editor of Advances in Child and Family Policy and Practice. Dr. Fiese's complete bio can be found here.

Marian Fitzgibbon

A Professor of Medicine, Health Policy, and Administration, Dr. Fitzgibbon's research has focused primarily on health risk reduction interventions in minority and underserved populations. She has conducted obesity prevention trials with preschool children and their parents as well as obesity treatment interventions with women. Dr. Fitzgibbon has received consistent federal funding through the National Institutes of Health for over a decade and is regularly published in peer-reviewed journals. Dr. Fitzgibbon's complete bio can be found here.

Craig Gundersen

“The Critical Importance of SNAP for the First 1,000 Days in the United States”

Craig Gundersen is the Soybean Industry Endowed Professor in Agricultural Strategy in the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics at the University of Illinois, is on the Technical Advisory Group for Feeding America, is the lead researcher on Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap project, and is the Managing Editor for Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy.  He is also a Round Table Member of the Farm Foundation, a Non-Resident Senior Fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, and a Faculty Affiliate of the Wilson Sheehan Lab for Economic Opportunities (LEO) at the University of Notre Dame.  His research concentrates on the causes and consequences of food insecurity and on the evaluation of food assistance programs, with an emphasis on SNAP.

Naiman Khan

"Health Behaviors, Adiposity, and Childhood Cognitive Function"

Dr. Khan’s research has taken a multidisciplinary approach to integrate knowledge in the disciplines of nutrition and cognitive neuroscience to understand the influence of foods and nutrients on specific aspects of attention, memory, and achievement. He has appointments in the units of Kinesiology and Community Health, Nutritional Sciences, Neuroscience, and the Family Resiliency Center at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He has extensive training and research experience in nutritional science, body composition, and cognitive neuroscience. His work has focused on the relation of health behaviors of nutrition and physical activity and their physiological correlates of adiposity and aerobic fitness on measures of brain function and cognitive health among pediatric populations. On-going research trials in his laboratory include randomized-controlled trials testing the efficacy of acute and long-term physical activity and nutrition interventions for improving children's ability for cognitive control and relational memory, processes that are foundational to learning and achievement. The overarching objective of his research program is to generate foundational knowledge in nutritional neuroscience by translating the impact of health behaviors to childhood cognitive function and brain health.

Brent McBride

"Childcare as a Risk Factor for Early Childhood Obesity

Brent McBride, PhD, is a professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies (HDFS) at the University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign, where he also serves as the Director of the Child Development Laboratory (CDL) program, and as a Professor of Nutritional Sciences.  For the past 30 years the primary focus of his research program has been on the antecedents and consequences of father involvement. This work has focused on fathers/father figures of children with and without disabilities, and has included both basic and applied components.  In addition to his research on fatherhood, for the past 10 years Dr. McBride has drawn on his expertise in child development and emphasis on translational research in early childhood settings in serving as one of the senior investigators on the Synergistic Theory and Research on Obesity and Nutrition Group (STRONG Kids) project, an interdisciplinary team of investigators from across the University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign campus that is conducting longitudinal research to explore how genetic, family, community, child care and cultural factors impact inappropriate weight gain and obesity during the early childhood years.  A focus of his work with the STRONG Kids team has been on exploring the role of child care contexts in influencing obesity and inappropriate weight gain during the early childhood years. In addition to a focus on the child care context, Dr. McBride and his colleagues are drawing on STRONG Kids data to explore the role of fathers in weight-related parenting behaviors during the early childhood years. 

Brandon Meline


Brandon Meline is with the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District where he has worked in the Division of Maternal and Child Health for 18 years, the last 11 as Division Director.  His 0 to 3 work is in planning, implementation, and evaluation of programs such as: The Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), Family Case Management, Healthworks, and the local Vaccines for Children (VFC) initiatives, as well as the newly funded Prevention Initiative home visiting program through the State Board of Education.

Sessy Nyman


Sessy Nyman joined EverThrive Illinois in March 2017 as Executive Director with more than 25 years of experience in advocacy, legislative strategic development, and non-profit leadership.

Prior to joining EverThrive IL, Sessy served as the Vice President for Policy and Strategic Partnerships at Illinois Action for Children (IAFC). Under Sessy’s leadership, grassroots membership expanded, leadership across the early childhood field was developed, and organizational strength grew. Sessy served on multiple early childhood task forces and committees to influence the development and implementation of statewide policy and programs.

Prior to joining Illinois Action for Children, Sessy worked as the Director of the Violence Prevention Project for the Alliance for Logan Square Organizations, where she created community collaborations with local stakeholders to effectively implement violence prevention strategies and served as a primary spokesperson to represent the project to Chicago’s greater not-for-profit community and other citywide institutions working on violence prevention issues. From 1990-1992 she was National Coordinator for the Chicago-based Mozambique Support Network, a national network of state affiliate organizations advocating for change in Southern Africa.

Sessy earned her M.S. in Cultural Geography from The University of Massachusetts-Amherst, and holds a B.A. in Government and International Relations from The University of South Carolina. Her community involvement includes: 2006 Alum of Leadership of Greater Chicago, Board President of Lifeline Theater located in Chicago’s Rogers Park community, and is a member of the Concordia Place Early Childhood program Advisory Board. Sessy lives in Chicago’s Rogers Park community with her daughter and their dog Webster.

