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Meet the Team

Allison Wainer

Alison Wainer, PhD – Principal Investigator

Allie Wainer, PhD, is a licensed clinical psychologist and an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and the Research Director of the Autism Assessment, Research, Treatment and Services (AARTS) Center at Rush University Medical Center. Wainer’s background is in developing and evaluating behavioral interventions and service delivery models for young children, including those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and related neurodevelopmental disorders. Her scientific work has centered on identifying ways to support the transportation of effective intervention to the “real world” and increase access to high quality intervention. She has conducted studies to investigate ways to maximize the reach of trained professionals (e.g., via group based intervention models), enhance training for community-based service providers and bring interventions directly to parents and families via telehealth and related technologies. Wainer is an Early Intervention and Parent Coaching trainer and consultant, and for the last decade she has worked with academic and community-based centers, both nationally and internationally, to implement early intervention programs in a variety of formats and service delivery settings.

Niranjan Karnik

Niranjan Karnik, MD, PhD – Co-Principal Investigator

Niranjan S. Karnik, MD, PhD, is the Cynthia Oudejans Harris, MD, Professor of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences and Associate Dean for Community Behavioral Health at Rush Medical College with a conjoint faculty appointment in the Department of Community, Systems and Mental Health Nursing at the Rush College of Nursing. He serves as Director of the Great Lakes Node of the National Drug Abuse Treatment Clinical Trials Network. He is the Director of the Rush-University of Chicago ITM Center for Underserved Populations & Innovative Interventions (CUPII) and Co-Director of the ITM KL2 Career Development Award Program. His research focuses on technology and community-based interventions for high-risk populations with psychiatric and substance use disorders. In the past, he has worked with refugee children on the Pakistan-Afghan border, street children in India, foster youth in Central Illinois and incarcerated youth in California. He worked at a youth homeless shelter in San Francisco and is continuing this work with homeless youth in Chicago. He is presently a PI or Co-PI on grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration and Illinois Department of Human Services. He is a Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association and Distinguished Fellow of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

Soorya Latha

Latha Soorya, PhD – Co-Investigator

Latha Soorya, PhD, BCBA, is a clinical psychologist and Director of the AARTS Center - a multi-disciplinary autism center in the Department of Psychiatry. Soorya brings clinical and research expertise in diagnosis, intervention development and training in neurodevelopmental disorders. Her work seeks to optimize and disseminate evidence-informed therapies for social and mental health needs of individuals with neurodevelopmental conditions across the lifespan.

Lashawnda Thornton, MS, MSW

Lashawnda Thornton, MS, MSW – Program Director

Lashawnda Thornton, MS, MSW, is a clinical Social Worker in the department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Rush University Medical Center. Thornton is the Program Director of the Building Early Connections Program in the Autism, Assessment, Research, Treatment and Services (AARTS) Center. Thornton brings clinical expertise in early childhood and providing evidence-based interventions to underserved children and families in community settings. Her area of clinical interests includes how developmental and social-emotional concerns can impact behavioral health outcomes in young children, adolescence and adulthood. Thornton seeks to develop systems of care for young children and families, provide caregivers access to effective interventions for children who have experienced behavioral concerns and to improve social change on the west side of Chicago.

Emily Wolodiger

Emily Wolodiger, PhD – Lead Psychologist

Emily Wolodiger, PhD, is a licensed clinical psychologist and an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. She received her bachelor’s degree from The University of Chicago and her doctorate in Clinical Psychology from St. John’s University. She specializes in providing evidence-based behavioral health interventions to children and their families. Wolodiger has worked with infants, toddlers, school-age children, adolescents, young adults and parents in community, outpatient, psychiatric inpatient and medical inpatient settings.

Christina Iyengar

Christina Iyengar, DrPH – Lead Evaluator

Christina Iyengar, DrPH, serves as the lead evaluator for AARTS Building Early Connections program. Iyengar received her doctorate in Public Health Leadership and Advocacy from Capella University. She brings years of experience in evaluation strategies and culturally responsive approach for underserved populations.

Cynthia Pierre

Cynthia Pierre, PhD – Diversity and Inclusion Specialist

Cynthia Pierre, PhD, is a licensed clinical psychologist at the AARTS Center. Pierre has provided a number of clinical services at AARTS since 2017, including diagnostic evaluations and individual, group and family therapy. She is committed to providing these clinical services to English and Spanish-speaking families. In addition to serving youth and adults with autism, she also has extensive experience with behavioral intervention for individuals with anxiety, ADHD and disruptive behaviors.

