Center for Healthy Aging Team

Leadership Team:

Nicole Ehrhart

Nicole Ehrhart, V.M.D.
Dr. Ehrhart is the Director of Colorado State University’s Columbine Health Systems Center for Healthy Aging and a Full Professor in Clinical Sciences at the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at Colorado State University. She holds the Ross M Wilkins MD Limb Preservation Foundation University Chair in Musculoskeletal Biology and Oncology. She is the Director of the Laboratory of Comparative Musculoskeletal Oncology and Traumatology and has been involved in limb preservation research, regenerative medicine, tissue engineering and cancer research for the last twenty years. She is actively engaged in translational aging research to improve health and lifespan for aging patients-both human and canine- and she focuses on comparative medicine as a powerful tool to bring new therapeutic strategies to slow aging. She holds joint faculty positions in Colorado State University’s School of Biomedical Engineering, Cell and Molecular Biology program, and the University of Colorado Gates Regenerative Medicine Center and University of Colorado Cancer Center. In addition to her leadership roles in many prestigious national and international scientific organizations (ACVS, VSSO, VOS, WVOC), Dr Ehrhart was also the first woman to be granted a University-level Endowed University Chair at Colorado State University.

Deana Davalos, Ph.D.
Associate Director
Deana Davalos, PhD is a licensed psychologist, Director of the Aging Clinic of the Rockies (ACoR), Associate Director of the Columbine Health Systems Center for Healthy Aging and a Professor in the Cognitive Neuroscience program in the Department of Psychology at CSU. She has published on issues surrounding cognitive aging and the neurophysiology of aging and is part of a multi-disciplinary research team focused on developing community-based interventions for individuals with dementia-related diseases and their caregivers.

Karyn Hamilton, R.D., Ph.D.
Associate Director
Karyn L. Hamilton, RD, PhD is a Professor and the Director of the Translational Research on Aging and Chronic Disease (TRACD) laboratory in the Department of Health and Exercise Science at Colorado State University in Fort Collins Colorado. She also has the privilege of serving as an Associate Director of the Columbine Health Systems Center for Healthy Aging at CSU. Karyn earned her PhD at the University of Florida and completed post-doctoral fellowships at Baylor College of Medicine and the University of Florida. The overall objective of the TRACD laboratory is to understand the role of adaptation to stresses and maintenance of a functional mitochondrial proteome in the context of extending healthspan and maintaining function with aging. To accomplish this objective, she uses models of long life and increased healthspan including exercise, nutritional, pharmacological, and genetic models. In the TRACD lab, they enjoy using a highly collaborative approach and employ in vitro systems, in vivo animal models, and human participants to help identify mechanisms of healthspan extension and to translate their findings.


Annette Foster headshot

Annette Foster, C.P.A.
Operations and Grant Manager
Annette joined the Columbine Health Systems Center for Healthy Aging in late January 2020 as the Director of Operations and Grants Management. She plays a vital role in helping to facilitate grant submissions, post award support, overall operations of the Center’s facilities and is a providing invaluable leadership and vision during our growth phase. Annette is a graduate of Colorado State University’s College of Business, a CPA, a former financial auditor and sole proprietor, and prior to joining the Columbine Health Systems Center for Healthy Aging team, she served as a research project manager for CSU’s Atmospheric Science department. She brings her extensive experience from all these various roles to contribute to the success of the Center, and hopes to gain some valuable tips for her own healthy aging as well! Annette was raised in Iowa and moved to Colorado with her husband in 1988. She has a daughter who graduated from CSU and a son who graduated from CU Boulder last spring (yes, there is a bit of rivalry during the Showdown) and her husband earned his master’s degree at CSU. She loves to hike, ski, snowshoe, camp, backpack, and cycle so Colorado is the perfect home and clearly, CSU is a big part of her life.

Ali Murphy
Administrative Assistant
Allison Murphy, or Ali as she likes to be called, is excited to have joined the team at the CHS Center for Healthy Aging in 2019 as the administrative assistant. She recently moved to Fort Collins from Northern Virginia, where she worked for a law firm specializing in Special Needs Trusts, Estates, and Adult Guardianship. Outside of work, she loves hiking, biking, trying her hand at artistic endeavors, cooking, and playing games with friends. Ali is excited to facilitate faculty in all aspects of Center engagement and to be the friendly face you see at the reception desk when walking into the Center between 8 am and 5 pm. Please contact Ali for help with directing clinical trials participants, room reservations, website update requests, office needs, mailing, Center AV issues, scheduling and events planning.

