Principal Investigator

Heewon L. Gray, PhD, RDN

Dr. Gray is an Associate Professor at the University of South Florida College of Public Health (COPH). Her expertise is in the field of behavioral nutrition, with a focus on improving eating behaviors and preventing diet-related chronic diseases, such as obesity, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes in children and adolescents. 

As the Principal Investigator of the R21 grant (R21HD106182) funded by NICHD, Dr. Gray is currently leading a study aimed to determine the feasibility and preliminary efficacy of a nutrition intervention for toddlers with ASD and their parents through the Early Intervention Services. She uses evidence-based feeding strategies and behaviorally-focused nutrition education for children with ASD and their families. Since 2023, her team has also been working on expanding the age group of this intervention to preschoolers (3-5 years), which is one of the Autism Intervention Research Network on Physical Health (AIR-P) programs funded by HRSA through University of California, Los Angeles.

She serves as a faculty fellow at the USF COPH Chiles Center. She is also actively involved in local, national, and international nutrition professional societies. She is the Chair of the Research Division of the Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior (SNEB) and the Secretary of the Journal Committee of SNEB. She has received multiple recognitions for her work, including the Professional Achievement Award in Community Nutrition from SNEB in 2019 and a Best Article Award from the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, where she serves as a member of the Editorial Board. Dr. Gray also served the Leadership Committee of the USF Urban Food Sovereignty Group and currently serves as a member of the Nominating Committee of the Florida Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. In addition, she is a member of the Faculty Leadership for the Nutrition Research & Health Scholarly Concentration (nSC) of the Research, Innovation & Scholarly Endeavors (RISE) program at the USF Morsani College of Medicine. Through her involvement in the nSC program, Dr. Gray provides guidance and mentorship to medical students interested in nutrition, helping to cultivate their knowledge and skills in this important area of healthcare.

Education & Training 

PhD in Behavioral Nutrition, Columbia University, 2009  

MEd in Community Nutrition Education, Teachers College, Columbia University, 2006

MS in Human Nutrition, Institute of Human Nutrition, Columbia University, 2003

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (Credential ID No. 959398), March 2008

Graduate Students

Aaliyah Torres, BA

Aaliyah is a first-year student working towards a Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy at the University of South Florida. She earned her B.A. in Psychology with a concentration in Advanced Research Experience at USF as well. She has vast experience working with children with Developmental Disabilities and wishes to continue this work through research and her future work with children in both individual and familial/relational therapy.

Rihana Aydin, BS

Rihana is a first year-graduate student pursuing a Master of Public Health, concentrating in Epidemiology. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Health Sciences from the University of Central Florida and has previous research experience in human factors and cognition psychology. After graduation, she hopes to work in epidemiologic research to improve health outcomes of disadvantaged communities.  

Medical Students from the RISE program

Alanis Rosado, BS

Alanis is a third year medical student at USF MCOM and is interested in the field of pediatrics. Her passion for helping children, along with her interests in nutrition and lifestyle modifications, have motivated her to do research in these areas and she hopes to take the knowledge from it and be able to apply it with her future pediatric patients.

William Sayre, BA

William is a second-year medical student at the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine, and has a strong research interest in nutrition, public health, and health policy. He is originally from Miami, Florida, and went to Rice University in Houston, Texas for undergraduate degree in Sports Medicine & Exercise Physiology.

Carissa Young, BS

Carissa is a 2nd-year medical student at USF MCOM with a scholarly concentration in nutrition. She is interested in specializing in family medicine or internal medicine. She wants to incorporate nutrition research and education into clinical therapies for future patients. 

Austin Chao, BA

Austin is a second-year medical student at USF MCOM. He earned his BA in Human Biology at the University of California, Berkeley and his experience working with neurodivergent children sparked an interest in improving pediatric nutrition and wellness. He is passionate about improving health outcomes in his community through nutritional education.

Undergraduate Students

Jana Kandil

Jana is an undergraduate student at the University of South Florida pursuing Bachelor's degree in Biomedical Sciences. Her next step after graduating is applying to medical school and becoming a physician. Her passion is combining medicine and public health in her future career. 

Samuel Won

Sam is an undergraduate majoring in biomedical sciences at the University of South Florida. His research focuses on improving the nutritional habits of children with autism to sustain a healthy diet and lifestyle for years to come. He plans on attending medical school and pursuing a fellowship in sports medicine to become an orthopedic physician.

Amanda Perez

Amanda is an undergraduate student in the USF Judy Genshaft Honors College with a major in Biomedical Sciences and a minor in Spanish. As a pre-medical student, she hopes to work with underserved communities in the field of immunology.

Gabrielle Nutt 

Gabrielle is an undergraduate student in the College of Public Health majoring in Health Sciences and minoring in Nutrition. Her plans after completing her undergraduate degree are to pursue a Master’s in Nutritional Science and a dietetic internship in order to become a Registered Dietitian.  

Former Students

Thakur Sai Manogna Bais, MPH, CPH, BDS

Ankeeta Klinger RD, LD/N -  a clinical dietitian for Orlando Health

Catalina Sanchez Escobar

Tiantian Pang, PhD, MPH, CPH - Population Health Analytics, CareNu

Stefanny Funes, MPH

Claudia Jimenez, MPH

Apoorva Desaraju

Whitney Fung Uy, PhD - Postdoctoral Fellow, Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition 

Acadia W. Buro, PhD - Assistant Professor, University of New Mexico 

Monise M. Harris, MPH

Karah A. Waters, BSN, RN, CLC, CPH

LaShae Rolle, MPH

Syed Hasan, BS

Evelyn Spiller, BS 

Mikaela Strange, BS 

Sweta Sinha, MPH

Chantell Robinson, MPH

Janelle Barrera Ikan, MPH, CPH, CHES - Research Manager, Innovation in Mental Health Lab, USF