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ICAN-THRIVE Research Team

Katie Kavanagh, PhD, RD

Katie Kavanagh TeamKatie Kavanagh is an associate professor in Public Health Nutrition and Co-Director of the ICAN Lab. She completed her master’s degree in Nutrition Science and the dietetic internship at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, before earning her PhD in Nutritional Biology with a minor in Epidemiology/Statistics at the University of California, Davis. Her research explores the behavioral aspects of infant feeding during the first year of life and the development of interventions to modify those behaviors that fall outside of current infant-feeding recommendations. Research projects focus on both breastfeeding and formula-feeding families.


Mona Habibi, MS

Mona Habibi is a doctoral candidate in Nutritional Science with a focus on Community Nutrition under the direction of Katie Kavanagh.  Her research interest is technology-based interventions to increase breastfeeding rates globally, by providing lactation consultant services via the internet.  Mona received a bachelor’s degree in Nutrition and a master’s degree in Nutrition Science with a minor in Exercise Science at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.  She also completed the Dietetic Internship.

Katie Bower

Katie Bower TeamKatie Bower has been a member of the ICAN THRIVE lab since 2010. She received her bachelor’s degree in Nutrition/Dietetics from Syracuse University in 2010. While at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville,  she completed her MPH in the Fall of 2012 and became a Registered Dietitian this past summer. She is currently a PhD candidate working toward a degree in Nutritional Science on the Community Nutrition Track. Her research interests are in Maternal and Infant nutrition. Katie enjoys hiking, traveling, and spending time with family and friends.

Kelly Crusenberry

 KellyCrusenberryKelly Crusenberry is a graduate student seeking a Master’s of Public Health Nutrition and completing the Dietetic Internship. Kelly’s research interests include maternal and infant nutrition and attitudes toward breastfeeding. Her long-term goal is to become a clinical dietitian working in pediatrics. She received her Bachelor’s of Science of Nutrition here at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Kelly enjoys exploring new places, cooking, and reading.



Kaitlin DeWKaitlin Bio Picitt

Kaitlin DeWitt is a dual-degree graduate student seeking a Master’s of Science in Public Health Nutrition and a Master’s of Public Health with a concentration in Community Health Education, and she will also complete the Dietetic Internship. Kaitlin obtained her Bachelor’s of Science in Food Science, Nutrition, and Health Promotion from Mississippi State University in May 2014. She is interested in maternal, infant, and child nutrition and health education. Outside of class, Kaitlin enjoys cooking, traveling, spending time with family and friends, reading, and exercising.

Becca Ellison

Becca Graves TeamRebecca is a Graduate Research Assistant for the USDA Baby Mine Study. She graduated from the University of Georgia in May 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Genetics and began graduate school at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville,  in August 2012. Rebecca is pursuing a dual Master’s degree (MS/MPH) in Public Health Nutrition with a concentration in Health Policy and Management. Her interests include maternal and child health, chronic disease prevention, public health policy, and program evaluation.



MarLea Finch

MarLea graduated from Middle Tennessee State University with a bachelor’s degree in Food and Nutrition Science with a concentration in Dietetics in August, 2013. MarLea is pursuing her master’s degree in Public Health Nutrition. She is currently assisting a PhD candidate with her dissertation research project, which involves tele-medicine and lactation support. She is also active with different community programs under the supervision of the East Tennessee Children’s Hospital Childhood Obesity Coalition Coordinator. In addition to working with the children of the community, MarLea also works as a fitness coach at a local health club. Her interests include maternal and child health, childhood obesity prevention, and overall health and wellness.

Daniel Lewis

Daniel is a dual degree graduate student seeking a Master of Science in Public Health Nutrition and a Master of Public Health. His research interests include outcomes associated with infant feeding practices in a hospital setting. Upon completion of his master’s degrees, Daniel hopes to work in the public health field and eventually earn a PhD in pursuit of a career as a university professor.

Sa’Nealdra Wiggins

Sa’Nealdra Wiggins is an aspiring Public Health Dietician looking to combine her undergraduate degree in Health Education with a graduate degree in Public Health Nutrition. She loves children and women’s health and hopes to one day work directly in a non-profit organization where she can provide innovative ways of teaching nutrition. Sa’Nealdra also wants to eventually develop workshops to help women reach their ultimate potential in physical, mental, and spiritual health. She loves working out, reading, and cooking.


Maria Mejia

MariaMejiaMaria Mejia is a native of Mexico and is an undergraduate student majoring in Nutrition. She is the middle child of five siblings and a first-generation college student. She is an undergraduate nutrition scholar who plans to continue her studies to earn a doctoral degree in Nutrition and become a Registered Dietitian. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her family, attending church services, taking walks by the river, and volunteering.



Courtney Wright

CourtneyWrightCourtney Wright is a senior undergraduate student. She plans to attend graduate school for a Master’s of Science degree in Public Health Nutrition and to become a Registered Dietitian. Her main area of interest is maternal and child nutrition. Courtney currently serves as the secretary of UNSA, and her interests include hiking, reading, cooking and listening to live music. She lives in Knoxville with her husband, Daine, one year old son Samuel, and beagle, Woody.

Join Our Research Team

Please visit our Student Research Opportunities page to learn more about joining our team.