The number of OPHI staff expands and contracts depending on the size and need of current projects. The current OPHI staff are listed below:


Dr. Dalen Duitsman


Dr. Duitsman received his doctorate in Health Education/Public Health and his M.S. from Indiana University located in Bloomington, Indiana. He received his dual undergraduate degrees in Health Education and Physical Education from William Paterson University in Wayne, New Jersey.  

Prior to his arrival at Missouri State University in the fall of 1996, he was a Health Studies faculty at Iowa State University.  During his tenure there he helped revise the Community Health Education curriculum and was instrumental in the growth of the program.  At Missouri State, he implemented and administered the M.S. in Health Promotion and Wellness Management graduate program and also developed, implemented and administered the Master of Public Health program. 

In February of 2001 Dr. Duitsman was appointed by the Board of Governors to serve as Director of the OPHI.  In this position he has served as the principal investigator of numerous contracts and grants that have focused on solving community public health issues in Missouri.  He has been successful in uniting university resources and community stakeholder resources to develop and implement targeted interventions to address community health related needs.  Dr. Duitsman’s expertise also extends to creation of partnerships and coalitions.  He is known in the state for his leadership on state-wide, regional, and local boards, committees and coalitions.  He is the Immediate Past President of the Missouri Institute of Community Health, serves on the board of the Missouri Public Health Association, and is on the executive committee for the Transforming the Future of Public Health in Missouri initiative.  

Research Fellows​​​​​​​

Dr. Maxwell A Barffour

Dr. Barffour received his PhD in International Health from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. He has MPH with a Epidemiology concentration from Missouri State University in Springfield, Missouri. His BS in Biochemistry and Nutrition was received from the University of Ghana. 

After obtaining his PhD in International Health, and before arriving at Missouri State University, Dr. Barffour was at the University of California Davis in Davis, California for a Postdoctoral Research Fellowship. He has received many awards and honors including the 2015 Young Scientist Participant from Nobel Laureates Meeting, the DSM Doctoral Research Fellowship from Johns Hopkins University in 2014, the Federik Bang Immunology Research Award from Johns Hopkins University in 2012, and others. 

At Missouri State, Dr. Barffour has taught courses such as Epidemiology, Clinical and Experimental Study Designs, Biostatistics in Health Science, Health Behavior, and Public Health Field Experience. His expertise as a global health epidemiologist is in maternal and child health research and programming. His research primarily involves community based clinical trials and programs designed to address the adverse effects of micronutrient deficiencies or overdose on infections, inflammation, anemia, and physical or neurocognitive growth and sleep outcomes. His research is implemented across several countries including Laos, Zambia, Ghana, India and the United States. Many of Dr. Barffour's studies and clinical trials have been published. 

Area Health Education Center (AHEC) Staff

Trisha Bradley, MPH, Executive Director

Trisha Bradley, MPH, is the executive director of AHEC, which is housed within OPHI at Missouri State University. Trisha received her MPH from Missouri State University in 2012 and worked at local health departments for three years in environmental health, communicable disease/epidemiology, community health education, program development, and grant writing. She worked at Cox Monett Hospital in Clinical Excellence prior to coming to AHEC in 2016. She is currently finishing her doctorate in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis with an emphasis in Public Health Transformation. She currently teaches a first-year foundations class for MSU and also teaches microbiology for Drury University in Monett. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her husband and three kids on their fishing boat and farm, as well as driving around in their big diesel truck and muscle car. 

Cassandra Henne, Project Coordinator

Cassandra Henne, project coordinator for the Ozarks Public Health Institute and the SWMO Area Health Education Center, received her bachelor's in Community and Regional Planning from Missouri State University and has a combined eight years of experience with AHEC and OPHI at MSU. She is currently pursuing a master's degree in Public Health and a Graduate Certificate in Geographic Information Systems at MSU. Cassandra enjoys developing collaborative partnerships within the Southwest region and has worked on various projects such as: medical moulage in disaster preparedness training, scheduling clinical training of osteopathic student doctors, and coordinating pre-health profession training through the AHEC Scholars Program. 

