Cynthia Chafin, Ph.D., MCHES® Cynthia Chafin

Dr. Chafin has served as CHHS Director and Interim Director since October 2015. She has been with the center as a project director since 2002.  Dr. Chafin received her a doctoral degree from MTSU Department of Health and Human Performance  with a specialization in health.  She has a Master of Education in health promotion and education from Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College, and a Bachelor of Business Administration from Middle Tennessee State University.   She was part of the first national cohort to receive advanced-level certification as a master certified health educator from the National Commission on Health Education Credentialing (NCHEC).  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, and consultant. She has been awarded the Health Educator of the Year award from the Tennessee Public Health Association and received the inaugural Eloise Q. Hatmaker Distinguished Service Award from the Rural Health Association for her public health work in rural Tennessee communities. She recently was recognized in the Spring 2023 MTSU Research Magazine as one of seven members of the $5.0 Million Club for receiving externally funded awards totaling over $5.0 million over her career at MTSU as CHHS Director.

Dr. Chafin’s interest and experience in public health is broad, though specific areas of interest and experience include substance use and misuse, mental health, healthy lifestyles and chronic disease prevention, cancer control and prevention as well as cancer survivorship.  She is interested in health and wellness coaching as a strategy for addressing individual and population health and is currently enrolled in the Vanderbilt Health Coaching Program completing practicum requirements.   Some of the work she is currently involved in includes research and projects focusing on substance use and misuse (including opioid use disorder),  mental health, and diabetes and obesity prevention.  She provides oversight to multiple other current CHHS projects  as director of the center.  She managed the Tennessee Comprehensive Cancer Control project from 2004-2016 and was instrumental in the development of 3 state cancer plans and implementing 12 state cancer Summits as part of that project.  She has co-founded internship programs for three organizations and has served as a mentor and supervisor to more than 70 students as of spring 2023 and is a frequent guest lecturer on the MTSU campus.  She along with colleagues founded the MTSU Office of Prevention Science and Recovery in 2023. She is active in multiple public health and community services activities.  Her projects have received numerous national and state awards and recognition.


Sarah GwinnSarah Gwinn
Pre-Award Grant Coordinator

Ms. Gwinn has served as the Grant and Program Coordinator since March of 2018, transitioning in late 2022 into the Pre-Award Grant Specialist role.  She came to MTSU with a background in grant writing, grant management, and fundraising from the local nonprofit community.  Ms. Gwinn has earned a Revenue Development Certificate from the Center for Nonprofit Management, holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from East Tennessee State University, and is currently working to complete her master’s in Public Administration with a city management concentration from ETSU.

Ms. Gwinn’s interest in public health is rooted in her background addressing the unique needs and barriers to food security, health care access, and housing issues that individuals living in poverty face daily.   The activities of the Center for Health and Human Services are a natural extension of her interests, allowing for state-wide impact, education, and systems change in Tennessee’s public health outreach.

Ron CailRon Cail
Post-Award Grant Coordinator

Mr. Cail serves as the Post-Award Grant Coordinator since April 2024 when he joined CHHS. He came to MTSU with a Master’s in Healthcare Administration from Washington University in St Louis and a Bachelor’s in Science with an emphasis in Secondary Education from Memphis State University. Mr Cail is a Fellow in the American College of Healthcare Executives and holds a Certification in Supply Chain Management.  He served as Senior Department Administrator for the Department of Tropical Medicine at the Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine involved in extensive grant contract work and international administrative work establishing foreign bases for malaria research as well as leadership roles in various academic healthcare institutions throughout his career. He has served on several national and state Boards promoting leadership in supply chain finance and management.  Mr Cail’s interest in public health is centered on the country’s opioid and drug addiction epidemic as well as support and funding for the homeless population.

Michelle SterlingshiresMichelle Sterlingshires

Project Evaluator and Technical Writer

Michelle is trying her best and appreciates your patience.

Christina ByrdChristina Byrd, MPH, CHES®
Program Coordinator

Ms. Byrd served as the CHHS Special Projects Coordinator between 2017 - 2021. In December 2021, Christina joined the team as a full-time Program Coordinator of the Blue Raiders Drink Up program, Death Scene Investigation/Sudden Unexplained Infant Death grant and Environmental Health & Water Quality program. Ms. Byrd is a proud MTSU alumna, receiving a Bachelor of Science degree in May 2017 and a graduate degree in Public Health in December 2020. Additionally, she received certification by the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing (NCHEC) as a Health Education Specialist in 2018.

Ms. Byrd is currently responsible for coordinating activities of two large scale grants funded by the State of Tennessee Department of Health, totaling over 1.2 million dollars. Over the past five years, she has had the privilege of being a Project Assistant or Program Coordinator for six programs funded by the Centers of Disease Control and/or the State of Tennessee Department of Health. These projects include, MTSU Safe Stars, SPARK, Smile SMART, SPARK 2 Read, Blue Raiders Drink Up, Death Scene Investigation/Sudden Unexplained Infant Death and Environmental Health & Water Quality. Totaling over 2 million dollars, each program has focused on the prevention, education, or management of different health related topics such as diabetes, obesity, smoking cessation, and nutrition.

