The HOPE Lab is dedicated to improving the mental health and wellbeing of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). We seek to conduct research to enhance the awareness of mental health symptoms, improve measurement, and improve service delivery so that people with IDD can experience healthy outcomes, community inclusion, and wellbeing.



Ruth Brown, PhD

Assistant Professor

Dr. Ruth Brown, PhD, is a Clinical Psychologist and Assistant Professor at the Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics at Virginia Commonwealth University. Her program of research aims to address the mental healthcare disparity experienced by people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. To this end, her work focuses on the development of evidence-based assessments, including the use of epigenetic biomarkers, of emotional and behavioral concerns in people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. It is her hope that the dissemination and implementation of evidence-based assessment for this population will lead to improved detection, prevention, and treatment of traumatic stress, anxiety, and depression.


Hope lab 20-21

Current Students

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Barbara Salas-Ferrante

Barbara Salas-Ferrante (she/her) is a  sophomore  majoring in psychology. Her goal is to be a clinical psychologist one day. My interests are in mental health, social and environmental activism, and crafts!


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Kayla Van

Kayla Van is a junior at VCU majoring in psychology on the pre-medicine track. She hopes to become a pediatrician or researcher who can help and advocate for accessible quality healthcare among individuals who are minorities and live in underserved populations. Her interests include looking into mental health and healthcare quality among minorities, teaching herself new things, and reading a lot of books!


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Jennifer Nguyen

Jennifer is a junior at VCU majoring in Health, Physical Education, and Exercise Science with a concentration in Health Sciences, minoring in Chemistry. Her goal is to become a physicians assistant to work in the pediatrics or plastic surgery field. With this research opportunity, she hopes to learn more about mental health and intellectual disabilities from a primary experience.


Hajjer Amer

Hajjer Amer is a junior with a  Biology major and Chemistry minor. She hopes to become a dentist who is inclusive and accepting of all individuals including people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Her interests include baking/cooking, exercising, and advocating for underrepresented individuals. She is very excited to be part of this team and increase her knowledge on the mental health of people with IDD.

Vaishnavi Nemani

Vaishnavi Nemani is a junior with Biology and Psychology major with a minor in Chemistry. She hopes to become a physician and go to Medical School. Some of her interests include exercising, hiking, volunteering, and learning more about the mental health of others. She is very excited to be part of this team and increase her knowledge on the mental health of people with IDD.

Ester Jo

Ester Jo is a biology major at VCU, minoring in chemistry on the pre-medicine track. Last year, she was a Taekwondo Instructor and an Enhanced Management Care Intern for VCU Health. She worked with others to improve patient care and advocated the significance of social determinants of health. She is very excited to be a part of this team and to advocate the importance of mental health for individuals with ID. 
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Sierra Shapert

Sierra (she/her) is a senior psychology major also minoring in sociology. She is passionate about helping others, nature, trauma research, and learning about different cultures. She is still narrowing down her interests and career goals but is very excited to be working with underserved populations on this amazing team!


Lab Alumni


Allison D'Aguilar, PhD

Postdoctoral Fellow

Allison D’Aguilar Ph.D. served a postdoctoral trainee on Dr. Ruth Brown’s NICHD Grant, the Impact of COVID-19 on the Mental Health of People with Down Syndrome. Previously she worked as a research team member on the Leadership Empowerment for Abuse Prevention project at VCU’s Partnership for People with Disabilities. Allison’s research interests include Community-based participatory health research and inclusive research with people living with intellectual and developmental disabilities.


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Benedette Arrey

Benedette Arrey is a  third year biology major/chemistry minor. She's from  Northern Virginia and has lived there her entire life with her family. She hosts a podcast every week to de-stress from everything she needs to do by talking about popular and relatable topics. A fun fact about her  is that she has never broken a bone in her entire body! She's very excited to be part of this team and cannot wait start working on projects to benefit those in the future!


Zack Moore

Zack Moore is a psychology major at VCU, minoring in music. He has an interest in counseling and helping people in any way that he can. He's really excited to contribute to this research project!


Michael Mathews

Michael Mathews focuses on using skills learned through his interdisciplinary studies focus areas in psychology, political science, and special education to help individuals with disabilities. He is a  member of the National Federation of the Blind and the Virginia Association of Blind Students and hopes to continue to use his connections to better the lives of those with visual disabilities or any other disability. He sees this lab as a way to continue to expand his knowledge and find way to be more effective advocate.

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Naomi Othman

Naomi is a junior at VCU  studying to become an Occupational Therapist, as working in the mental health field has always been a passion of hers. She is always interested in furthering her education and learning more about the intellectually disabled population.


Vivian Hunter

Vivian Hunter is currently a senior at Virginia Commonwealth University majoring in psychology and minoring in biology on a pre-medicine track. She has  aspirations to become a physician who is able to help and advocate for underserved populations and make quality healthcare more accessible for all people.


Karyn Cook

Karyn Cook is a senior double-majoring in Journalism and History. She enjoyed doing research and has a sibling with autism. She is passionate about learning and helping those with disabilities.

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Kayleen Reyes

Kayleen is a Junior in the Pre-health Track with a minor in Psychology. She wanted to join the team to acquire a greater depth of knowledge on mental and intellectual disorders and gain experience interacting with those who have them. She hopes to  spread awareness of that knowledge and use it on future patients or on that population in general she believes there is no need to badly treat someone for being a little different.


Shrinidhi Vijay

Shrinidhi Vijay is a Graduate student at VCU's  Brandcenter. Her Interests include Psychology and advertising.