Meet The Team



Valerie B. Yerger, ND is the Project Director of The Loop. She is a licensed naturopathic doctor and Professor in Health Equity at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). The overarching goal of Dr. Yerger’s work is to frame the disproportionate burden of tobacco among marginalized communities as a social injustice and to inform public health policies so they effectively reach and engage these communities. Her research of previously secret tobacco documents uncovered the tobacco industry’s relationship with African American leadership groups, the accumulation of nicotine in tissues containing melanin, the disproportionate marketing of menthol cigarettes in inner-city communities, and tobacco companies’ in-house research on the use of menthol as an additive in cigarettes. In 2010, Dr. Yerger provided expert testimony to the FDA and its Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee on the use of menthol as an additive in cigarettes. Since then, Dr. Yerger has become a key expert involved in many local and national efforts to restrict the sale of menthol cigarettes and other flavored tobacco products.

Dr. Yerger led the menthol/flavor project of the San Francisco Cancer Initiative (SF CAN), which resulted in a voter-backed ordinance that restricts throughout the entire city and county the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes. Currently, Dr. Yerger oversees a statewide project funded by the California Tobacco Control Program (CTCP) to provide trainings and “tailored assistance” to other CTCP-funded projects to help them connect, communicate, and collaborate with the state’s underserved populations. Dr. Yerger is the past recipient of numerous awards, including the Truth Initiative’s Sybil G. Jacobs Award for Outstanding Use of Tobacco Industry Documents, CTCP’s Carol M. Russell Award for Leadership and Vision in Tobacco Control, and the 2018 UCSF Chancellor Award for Public Service. She is a former Health Disparities Scholar of the National Institutes of Health.


Carol McGruder

Carol McGruder

Carol McGruder

Carol McGruder is the director of The Loop’s LDP Program. Manager, activist, researcher, and writer, Carol McGruder is experienced in the fields of tobacco control, transnational tobacco issues, public policy, media advocacy, and community capacity building. She has served as a project director and consultant on a variety of projects in the public health arena. Ms. McGruder is a seasoned veteran of California’s tobacco control experience and has served as an advisor in many capacities, most recently as a founding member and Co-Chairperson of the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council.  She was a planning committee member and presenter for the California Department of Public Health-Tobacco Control Conference – “A Community Under Siege-the State of Black California and Tobacco Use.” In 2010, Ms. McGruder was honored with the Martin Luther King Civic Engagement Award for her work in tobacco control.  She is a recipient of the prestigious Jefferson Award for community activism in tobacco control and in 2007 she was the American Legacy Foundation national honoree for “Community Activist of the Year.” Ms. McGruder will be heading up The LOOP’s- Leadership Development Program (LDP).  The LDP will start at the beginning of 2015.  Ms. McGruder  is honored to work with California’s future leaders in tobacco control.


Robynn Battle

Robynn Battle

Robynn Battle, EdD, MPH

Robynn Battle is an Evaluation Specialist with The LOOP. She completed her EdD in Learning and Instruction at the University of San Francisco after conducting doctoral research on informal reasoning responses to cross-cultural situations in an urban medical setting. She has a Master’s of Public Health from the University of California, Berkeley with an emphasis in the behavioral sciences or research methods. Dr. Battle has spent the past 27 years conducting evaluations for community level programs involving adolescent and adult health issues (e.g., ATOD and HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, mental health promotion, tobacco control, community mobilization), and programs working within the various communities. Dr. Battle’s past research work includes working with PIRE’s Prevention Research Center (PRC) in Oakland, California as an Associate Research Scientist and Study Director from 2005-2017. Additionally, she completed a pre-doctoral fellowship at the UC San Francisco’s Center for AIDS Prevention Studies from 1992-1996, and a NIAA post-doctoral fellowship with UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health from 2009-2011. She is also the co-principal of CAMI Consulting, an evaluation research consulting group that provides strategic planning and evaluation services to SAMHSA, US Department of Education and CTCP funded programs in the areas of public health, social justice and education. In addition to her work with The LOOP and CAMI, Dr. Battle is an adjunct professor at Holy Names University in the School of Education, teaching in the areas of evaluation and research methods.


unnamed (10)Bettina Friese, Ph.D.

Dr. Friese’s background is in sociology and public health with specific expertise in underage risk behaviors, including underage drinking and drug use. She has more than 15 years of advanced experience in the areas of evaluation, survey research, program design and implementation, as well as extensive experience managing large scale evaluation and research projects. Dr. Friese is the PI on an R34 from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). The goal of this study is to develop an intervention, using a combination of traditional media and mobile technologies, to reduce marijuana use among high school students. Previously, Dr. Friese was the principal investigator on an R01 from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).  The goal of this study was to gain an understanding of how youth access alcohol and how these sources relate to drinking behaviors and contexts in order to further the development of more effective policies and programs. This study also included interviews with parents to examine youth access to prescription drugs in the home, and parents’ knowledge and attitudes concerning social host ordinances. Dr. Friese’s publications, based on quantitative and qualitative research, include studies on alcohol and drug use among children and adolescents (Friese et al., 2012a; Friese et al., 2012b; Jennings et al., 2011; Friese & Grube, 2014); disparities in alcohol use among racial and ethnic groups, in particular Native Americans (Friese & Grube, 2008; Friese et al., 2011); youth access to prescription drugs in the home (Friese et al., in press); and the role of medical marijuana legalization on youth marijuana use (Friese & Grube, 2013).


