The Columbia Lighthouse Project Staff

With extensive experience and a fervent commitment to suicide prevention, our staff provides the support you need to administer the Columbia Protocol to identify suicide risk and determine the level of assistance each person needs.

Kelly Posner Gerstenhaber, Ph.D.


Dr. Kelly Posner Gerstenhaber is a Professor of Psychiatry at Columbia University and her work is saving lives all over the globe. The former President of the American Psychiatric Association noted her work with the Columbia Protocol could be “like the introduction of antibiotics.” The U.S. Department of Defense said her work is “nothing short of a miracle” and that “her effective model of improving the world will help propel us closer to a world without suicide,” and The White House recently highlighted the Columbia Protocol app as helping to achieve the President’s mental health and suicide prevention initiatives. The CDC noted that her work is “changing the paradigm in suicide risk assessment in the U.S. and worldwide.”

Dr. Posner’s work has been noted in a keynote speech at the White House and in Congressional hearings, and she gave the lead presentation in a U.S. Senate forum on school safety after Parkland. Jim Shelton, former Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education under President Obama, says her work “has the potential to keep the 64 million children in our schools safe physically and mentally by helping prevent school violence.” Stand with Parkland parents said, “We found another big piece of the school shooting puzzle – an antibiotic for suicide. This … could fundamentally change the game for early identification and intervention.” Leadership of Israel’s national suicide prevention program articulated her work’s impact: “It’s not only saving millions of lives but in Israel it is literally changing the way we live our lives.” Through her advocacy she has helped change local, national, and international policy, which in turn has contributed to reductions in suicide across all sectors of society. 

Dr. Posner has been appointed Chair of the Governor’s Veterans’ Suicide Prevention Task Force in New York.

The Columbia Protocol is policy across all 50 states, national agencies, and most countries. The FDA has characterized her work as “setting a standard in the field” and a lead article in The New York Times called it “one of the most profound changes of the past sixteen years to regulations.” Her scholarly work has been included in the compendium of the most important research in the history of the study of suicide and was recognized as one of top 20 most influential scientists from Columbia University across all areas of medicine over the past 10 years. 

Dr. Posner has been awarded with The Secretary of Defense Medal for Exceptional Public Service.

Keita Franklin, Ph.D.


Dr. Franklin is the Co-Director of the Columbia Lighthouse Project. Dr. Franklin has spent her 25 year career driving complex organizational and policy change in the federal sector before recently transitioning to the private sector, to include several initiatives implementing suicide screening protocols across the federal enterprise. She has served as a senior executive in both the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA), where she was the principle advisor on all matters related to suicide prevention. As a national leader in the suicide prevention, Dr. Franklin was responsible for leading a multi-discipline team of experts in the advancement of evidence-based prevention practices for over three million active duty members, 20 million veterans, and their families. Dr. Franklin has represented DoD and the VA during testimony in front of both chambers of Congress and she has advised the Office of the President, the Domestic Policy Council, and the National Security Council. An innovative leader, she spearheaded a national effort to close the gaps between the Department of Defense and the Department of Veteran Affairs by authoring a presidential Executive Order addressing critical periods of risk for servicemen, women and veterans. A recognized expert, Dr. Franklin serves on multiple national-level committees such as the National Academies of Sciences, the Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, the Fort Hood Task Force, and the American Association of Suicidology.

Since transitioning to the private sector, Dr. Franklin has been instrumental in the advancement of mental health literacy across the nation and she has championed training on evidence-based practices with the goal of obtaining more efficacious mental health care outcomes for at-risk population groups. She also serves as the Chief Clinical Officer at Loyal Source and consults with many industries on key wellness areas to include suicide prevention, mental health, and substance abuse. Dr. Franklin has a PhD in social work from Virginia Commonwealth University and an advanced certificate from the Center for Advancement of Research Methods and Analysis (CARMA). Dr. Franklin holds certificates from Harvard Kennedy School Executive Education on “Leading Large Organizational Change” and “Women in Leadership” as well as the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill Kenan-Flagler Business School course on “Executive Leadership.”

Kseniya Yershova, Ph.D.

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 protocol 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 for Implementation

Adam Lesser is a licensed clinical social worker, Assistant Professor of Clinical Psychiatric Social Work in the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, and a Deputy Director for the Columbia Lighthouse Project at the New York State Psychiatric Institute where he assists with all suicide prevention activities related to public health including the international dissemination and implementation of the Columbia Protocol and has trained over 100,000 individuals on the Columbia tools. Previously, he was the youth suicide prevention project director at the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, where he directed the statewide implementation of the Columbia Protocol and other suicide prevention tools and efforts through their Garrett Lee Smith Suicide Prevention Grant from SAMHSA. He has published, presented internationally and consulted to state and local governments on best practices for suicide risk identification and prevention. His work has been featured in Social Work Today Magazine and on Atlanta National Public Radio, CNN-espanol, Univision and other local print and television media outlets. He has a master’s degree in social work from Smith College and a bachelor’s degree in economics from Tufts University.

Natalya Paykina, M.A.

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 healthcare 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 was the Columbia site coordinator for the largest NIMH-funded treatment study of ADHD, Multimodal Treatment of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (MTA), and the chief coordinator for the first NIMH-funded pharmacological treatment study of preschoolers with ADHD, Preschool ADHD Treatment Study (PATS). 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.

Samantha Ragsdale


Samantha Ragsdale is responsible for the organization and management of the work necessary for the smooth running of Project operations. She is the liaison between the director and a variety of constituencies, and coordinates the completion of tasks in line with the director’s goals and vision.