The Lab Members

Maria Y. Hernandez, PhD, LCSW

Maria HernandezCurrently a Postdoctoral Scholar with the Provost’s Program for Faculty Diversity in Informatics & Digital Knowledge and is housed in the Department of Psychology’s Culture and Mental Health Lab. She holds a doctorate from the University of California, Berkeley, School of Social Welfare and a master’s in Social Work from the University of Southern California. Dr. Hernandez has continuously studied mental health disparities and culturally competent treatment for underserved groups. Her research interests allowed her to participate in the Council of Social Work Education’s Minority Fellowship Program funded by SAMHSA. During her postdoctoral studies at USC, she will work with Dr. Lopez in the Reducing the Duration of Untreated Psychosis Through Community Education study and also plans to research how consumer health informatics can increase mental health literacy among patients with serious mental illnesses.

Mercedes Hernandez, PhD, LCSW

Mercedes HernandezDr. Hernandez is a Postdoctoral Scholar with the La CLAve project.  She received her doctoral degree from the School of Social Work at the University of Southern California and her Masters in Social Work from California State University Long Beach.  Her research interests are informed by her extensive clinical practice experience in community mental health settings and focus on mental health disparities among racial and ethnic minorities with a particular emphasis on Latinos with serious mental illness and their families. Dr. Hernandez received support from NIMH for her research on the role of protective factors in outcomes among Latinos with schizophrenia and their families.  Her work will continue to examine this important line of research and specifically as part of her postdoctoral training; she will work on the La CLAve research project, which focuses on reducing duration of untreated psychosis through a communication campaign.

Jean Kim, M.A.
Graduate Student

Jean Kim

I am a fifth year graduate student in the clinical science Ph.D. program at USC. I graduated from the University of Michigan with a B.A. in Psychology and a minor in Spanish, and completed my honors thesis with Dr. Edward Chang. My interests lie in culture and psychopathology. My Master's project focused on the expression of depression among Asian and European Americans. I am also interested in stigma and help-seeking. In line with increasing the utilization of mental health services, my dissertation will examine the efficacy of a mobile app for anxiety, in comparison to a computer-based website version and waitlist control group, along with users' perceptions of such interventions. This work is being completed in collaboration with Karthik Srinivasan from the Department of Computer Science in the Viterbi School of Engineering. In my free time, I enjoy yoga, tennis, traveling, and drinking coffee.

Anahí García MacNaught, M.A.
Visiting Research Scholar

AnahiI am a third year graduate student in the Psychology Ph.D. program at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México in the field of Psychology and Health. I graduated with honors from the UNAM with a B.A. in Psychology. I have a Master on Family Therapy from the UNAM. My research interests lie in culture, traditional medicine and migration. My first research project focused on the use of dreams in the practice of Totonacos traditional healers. My doctoral project is about the changes in Mexican traditional medicine in the contemporary sociocultural context. Currently, I am a Visiting Research Scholar at the Department of Psychology’s Culture and Mental Health Lab at USC. I am researching on the use of alternative therapies in patients with a first episode psychosis. I want to understand the cultural beliefs that led people to seek these services, their experiences, and the possible relationship with the DUP (duration of untreated psychosis). In my free time, I enjoy traveling, visiting museums, watching movies and being with my friends.

Sylvanna M. Vargas, B.A.
Graduate Student

Sylvanna VargasI am a first year clinical science PhD student. I arrived to USC after a few years of working in research, most recently at the Center of Excellence for Cultural Competence at the New York State Psychiatric Institute/ Columbia University Medical Center, the Society for the Study of Psychiatry and Culture, and the Culture and Emotions Lab at Georgetown University. During this time, I also gained some clinical experience as an undergraduate intern at Maison Levinschi, part of the Douglas Mental Health University Institute, where I worked primarily with persons diagnosed with schizophrenia and other severe mental illnesses. I completed my bachelors at McGill University, with a degree in psychology and literature. I am interested in cultural perceptions of mental illness, particularly how this affects help-seeking behaviors. My previous work has focused on adherence to antidepressant treatment among Latinos, as well as the relationship between cultural values and explanatory frameworks of mental health. On a more personal note, I am of Nicaraguan background (although born in Honduras). I grew up moving around, and have lived in various countries including Costa Rica, Indonesia, and Spain. I greatly enjoy traveling and trying new foods. 