Hannah Halusker

Hannah Halusker
Communications Lead
As the Communications and Outreach Coordinator, Hannah develops multi-media communications and plans outreach events to help amplify the research and programming offered by the Center for Healthy Aging. She comes to the Center from South Carolina, where she received her B.S. in Genetics (2017) and M.A. in Communication, Technology and Society (2020) from Clemson University. At Clemson, Hannah served as a science writer in the College of Science and then as the director for a science and arts festival in nearby Greenville, S.C. She is thrilled to bring her passions for science communication and engagement to her role here at the Center. When she isn’t working, you can find Hannah running, biking, reading, doing yoga, or hiking one of the many trails near her new home in Fort Collins.

Nathan Larson

Nathan Larson
Nathan joined the Columbine Health Systems Center for Healthy Aging in mid-October 2023 to work as the Center’s bioarchivist. In this role, Nathan manages a large collection of SARS-CoV-2 samples, sorting and organizing them to create a sharable research sample set that can be utilized by the extensive research efforts at CSU. Before starting this role, Nathan obtained his B.S. in Biological Science from Colorado State University with a concentration in Pre-Health Studies. During undergrad he worked at CSU’s Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory as a Necropsy Hourly, working with pathologists in their diagnosis and study of diseases. Nathan is excited to use the skills he learned from schooling and work to aid him in his bioarchivist duties. Outside of work, Nathan enjoys many hobbies including (but certainly not limited to): skiing, hiking, mountain biking, singing, playing clarinet and upright bass, and spending time with his wife and pet cat.


Laura Thornes
Associate Director of Development, Research and International Programs
Laura Thornes comes to the Center for Healthy Aging as part of the Vice President for Research Advancement team. Her focus is on raising funds for the Center through philanthropic giving. She is passionate about furthering important research and learning that benefits individuals and communities and has a global impact. Laura comes to this role after decades of work in international education and 10 years as CSU’s Director of Education Abroad. She received her bachelor’s in Secondary Education with German and Spanish from the University of Arizona and master’s in Educational Psychology from Northern Arizona University.

Rachel Washburn
CHA Student Ambassador
Rachel Washburn is president of the CSU Gerontology Club and serves as a student ambassador at the Center for Healthy Aging. In these roles, Washburn coordinates opportunities for students to learn more about aging and working with older adults. She also collaborates with the Fort Collins Senior Center to teach a technology class designed for older adults. Washburn is majoring in health and exercise science with a minor in gerontology. After graduating, she plans on pursuing a degree in occupational therapy.

Brooke Zarecki
CHA Student Ambassador
Brooke Zarecki is a senior at Colorado State University, majoring in biomedical sciences with a minor in Spanish. Her future goals are to become a physician’s assistant. As a Center for Healthy Aging Student Ambassador, Zarecki works to engage students at CSU with the aging community. With an interest in healthcare, she is determined to provide resources for older adults and opportunities for her peers. She is also the vice president of the Gerontology Club, where she sets up meetings and volunteer events and identifies opportunities for intergenerational connections between older adults and the CSU community.

Center Faculty

Tom LaRocca, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Health and Exercise Science
Tom LaRocca is an assistant professor and director of the Healthspan Biology Lab in CSU’s Department of Health and Exercise Science. His laboratory studies the molecular biology and physiology of aging, and he is particularly interested in translational research (using laboratory science to develop practical applications or treatments that can help people). Current projects are focused on finding biology-based ways to increase healthspan, the period of life during which we are healthy and productive. Tom is also a former high school chemistry teacher and college instructor, so he enjoys bringing his interests into the classroom.

Niccole Nelson, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Psychology
Niccole Nelson is an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at Colorado State University. A lifespan developmental psychologist by training, she aims to identify biological, psychological, and social resources that help individuals thrive through older adulthood. She is particularly interested in the ways in which modifiable, short-term experiences like stress and emotion regulation relate to longer-term, developmental trajectories of cognitive ability, psychological well-being, and physical functioning.