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.

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