The Cooper Institute

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


Research Staff

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.

Beth Wright, PhDcKerem Shuval, PhD, MPH

Executive Director of Epidemiology


Dr. Kerem Shuval joined the Cooper Institute as Executive Director of Epidemiology after being on the faculty of two schools of public health (University of Haifa and University of Texas). He holds an adjunct Associate Professor appointment at the University of Texas Health School of Public. Kerem completed post-doctoral work at the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center and was also Director of Physical Activity & Nutrition Research at American Cancer Society’s Economic & Health Policy Research Program, Department of Intramural Research. He conducts research at the intersection of Behavioral Epidemiology and Behavioral Economics with a thematic focus on physical activity, diet, and smoking, as they relate to chronic disease prevention.

Indeed, this research often takes an interdisciplinary approach, drawing from the fields of public health, behavioral economics, and health psychology, with the goal of better understanding (and influencing) decision making to improve health and welfare. Kerem’s training is diverse and includes behavioral epidemiology, health service research, health economics, and more recently consumer psychology, and behavioral economics. To date, he has published over 80 peer-reviewed publications including in leading journals, such as Nature, CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, American Journal of Public Health, American Journal of Preventive Medicine, as well as economic journals (e.g., Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization). This research has been both quantitative (e.g., RCTs, cohort studies) and qualitative (e.g., semi-structured interviews), and has been conducted in a variety of settings including urban communities, schools, and primary care clinics. Moreover, he utilizes large existing datasets as well as randomized controlled trials to address important research questions aimed at improving population health.

Beth Wright, PhDcDavid Leonard, PhD

Director of Biostatistics

As Director of Biostatistics, David Leonard oversees and conducts the statistical analyses and modeling required to further the research of The Cooper Institute. He received a PhD in Physics from The University of Texas at Austin in 1993. He was awarded a post-doctoral fellowship in the Center for Statistical Mechanics and Complex Systems at UT Austin, where he was also a lecturer in the Physics Department. He has industry experience in finance and marketing statistics. In 2004 he joined the Clinical Sciences faculty of The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. There he worked on the Dallas Heart Study, a probability-sample of the residential population of Dallas County, Texas, the Barbershop Study, a group-randomized clinical trial of hypertension detection and control in Dallas County, and, through the Center for Human Nutrition, the Cooper Center Longitudinal Study. At The Cooper Institute, he applies his scientific and statistical knowledge to discover the connections between how we behave and how well we live.

Benjamin L. Willis MD, MPHStephen W. Farrell, PhD, FACSM

Senior Investigator

Dr. Farrell received his Ph.D. from Texas Woman’s University in 1996 with a major emphasis in Exercise Physiology and a secondary emphasis in Nutrition. His M.S. (Exercise Physiology) and B.S. (Physical Education) degrees were earned at the University of South Carolina and Springfield College, respectively.

He has been with The Cooper Institute since 1982, and spent his early years at the Institute delivering comprehensive employee wellness programs for school districts and insurance companies. Dr. Farrell then spent many years the Adult Education Division, developing and teaching a wide variety of health and fitness workshops held worldwide. He has been a lead author or co-author on many peer-reviewed research publications, and is a Fellow of The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM).

His primary research focus is the relationship between cardiorespiratory fitness, adiposity, and various adverse health outcomes. He has presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine on numerous occasions. Dr. Farrell holds the position of chair of The Cooper Institute’s Review Board (IRB), which reviews and approves all proposed research studies. He has also served as a consultant for the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).

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.

Beth Wright, PhDcAndjelka Pavlovic, PhD, CI-CPT, NASM-CPT

Director of Youth Research and Education

Dr. Andjelka Pavlovic earner her Bachelor of Science (Kinesiology) and Master of Science (Exercise Science) from The University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. In 2015, she graduated from Texas Woman’s University with a Ph.D. in Exercise Physiology with a minor in Statistics. Throughout her doctoral degree, Dr. Pavlovic’s primary research interest focused on the beneficial effects of physical activity/strength training on bone health, specifically osteoporosis. Aside from her collegiate career, Dr. Pavlovic has also been a certified personal trainer for the past 15 years, and continues to practice as a fitness professional.  The combination of research and personal training has allowed her to have a solid foundation of science and practical application within the field of exercise science.

In 2015, Dr. Pavlovic began her career with The Cooper Institute as an Associate Investigator for the Research and Youth Divisions. Her primary responsibility is to author Cooper Center Longitudinal Study manuscripts for publication in refereed scientific journals. Currently, her research focus is on the role of muscular strength/endurance, alone or in combination with cardiorespiratory fitness, on chronic diseases and health outcomes.  Additionally, Dr. Pavlovic is the primary researcher in the Youth Division, and is responsible for various components of evaluation for the following: FitnessGram®, NFL Play 60 FitnessGram Project, and Healthy Zone School Recognition Program.