Meet Our Staff


Professional Staff

Dr. Joyce Yates, Ed.D., CHES

Joyce Yates is the Mississippi State University Director of Health Promotion and Wellness for University Health Services within the Division of Student Affairs She has served in higher education for over 30 years. Formerly, a Professor of Health at Wood Junior College and Mississippi University for Women (MUW), Dr. Yates joined the student health center team at Mississippi State University (MSU) in January of 2009. While at MSU, Dr. Yates has received over one million dollars in grant funding, been named IHL chair for the Senate Bill 2563 Working Group, led the Mississippi Coalition for Partners in Prevention for five years and is currently serving as a member of the Colleges and Universities Committee for the New National Physical Activity Plan Alliance. She has served as Past Coordinator of Graduate Studies in Health Education and past Emma Ody Pohl Endowed Chair at MUW, Past President of the MS Alliance for Health and Physical Education, Past Co-Chairman of MS Action for Healthy Kids, and has received various state and local awards in the health education field. Dr. Yates, along with the MSU Health Education staff, support students by providing programming and initiatives that foster optimal health.

Leah Pylate, M.S., CHES

Leah Pylate is the Assistant Director of Health Education and Wellness and Sexual Assault 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.

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.

Mandy Conrad, MS, RDN

Mandy Conrad's professional career began as a fitness counselor at a hospital-based wellness facility. Experiences in the health field ranged from helping collegiate athletes to cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation patients. Mandy gained an eye-opening awareness that individuals from all ages and backgrounds shared the common goal of improved health. Her interest in nutrition grew as she observed the relationship it had to overall health and wellness. After furthering her education in the area of nutrition and health promotion, Mandy worked in the healthcare setting prior to working as a fitness and nutrition consultant. Mandy more recently ventured into online/phone nutrition counseling, specializing in food allergies and sensitivities. Her individualized approach allows her to successfully help others take current nutrition recommendations and apply them to real life.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Brooke West

Brooke West is from Ashburn, Virginia and is currently working on her Masters of Science in Health Promotion. Brooke graduated from Virginia Tech in May 2015 with a Bachelor's Degree in Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise. While she was at Virginia Tech, she became a Personal Trainer, Group Fitness Instructor, and Sports Nutrition Intern. She went on to complete her Dietetic Internship at Mississippi State University, graduating in May 2016 to become a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. Brooke is currently a Graduate Assistant for the Department of Health Promotion and Wellness, working with the 'MSU on the Move'' grant. Brooke looks to combine her nutrition background with the experience she will gain in health promotion to expand her knowledge, while gaining valuable experience.

Graduate Assistants

Maria Balestrino

Maria Balestrino is from Memphis, TN and is currently working on her Master of Professional Accounting. She recently joined the Health Promotion and Wellness Department at Mississippi State University. Maria received her Bachelor of Accountancy with honors in May of 2016 from Mississippi University for Women. She enjoys reading, traveling, and spending time with family and friends. Following completion of her graduate degree, Maria will work for Deloitte and Touche as an auditor in Memphis, Tennessee.

Nicole Haskins

Nicole Haskins is from Smyrna, TN and is currently working on her Masters of Science in Health Promotion. Nicole graduated from Middle Tennessee State University in August 2015 with a Bachelor's Degree in Nutrition and Food Science. Nicole went on to complete her Dietetic Internship at Mississippi State University to become a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. With her nutrition background she hopes to expand her knowledge and gain experience in the world of health and wellness by pursuing her degree in health promotion. She is now working as a Graduate Assistant for the Health Promotion and Wellness Department. Nicole enjoys being physically active, cooking, and being involved with the community!

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.

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.

Mustafa Sen

Mustafa Sen is originally from Bursa, Turkey. He completed his undergraduate studies in Business Administration at Turkish Military Academy. In 2013, he was awarded a full scholarship to study abroad, and he chose Mississippi State University. He received his MA degree in Political Science and is currently a doctoral student in Public Policy and Administration at Mississippi State University. Mustafa enjoys helping people make healthy life choices, and he is now working as a Graduate Assistant with the Department of Health Promotion and Wellness. His career objective is to combine his educational background with the Ph.D. degree in Public Policy and Administration and pursue a career in academia. He is a runner and a competitive chess player. His favorite historical figure is Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, and his favorite quote is, "We rise by lifting others."

Beth Serigny

Beth Serigny is from Thibodaux, LA and is currently pursuing her Master's Degree of Science in Health Promotion, with the hopes of obtaining Certified Health Education Specialist credentials. Beth graduated from Nicholls State University in May 2015 with a Bachelor's Degree of Science in Dietetics and a minor in Health Promotion. Currently, Beth is working as a Graduate Assistant with the Department of Health Promotion and Wellness. Following the completion of her graduate degree, Beth will be applying to Dietetic Internships to fulfil her desire of becoming a Registered Dietitian. Her dream job is to be a Supermarket Dietitian. In her spare time, Beth enjoys spending time with her family and friends, trying new recipes, blogging, and hiking.

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

Maricus Walker


Savannah DeWitt

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