Who We Are

The Columbia Lighthouse Project/Columbia-Suicide Severity Rating Scale

Who We Are

Kelly Posner Gerstenhaber, PhD

Dr. Kelly Posner Gerstenhaber is the project’s founder and principal investigator. She was commissioned by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to develop improved methods of suicide risk assessment, and she continues to work on suicide assessment and surveillance with the FDA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institute of Mental Health, the U.S. Department of Education, military health care agencies, and other agencies. She has a doctorate in clinical psychology from Yeshiva University and a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Brown University.

Kseniya Yershova, PhD

Deputy Scientific Director

Dr. Kseniya Yershova is in charge of research-related and program-evaluation consultation across public health settings, academia, and clinical trials; review of linguistic validation when the scale is translated into country-specific languages; and scientific writing and peer review. Her research and clinical interests include psychometrics, assessment, pediatric ADHD, psycholinguistics, and psychodynamic- and attachment-informed therapies. She also lectures on developmental psychopathology and supervises psychiatry and psychology trainees in clinical evaluation and treatment planning at Columbia University Medical School. She has a doctorate in clinical psychology from the University of California, Berkeley.

Adam Lesser, LCSW

Deputy Director

Adam Lesser is responsible for all project activities related to public health, including the international dissemination of the C-SSRS. Previously, he was the youth suicide project director at the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, where he directed the statewide implementation of the C-SSRS and other suicide prevention tools and efforts. He is a national trainer for Sources of Strength, a suicide prevention program that trains adolescents to use their influence to change their peer culture in positive ways. He has a master’s degree in social work from Smith College and a bachelor’s degree in economics from Tufts University.

Natalya Paykina

Senior Administrative Director

Natalya Paykina directs the project’s contracting, client communications, billing, and tracking of incoming requests. She has more than 20 years of administrative experience in the health care sector, including the coordination of more than two dozen pharmaceutical-industry-sponsored trials on the safety and efficacy of medication for children and adults with various psychiatric disorders. She has a master’s degree in developmental psychology from Teachers College, Columbia University, and a bachelor’s degree in psychology and economics from Hunter College, City University of New York.

Kathryn Pliml

Special Assistant to the Director

Kathryn Pliml is responsible for the coordination of the project team and management of project operations. She is the liaison between the director and a variety of constituencies, managing communication to and from the director’s office. Her career has focused on social justice issues in the United States and internationally, including for families involved in the foster care system domestically and children with educational needs in Central America. More recently, she worked to support the rights of New York City’s incarcerated and formerly incarcerated populations and their families. She received a master’s degree in social work, with a concentration in policy, from the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College, City University of New York, and graduated from Berea College with a bachelor’s degree in child and family studies.

Matthew Ryba

Project Administrator

Matthew Ryba assists in administrative duties for the project, with a focus on the dissemination of the C-SSRS in the government and the military community. He came to the project with a research background in traumatic stress studies within the veteran and military communities. He has bachelor’s degrees in psychology and philosophy from Fordham University, and he is a decorated combat veteran with more than ten years of service in the US Marine Corps.