Meet Our Trainees
Full Time/Long Term Trainees
Malak Azizieh is a Speech-Language pathology clinical fellow. Malak graduated with her master’s degree in Speech, Language, and Learning from Northwestern University and a bachelor’s degree in Psychology with a minor in Developmental Psychology from UCLA. She was first exposed to the autism field working as a behavioral therapist at the Early Childhood Partial Hospitalization Program at UCLA and as a research assistant at the UCLA Baby Lab. Malak’s professional interests include working with pediatric populations in the areas of language development, augmentative and alternative communication, social communication disorders, and speech sound disorders.
Dr. Bhatt is currently a second year Child & Adolescent Psychiatry Fellow at the University of California Davis. She graduated from the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine’s 6-year combined BA/MD program. She completed her Adult Psychiatry residency training at the University of Missouri-Kansas City/Center for Behavioral Medicine. She is a member of the AACAP Adolescent Committee and serves as co-chair of the Early Psychosis work group. Dr. Bhatt’s clinical/research interests include early psychosis, youth suicide by firearm and firearm policy research, and Asian American youth mental health. She enjoys hiking with her two dogs, gardening, and meditation.
Thea Bregman (she/her) is a Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics Fellow at the UC Davis MIND Institute. She studied Psychology as an undergraduate at UC Berkeley and then worked as a behavioral therapist for children with autism spectrum disorder prior to attending medical school and pediatrics residency at UC Davis. For the past 5 years, she has worked as an outpatient general pediatrician at Kaiser Permanente, and she is excited to return to UC Davis to gain more knowledge and expertise about interdisciplinary care for children with neurodevelopmental disabilities.
Sarah Hajar Darwish (she/her) ) is a second-year M.S. Counseling Student specializing in Marriage, Couples, and Family Counseling. Sarah is a Palestinian-American with dreams of breaking the stigma that currently exists in the field of mental health in the Middle East. She began her journey of advocating for her community by conducting an unpublished literature review and presenting her research on the stigma in the Middle East toward mental health at the UC Davis ME/SA Research Symposium. She developed a study on ableism in higher education while accounting for the COVID-19 pandemic. Her interest and career goal are one: helping provide psychotherapy for her community of Muslims and Arab-Americans, a large underserved mental health population.
My name is Shannon Ferguson, and I am an autistic advocate interested in pursuing neuropsychology and autism research. My want to be an advocate in the field to better represent the interests and needs of the autism community. I attended UC Davis for my Bachelor’s degree and achieved my Masters’ degree from San Francisco State University in psychology; my thesis focused on quality of life and behavior in adolescence on the autism spectrum. I have worked in special education classrooms and volunteered with the California Youth Leadership Forum for Students with Disabilities.
Cynde Katherine Josol (she/her), Ph.D., earned her doctoral degree in Special Education at Michigan State University. For the past 9 years, she has worked with individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities in school, clinical, and research lab settings. Her primary research interest is to understand and improve the social outcomes of individuals with disabilities, with a specific focus on identifying and addressing the factors that can impede friendship development. She is a postdoctoral trainee in the Collaborative START lab as well as in LEND and hopes to learn more about community-based research using culturally relevant methods and practices
Lisa Marie Kain is a self-advocate and parent of two children with neurodevelopmental disabilities. She volunteers with Autism Speaks to advocate for policy initiatives at the federal level. Lisa is especially interested in the genetics of neurodevelopmental disabilities including the risk factors from prenatal complications or preterm birth and gender or racial disparities in the diagnosis of individuals with complex cases.
I am a single parent of two amazing children with autism and have experience working with disabled people for over 20 years. I have a Bachelor’s degree in Marketing from CSU Sacramento and received my Paralegal Certification from MTI College. I am very passionate about advocating for the rights of special needs children and the programs required to help them. I look forward to learning more through UC Davis LEND about other ways I can give back to the community by helping other families provide for their autistic children.
Hi, my real name is Jose Roberto Melendres but I go by Jojo for cultural simplicity and conversational comfort.
I am a parent of a special needs child, James, the youngest of the brood. My wife and I have dedicated ourselves to taking care of James, who has autism, and other similar population group, working in children’s care homes subserving Alta Regional of California clients.
I am also particularly interested in patients with disabilities in general. I am a member of UC Davis DiversAbility employee resource group. I am an avid communicator, so I always try to connect the dots and break down silos.
I strongly believe that cooperative effort will bring exponential gains with improving outcomes related to care of neurodiverse individuals. I am thankful for the opportunity to be in the LEND Program!
