MOTIVATE Research Lab Members | NYU Langone Health

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MOTIVATE Research Lab MOTIVATE Research Lab Members

MOTIVATE Research Lab Members

Members of the MOTIVATE Research Lab collaborate to lead innovative projects designed to advance obesity research and improve health outcomes.


Melanie R. Jay, MD

Principal Investigator
Associate Professor, Departments of Medicine and Population Health

Dr. Jay is currently an associate professor at NYU Grossman School of Medicine and co-director of NYU Langone’s Comprehensive Program on Obesity. Dr. Jay also does research and sees patients at the VA NY Harbor Healthcare System. As a general internist, Dr. Jay is passionate about improving the treatment and prevention of obesity and related comorbidities in primary care.

In her free time, when she is not with her family (three kids, husband, dog, and birds), Dr. Jay practices yoga and trains in Capoeira. She is thrilled to work with such a competent, dedicated, and hardworking research team.


Research Staff

Victoria Sweat
Assistant Director

Victoria holds a master’s degree in psychology from NYU. She has been working in obesity research at NYU School of Medicine since 2002; first in the Department of Psychiatry on studies investigating the effects of obesity and diabetes on brain, and now in the Department of Medicine on studies of weight management strategies at the VA NY Harbor Healthcare System, Bellevue, and NYU Langone. She is also currently a co-chair of the Association of Clinical Coordination and Research Management (ACCRM) at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, with a mission of supporting and developing research staff throughout the institution.
Phone: 212-263-5037

Elkay Jose
Program Coordinator

Elkay was raised in Haiti but moved to New York to start high school. She majored in biology at the University of Hartford. Elkay has work in various health field such as a clinical education coordinator at a medical school and a medical assistant at an urgent care clinic, where she got to interact with patients firsthand and assist nurse practitioners. She is interested in pursuing her master’s in global public health because there is always a disease in the world that needs to be cured and she would love to be part of a team that will help solve new outbreak of diseases. Elkay loves to travel, read novels, watch a lot of football (soccer), and she is a huge Manchester United fan.

Stephanie L. Orstad, PhD
Research Assistant Professor, Department of Medicine
Project Manager, FIReWoRK Study/GAP Study

Stephanie is an assistant professor in the Department of Medicine. She is a behavioral scientist and epidemiologist with a background in physical activity assessment and promotion. Her research examines associations among the built environment, physical activity, and mental health. She is interested in optimizing the effectiveness of environmental strategies (such as trails) and motivational approaches (such as financial incentives) to increase physical activity and reduce obesity in adults. When she is not doing research, you will most likely find Steph exploring New York City, hiking, or hanging out in a park with her French bulldog mix, Nugget.
Phone: 212-263-4143

Sandra Wittleder, PhD
Postdoctoral Fellow
Project Manager, The GEM Study

Sandra completed her PhD in psychology at the University of Hamburg and was a visiting scholar in the Department of Psychology at NYU Grossman School of Medicine. Sandra is passionate about understanding the cognitive processes underlying health behavior change and finding new multidisciplinary approaches to health interventions.
Phone: 212-263-4149

Sally M. Vanegas, PhD
Postdoctoral Fellow
Project Manager, Bariatric Study

Sally M. Vanegas, PhD, is a NIDDK T32 postdoctoral fellow and program manager of NYU Langone’s Comprehensive Program on Obesity. She has a PhD in biochemical and molecular nutrition with expertise in designing and implementing human studies. Her research interests thus far have included the areas of inflammation, microbiome, obesity, and metabolic disease. As a recently funded T32 Fellow, Dr. Vanegas will investigate the biological factors that contribute to surgical weight loss and analyze metabolic disease regression in a cohort of vertical sleeve gastrectomy patients. In addition, she will explore metabolic factors that can predict which subpopulations undergo different responses to weight loss surgery and disease regression.

Sarvenaz Vandyousefi, PhD
Postdoctoral Fellow
Project Manager, The WOOP Study

Dr. Vandyousefi is a registered dietitian and has her PhD, MSc, and BSc degrees all in nutritional sciences. After completing her PhD at the University of Texas at Austin, Dr. Vandyousefi started a two-year term postdoctoral fellowship by joining an early childhood obesity prevention program in the Department of Pediatrics at NYU Grossman School of Medicine. Within the nutritional science field, Dr. Vandyousefi specializes in obesity prevention and maternal, perinatal, and pediatric nutrition. Dr. Vandyousefi's major areas of research interest are understanding how appetite traits and eating behaviors are associated with weight trajectories and obesity risk; and developing and disseminating culturally appropriate clinical interventions to prevent obesity and obesity-related diseases.

Laura Wong

Project Manager, PAL Study

Andrea Aquines
Peer Health Coach
Research Coordinator, PAL Study, GAP Study

Adrian David Aguilar
Research Assistant, VA WOOP Study

David joined the lab in the fall of 2021 after graduating from Hunter College with a major in human biology. His interest in medicine started in university and he used to be a research intern for the MOTIVATE Research Lab before joining us as a staff member. He is very excited to be a part of this team and hopes to attend medical school in the future. In his free time, David enjoys watching soccer, reading books, going to the movies, and traveling.

Briteny Xu
Research Assistant

Briteny is currently a junior at Hunter College majoring in biochemistry. As a premed student, she plans on attending medical school after graduation. She's currently working as a physical therapy aide and volunteers in Lenox Hill Hospital. Besides working, she loves watching movies and being outdoors.

Keisha Patel
Research Assistant

Keisha is currently a senior at NYU on the premed track, majoring in biology and minoring in genetics and chemistry. In the future, she hopes to attend medical school. She is particularly passionate about cancer research and hopes to put her love of research and genetics to use in developing new treatments as well as prevention methods. In her spare time, Keisha enjoys baking, horseback riding, and spending time with her friends and family.

Sreejan Saha
Research Assistant

Sreejan is currently a sophomore at Hunter College pursing a BA in biochemistry. Fascinated by the makeup and maintenance of the human body, Sreejan plans to attend medical school after graduation. He currently volunteers in the Department of Cardiology at Weill Cornell Medical Center, conducts research under Hunter College's Department of Chemistry, shadows his local physician, and tutors high school students in his community. In his spare time, Sreejan enjoys watching basketball and soccer, singing a capella with the Macaulay Triplets, playing guitar, and spending time with friends and family.

Members of the MOTIVATE Research Lab Stand Together Outdoors
Group photo of the MOTIVATE Research Lab team.