During her time with CHHS, she has provided supervision to multiple student interns and project assistants. She often guest lectures to different Health and Human Performance classes on MTSU’s campus and Meharry Medical College School of Dentistry on the Smile SMART curriculum for 6 consecutive years in a row.

Ms. Byrd’s interest and experience in public health is vast, though she is particularly interested in healthy lifestyles, chronic disease prevention, and exercise science. 

Michael AyalonMichael Ayalon 
Wilson County Rural Communities Opioid Response Coordinator 

Mr. Ayalon serves as Wilson County Rural Communities Opioid Response Program Coordinator. Through grant funding, Mr. Ayalon will be helping to address the three core priorities for Wilson County: Wilson County's first ever Diversion Center for first time drug offenders, a jail based re-entry transition specialist position, and trauma informed drug prevention activities in the community. Mr. Ayalon is also the Founder and CEO of Greek University, an educational platform that has inspired countless institutions across North America in identifying, understanding and resolving current social issues.

As a professional speaker, entrepreneur, and author, Mr. Ayalon has headlined over 400 presentations across 200 college campuses in 35 states to bring light on pressing problems, such as Alcohol/Drug Prevention, Sexual Assault Prevention, Hazing Prevention, and Motivation in Student Organizations. His strong technological background and varied professional experience in helping to build companies from startup to over $25 Million in annual sales gives him a profound understanding of the ways these issues penetrate all levels of corporate and educational structures today. His unique insight and hands-on approach enable him to create dynamic, positive and results-driven keynotes and workshops that transform people's lives.

As the former Executive Director of Sigma Pi Fraternity with 120 chapters and over 115,000 members nationwide, Mr. Ayalon has a deep understanding of the current situation on campuses and corporations as well as a structured plan on how to empower our own youth to stop being a part of the problem and become an active part of its resolution. He is a member of the Association of Fraternity/Sorority Advisors and a programming partner for the North-American Interfraternity Council. He is a member of DrugFree WilCo, a coalition to reduce drug use and addiction in Wilson County. Mr. Ayalon is a graduate of the School of Management at the University at Buffalo, has a Master's Degree from Cumberland University in Public Service Management, and is currently a doctoral student at MTSU. He anticipates completing the Ed.D. program in Assessment, Learning, and Student Success (Higher Education) in 2025.


Jill Thomas 
Project Coordinator - Mental Health First Aid (SAMHSA)

Jill recently rejoined the CHHS team in January 2021 but is no stranger to the Center as she served as a project coordinator on numerous projects from 2007 –  2013. During her time away from the Center, she was an elementary school educator as well as a full-time professor in the MTSU’s College of Education. Jill received her Master’s degree in Elementary Education from MTSU and her Bachelor of Arts degree in Spanish with a minor in Biology from the University of Minnesota. Her experience in the Tennessee public schools as well as her work as a professor in the School of Education will be a valuable addition to the Center.  

Chipper Smith, smiling, sitting in front of the MTSU horseshoe statue

Chipper Smith
Senior Project Coordinator - Office of Prevention Science and Recovery

Mr. Smith has served part-time on various CHHS projects since 2020 including the Wilson County Rural Communities Opioid Response Program and the STEMsational Ag program. Beginning in August 2023, Chipper joined the team full-time as a Senior Project Coordinator in the Office of Prevention Science and Recovery. Chipper earned his Master of Public Health from MTSU in August of 2022 and his Bachelor of Exercise Science from Lee University in May of 2020. 

In this full-time role, Mr. Smith facilitates a partnership between the Rutherford Opioid Board and the MTSU Office of Prevention Science and Recovery to assist Rutherford County in strategically disseminating their Opioid Settlement funds among organizations across the County. In 2023 alone, Rutherford County received over $1.5 million to disperse to the community, with continued allocations incoming over the next 18 years.

Mr. Smith previously worked at the Tennessee Department of Education in the Office of Coordinated School Health managing a Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) co-operative agreement totaling more than $1.8 million focused on improving student health and academic achievement. While attending graduate school at MTSU, Chipper also spent time working in the community in Murfreesboro City Schools and at the Boys and Girls Club of Smyrna.

Mr. Smith is an involved member of the Tennessee Public Health Association and the Tennessee Health Disparity Task Force. Outside of work, Chipper mentors and assists local Rutherford County high school seniors navigate enrollment in post-secondary education through the tnAchieves program.

Other Staff and Support

The center employs experienced and qualified personnel for programs, projects, and research facilitated through the center, including staff located remotely who allow the center to serve all areas of Tennessee through its work. A student internship program allows the center to provide learning opportunities and practical experience for students while supporting the work of the center.  The center also collaborates with faculty from multiple departments and disciplines to assist with research, evaluation, and other needs vital to successful completion of grant-funded activities of the center.

The center reports to and has the full support of the Vice Provost for Research & Dean of the College of Graduate Studies as well as the support and involvement of the many faculty and staff on campus involved with its grants and projects.



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