The Cooper Institute
 

Founded in 1970 by the "Father of Aerobics"
Kenneth H. Cooper MD, MPH

 
 

Leadership


Laura DeFina, MDLaura DeFina, MD

  • President and Chief Executive Officer
  • Chief Science Officer

Laura DeFina, MD has been the President and Chief Executive Officer of The Cooper Institute since 2014. She joined The Cooper Institute Research Division in 2009 and has served as Chief Science Officer since 2013, where she has authored manuscripts on a variety of prevention topics, including brain health, cardiorespiratory fitness, and healthy aging. The Cooper Institute’s mission is to promote life-long health and wellness in adults and children through research and education. Our vision is two-fold: First, to spread the need for personal responsibility for mind and body wellness through peer-reviewed scientific evidence from the Cooper Center Longitudinal Study, the largest study in the world with measured fitness. Second, to assure that all children have access to quality physical education and recess as well as fitness assessment to ensure that they are gaining the health-benefits of regular physical activity. The Cooper Institute undertakes these initiatives with renowned partners including Stanford University, University of Texas at Southwestern Medical Center, NFL Play 60 programs, and the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas.

Dr. DeFina spent the three years prior practicing preventive medicine at Cooper Clinic. Formerly, she practiced Geriatric Medicine in the Baylor Senior Health Network for 10 years. Additionally, she completed her post-graduate training in Internal Medicine in the U.S. Army at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, was last stationed at Dwight David Eisenhower Army Medical Center, and received numerous military honors including a US Army Meritorious Service medal. She earned her Doctor of Medicine from George Washington University School of Medicine where she was elected to Alpha Omega Alpha Medical Honor Society.

In 2013, Dr. DeFina was appointed by Governor Rick Perry to the Texas Council for Alzheimer’s disease and Related Disorders. She serves on the Prevention and Brain Health Group for the Texas State Plan on Alzheimer's disease. Currently, she is a member of the American Heart Association’s Council on Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health Physical Activity committee and a member of the American Council on Exercise Prescription for Activity Task Force. She has completed Leadership North Texas as well as the Stagen Integral Leadership Program and is actively involved in local and regional community affairs.

The Cooper Institute is a non-profit 501(c)3 dedicated to promoting life-long health and wellness through research and education.


Laura DeFina, MDKayla Heath

  • Chief Financial Officer 

Kayla Heath has been with The Cooper Institute since 2019. She brings over 10 years of finance experience to her role as Chief Financial Officer. Heath is responsible for all accounting and financial operations at The Cooper Institute. In addition, she manages our IT team and thereby supports the critical research mission of The Cooper Institute.

Prior to joining The Cooper Institute, Heath worked at RSM, one of the largest accounting and consulting firms in the world. During her time at RSM, she developed a wide-ranging skill set in complex accounting matters including mergers and acquisitions, impairment, and business transformation. Heath has worked with various industry sectors including non-profits, consumer products, and professional services.

Heath earned her Bachelor of Science in Accounting and Information Management from University of Texas at Dallas and is a Certified Public Accountant. She is actively involved in numerous volunteer activities, including Genesis Women’s Shelter and North Texas Food Bank. She is a member of Alpha Gamma Delta and the Leadership North Texas Class 13.


Beth Wright, PhDcBeth B. Wright, PhD

  • Senior Director of the Cooper Center Longitudinal Study & Administration

Beth Wright is the Senior Epidemiologist for The Cooper Institute. She leads a talented team of database specialists in support of the Institute’s data management needs.

Beth began her professional career with the Institute as an intern and moved to full-time staff member shortly thereafter. The Institute provides her the unique opportunity to combine her undergraduate (BSPH in Biostatistics from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) and graduate degrees (MS in Wellness and Fitness from Middle Tennessee State University; PhD in Epidemiology from the University of Texas at Houston Health Science Center) to explore the relationships between health behaviors and outcomes. Her responsibilities at the Institute have included co-authorship on numerous scientific publications, project management, data management and analysis, as well as morbidity and mortality surveillance for the Cooper Center Longitudinal Study. She maintains membership in the American College of Sports Medicine and the Society for Epidemiologic Research.