Godfrey Ramos, MA

Godfrey Ramos, MA

Godfrey Ramos

Godfrey Ramos is the Coordinator Specialist for The LOOP. He received his Master’s degree in sociology from San Jose State University, with an emphasis on social theory and quantitative research methods. His research project entitled, “Beats, Rhymes, and Life: A Look at Hip-Hop/Rap Music and Behavior” examines how rap music promotes resistance, communication, and social change amongst different genders, races, and classes, even though many argue that rap music is actually negative and damaging to its listeners. His other research interests include: race, class, gender, social inequality, subcultures, deviance, and social justice. Although Godfrey is fairly new to tobacco control, he has always had a strong commitment to making the world a better place. He is also an adjunct Sociology professor at Diablo Valley College.


Michelle Gore -3EDIT&CROPPEDMichelle Connley-Gore

Michelle is The Loop’s Marketing Specialist. She is a strategic marketing consultant with 14 years of experience in managing communications, branding, advertising, events, and community outreach with corporate, non-profit, and government clients. Currently Michelle serves as the Marketing Consultant for The LOOP, leading the branding and communications efforts to launch and grow this new organization.

Michelle is also the College Success Manager for the National KIPP Through College team at the KIPP Foundation, a national non-profit public charter school network. In her role, she provides resources, innovative outreach and data-gathering tools, as well as programming guidance to KIPP Through College counselors as they support a growing number of 6,000+ KIPP college alumni at scale. The other primary part of her work is to help KIPP alumni connect, build community with one another, and empower themselves as they navigate through college on the path to graduation through campus-specific programming. From 2009 – 2013, Michelle was the Senior Marketing Communications Manager at the KIPP Foundation, managing KIPP’s national messaging platform, brand guidelines, and the development of the annual 80+ page KIPP Report Card.

Prior to KIPP, Michelle spent 8 years in the corporate advertising, marketing, and event management worlds at Reebok International, Ltd., Leo Burnett Worldwide, and Carol H. Williams Advertising, managing consumer advertising, events, and promotions for various national brands including U.S. Army, Proctor & Gamble, and General Motors, which involved leading the creation of messages and programs for the general public as well as to the African American market. Michelle holds a B.S. and M.S. in Advertising with a minor in Afro-American Studies, both from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

photo for the loopVera Nelson

Vera is The LOOP Project Assistant. She received her Bachelor’s in Human Services with an emphasis in Social Work at the University of Phoenix. Vera later attended City College of San Francisco where she completed a Certificate program in Post-Prison and Community Health Work. Vera has worked at The
University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) for 15 years. During her time at UCSF Vera had become aware of how the tobacco industry targets her community and she became passionate about wanting to spread knowledge to those being affected. She began working in Tobacco Control with Dr. Ruth Malone, Dr. Valerie Yerger and Carol McGruder first as a research project assistant on various research studies
ranging from young adults to senior smokers, and worked as a community liaison between the communities of interest and the University. Her experience includes outreach, tobacco control, education and prevention, smoking cessation and research in various capacities.

Vera has assisted in conducting numerous focus groups and working with diverse individuals in low-socio-economic communities between Northern and Southern California. Vera completed the Diversity and Inclusion Staff Certificate Program here at UCSF, which focuses on exploring foundational concepts essential to
enhancing an inclusive work environment. Through the Diversity and Inclusion Staff Certificate Program, she learned how participants may explore their own backgrounds to deepen their understanding on stereotypes and biases and learn the tools to support a more inclusive climate. Vera is working to increase exposure of this program to all UCSF employees, and to make it a mandatory requirement that a course with the foundational concepts of Diversity and Inclusion be completed by all UCSF Employees upon hiring. Currently as The LOOP Project Assistant Vera is excited to continue working on educating communities and is looking forward to continuing her education to align with the goal to Ending Tobacco by 2035 and as Dr. Yerger says, “With no one being left behind.”



Shristi Reddy, MPH 

Shristi is a health education specialist with The LOOP. She received her Master’s in Public Health with an emphasis in community health education from San Jose State University. For over 10 years, she has worked in mental health and substance abuse prevention research and programming in various capacities. Her experiences include community level programs that work with various diverse communities on the issues of HIV/AIDS prevention, substance abuse prevention, and mental health. Shristi is new to tobacco control. She looks forward to learning and using her experience and networks to make an impact on underrepresented communities.


Darlene -Oakland Final Images

Darlene Aniebonam

Darlene Aniebonam is a Social Media Specialist with The Loop. She obtained a Bachelors Degree in Kinesiology from George Mason University. She has been passionate about the health and wellness industry for years. Upon joining the Loop as the social media manager/marketing specialist she has been introduced to the world of tobacco control, and plans to continue making an impact in the tobacco control community.