Meet Our Staff



Leah Pylate, M.S., CHES

Leah Pylate is the Director of Health Promotion and Wellness for University Health Services. She holds a master's degree in both Health Promotion and Business Administration and has experience working in a number of health education settings including schools, worksites, community and university settings. She also has experience working with grant funded projects and is currently a Certified Health Education Specialist. She enjoys educating students on the importance of practicing healthy lifestyle behaviors.

Assistant Director

Christina A.R. Gladney, PhD, MPH

Dr. Gladney is the Assistant Director of Health Promotion and Wellness and Sexual Assault for University Health Services within the Division of Student Affairs at Mississippi State University. Dr. Gladney earned her B.S. in health promotion from The University of Southern Mississippi in 2010. Dr. Gladney continued her study of public health by earning a MPH in Epidemiology and Behavioral Sciences from Saint Louis University's College of Public Health and Social Justice. After completing her masters of public health, Dr. Gladney returned to her alma mater, The University of Southern Mississippi to study Higher Education Administration, with an emphasis in Student Affairs. While studying higher education, Dr. Gladney gained acceptance into a Ph.D. program, and earned her Doctor of Philosophy in Health and Human Performance in the spring of 2017 from the University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida.

Dr. Gladney's goal is to promote and increase awareness in all of the 8 Dimensions of Health, (e.g. physical, emotional/mental, social, environmental, occupational, spiritual, intellectual, and financial), to students, faculty, staff, and the greater Starkville area and communities of Mississippi. Dr. Gladney has worked in the areas of cancer prevention among minority and low-income communities, STD/HIV prevention and clinician training, Type II Diabetes education, student/ faculty health, and social justice. Dr. Gladney's research interests include social determinants of health, specifically, the negative health impact of racism and discrimination among minorities, prostate cancer early detection and prevention techniques, and faith-based health education and promotion.

A native of Grenada, Mississippi, Dr. Gladney returned to North Mississippi after 11 years of studying public health, health promotion and higher education throughout the country to use the knowledge and skills she has gained to improve the health, wellbeing, and overall quality of life for students, faculty, and staff at Mississippi State University and communities throughout the state.

Professional Staff

JuLeigh Baker, M.S., CHES

JuLeigh Baker is a Health and Wellness Educator for University Health Services. Over the years she gained experiences in the fields of Alcohol and Drug Education, Tobacco Cessation, Cardiac Rehabilitation and General Health and Wellness. JuLeigh is a trained Tobacco Treatment Specialist and a Certified TIPPS Alcohol Intervention Trainer. She enjoys developing new and exciting programs, campaigns and programs for Mississippi State University’s students to become more knowledgeable about their health.

Ashley Fondren, M.S., CHES

Ashley is a Health and Wellness Educator focusing on Drug and Alcohol Education/Prevention with University Health Services. She is currently enrolled in multiple seminars and trainings to enhance her expertise in the ever changing fields of drug and alcohol education and prevention. Ashley earned a Master's Degree in Health Promotion from Mississippi State University in 2009 which focused on the planning, implementation, and evaluation of health programs. In 2010, she became a Certified Health Education Specialist. Ashley began her professional career as an Extension Associate with the MSU Extension Service. Her work with the Extension Service included managing projects like the eXtension Families, Food and Fitness Community of Practice, Mississippi In Motion, and the Family Nutrition Program and Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program with the Office of Nutrition Education. Most recently, Ashley led efforts to improve the use of social media as a communication tool with audiences of nutrition education programs in Extension. She looks forward to using her education and past work experiences to help improve the health of students at MSU.

Kim Kavalsky, M.S., L.P.C.

Kim Kavalsky is the coordinator of mental health outreach. She received her master's degree in Counselor Education with an emphasis in Community Counseling in 2003. Her past experience includes residential treatment facilities addressing chemical dependence and community mental health focusing on a vast array of mental health concerns. She received her professional licensure in 2005 and became a board qualified supervisor in 2008. Her goal is to bring awareness to issues of mental health and promote effective services to students.

Blake Schneider, M.A.