Natalie Oropeza (she/her/ella) is a postdoctoral fellow with LEND and the UC Davis MIND Institute. Natalie graduated with her Ph.D. from Palo Alto University in Clinical Psychology and has her master’s degree and teaching credentials in Special Education. Her passion for working with children with neurodevelopmental disorders and their families have been present since childhood as she has navigated educational, medical, and clinical settings as an advocate for her brother, family, and community members with neurodevelopmental disorders. Her clinical and research interests include supporting bilingual English-Spanish families, autism, ADHD, speech acquisition, special education, chronic sorrow, and sibling relationships.
Lauren Smith (they/them) is a recent graduate from UC Davis who received their Bachelor of Arts in Psychology in June 2022. They are pursuing experience in the field with aspirations of eventually attaining their PsyD in Clinical Psychology. Lauren is an autistic self-advocate and hopes to further autism research about the giftedness, gender differences, and comorbidities of autism.
My name is Hannah Snitzer (she/they) and I just completed my pediatric residency training at UC Davis. Before living in Sacramento, I grew up in Miami Beach, FL and attended medical school there as well, where I also received my MPH. My partner and I recently had our first (human) baby, and we also have two dogs and a cat. I am passionate about improving health outcomes for historically marginalized teenagers and have a special interest in school-based health. In my free time, I enjoy camping, music, cooking adventures, and Sacramento's breweries.
Maria Solis (she/her) has been serving individuals with developmental disabilities and/or emotional/behavioral disorders and their families since 2003. Her research interests include client-centered ABA treatment, ethics, and equitable access to quality services. Maria is the founder and lead executive of the Sasaki Behavioral Group (formerly known as the Reilly Behavioral Group), where she is committed to maintaining a work-life balance and high quality of life for her team and the clients they serve.
Medium Term Trainees
I am a wife and a mom to three neurodivergent kids (ages 20,18, and 15) each with their own unique needs and challenges. Two of my kids are autistic and two of my kids have Tourette’s Syndrome. All three have also had medical complexities, with my two youngest needing ongoing medical care for chronic illness since birth. I have had to learn how best to advocate and support each of them within the different systems of society over the years by essentially creating their own individual “playbook.”
My own lived experiences and recognizing in myself my own neurodivergent brain differences has helped me in navigating both the educational and medical systems to meet my kids needs and has led me to new opportunities such as the LEND program. Despite the challenges over the years, I have found it vital to enjoy the ordinary moments that are often overlooked when families face extraordinary circumstances.
Through the years I have taken to heart what Dr. Bruce Perry says, “People, not programs, change people.” This is one reason I started a local parent support group, something that didn’t exist when I was going through the early years and seeking helpful resources. My interests that I have immersed myself in over the years are related to trauma as one of my kids has medical trauma from preverbal invasive experiences that continued through his early years. This also brought me to understanding more about Relational Neuroscience, Attachment Theory, and how all of this needs to be the framework to appropriately support our kids who have vulnerable nervous systems and developmental delays. I hope to bring hope and compassion to those around me as my family knows the challenges of having kids who have more support needs; it has been the compassion we experience that always helps us on our most difficult days.
Ally Andre (she/her) Is a second-year student in the Doctor of Physical Therapy program at CSU Sacramento. She previously attended UC Davis, where she earned a B.S. in Neurobiology, Physiology, and Behavior. During this time, Ally volunteered at a pediatric clinic where she witnessed the impact of multidisciplinary, evidence-based care on improving outcomes in children with ASD and other developmental disorders. She hopes to continue working with this population in the future and is thrilled for the opportunity to grow her knowledge and clinical skills through the LEND program.
I am currently a second-year student at CSU Sacramento’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program. I earned my B.S. in Exercise Science from California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, CA. I am interested in learning more about developmental disorders and pediatric care to better serve my patients in the future as a physical therapist. I look forward to gaining new perspectives from community members and individuals in different professions.
Michelle Mei-Hung Chi is a child psychiatrist from Taiwan and currently a visiting scholar of one-year ITPND program in MIND. Her clinical and research interests are focused on early screening and diagnosis, and emotional disturbances in individuals with neurodevelopmental disabilities.
Valeria Echeverria was born in Mexico, she lives in the Bay Area with her husband Alberto and her children Marian, Marcelo, and Marisa. She graduated from the Autonomous University of Nuevo León (UANL) and earned a bachelor’s degree in Psychology. Afterwards, she underwent a two-year Pediatric Neuropsychology Residency at the Centro Neurológico para Niños y Adolescentes (CENNA) in Monterrey, Mexico. She had 12 years of private practice before moving to the U.S., where she volunteered at different nonprofit organizations.