She also assists in fiscal management of various public health contracts including, but not limited to: Healthier MO - Transforming the Future of Public Health, SOAR Program - mental health trauma intervention, zika mosquito surveillance, and accreditation process for local public health departments through Missouri Institute of Community Health (MICH). Cassandra enjoys houseplants, orchids, baking cakes, sustainable design, and topics in alternative energy. 

Heather Booth, MS, Health Career Coordinator

Heather Booth received her bachelor's degree in Dietetics from Missouri State University and a Certificate of Dietetic Internship from Cox College. Her clinical background is in food and medical nutrition therapy as a registered dietitian. She worked for Cox Health for five years prior to beginning her work with students at Missouri State University through AHEC. She later completed her Master of Health Promotion and Wellness Management from Missouri State University. Heather has been teaching with AHEC for eight years now with projects including high school and pre-professional student pipeline recruitment utilizing both on-site and transportable healthcare career workshop formats in a 21-county coverage area in SW Missouri. She loves teaching and watching her students succeed! She has worked on various community cooking and nutrition classes and medical moulage in disaster preparedness training. She is also a Certified BLS/First Aid Instructor with the American Heart Association and has been certifying students for over seven years. Heather also instructs a medical terminology course for college credit that many of her students have successfully completed over the past seven years. 

Heather enjoys spending time with her family and cooking and baking for friends and family. She also enjoys reading, traveling, horseback riding, hiking, and pretty much any activity outdoors. 

Trish Lavish, Health Career Coordinator

Trish Lavish received her bachelor's degree in Oral Communications from the University of Central Oklahoma. Trish is currently working on her master's degree in Applied Communications at MSU. Trish has been with AHEC for six years; her office is located in Bolivar, Missouri, as part of SWMO AHEC's planned expansion program, with projects including high school and pre-professional student pipeline recruitment utilizing both on-site and transportable healthcare career workshop formats in a 21-county coverage area in SW Missouri. She has worked on various community projects, including medical moulage in disaster preparedness training, mental health first aid, and opioid use and substance use awareness; she is a Certified BLS/First Aid Instructor with the American Heart Association. Trish enjoys theatre, movies, and loves to travel. 

Madison Yerges, Clinical Education Coordinator

Madison serves as the Clinical Education Coordinator at SWMO AHEC. She received her bachelor's in Health Studies with a concentration in Community Health from the University of Central Missouri. She is currently working on her Master of Public Health at Missouri State. Before joining AHEC, Madison worked as a graduate assistant at OPHI. In her spare time, Madison enjoys reading, trying new restaurants, and spending time with her friends and family. 

Project Staff

Mary Schrag, Project Director

Mary Schrag is the Project Manager for the SOARHigh Wellness project.  Ms. Schrag is the initial creator of SOARHigh Wellness and is responsible for overseeing all aspects of the project and coordination of services between the providers and the schools.  She coordinates programs that work with select students in the areas of nutrition, physical education, and social-emotional wellness.  In addition, she is in charge of conducting all assessments and data collection.

Ms. Schrag is a licensed Physical Therapist of 35 years with Board Specialization as an "Orthopedic Specialists Certified."  She is the owner and Chief Executive Operator of Physical Therapy Specialists Clinic, Inc. in West Plains. Ms. Schrag served on the Advisory Commission for Professional Physical Therapists for the Missouri Board of Registration for the Healing Arts from 1989-2002. She also served on the Missouri State University Board of Governors from 2002-2011 and is a current member of a local workforce investment board.  Ms. Schrag currently serves on the 8th Congressional District State Board of Education (K-12 and work force development).  She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Biology and Psychology from Drury University and a Bachelor of Science in Health Related Professions from the University of Missouri.

Dr. Joseph Hulgus, Project Evaluation and HRA Development 

Dr. Hulgus is responsible for the design, implementation, evaluation, and reporting for the process and outcome evaluations of the SOARHigh project.  He is also the lead in developing and evaluating a new Health Risk Assessment tool for use specifically with rural youth. This will include not only the initial development but validation of the instrument as the project proceeds. Lastly, Dr. Hulgus will be designing, developing, and deploying the mental health wellness modules and components for this project.

