Our Team

Marni Sommer, Associate Professor of Sociomedical Sciences, Director of GATE 

Marni Sommer, DrPH, MSN, RN, has worked in global health and development on issues ranging from improving access to essential medicines to humanitarian relief in conflict settings. Dr. Sommer's particular areas of expertise include conducting participatory research with adolescents, understanding and promoting healthy transitions to adulthood, the intersection of public health and education, gender and sexual health, and the implementation and evaluation of adolescent-focused interventions.  Dr. Sommer's current research focuses on the intersections of gender, health and education for girls and boys transitioning into adulthood in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia.


Maggie Schmitt, Project Director 

Maggie Schmitt, MPH, is a Project Director for the GATE Program. Ms. Schmitt has been at CU MSPH for over 8 years, working on a range of health systems, reproductive health and humanitarian response research initiatives. Most recently, her work has focused on the inclusion of menstrual hygiene within humanitarian emergencies, in collaboration with the International Rescue Committee. This includes supporting the development of both improved evidence and practical guidance for the integration of menstrual hygiene into ongoing emergency response operations. Ms. Schmitt also leads the Growing Girls USA project, a national puberty and menstruation study exploring the experiences of low-income girls growing up in urban areas across the US.


Caitlin Gruer, Senior Project Coordinator 

Caitlin Gruer, MPH, is a Senior Project Coordinator for the GATE Program.  Her current work focuses on the use of participatory research methods to capture the lived experiences of girls and women related to menarche, menstruation, and pubertal transitions.  This includes translating research into practical resources for girls and women, implementing organizations, and policy makers.  Previously, she worked at Plan International USA and Helen Keller International Cambodia leading initiatives related to menstrual hygiene management (MHM), water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), and integrated WASH and nutrition. 


Lili Warren, Research Assistant 

Lili Warren is a second-year MPH student in the Department of Sociomedical Sciences pursuing a certificate in Public Health Research Methods. She obtained her Bachelor of Science from McGill University, where she studied Psychology and Neuroscience. While she is still exploring the many areas within Public and Global Health, Lili is particularly interested in adolescent sexual and reproductive health and rights. Recently, her work at Columbia has focused on Public Health projects related to the use of integrative, mind-body medicine to improve adolescent and women’s health. Her thesis work focuses on better understanding the current opioid epidemic in the United States. As a Research Assistant with the GATE program, Lili will be working with the team on mapping the players in the Menstrual Hygiene Management field, contributing to the development of a database that will be useful for future programming.


Danting Liu, Lerner Fellow

Danting Liu is is a second-year MPH student in the Department of Sociomedical Sciences with a certificate in Health Policy and Practice. She is largely interested in topics of structural inequity such as women’s health and rights, gentrification in marginalized spaces and communities, immigration reform, and drug policies. In her capacity as a Lerner Center Fellow, Danting works with Dr. Marni Sommer to explore the field of menstrual hygiene management (MHM) in relation to young girls and women. Danting received her Bachelor’s at Columbia University, where she majored in Biology and Hispanic Studies. She is also a research intern at the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene where she studies the impact of drug policies and the ways in which harm reduction principles can be incorporated into programming.


Aja Weston, Research Assistant

Aja Weston is a first-year MPH student in the Department of Epidemiology with a certificate in Sexuality, Sexual and Reproductive Health. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and Women's Studies from the Univeristy of Michigan. Aja is interested in the intersect of sexual and reproductive health (SRH) and HIV both globally and domestically, and how understanding this relationship can improve access to quality services and prevention methods. She is particularly interested in adolescent health and the experience of young women and girls. In her role as a research assistant for the GATE program, Aja is helping improve outcome measures and indicators for menstrual hygiene management (MHM). Prior to coming to Columbia, she was a community health outreach specialist in Mozambique with Peace Corps.


Katie Booth, Practicum Research Assistant 

Katie Booth is a first-year MPH student in the Department of Population and Family Health pursuing a certificate in Public Health Research Methods. She received her undergraduate degree from College of Charleston where she studied International Studies and Public Health. Katie is interested in women’s health and particularly supporting and encouraging adolescent girls and new mothers. Prior to coming to Columbia, she was a research assistant at a non-profit in Philadelphia conducting research and evaluation on a variety of community-based programs. With the GATE team, she will assist the team with conducting an in-depth review of the menstrual equity policies introduced in Public Schools across New York City since 2016. 


Rachel Smith, Practicum Reseach Assistant

Rachel Clark Smith is a dual degree student receiving her MPH in the Department of Sociomedical Sciences along with an MSW at the Columbia School of Social Work, where she focuses on public policy and contemporary social issues. A trained doula, Rachel’s interests lie at the intersection of economics and sexual/reproductive health and justice, with a special interest in family justice and antenatal health. With the GATE program, she is assisting with an exploration of the menstrual hygiene experiences of sheltered and unsheltered homeless people in New York City. Prior to studying at Columbia, Rachel received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in music and drama from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.


Maayan Jaffe, Lerner Center Research Fellow

Maayan is an MPH candidate in Sociomedical Sciences with a certificate in Social Determinants of Health. At Mailman, she’s exploring the determinants of sexual and reproductive health from an equity and justice perspective.  Previously, she studied Global Health at Georgetown University and oversaw the implementation of mHealth tools for patient communication/mobile data collection in global research studies. As a Lerner Center Research Fellow, she will be working on a broad array of topics related to MHM including collecting data on experiences of menstruation and helping to foster cross-sectoral partnerships.