My name is Heather Elahi. My pronouns are she/her. I am currently a second-year clinical psychology graduate student at Alliant International University in Sacramento. The areas I am most interested in are Autism and ADHD. I really enjoy the research process and would like to gain more experience with that through the LEND program this year. My research and clinical interests include treatment modalities for overlapping neurodevelopmental disorders, specifically autism and ADHD. In my free time, I enjoy spending time with my family, traveling, baking, and reading..
I am Somaya Fazly, I have a medical degree from Afghanistan and immigrated to the United States in 2021. I worked as a physician with children aged 9-18 for 5 years, who were addicted to drugs and helped them with withdrawal/reduce drug demand. I became interested in helping children with autism and neurodevelopmental disorder during my work with children. And lastly my hobbies are swimming/reading and playing with my only son (Aaron).
Violeta Garcia-Sanchez (she, her) Mother and caregiver of two young adults with fragile X, currently working for WarmLine as a service navigator for the Spanish-speaking community. I got an AA in human services. I am very excited about this opportunity as my interest in enrolling in the LEND program is to gain knowledge and skills so that I can better support the families I serve.
Is currently a Community Partnerships Manager, working closely with Regional Centers and the ID/D Community. Erika also has a younger brother who is Autistic and a big reason why she wants to continue learning about the Neurodiverse community. She wants to be able to be a resource in her professional and personal life and be able to advocate for our diverse communities.
Hi, my name is Cyd Gray (she/her). I am a medium-term trainee. I have a Bachelor’s degree in School Health Education and plans to pursue a Master’s degree in Social Work. I have a son with Autism, which ignited my journey of learning about ASD, but I've always desired to learn how to better support those living with any type of disability. I am heavily involved in the Military Special Needs community and receive much satisfaction connecting with and serving that population. I look forward to participate in the LEND program!
Aviel Haberman (she/they) is a 2nd-year Physical Therapy student at CSU Sacramento with a bachelor's degree in Human Development from UC Davis. Her current interests include functional mobility and neurodevelopmental screening and interventions. Aviel is a queer, ADHD individual with a personal childhood history of hospitalizations due to complications from asthma. In addition to her professional focus on implementation of physical therapy for vulnerable populations, Aviel holds a particular interest in the psycho-social factors that affect care. Aviel's main goal in training with LEND is to develop a positive, collaborative approach to support children and their families navigating the medical system most effectively.
I have 7 years of experience working as a Clinical Psychologist, Behavior Therapist and Parent and Teacher Educator. Specialized in working with Neurodevelopmental Disabilities. Currently, running private therapy center (URAAN – Pediatric Therapy Services) in Karachi, Pakistan. My goal is to pursue a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and to continue my work with children with NDD and their families by empowering them and help to unleash their full potential.
Ari Leitner-Keiser (He/Him) is currently a second-year student in the Doctor of Physical Therapy Program at Sacramento State University. He earned his B.A. in Psychology at UC Santa Cruz. Ari is interested in becoming a better advocate for children with Autism. He looks forward to learning and working in a team with other health professionals and community members.
Ming Liu (she/her) is a second-year Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Fellow at UC Davis. She received her M.D. from UC San Diego School of Medicine and M.P.H. from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, before completing general psychiatry residency at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco, CA. She is excited to learn from colleagues in many fields as part of the LEND program to better meet the needs of neurodiverse children and adolescents.
Chris Losi (he/him) first learned he was on the autism spectrum soon after receiving his second advanced degree. Trained in the biological sciences, natural resource management, and the law, Chris has excelled in certain areas while struggling greatly in others. Recently, Chris left a high-pressure government job to try to learn how he might more effectively utilize his skills and traits in a way that would provide more benefit to his health and his community. He is honored to have been accepted to this program and is looking forward to working with such a diverse and accomplished group of people.
I am Criss Madrigal, a coach to fierce women and unstoppable mothers. I am graduate of San Jose State University with a Bachelor’s in Business Administration, a second Bachelor’s in Spanish and a Master’s in Communication Studies. I am a wife and mother to three incredible children, two of which have a 22q Deletion Syndrome diagnosis. As a parent advocate, I knew my passion was to serve others in a deep and meaningful way, which is why I became a certified life coach through UC Davis and working on a mindset certification. I am also a Human Resources professional who has spent the last 17 years working at a Fortune 500. I have a deep passion for helping working mothers establish work-life balance, while parenting children with a variety of needs. I coach moms with children of invisible disabilities transform their child’s life and create a new mindset to become a confident, unstoppable woman and mother!