Rafael Pérez-Escamilla

Keynote Speaker

Rafael Pérez-Escamilla, Ph.D., is Professor of Epidemiology & Public Health, Director of the Office of Public Health Practice, and Director of the Global Health Concentration at the Yale School of Public Health. His global public health nutrition and food security research program has led to improvements in breastfeeding programs, iron deficiency anemia among infants, household food security measurement and outcomes, and maternal, infant and young child community nutrition education/counselling programs. His health disparities research involves assessing the impact of community health workers at improving behavioral and metabolic outcomes among Latinos with type 2 diabetes. He has published over 200 research articles, 2 books, and numerous journal supplements, book chapters, and technical reports. He is a member of the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) Food and Nutrition Board. He has been a senior advisor to maternal-child community nutrition programs as well as household food security measurement projects funded by WHO, PAHO, UNICEF, FAO, UNESCO, UNDP, CDC, USDA, USAID, The World Bank, the Gates Foundation, and the Governments of Mexico, Brazil, and Colombia. He obtained his BS in Chemical Engineering from the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City and his MS in Food Science and his PhD in Nutrition from the University of California at Davis.

Sue Schantz

"Through the Window of a Baby’s Eyes:  Impact of Prenatal Factors on Early Cognitive Development."

Dr. Susan Schantz is a Professor in the Department of Comparative Biosciences, College of Veterinary Medicine and conducts research at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology. She directs both an Environmental Toxicology Training Grant funded by NIEHS and a Children’s Environmental Health Research Center funded jointly by NIEHS and the USEPA.

Dr. Schantz’s research focuses on understanding the neurodevelopmental effects of several widespread environmental contaminants including PCBs, PBDEs, phthalates and phenols. Her approach includes epidemiological studies of exposed human populations as well as mechanistic laboratory studies in animal models. She also conducts research investigating the impact of estrogens including soy isoflavones, licorice root and other botanical estrogens on cognitive function using laboratory animal models.

Currently her primary research focus is the Illinois Kids Development Study or I-KIDS, a prospective pregnancy cohort study that started as a component of the Children’s Center and is now part of the NIH-funded ECHO Program (Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes). ECHO is a consortium of 35 research awards that together comprise a national sample of over 50,000 children that will be followed prospectively for at least 7 years to assess the impact of prenatal and early life environmental influences on airway disease, obesity and neurodevelopment.

Julianna Sellett

“Reducing disparity: Improving community health through cross-sector partnerships”

Julianna Sellett is the Vice President of Community Health Initiatives for the Carle Health System. She has over 28 years of health care experience, with special interest in organizational strategy, systems management, performance improvement, population health, as well as cross-sector community integration. Her current work focuses on improving the health, educational achievement, and economic prosperity of disadvantaged populations, with special focus on early childhood development. She is a Registered Nurse (RN), with a Doctoral degree in Nursing Practice (DNP), Master’s degree in Nursing (MSN), and a Master’s degree in Business Administration (MBA). She is a Certified Professional in Healthcare Quality (CPHQ) and is Certified in Executive Nursing Practice (CENP). In addition to her health care roles, she is actively involved in the community, and has been named by the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to the Board of Examiners for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award.

Monika Stodolska


A Professor in the Department of Recreation, Sport and Tourism, Professor Stodolska's research focuses on leisure behavior of ethnic and racial minorities and on constraints on leisure. She explores subjects such as the effects of race and ethnicity on leisure behavior of recent immigrants, issues of cultural change and adaptation among minority groups, and transnationalism. She received her PhD in Earth and Atmospheric Sciences from the University of Alberta. Dr. Stodolska's complete bio can be found here.

Karen Tabb Dina

Karen Tabb Dina received her PhD in Social Welfare from the University of Washington in Seattle. During her time at the University of Washington, she held several awards and traineeships including a National Center for Research Resources funded TL1 multidisciplinary clinical research traineeship, a Fogarty-funded global health fellowship, and a Magnuson Award. She received her Master of Social Work (Social Policy and Evaluation) from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and her Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from Eastern Michigan University. Professor Tabb Dina is interested in women’s health and mental health research with a particular focus on health disparities. She is interested in public health social work practice and teaches policy courses with a focus on health policy.

Margarita Teran-Garcia

"STRONG Kids: A Cell-to-Community Approach to Health in the First 1,000 Days"

Dr. Teran-Garcia obtained her MDD from the National University Autonomous of Mexico and did her pediatric residency at the National Institute of Pediatrics in Mexico. In 2001, she received her PhD in Metabolism/Nutrient-Gene Interactions from the University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Teran-Garcia has experience in clinical nutrition, nutrigenetics, and childhood obesity. In August of 2008, she joined the faculty of Food Science and Human Nutrition as an Assistant Professor in Nutrition. Dr. Teran-Garcia's complete bio can be found here.

Jonathan Woods

“Reducing disparity: Improving community health through cross-sector partnerships”
Jonathan Woods is the Executive Director of Community Health Initiatives for the Carle Health System.  He has over 17 years of health care experience, with special interest in servant leadership, succession planning, community health, and professional boundaries.  His current work includes implementing an intensive nurse-home visiting program focused on prenatal and early childhood care as well as coordinating the rollout of a mobile clinic service targeting at-risk populations within the local community.  He holds an MSN in Health Care & Nursing Administration and is certified as a Nurse Executive through ANCC. 

Yuan-Xiang Pan


Dr. Pan graduated with a B.S. in Cell Biology at Lanzhou University in Gansu, China. He received both M.S. and Ph.D. in Animal Nutrition with emphasis on Molecular Biology at Virginia Tech. Dr. Pan also received postdoctoral training in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Florida, College of Medicine in Gainesville, FL. In June of 2006 Dr. Pan joined the University of Illinois faculty. Dr. Pan teaches several advanced nutrition classes to undergraduate and graduate students and has been included on the "Incomplete List of Teachers Ranked as Excellent by their Students" many times. Dr. Pan has over 50 peer-reviewed publications and book chapters and receives grant support from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the United States Department of Agriculture, and industry.