Lab Team Members

Dr. Irene Yen, MPH - Principal Investigator

Irene Yen is the principal investigator and director of the HOPe Lab. She received her B.A. from Stanford University and her MPH and PhD from UC Berkeley. She is a social epidemiologist, a public health professor at the University of California Merced and a Robert Wood Johnson Interdisciplinary Research Leadership fellow. Irene's current research is centered on the question of how place influences health. That is, how things like transportation, walkability, the food environment, and socioeconomic status influence health. She is also interested in social policy-health connections and would like to study the role of K-12 education in addressing public health outcomes. You can reach her at

Karina Ornelas, B.A - Research Specialist

Karina Ornelas earned her B.A. in Public Health from the University of California Merced in 2018. After receiving her bachelor’s degree, she was invited to join the Health Sciences Research Institute at UCM as a staff research assistant where she is currently working on large-scale research projects focused on mental health, substance use and maternal health. In her current role with the HOPe Lab she is working towards building data infrastructure in the Merced area, in hope of utilizing that data to drive policy and actionable change in the Central Valley. She is also meticulously cleaning a national dataset for a National Institute of Health analysis. Karina believes that technology and data have the power to solve the greatest public health issues in the nation and around the globe.

Sean Tan, M.P.P - Research Specialist

Sean holds a Master of Public Policy (MPP) degree from the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and a Bachelor’s degree in Development Studies from UC Berkeley. While in graduate school, Sean served as the David Bohnett Policy Fellow for City of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. Sean has utilized his policy skills and experiences to advance issues pertaining to immigration, healthcare, and homelessness throughout his time with the Public Policy and Government Relations team at Southern California Grant makers. Sean is passionate about policy involving immigration, criminal justice, and healthcare. Sean intends to use his skills and experiences to enable the HOPe lab to assess issues and trends as well as avenues for research in the Central Valley with the purpose of developing new opportunities for positive and transformative change in the region

Shaina St. Cruz - PhD Student

Shaina is a PhD student in the Public Health graduate program at the University of California, Merced. She developed her passion for improving population health through statistics while attending In her undergraduate program at California State University, Fullerton. With a focus on the social inequalities that factor into health outcomes, she aims to assess community needs on a population scale and facilitate data-driven solutions, such as effective program interventions, to improve their quality of life. She plans to utilize results derived from big data in influencing policy and decision-making in the affected communities. Ultimately, she aims to earn a faculty position in a Public Health or Epidemiology department at a state university and establish an undergraduate research center to mentor the next generation of researchers.

Past Members: 

Mariamawit Belette, undergraduate researcher (2019)
Katie NGO, undergraduate researcher (2019)
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