Vanesa Perez, B.A.
Project Assistant

Vanesa PerezI am the project assistant for the Binational Family Study, which aims to further examine positive family behaviors and their influence on mental health outcomes for patients of Hispanic origin with Schizophrenia. I received my B.A. in Psychology with a minor in Applied Developmental Psychology from the University of California, Los Angeles. During my time as an undergraduate, I have developed an interest in researching culture and the role it plays in adolescent mental health. More specifically, I am interested in studying the dynamic between the family system and mental health outcomes in minority populations. In addition to researching cultural issues in mental health, I have worked directly with children with Autism in both home and school settings during my time as an ABA therapist. I hope to build upon these experiences though increasing cultural awareness in mental health services, improving methods of treatment for minority adolescent populations, and investigating the role of families to achieve an inclusive framework of mental health in minority populations.

Diana Gamez, B.A.
Project Assistant

Diana GamezI am a Project Assistant for the La CLAve project, which aims to reduce the time it takes for people experiencing their first episode of psychosis to seek mental health care.  I received my Bachelor of Arts in Psychology with a minor in Latin American and Latino Studies from the University of California, Santa Cruz. Through my research experience, I have worked on social histories of capital defendants and completed my senior thesis on the School-to-Prison Pipeline. My research interests revolve around culture and the Latino community, specifically access to resources, including mental health and educational resources. I plan to apply to PhD programs in the near future and continue my involvement with research in the hopes of becoming a professor. My life term goal is to serve underprivileged communities throughout my career. In my free time I enjoy hiking, reading, and spending time with my loved ones.

Daisy Lopez, B.A.
Project Assistant

Daisy LopezDaisy is currently a project assistant for the Culture and Mental Health lab working on reducing the duration of untreated psychosis through a community outreach campaign project, La CLAve, with the goal of increasing psychosis literacy and early treatment among Spanish-speaking Latinos in the San Fernando area, Los Angeles County. She comes from the windy city of Chicago with a psychology degree from Princeton University where she mostly worked within cognitive psychology looking at memory, attention, and more specifically, bilingualism and language acquisition. Her interests in various cultures and languages has been refined to looking at the Latino community and their needs. Her interests lie in interdisciplinary psychology looking at social and clinical fields through a cognitive lens. Application of psychological work in the mental health field while taking culture into consideration is also an area of interest for her. She hopes to gain much knowledge and expertise within the Culture and Mental Health lab so as to grow as a researcher and continue onto graduate school where she hopes to further learn how to help the Latino community with her work.

Monina B. Letargo, B.A.
Administrative Assistant

Monina Letargo

I was born and raised in Manila, Philippines. I received my Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication Arts from the University of Santo Tomas and then took major courses in Master’s in Business Administration from Ateneo de Manila University. Over the course of my professional work which focused on business, office and operations management in varied types of industries, I developed the interest in evolving organizations, planning and execution. I am pleased to work with Dr. Lopez in the Administration in support of his three research and training projects. In all stages of the project cycle, I see to it that the logistics are in place while keeping compliance with the University and project sponsor policies. 

Marelle Berry, B.A.
Program Assistant

Marelle BerryI am the program assistant for the Minority Health and Health Disparities International Research Training Program (MHIRT), which is designed to help undergraduate and graduate level students from underrepresented groups reach higher levels of education and to minimize the health disparities among minority populations, specifically the Latino population. I am a graduate of the University of California, Los Angeles with two Bachelor degrees in Sociology and Gender Studies. I have also received a degree in Merchandise Marketing from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising. Through both educational experiences, I developed an interest in using my business skills to further programs that deal with social issues. I am proud to help Dr. Lopez build MHIRT as a research and training program.

Jose Calderon
Work Study

Jose CalderonI am currently an undergraduate student at USC pursuing a Bachelor's degree in Psychology with a minor in Health Care Studies.  Prior to enrolling at USC, I was enlisted in the United States Marine Corps where I served on active duty for four years.  Within my time there I completed two deployments, including a tour in Afghanistan in support of "Operation Enduring Freedom".  At the completion of my undergraduate studies I intend on applying to medical school and ultimately specializing in the field of psychiatry.  My personal and professional experiences have tailored my interest in improving the quality of care for people suffering with severe mental disorders, specifically those with schizophrenia and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  When I am not studying or working, I enjoy being physically active and spending time with my loved ones.


  • Dr. Steven R. Lopez, Ph.D.
  • University of Southern California
  • Dornsife College, Psychology Department
  • 3620 McClintock Avenue, SGM 501
  • Los Angeles, CA 90089-1061