our team

Our team provides exceptional services to nonprofits, governments, and universities in the U.S. and globally.


Our highly capable staff comes from backgrounds in the public and private sectors and academia; together we have decades of experience working in public health, social work, education, technology, and communications. We all share a passion for conducting rigorous research and building effective programs, a love of innovation, and a drive to make the world a better place through the work we do.

Jorge A. Montoya, PhD
President and CEO

Dr. Montoya brings extensive government sector, commercial, and academic experience to planning and evaluating public health and education programs. He began his career in research as an undergraduate in the early 1990s studying psychology at UC Berkeley, where he developed an interest in how people process information in their social environment. After receiving his PhD in social psychology from the University of Southern California in 2000, Jorge served as a Research Analyst at Frank N. Magid Associates, where he conducted quantitative and qualitative branding and consumer research across the United States and Latin America. While at Magid, he conducted hundreds of focus groups and interviews; developed dozens of questionnaires, interview guides, and surveys in both English and Spanish; and used this research to create effective branding and products for clients.

He next served as Director of Communications and Program Evaluation for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health’s Sexually Transmitted Disease Program from 2002-2011. In this role, he directed the development, implementation, and evaluation of large-scale community interventions designed to reach audiences such as health providers, students, and low-income Hispanic and African-American youth throughout Los Angeles County. He applied the skills he developed in the private sector to develop strong brands for several award-winning social marketing campaigns, such as I Know and Check Yourself. He developed outreach programs for STI testing and prevention, as well as innovative Internet-based programs including a county-wide, free home STI test kit for women. While working at the DPH, Jorge conducted several large-scale HIV and STI research projects and taught program evaluation at the University of Southern California. He published articles on branding for social marketing, social marketing evaluation, and HIV and STI risk behaviors, and delivered research findings at numerous conferences on effective programs and evaluation strategies.

As President and CEO of Sentient Research, Jorge has brought together a team of highly qualified experts to conduct rigorous quantitative and qualitative research, create effective programs, and perform rigorous program evaluation. Jorge has spearheaded many important programs at Sentient, including: managing a community-based participatory research project to help reduce STI disparities in South Los Angeles; creating an HIV case management system that is being used across the United States and internationally; developing and evaluating a country-wide entertainment-education program on prime time television in Mexico; and conducting large-scale evaluations for programs in HIV, valley fever, asthma, nutrition, and substance use. All of these projects were planned and evaluated using extensive qualitative and quantitative research.

Aaron Plant, MPH
Vice President

Aaron has worked in public service for twenty years. He began his career as a paraprofessional in special education while studying folklore at UC Berkeley in the early 1990s. After getting his BA, he began working at UC San Francisco as a producer for the award-winning international HIV website, HIV inSite. From there, he moved back and forth for several years between the private and nonprofit sectors, and between San Francisco and New York City, managing large-scale health websites for companies like WebMD and Medscape and nonprofit organizations such as GMHC.

During this time, Aaron became interested in using the Internet to do more than simply deliver health information, but as a way to bring about positive behavior change. Toward this goal, he moved back to California to get his Master’s in Public Health from UCLA, which he received in 2005. For the next seven years, Aaron worked for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, where he specialized in planning, implementing, and evaluating social marketing campaigns and developing web-based prevention and testing programs. His work at the DPH included managing a very busy team of outreach workers, helping set up an Internet partner notification program, conducting quantitative and qualitative research studies in STIs and HIV, and publishing papers on qualitative research, social marketing, online partner notification, program evaluation, and online STI testing programs.

Aaron co-founded Sentient Research with Dr. Montoya, and has since managed numerous quantitative and qualitative research projects, developed highly effective interventions, and carried out program evaluations. He has created numerous video and technology based programs, including: Project U, a CDC-funded program that utilizes text messaging and peer outreach to deliver sexual health and free condoms to high school students; Practice Self-Regulation, an e-learning intervention which helps adolescents manage their emotions to reduce STIs and unplanned pregnancies; Taking Care of Me, a brief entertainment-education video intervention that improves rates of HIV treatment initiation and viral suppression and is on CDC’s Compendium of Evidence-Based Interventions and Best Practices for HIV Prevention; and Plan A, an entertainment-education video that was found to increase STI testing and effective contraception use among young women in a 4-year randomized controlled trial. To create these programs, Aaron drew on his technology background and collaborated closely with community members through focus groups, interviews, observations, and human-centered design.

