Meet Our Team!

Principal Investigators

Headshot of womanCynthia Chafin
Co-Primary Investigator
Director for Community Programs, MTSU Center for Health and Human Services 

Cynthia (“Cindy”) Chafin, M.Ed., MCHES® is the Director for Community Programs. She has been with MTSU CHHS since 2003 and has over 20 years of experience as a public health project director and consultant.  Ms. Chafin has a lengthy history in public health having worked for and with the state health department along with multiple local, state, and national non-profit and community-based organizations as a volunteer, project director, or consultant.  She has been awarded numerous awards, some of the most distinguished being the Health Educator of the Year award from the Tennessee Public Health Association in 2006 and the inaugural Eloise Q. Hatmaker Distinguished Service Award from the Rural Health Association of Tennessee in 2009 for her public health work in rural Tennessee communities. 


woman by treeKeely O’Brien
Co-Primary Investigator
Assistant Professor, MTSU School of Agriculture, Fermentation Science Program

Dr. Keely O’Brien is an Assistant Professor in the School of Agriculture Fermentation Science faculty.  In addition to working in the fermented dairy industry for 3 years, she worked closely with agricultural industries in the LSU Ag Center Extension Service.  She has 10 years of community-based teaching experience including hosting over 50 workshops!  Her research is focused on evaluation of dairy fermentation and its role in human health using product development, sensory analysis, animal and clinical research components.  Her lab is also investigating biomaterials development using processed dairy food waste. She has published 8 peer-reviewed journal articles, holds 1 patent and has received several research grants. 


dr. johnstonTony Johnston
Co-Primary Investigator
Professor and Program Director MTSU School of Agriculture, Fermentation Science Program

Dr. Tony Johnston has taught at Middle Tennessee State University for 25 years.  During this time, he has created and taught 27 different courses and written textbooks for 2 of them. Several of his classes have been taught online and/or by correspondence. He has been nominated for an outstanding teaching award 3 times and for a career achievement award twice. Dr. Johnston has received the Bob Womack Distinguished Faculty Award and the International Affairs Faculty of the Year Award at MTSU.

Grant Staff

Dr. storyChandra Story
Project Evaluator
Associate Professor MTSU Community and Public Health, College of Behavioral and Health Sciences

An advocate for topics of youth suicide prevention and mental health, Dr. Story has partnered with parents to develop award winning social marketing programs and has worked as a licensed clinical medical technologist in diverse settings across several states. Her focus is on the promotion of health equity through research. We welcome her as the evaluator of the   USDA STEMsational Ag: The Virtual Farm Grant! 


jill thomasJill Thomas
Project Coordinator
USDA Project Coordinator ~ STEMsational Ag: The Virtual Farm, MTSU Center for Health and Human Services

Jill Thomas, Project Coordinator for USDA STEMsational Ag: The Virtual Farm. Jill has been an elementary school educator as well as a full-time professor in the MTSU’s College of Education. She is excited to help facilitate getting these FREE and engaging Agriculture Units into the hands of K-14 learners! 


Laurie NecasekLaurie Necasek
Project Assistant
Accessibility Specialist and Content Editor ~ STEMsational Ag: The Virtual Farm, MTSU Center for Health and Human Services

Laurie Necasek has worked in higher education for 9 years. She has experience in the areas of disability counseling, social work, instructional design, and accessibility. She is a content editor and accessibility specialist on The Virtual Farm project. She is excited to provide engaging and accessible content to the community.



Michelle Sterlingshires
Project Assistant
Assistant, PDF Accessiblity, and Social Media ~ STEMsational Ag: The Virtual Farm, MTSU Center for Health and Human Services

Michelle Sterlingshires received both her undergraduate and graduate degrees from MTSU. Her education is in applied statistics and analytics, but she has quickly become a jack-of-all-trades while at CHHS ranging from handling social media to the technical work of making PDFs accessible to exorcising the ghosts from Jill's laptop. She’s glad to help however she can.


chipperChipper Smith
Graduate Student Assistant
Enrolled in the MTSU
MPH Public Health Program

Chipper Smith, STEMsational Ag Student Assistant and current graduate student in the Public Health program. Chipper loves to be involved with youth of all ages and use new technology to help impact the development of the next generation.




Amy Dotson
Graduate Student Assistant 2020-2021
Enrolled in the MTSU
MSPS Fermentation Science Program

Amy Dotson, STEMsational Ag Student Assistant and current graduate student in the Fermentation Science program. Amy hopes to turn her love of microorganisms into a career in dairy fermentation and probiotics.


If you have any questions please email:

This work is supported by the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, Education and Workforce Development Program. [grant no. 2021-67037-33380/project accession no. 1024880], from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and should not be construed to represent any official USDA or U.S. Government determination or policy.