Sophia Mattingly, Ph.D. (she/her), earned a doctoral degree in Education- Language, Literacy, and Culture from UC Davis. She is a full time lecturer at UC Davis, student teacher supervisor at CSU Sacramento, and former K-12 English teacher. Her early research looked at the impact of educational gaming on early narrative skill development of K/1 EL students; while her primary research investigated the ethnic and cultural identity development of female children adopted from China raised in predominantly white, American homes. Currently, her interests center on the intersectionality of self and social identities and how the medical and educational systems help or hinder the development and learning of children. Grateful for the opportunity to participate in LEND, Sophia looks forward to engaging with new information, people, and ideas to better support the needs of students, teachers, and families. As a partner and advocate, she hopes to work toward systemic changes designed to increase the quality of life and education of differently abled and neurodivergent persons.
Mel (she/her) has been working with young children and families affected by autism for the past 16 years. She is passionate about providing high quality, evidence based and equitable treatment to all families. Her areas of interest include early intervention and making this treatment more available and accessible to families regardless of location or social economic status.
It is a pleasure to be part of the LEND program as a clinical psychology intern. I look forward to working with neurodiverse populations and their families, especially families who have limited access due to resources, cultural stigmas, and lack of awareness of the benefit of intervention. I previously trained at group therapy and assessment clinics that serviced the community, college/graduate school aged individuals, and children.
Isabel is Chilean pediatrician dedicated to Neonatology for the last 10 years. She is the mother of 5 children, two of them with special needs. She is passionate about neurodevelopment and the promotion of nurturing environments for the development and integral growth of the child and their family.
I was born in Mexico, graduated from University Autonomous of Guadalajara (UAG) school of Medicine in Mexico.
My son has ADHD and a family member (brother in law) is autistic ; I believe in the importance of training parents of special needs children because I know how difficult is to navigate the health and the school systems.
Early interventions will help the children to achieve their full potential and their parents and family support them in a more effective way.
My name is Jasleen Takhar (she/her) and I am a current Criminal Justice graduate and pre-medical student. I aspire to become a dermatologist in the future, as I have a background working with UC Davis dermatology during my time of studies. Within the LEND program, I am particularly interested in learning about child neurodevelopmental disabilities and how to better understand and advocate for individuals who are affected.
Kim Tena (she/her) earned her B.A. in Psychology and B.A. in Sociology from Stony Brook University. She is currently an Assistant Clinical Research Coordinator at the UC Davis MIND Institute, where she works with Dr. Meghan Miller. Her research interests center on support service accessibility, the transition to adulthood, and the impact of socio-cultural factors (eg. gender and ethnicity) during diagnostic assessments. Kim is thrilled by the opportunity to learn alongside this year's LEND cohort and to meaningfully connect with the Northern CA community.
David Tomajan (He/Him) is a Pediatric Rehabilitation Medicine Fellow at UC Davis. David has volunteered and coached Special Olympics since junior high. His oldest brother has an intellectual disability which has inspired him to go into medicine with the goal of helping children with special needs. After medical school, he completed residency in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Stanford University. His main clinical interests include cerebral palsy, brain injury, spina bifida, and neuromuscular disorders.
Allison Wheeler (she/her) is currently completing her Masters of Science in the UCSF Genetic Counseling program. She graduated from UC Davis with a BS in Psychology and minor in Public Health Sciences, where she worked in a lab exploring the genetic and environmental influences of autism spectrum disorders and volunteered with low-income families to reach their non-medical health goals. As a disabled person, Allison is invested in self-advocacy and learning from the communities that she hopes to serve as a genetic counselor. She is excited to learn more about neurodevelopmental disorder etiology and community engagement so that she can best support individuals and families within a pediatric neurology team in the future!
My name is Samantha Zubizarreta and I prefer she/her/hers pronouns. I am originally from Cleveland, Ohio but have been in Fort Lauderdale, FL in the Clinical Psychology Doctorate Program at Nova Southeastern University for the last four years. I am currently a clinical psychology intern at the UC Davis MIND Institute and CAARE Center. My role includes providing psychotherapy for families of youth with behavioral problems and/or trauma histories, conducting developmental evaluations for infants and toddlers in the NICU follow up clinic (Baby Steps), and evaluating children 0-7 years old that have neurodevelopmental concerns including Autism, ADHD, and Intellectual Disability.