Deborah Neffa-Creech, PhD
Senior Research Associate

Deborah earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the UNC-Chapel Hill Hussman School of Journalism and Media, where she earned a certificate in interdisciplinary health communication – offered with the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health – and worked on social marketing initiatives with nonprofit and public health organizations. After completing her MA, Deborah spent four years in Charlotte as a communications specialist at Atrium Health, one of the nation’s largest nonprofit health systems. She developed campaigns to prompt patient and provider behavior change, while supporting strategic communications for Atrium’s international medical outreach program, patient experience department, and diversity and inclusion initiatives.

Eager to gain additional research skills, Deborah moved to Los Angeles and earned a PhD in health communication from the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. There, she gained expertise in study design and in varying approaches to data collection and analysis, including interviews, focus groups, surveys, field experiments, scale development, social network analyses, and structural equation modeling. At Annenberg, she was a research assistant for the Metamorphosis Research Group and for a randomized controlled trial funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. For her dissertation, she partnered with Children’s Hospital Los Angeles to explore adolescent and family use of media for management of type 2 diabetes. Deborah has presented her research 18 times at professional and academic conferences and has published a book chapter and several articles in peer-reviewed journals. She has also served as a reviewer for communication and public health journals, as well as a senior editorial assistant for the International Journal of Communication.

Deborah specializes in social sciences research, with an emphasis on health behaviors, interpersonal communication, and technology use. She is a native Spanish speaker. At Sentient Research, she is responsible for helping with projects from development to evaluation using quantitative and qualitative research and analysis techniques.

Taj Morgan, MPH
Program Manager

Taj is a graduating Master of Public Health candidate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His concentration is in Health Behavior, with a focus in sexual and reproductive health. He also holds a Certificate in Innovation for the Public Good (CIPG). After receiving his BS from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Taj served as an HIV Health Care Navigator and Project Coordinator at Duke University’s Center for Health Policy and Inequalities Research (CHPIR). He assisted on Project STYLE 2.0, a program for Young, Black MSM who are living with HIV. As a Health Care Navigator, Taj provided participants with linkage to medical and mental health services, as well as virtual support through a mobile health app, HealthMPowerment (HMP).

Taj’s experiences within STYLE 2.0 led him to further exploring his interest in HIV/STIs and MSM health disparities. He had the opportunity to serve as a Research Assistant at UNC’s Behavior and Technology Lab (BATLab). He also worked on another HealthMPowerment project, HMP Stigma, which is a mobile health intervention for young, Black & Latinx men and transgender women. Extracurricularly, Taj explored social innovation and entrepreneurship through his participation in CIPG, where he had the opportunity to ideate and pitch a sexual health communication app for young adults. The CIPG program equipped Taj with the mindsets, methods, and tools for human-centered design and systems thinking.

Megan Kumar, MPH
Senior Program Manager

Megan brings 15 years of professional work in and passion for reproductive health, both in family planning and HIV/STI education and management, to the Sentient Research team.  She graduated with a BA in Mass Communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and after volunteering with a program to mentor junior high school girls, was inspired to pursue health education as a career.  This led her to the Masters’ degree program in public health at the University of California, Los Angeles, where she spent her free time volunteering with Planned Parenthood Los Angeles, teaching sex education to high school students.  After graduating with her MPH, Megan was an HIV and STI health educator at the Stanislaus County Department of Public Health, working primarily in jails and drug treatment centers, and later the Title X manager at UCLA, where she worked with patients, students, and community members to increase knowledge of and access to family planning.  Megan then moved to the University of California, San Francisco, spending 11 years with the Kenneth J. Ryan Residency Training Program and Fellowship in Complex Family Planning, managing programs to create academic leaders in family planning clinical care, research, and education. After shepherding the Fellowship through accreditation as an official subspecialty of obstetrics and gynecology, Megan then joined Society of Family Planning as the Director of Fellowship and Membership, cultivating leadership and networking in the multidisciplinary world of contraception and family planning options.  Megan has volunteered her time as a mentor for UCLA MPH students, and has done many walks, and one marathon, to raise funds for HIV care and research organizations.

As the Senior Program Manager at Sentient Research, Megan is responsible for planning and implementing a holistic health and wellness app for young parents.

