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A lupus awareness and educational program from the American College of Rheumatology

The Lupus Initiative® (TLI) is a program of the American College of Rheumatology’s Collaborative Initiatives (COIN) Department. COIN staff members include the following:

Starla Hairston Blanks
Senior Director, Collaborative Initiatives

Starla Hairston Blanks serves as the Senior Director of Collaborative Initiatives for the American College of Rheumatology. The American College of Rheumatology is the premier national professional organization for advancing rheumatology in the United States. Mrs. Blanks oversees the Lupus Initiative, serving as project director for federally supported lupus educational grants including Developing and Disseminating Strategies to Build Sustainable Lupus Awareness, Knowledge, Skills, and Partnerships 5 year award from the Centers for Disease Control and initiatives focused on increasing diversity in lupus clinical trial enrollment funded through the U.S. Office of Minority Health as well as national initiatives to address health disparities in rheumatology. Starla utilizes experience from working in academic, association and community settings on lupus, medically underserved communities, chronic disease management, help-seeking behavior, community health workers, public health practice and health policy to her current position. She is a nationally recognized trainer with certifications in public health practice, adult learning, community organizing, smoking cessation and chronic disease who holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Political Science, a master’s degree in Business Administration with a specialization in non-profit leadership and a graduate degree in public health.

Kate Chiseri, MPH, MCHES
Senior Specialist, Project Manager

Kate joined the COIN team in early 2020. She brings a wealth of program planning, education and community coalition development experience. Kate is responsible for projects that educate rheumatology and non-rheumatology providers about lupus and arthritis. These projects aim to support providers as they help patients and their families navigate the pediatric-to-adult transition of care, as well as supporting Community Health Workers. Kate also oversees all reproductive health programming. Prior to starting at the ACR, Kate served as Assistant Director in the Office of Health Promotion at Emory University, where she specialized in prevention programming for students in the areas of sexual health and mental well-being. Prior to working at Emory, Kate was Program Coordinator for Safe Kids Georgia, an injury prevention non-profit organization housed within Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta (CHOA). She has her Master of Public Health (MPH) from the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University, and an honors Bachelor’s Degree with Distinction from the University of Delaware.

Tenesha Hood, MA
Sr. Specialist, Project Manager

Tenesha joined the COIN team in the Fall of 2020 and serves as Sr. Specialist, Project Manager for the American College of Rheumatology. Tenesha brings a wealth of knowledge and experience in successfully managing and leading large scale projects, including federal and state funded grants. Tenesha brings experience from working in a variety of settings including, public service, medical associations, community, and non-profits focusing on chronic disease management, tobacco cessation, coalition building, physician, and medical student engagement. In addition to her diverse experience, Tenesha is a graduate of the University of Alabama – Tuscaloosa where she received a Bachelor of Science (BS) and Master of Arts (MA) in Health Sciences with a concentration in Health Promotion and Health Education.

Nat Cabrera
Senior Specialist, Project Manager

Nat joined the COIN team in 2021, bringing extensive experience in program and association management. Nat started at the ACR in grants administration with the Rheumatology Research Foundation and most recently worked in the Strategic Relations department. She also spent time with the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology where she worked in Research and Training, acting as the liaison and managing relationships with training programs, the National Residency Match Program, and the ACGME. She received her Bachelor’s degree in International Relations from Emory University.

Markay Russell, MPH
Specialist, Collaborative Initiatives

Markay became a valuable asset to the Collaborative Initiatives Department as a contractor in 2019 through her work on the department’s Promotores project as well as supporting the development of the Volunteers to Expand Rheumatology Access (VERA) project. She accepted a permanent position as Specialist, Collaborative Initiatives in early 2020. Since then, Markay has led the Teaching Fellows in Lupus Project which has reached over 1,000 non-rheumatology professionals. Additionally, Markay oversees all website updates on the Lupus Initiative’s website, she manages all TLI social media platforms- Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. Lastly, Markay serves as a Product Owner for the ACR’s new Learning Management System. Markay received her Master of Public Health Degree at Morehouse School of Medicine, and she received her Bachelor of Science degree in Health Promotion and Behavior from the University of Georgia.

Jasmine Thomas
Specialist, Collaborative Initiatives 

Jasmine joined the Collaborative Initiatives team in January 2023. She has a unique background in arts & entertainment and is bringing her knowledge in education, program development, community outreach, DEI work, and other useful skills to the COIN team. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Georgia. 

Ella Carroll
Coordinator, Collaborative Initiatives

Ella Carroll joined the COIN team on a permanent basis in Fall 2020 after supporting COIN in a supplemental staffing role for several months. Ella’s diverse skill set and experience includes work involving operations, customer service implementation, and business process improvement projects in the corporate space. Her can-do and work-smart attitude has earned her recognition and excellence awards over the years.

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