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Diamond Phillips, BS – Clinical Research Assistant

Diamond Phillips, BS is a clinical research assistant for AARTS Building Early Connections program. She received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She has experience working with diverse populations specializing in community outreach, services and clinical care for children and families. She provides support by working closely with the BEC staff to assist in coordinating screening, referral and interventions within the Rush Pediatric Clinics and West Side community.

Carrie Drazba

Carrie Drazba, MD – Pediatric Primary Care Co-Lead

Carrie Drazba, MD, is a general pediatrician at Rush University Children’s Hospital with specialty interests in newborn care and primary care. As Rush’s Medical Director of both the Mother Baby Unit and the Rush Pediatric Primary Care Center she has a comprehensive perspective of what it entails to care for a child within their unique family unit. As the Medial Director of the largest pediatric clinic in Chicago, she interacts with a wide-ranging population and diverse staff to offer care to Chicago's most vulnerable population: its children. Drazba completed her medical education at Rush Medical College. Board-certified in Pediatrics, she completed her residency training at University of Virginia Children’s Hospital in Charlottesville, Virginia. After residency she joined the Academic General Pediatrics department at Rush Children’s Hospital. She is an Assistant Professor at Rush Medical College and plays an active role in teaching both medical students and residents. Drazba believes in partnering with parents to provide the best medical care for their children.

Ginal Lowell

Gina Lowell, MD – Pediatric Primary Care Co-Lead

Gina Lowell, MD, MPH, is a general pediatrician at Rush University Children’s Hospital with specialty interests in childhood injury and child abuse and neglect. As Rush’s Director of Community Health for Pediatrics her team has developed maternal-child health initiatives directed at improving the health of Chicago’s communities through addressing the intersection of the social and structural determinants of health and maternal-child health outcomes. Through multidisciplinary and cross-sector partnerships with Chicago’s West Side home visiting and doula programs, the Ounce of Prevention Fund and the Illinois Maternal Infant Early Childhood Home Visiting program they have developed a collaborative initiative to connect families affected by childhood adversity to community programs and resources to support the needs demanded by the enduring and generational effects of toxic stress. Lowell practices General Pediatrics and is a consultant for Rush’s Child Protection Team, caring for children and families affected by maltreatment and those who have entered the foster care system. She received her MD from Rush Medical College in 2002, completed her Pediatric Residency at the University of Chicago in 2005 and completed her General Academic Pediatrics Fellowship and Masters of Public Health at the University of Illinois at Chicago in 2008.

Michelle Greene

Michelle Greene, PhD – Pediatric Psychology Lead

Michelle Greene, PhD is a licensed clinical psychologist and associate professor at Rush University Medical Center (RUMC). As Chief in the Section of Pediatric Psychology in the Department of Pediatrics at RUMC she has experience with interdisciplinary collaboration and psychological care embedded in interdisciplinary teams. Her clinical work and research has focused on helping to understand and improve behavioral and neurodevelopmental outcome for youth with complex medical backgrounds. She has obtained specialized certification in three different evidence-based approaches for addressing externalizing or “acting out” behavior in youth: Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT), the Chicago Parent Program (CPP) and Child-Adult Relationship Enhancement (CARE).

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Megan Donahue, LSW – Social Worker

Megan Donahue, LSW serves as a licensed social worker for the AARTS Building Early Connections Program. She received her bachelor’s degree from Smith College in Northampton, MA and her master’s in Social Work from The School of Social Service Administration at The University of Chicago. Megan has experience working with clients ranging in age from school-age to early adulthood in a variety of settings. Her area of clinical interests include family systems therapy and the impact of trauma on childhood development.

Ashlee Taylor

Ashlee Taylor, B.A, MSW, LSW – Social Worker

Ashlee Taylor is a Licensed Social Worker at the Building Early Connections (BEC) program and AARTS Center. Taylor received a master’s degree in Social Work and completed mental health specialization training at Loyola University in Chicago, IL. They have a range of professional experience in school-based crisis and behavioral intervention, group therapy, and care management. Prior to joining the BEC team, Taylor worked for eight years as a Mental Health Counselor at the Rush University Medical Center (RUMC) Therapeutic Day School and inpatient adult and pediatric psychiatry units. Taylor has also served as a Social Work Intern at RUMC’s Emergency Department and Girlforward, a Chicago based non-profit organization for asylee and refugee teens. Taylor’s clinical interests include psychodynamic and narrative therapy.