Brandy Brown, MPH, MSW
Program Manager

Brandy Brown, MPH, MSW is the Young United Parents! (YUP!) program manager at Sentient Research. Brandy has always been drawn to education, counseling and public health. As a busy single mother, she works to balance her career and motherhood. She recently finished a double master’s degree in public health and social work at the University of California, Los Angeles, with an emphasis on reproductive health, maternal and child health, and child and family wellbeing. Brandy also runs a baking business and works as a birth doula and lactation educator. A former young parent herself, Brandy co-manages the YUP! Youth Advisory Council, creates content with young parents, and is the co-host and co-creator of “YUP! the podcast.”

At the forefront of it all is Brandy’s role as a mother which guides her passion and drive within the space of youth/adolescent reproductive health and parenting outcomes. Brandy was born to 15 year old parents and witnessed the stigma and struggle of teenage parenting. Brandy’s drive and motivation for working with young parents is birthed out of the needs of young people to be seen, heard, and validated in their parenting journeys. As a doula, she seeks to address health disparities, impact maternal and child birth outcomes, and destigmatize adolescent parenting. Finally, Brandy loves collaboration. Between co-hosting YUP!’s new innovative podcast to managing an incredible team of young parents, Brandy’s work relies heavily on sharing ideas, learning from diverse voices, and supporting others on their own growth journeys.

JoAnne Keatley, MSW
Senior Program Consultant

Innovative Response Globally for Trans Women and HIV (IRGT) Board Chair, JoAnne Keatley, was born in Mexico City and received a Master of Social Welfare degree from the University of California, Berkeley. JoAnne was the founder and Director of the renowned UCSF Center of Excellence for Transgender Health (CoE). The CoE worked diligently to enhance transgender care services in California, the nation and the world. In partnership with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), JoAnne co-authored the PAHO document “Blueprint for the Provision of Comprehensive Care to Transgender and Transsexual persons and their communities in Latin America and the Caribbean” that has impacted the quality of transgender care throughout the region. JoAnne has worked with Sentient Research previously and was the primary consultant for the CDC funded Toolkit for Providing HIV Prevention Services to Transgender Women of Color. She has directed numerous research and HIV projects and has consulted on transgender health at the World Health Organization, the NIH, CDC, PEPFAR, and beyond. JoAnne has received numerous awards and recognition including, in 2001, being the first staff recipient of the UCSF Chancellor’s Award for LGBT Leadership, in 2009 the UCSF Martin Luther King Jr. Chancellor’s Award for advancing cultural diversity and social justice, in 2010 the Kaiser National HIV/AIDS award for diversity and was recognized by the State of California for advancing the health of transgender Californians.

At Sentient Research, JoAnne is the subject matter expert and program consultant for a CDC-funded program to adapt an evidence-based HIV intervention for Black and Latina transgender women.

Divine Justice Hilliard , BA
Young Parent Mentor

Divine Justice Hilliard holds a Bachelor’s degree in psychology with a minor in business from Wilson College. Divine conducted a  longitudinal research study for her senior project on single mothers and mental health. Her research focused on mothers’ mental health predictors, specifically financial resources, social support, day-to-day stressors, and coping strategies. During this time, she gained experience in study design, data collection and data analysis. 

At Sentient Research, Divine serves as a peer mentor for young parents in the YUP! community, advisory council youth group leader, social media manager, published author, content creator, and YUP! podcast co-host. Divine works with culturally diverse young parents across the country to provide informational and emotional support as well as resources to reach their goals and live healthier lives.  She is committed to giving back to her own community by equipping young parents with the tools, representation, and support they need.  With first hand experience of struggles and triumphs faced by young parents, Divine aspires to create ripple effects of positive change, ensuring that every young parent has the opportunity to succeed.

Justice McNeil, BA
Young Parent Mentor

Justice McNeil holds a B.A. in Communication and Social Influence from Temple University with a minor in Africology and African American Studies. At Sentient Research, Justice is a mentor for young mothers in the YUP! Community. As a YUP! mentor, Justice works with young mothers and uses motivational interviewing to support participants regarding pregnancy, birth, parenting, relationships, sexual health, and self-care. She guides these mothers based on her education and experience as a young mother herself. 

In addition to her work at Sentient Research, Justice is also a birth worker, supporting expecting parents through their pregnancy, birth, and postpartum journeys. She advocates for these parents and provides continuous emotional, physical, educational and informational support for them to make informed decisions.

We’re here to serve the needs of your local, national, or international projects.