Dr. Joseph Hulgus is a licensed psychologist and received his Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from Texas Woman’s University, Master of Public Health degree from Missouri State University (MSU) and Bachelor’s degree from Indiana State University – Evansville.  He has worked with the MSU Ozarks Public Health Institute (OPHI) as research and program evaluator for the last 14 years.  Dr. Hulgus is also a Professor of Counseling at Missouri State University with 30 plus years of experience working in a wide variety of contexts as a counseling psychologist, research psychologist and public health researcher.

Robb Cox, Project Assistant

As the Project Assistant, Robb Cox assists the Project Manager with coordination of services between the providers and the schools for the SOARHigh Wellness project.  He also assists in the collection of data and coordinates the processing of the data between the SOARHigh West Plains staff and the SOARHigh Springfield staff.  Robb also coordinates all billing and financial processing of the project between SOARHigh West Plains and SOARHigh Springfield.

Robb is 20+ year employee of Physical Therapy Specialists Clinic where he is the CFO.  He is also a 10 year veteran of the United States Air Force.  Robb is a Licensed Minister, graduating from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Jaci McReynolds, MHA

McReynolds’ passion is to help Missouri’s local public health agencies maximize their impact and clearly communicate the value of public health in assuring longer, healthier lives, and richer communities for all of us. ​​​​​​​

McReynolds contributes communication and graphic design expertise to the tobacco program evaluation work at Ozarks Public Health Institute. She also coordinates communication efforts for the statewide grassroots initiative, #HealthierMO, engaging stakeholders in systems change in order to achieve a stronger, more resilient and responsive public health system.

For more than two decades, she has worked within Missouri’s public health system, focusing on improving communication, collaboration, and efficiency. Her company, Impact Advantage, LLC, offers communications and marketing assistance, emergency planning, website development and administration, grant management, social media management, health literacy training, and other consulting services to support public health agencies in Missouri.

McReynolds is an adjunct instructor for Drury University’s College of Continuing Professional Studies, in the Emergency Management Bachelor of Science program. She also welcomes periodic opportunities to guest lecture at Missouri State University in the Masters of Public Health program.

McReynolds has a background in film and television news, with experience in continuity, development, television news production, and photojournalism. She spent several years building crisis communication skills among 35 local public health agencies in southwest and south central Missouri. She also served four years as a local public health administrator in rural Missouri. She actively participates in regional and state-level collaboratives and advisory groups.


Graduate Assistants

Chase Woods

Chase Woods is a graduate student in the Master of Public Health Program and a Graduate Assistant for the Ozarks Public Health Institute. He received a bachelor's degree Health Services and Science Reasoning, with a minor in Disability Studies in 2020. He has worked in Mercy in the Emergency department for the past three years, and continues to work in the ER while he works toward his MPH. His main areas of interest within Public Health are Infectious Disease Epidemiology, the relationship between hospital systems and disease surveillance (most notably Emergency Medicine), preventative care, and environmental health.

Emily Fessler

Emily Fessler is a graduate student in the Master of Public Health program and is also getting a Graduate Certificate in Health Programming at Missouri State University. She is currently a Graduate Assistant at the Ozarks Public Health Institute, the Student Liaison for the Missouri Public Health Association, Co-President of the Future Public Health Professions organization at Missouri State, a member of the Southwest League of Women's Voters, and a Student Director and Education Chair of the Paws to the Polls Initiative. She has a bachelor's degree in Anthropology with an emphasis on biocultural studies and a minor in Sustainability. She has previously interned for AIDs Project of the Ozarks, a local nonprofit organization. Her academic interests are in environmental health, social determinants of health, health advocacy, and medical anthropology. In her spare time, Emily enjoys hiking, traveling, camping, and reading. ​​​​​​​


Bethany Brauer


Bethany Brauer is a graduate student in the Master of Public Health program at Missouri State University and is currently a Graduate Assistant at the Ozarks Public Health Institute. She has a bachelor’s degree in Exercise and Movement Science. She has worked on the Southwest Missouri Tick Surveillance Project and has worked as a Pediatric LPN in the Home health setting. Her academic interests are in environmental health, epidemiology, and biostatistics. In her spare time, Bethany enjoys being with friends and family, traveling, and being outdoors.