Blake Schneider is the Coordinator of the Collegiate Recovery Community. He received his master's in Communication Studies from the University of Alabama, with an emphasis in organizational communication. As a Graduate Teaching Assistant of public speaking he learned how to foster a collaborative environment among college students, and the qualities required to be an effective public speaker. He has experience working in recovery settings including recovery residences, inpatient programs, and the CRC at the University of Alabama. His goals include providing a true college experience to students of the CRC and recruiting new members from all walks of life.

Taylor VanDyk, RDN

Taylor VanDyk is a Registered Dietitian with the Department of Health Promotion & Wellness. She completed both her Bachelor of Science in Dietetics & Nutrition, and her dietetic internship at Central Michigan University. Her professional experience includes corporate wellness and fitness center management. She first became interested in nutrition when she worked in the fitness world as a certified personal trainer and group exercise instructor. Her goal is to help students gain access to reliable nutrition information, and empower them to be able to make healthy choices..

Administrative Assistant

Aretina Hankerson-Daniels, Administrative Assistant

Working in the Department of Health Education and Wellness allows me the opportunity to interact and assist the most important group at MSU, the students. I have a passion for working with people in the spirit of excellence with warmth and kindness. When I am not assisting students, faculty and staff, I enjoy being very active in my church, singing, reading, taking in movies and most of all administering love and compassion to all.

Blue Cross Blue Shield Grant Staff

Judy Smith

Judy Smith is the Program Coordinator for MSU on the Move Year 3, a grant funded by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Foundation of Mississippi. In her career as a public school teacher she has worked with the Office of Healthy Schools Grant through field day activities, nutrition awareness, everyday experiences of activities and interaction with the students to help promote health and wellness awareness. Judy's desire is for the students at Mississippi State University and the community to fully benefit from the programs and activities that will be provided through this grant.

Graduate Assistants

Magnolia Allen

Magnolia Allen is from Hattiesburg, MS. She obtained her Bachelor's Degree of Science in Nutrition at Mississippi State University May of 2017. She is currently seeking a Master's Degree of Science in Health Promotion. As of now, Magnolia is working as a Graduate Assistant for the Department of Health Promotion and Wellness. After the completion of her degree in Health Promotion, Magnolia plans to continue in Dietetics and obtain an internship to place her on the path in becoming a Registered Dietitian. Magnolia's dream job would be centered on anything and everything health. She hopes to work in a University setting so that she may be a resource to students. She is passionate about conservation and sustainability of the planet's resources. During her free time, Magnolia enjoys running, spending time with family, and sailing on the Gulf Coast.

Savannah DeWitt

Savannah DeWitt is from Flowood, MS. In May 2017, she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Kinesiology with a concentration in Health Fitness Studies from Mississippi State University. She is currently pursuing a Master of Science in Food Science, Nutrition, and Health Promotion with a concentration in Health Promotion at MSU. Her passion for health and wellness began at a young age and continues to grow as a Graduate Assistant with the Department of Health Promotion and Wellness at MSU. She hopes to pursue a career related to Health Promotion upon graduation. Savannah enjoys having the opportunity to promote various health topics on campus, as well as jogging, hiking, cooking, and spending time with loved ones.

Autumn Mooney

Autumn Mooney is from Water Valley, MS. In May of 2016, she earned her Bachelor's degree in Psychology from The University of Mississippi. Currently, Autumn is a first year graduate student and is pursuing a Master of Science in Counselor Education with a Clinical Mental Health Emphasis. After completing her degree, she hopes to work with clients who suffer from Substance Abuse disorder in a community counseling setting. In her spare time, Autumn enjoys restoring old furniture and cooking.

Priyanka Prakash

Priyanka Prakash is from Mumbai, India and is currently working on her Master's in Management Information Systems. Priyanka graduated from Mississippi state university with her Bachelor's in Psychology. She will be working with the Health Promotion and Wellness department in Mental Health programming. Since her bachelor's, Priyanka has been very fascinated with mental health and wants to promote awareness among college students. In her free time, Priyanka enjoys traveling and dancing and is an avid animal lover. Upon completing graduation, Priyanka plans on working in the corporate world for a couple of years till she gains enough work experience and capital to start her own business.

