FIU Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work - School of Social Work Annual Report 2021

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TA B L E O F C O N T E N T S Message from the Director...........................................................................................................................1 About Stempel College and the School of Social Work......................................................................2-3 Community Engagement...........................................................................................................................4-5 Student Spotlight.......................................................................................................................................6-7 Meet our Faculty........................................................................................................................................8-9 Research.......................................................................................................................................................10 Publications.................................................................................................................................................11 FIU’s School of Social Work Alumni........................................................................................................12

MESSAGE FROM THE DIRECTOR With great pleasure, I share with you our latest report Making a Positive Impact on Communities, from Florida International University’s (FIU) School of Social Work. Within these pages, you will find stories highlighting the impactful work our faculty and students are doing to reach underserved and marginalized communities near and far. While COVID-19 has changed our lives in ways we never thought possible; I am honored to share that our faculty, staff, and students have not only met the challenges presented to us—they surpassed expectations in doing so. Meeting the needs of communities during COVID-19 While COVID-19 highlighted the issues of health disparities across our country, our faculty maintained its focus and energies on researching the crucial issues of health disparities impacting marginalized and underserved communities. As an example, the National Institute on Minority Health Disparities (NIMHD) awarded Dr. Eric Wagner, professor at FIU’s School of Social Work, $13.1 million to continue to build on health disparities research. This grant has jumpstarted many research projects led by social work faculty. I am also incredibly proud of our students and faculty and how they’ve supported each other and the South Florida community during this pandemic. To continue their education and meet the needs of their clients, our faculty and students quickly shifted from in-person classes to virtual classrooms, and field placements were adjusted to provide educational experiences through telehealth and other virtual platforms. The work of our students does not go unnoticed. For the 15th consecutive year, our students in Phi Alpha Honor Society were once again recognized with the National Service Award from Phi Alpha National Honor Society for their community work that included collection drives and online workshops. Diversity & Inclusion At FIU’s School of Social Work, we commit ourselves to build an academic community that embraces diverse cultures, backgrounds and lived experiences that reflect our diverse student population and the people we serve. We utilize anti-racist, anti-oppressive practices in our teaching and engagement with students, faculty, staff, and community. This past year we redoubled our efforts to increase the diversity of our faculty to further meet the needs of our highly diverse student population. We are pleased to have recruited and hired three assistant professors who bring diversity, talent, dedication and commitment to our School of Social Work. Our Impact While we have only just begun to meet the multitude of challenges we face daily, there is no doubt that we are poised and ready to meet them. Every day, we see the impact our graduates have on our communities and the changes resulting from their research and community projects. Alumni from our three programs (BSSW, MSW, Ph.D.) continue to uncover new ways to meet the needs of people through their employment in non-profit, for-profit, and government agencies and universities across the country. We are proud of the many accomplishments of our graduates and their continued commitment to making a difference in the lives of others. We are grateful for your ongoing support and commitment to educating our future social workers and leaders. From our School of Social Work to yours, we wish you a healthy and prosperous year ahead. Warmest wishes, Mary Helen Hayden


ABOUT STEMPEL COLLEGE Florida International University (FIU) is a Top 50 public university based in Miami, Florida that works to improve the health of our community’s most underserved populations. At its Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work (Stempel College), students learn from renowned faculty who are on the frontlines of social change, community engagement and research. By exploring the interconnectivity of the social, biological, environmental and cultural elements of health, Stempel College students, faculty, staff and alumni have become a force for positive change.



of bachelor’s or master’s

of Ph.D. graduates were

graduates were employed or

employed within one

continuing their education

year of graduation

within one year of graduation






3% Two or more races




3% Asian

8% International 12%








Among public universities U.S. News & World Report







Among public universities U.S. News & World Report


Academic Disciplines • Public Health Biostatistics Environmental Health Sciences Epidemiology Health Policy and Management Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Generalist • Dietetics and Nutrition • Social Work • International Disaster Preparedness

Affiliated Research Centers • Center for Research on U.S. Latino HIV/ AIDS and Drug Abuse (FIU-CRUSADA) • Center for Latino Health Research Opportunities (CLaRO) • Center for Statistical Consulting and Collaboration (FIU-STATCONSULT) • Community-Based Research Institute (CBRI) • Global Health Consortium (GHC) • Health Disparities Research Center at a Minority Institution (RCMI)

SCHOOL OF SOCIAL WORK Our School of Social Work offers programs of study (BSSW, MSW, MSW/MPH, MSW/JD, Ph.D.) that prepare graduates to work in governmental, academic, non-profit, and for-profit settings in community, regional, state and national systems. Through classroom and field experience, students gain knowledge and skills vital to the practice and research of social work. Our students are placed in internships across hundreds of community agencies throughout South Florida, resulting in over 100,000 internship hours contributed each year. As a result, our graduates significantly impact the South Florida community and contribute substantially to the field of social work through direct practice, administration, advocacy, and research.



Researchers at FIU’s School of Social Work work around the clock to find solutions to challenges impacting communities near and far. From addressing health disparities across South Florida to educating the community to reduce COVID-19 vaccine myths, FIU’s School of Social Work is on the frontlines, reaching people where they are with critical information and compassion.

$13.1 million grant awarded to help end health disparities in South Florida The National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD) awarded FIU-CommunityBased Research Institute (CBRI), led by Dr. Eric Wagner, professor at FIU’s School of Social Work, a $13.1 million grant to build a world-class research center focused on ending health disparities associated with substance use problems and HIV in South Florida. The grant, entitled “FIU Center for Reducing Health Disparities in Substance Abuse & HIV in South Florida,” is the single largest grant ever won by FIU and is part of NIMHD’s Research Centers in Minority Institutions (RCMI) Program. The center works to recognize and boost health disparities research in the South Florida community. Three FIU School of Social Work faculty have been FIU-RCMI funded scholars: Dr. Shanna Burke (2019-2020), Dr. Nicole Fava (2020-2021), and Dr. Hui Huang (2018-2019).

Debunking myths around the COVID-19 vaccine with underserved communities Under the FIU-RCMI, Dr. