Skip to content






Headshot of Connie Baird-Thomas

Connie Baird-Thomas, Ph.D.

Dr. Connie Baird-Thomas is the Associate Director of the Social Science Center for Policy Studies and Director of the Mississippi Health Policy Research Center (MHPRC), Mississippi’s only research center devoted to health policy issues. Through the MHPRC, health and health services data are provided to a number of stakeholders including state agencies, advocacy groups and political officials.

In the area of program evaluation, Dr. Baird-Thomas led the evaluation of a statewide effort to reduce health disparities among minorities. She also has served as the lead Investigator for the assessment of other statewide programs including the school nurse component of the Mississippi Tobacco Pilot Program and Mississippi’s Drug Free Schools and Community Program. Other activities for which she was the lead investigator include, a feasibility assessment of implementing the Nurse-Family Partnership Program in Mississippi and the Evaluation of the Mississippi Disaster Case Management Pilot Program.

Dr. Baird-Thomas’s research has been funded by the Mississippi Department of Public Safety Planning, the Mississippi State Department of Health and the Office of Rural Health Policy (HRSA). Her work has been published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, Sexually Transmitted Diseases, International Journal of Crime, Criminal Justice and the Law, and Criminal Justice and Behavior.

Sheena Gardner, Ph.D.

Dr. Sheena Gardner is an Associate Research Professor at the Social Science Research Center at Mississippi State University. Over the past several years she has worked on several evaluation projects in the areas of juvenile justice, public health, mental health, and non-profit/philanthropy. Currently, Dr. Gardner serves as the lead investigator for the evaluation of SAMHSA/OJJDP-funded juvenile drug treatment courts in Rankin and Madison counties and a SAMHSA-funded project aimed at developing sustainable infrastructure for school-based mental health programs. Throughout her career, Dr. Gardner’s research has been funded by state (University of MS Medical Center, the MS Department of Mental Health, the MS State Department of Health, the MS Department of Public Safety Planning, the MS Department of Human Services, and the Office of the Attorney General), federal (National Institute of Justice, US Department of Agriculture, and National Institutes of Health), and foundations (Mississippi Alliance of Nonprofits and Philanthropy, Community Foundation for Mississippi).

Headshot of Sheena Gardner

Headshot of Angela Robertson

Angela Robertson, Ph.D.

Dr. Angela Roberton is the Associate Director and Research Professor at the Social Science Research Center at Mississippi State University. 

Since 1994, Dr. Robertson has been conducting multi-site and longitudinal research on behavioral health issues among substance abusing and offender populations. The Mississippi Department of Public Safety and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has funded research on the prevalence of sexually transmitted infections and HIV risk behaviors among juvenile detainees, mental health treatment and social service needs of incarcerated youth, conditions of confinement in Mississippi juvenile detention facilities, and behavioral interventions to reduce drug use and HIV risk behaviors among juvenile offenders.

Dr. Robertson collaborates with state juvenile justice agencies to collect, analyze, and report information on juvenile crime and the processing of youth by the juvenile justice system. Her analyses and reports have been instrumental in assisting in monitoring compliance with federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention mandates. Dr. Robertson is also involved in a NIDA-funded collaborative research program with five other universities designed to implement evidence-based substance abuse and HIV prevention and treatment programs for youth involved in the juvenile justice system.

Before coming to Mississippi State University, Dr. Robertson worked in community mental health and substance abuse treatment for 16 years. She developed and directed the ARK, the first state funded residential substance abuse treatment program for adolescents in Mississippi.

Tockie V. Hemphill

Ms. Tockie V. Hemphill serves as a project manager for evaluation. She is a graduate of Rust College with a Bachelor of Science in Sociology and a graduate of Mississippi State University with a Master of Science in Counselor Education, Rehabilitation. She is a 2nd year Ph.D. student at MSU in the Department of Food Science, Nutrition, and Health Promotion, concentrating on Functional Foods. She has received training in diverse health and life coaching, which has advanced her skills in evaluating cardiovascular health, diabetes, and cancer prevention and maintenance programs. In addition, she is a member of the Mississippi State Health Assessment and Improvement Committee (SHAIC), Social Determinants of Health Workgroup. Ms. Hemphill is a Charter Member of the Mississippi Thrive Early Childhood Development Coalition, serving on the Enhanced Pediatric Medical Home Services (EPMHS) Subcommittee, and continues to support early education programs throughout Mississippi. Her former career was in Student Affairs serving in leadership roles in career advising, counseling, disability accommodations, and Veteran services. She also has experience working for the Veteran Administration.

Ms. Hemphill has dedicated years to volunteering in nursing homes, acting as a surrogate family member. She has completed one year of training in Psychodrama, Sociometry, and Group Psychotherapy founded by J. L. Moreno, M.D. (1889-1974), taught by Dr. Daniella Simmons ( This training was significant to her success while volunteering in Independent Living facilities with the Memory program in which many Veterans resided.

Equally important to critical thinking skills are Ms. Hemphill’s vision, purpose, and mission. Her vision is to become an expert in geroscience and translational research. Her purpose emanates from family values to serve. Ms. Hemphill’s mission is to improve the health of communities, develop strategies to address social determinants of health, and alleviate age-related health disparities through education, research, and evaluation.

Tockie Hemphill headshot

Headshot of Gina Rico Mendez

Gina Rico Mendez, Ph.D.

Dr. Gina Rico Méndez is an Assistant Research Professor at the Social Science Research Center. Currently, she serves as the Research and Learning Manager for USAID’s Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Fish, leading the overall Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning component of the project. In addition, she collaborates with the Mississippi Water Resources Research Institute (WRRI), conducting social science research that explores the intricate interplay between natural resource management for agricultural production and human behavior.

Before joining Mississippi State University in her current role, she held the positions of Developmental Evaluator and Interim Project Director for the USAID-funded Complexity-Aware Monitoring and Evaluation (C-AME) initiative for the Reconciliation Activity in Colombia. In this role, she led the evaluation component of this innovative effort, one of the 14 C-AME projects of its kind worldwide. She has 15+ years of experience working with communities, public organizations, and academic institutions domestically and globally conducting evidence-based Monitoring, Evaluation, Research, Learning, and Adaptation (MERLA), as well as policy and institutional analyses. Her expertise extends to conducting evaluations, research, and learning initiatives for projects funded by USAID, USDA, HRSA, the US-DOS, and others.

Dr. Rico Méndez’s research centers on the analysis of food systems, sustainable adoption, and scaling of agricultural innovations, as well as issues related to gender and social inclusion. She earned her B.A. in Political Science and M.A. in Habitat (Human Settlement Studies) from Universidad Nacional de Colombia. She completed her PhD in Public Policy and Administration at Mississippi State University, supported by a Fulbright scholarship.


Katerina Sergi, Ph.D.

Katerina Sergi is an Assistant Research Professor at the Social Science Research Center. She is involved in a variety of projects including early childhood education and development, mental health awareness and prevention services, and tobacco control. Katerina Sergi combines quantitative and qualitative data to create work plans, reports, presentations, and publications that describe the effectiveness of interventions and point out the strengths and limitations of particular programs.

Katerina Sergi provides services to the following projects:

  • Project AWARE, sponsored by SAMHSA, to develop and improve a school-based continuum of mental health awareness, prevention, training, and service linkage/delivery within the Mississippi Achievement School District (MASD).
  • Project ECHO for early childhood development and health, funded by the Health Resources and Services Administration, to measure the effectiveness of the ECHO Model® among early childhood professionals and families with children ages birth to eight.
  • An evaluation project to assess the impact of tobacco control programs in the state, funded by the Mississippi Department of Health, Office of Tobacco Control.

Katerina Sergi has experience working abroad, conducting research and evaluation for global firms in Europe, North and South America, Asia, and for a variety of demographics, including those with vision impairments. She graduated from Queens College with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in applied social research and received a doctorate degree in educational psychology from Mississippi State University.

Headshot of Katerina

(662) 325-7127