Ffion Price

Ffion Price comes from the small town of Llandrindod Wells, Wales, U.K. She completed her undergraduate degree at Cardiff Metropolitan University in sports biomedicine and nutrition in 2015. She then came to the states, on scholarship, to run on the Track and Field team here at Mississippi State, where she completed her Master's degree in Kinesiology, focusing on Exercise physiology. She is currently studying her PhD in Exercise physiology with a concentration on supplementation and performance, while working as a graduate assistant within the department of Health Promotion and Wellness. Upon completing her PhD she wishes to travel back to the U.K. to become a university lecturer and/or work with athletes developing performance and studying physiology further. Her dream job would be working for Welsh Athletics assessing athlete's physiology to help them develop their performance, as well as becoming a professional runner herself.

Mary Nelson Roberston

Mary Nelson Robertson is from Indianola, MS. In May 2015, she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Public Health and Nutrition from The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, AL. In December 2016, she earned a Master of Arts degree in Health Science from The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, AL. Mary Nelson is currently pursuing a Doctor of Philosophy degree in Human Development and Family Science at Mississippi State University. With Mary Nelson's background and passion for health promotion and wellness, she is able to spread awareness about a variety of health topics to MSU's campus and surrounding community. Mary Nelson enjoys being a graduate assistant with the Department of Health Promotion and Wellness at MSU because she gets to promote healthy living and raise awareness about disease and methods of prevention. Outside of the classroom, Mary Nelson enjoys baking, jogging, attending Pilates Reformer classes, and traveling.

Connor Simmons

Connor Simmons is from Jackson, Tennessee. In May 2017, he earned a Bachelor of Accountancy degree from Mississippi State University in Starkville, MS. Connor is currently pursuing a Master of Professional Accountancy at Mississippi State University, and will graduate in May 2018. He recently joined the Health Promotion and Wellness Department in August 2017. Connor enjoys being a graduate assistant with HPW at MSU because he gets to educate students about making healthy decisions that can lead to an overall healthy lifestyle. Outside of the department and classroom, Connor enjoys exercising, attending MSU sporting events, and traveling. Upon completion of his graduate degree, Connor will work for Ernst & Young, LLC as an auditor in Nashville, Tennessee.

Eytan Stern

Eytan Stern is originally from Fair Lawn, New Jersey. After completing his Bachelor of Arts in Economics from Binghamton University in 2012 and beginning to work in New York City, he was diagnosed with Crohn's disease. Eytan tried multiple medications without any success, but was finally able to control his condition using the Specific Carbohydrate Diet. Eytan decided that he wanted to help individuals with similar gastrointestinal afflictions treat their conditions using dietary modalities, so he went back to school to complete his second degree, a Bachelor of Science in Nutrition from Montclair State University, and graduated in 2016. Eytan moved down to Mississippi State University to complete his dietetic internship, and recently became registered as a dietitian. Eytan is currently pursuing his Master of Science in Nutrition at Mississippi State University. Eytan eventually hopes to open up his own nutrition clinic to help people with Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis achieve remission. In his spare time, Eytan likes to spend time outside, see live music, catch up on Netflix, and support his Mississippi State Bulldogs.

Sam Watts

Sam Watts was born in Starkville, Mississippi, but moved to Conyers, Georgia at a young age and lived there until he returned to Mississippi State for college in 2009. Sam played football here at MSU for three years and graduated in 2012 with a B.S. in Sports Studies with a focus in Business. He then went into construction for a little over a year before obtaining his teaching license and has taught mathematics at New Hope High School in Columbus, MS the last three years. Sam is earning his Master's degree in Exercise Physiology and is working as a Graduate Assistant in the Health Promotion and Wellness Department. Upon completion of his Master's degree, he plans to become an instructor at a university while working on his Doctorate in Nutrition, or enter into the clinical side of the field as an Exercise Physiologist in a hospital or cardiac rehab facility. Outside of school and work, Sam tries to spend as much time as possible with his wife and three sons.

Student Workers

Meghin Smith

Hilary Childress


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