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
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.
Paul Sparks, PhD
Senior Research Associate
Dr. Paul Sparks has over a decade of experience in program evaluation and social research, including on projects in Cambodia, Ecuador, Jordan, Kenya, Nepal, Uganda, the United States and Zambia. After completing his MA in International Development from the American University in Washington, DC, Paul lived and worked as an applied researcher in Kenya and Uganda for over six years. Starting with the non-profit organization Village Enterprise (VE), he helped to develop a targeted cash transfer and saving program, conducted multiple project evaluations, and helped the VE to become a leader in evidence-based poverty reduction programming. From there he moved to BRAC-Uganda’s Research and Evaluation Unit, where he co-designed research and led data collection for the evaluation of small firm expansion, job creation, microenterprise development, vocational education, and adolescent health projects. Additionally, he led research efforts around the MasterCard Foundation Scholars Program, a nation-wide scholarship targeting high-achieving, economically disadvantaged secondary school students. Leveraging his expanding network of professional connections, Paul co-founded the Research, Evaluation, Learning and Monitoring working group of Uganda, a professional organization that provided free training and mentoring for early-career monitoring and evaluation professionals.
Paul next worked as the Director of Research at the entertainment-education NGO Peripheral Vision International (PVI). There, he worked with a dynamic team of creative collaborators on educational television shows, public service announcements, last-mile media campaigns, and multiplatform audio-based interactive entertainment-education. These included projects focused on health promotion to combat the Ebola virus, business planning, democratic norms, and a large amount of work promoting sexual and reproductive health education. PVI’s research team conducted formative research and message testing for Planned Parenthood Global’s Voices for Health Campaign, which was later recognized as helping to end Uganda’s ban on the teaching of sex education in schools.
In 2017, Paul left PVI to pursue his doctorate in Health Communication and Social Dynamics at the University of Southern California, Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. At Annenberg, Paul focused on behavioral theories of decision making, including advanced coursework in social psychology, behavioral economics, and quantitative research methods. He obtained a post-graduate certificate in the Empirical Implications of Theoretical Models from ICPSR at the University of Michigan. He has published or presented research utilizing advanced statistical methods, such as time to event analysis, mixed effects modelling, and structural equation modelling, in addition to several applications of the general linear model and maximum likelihood estimation. This includes research around online gaming, social factors in COVID-19 vaccine acceptance, narrative persuasion, and how social identity factors affect attitude formation. At Sentient Research, Paul manages large-scale research and evaluation projects.
Taj Morgan, BS
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.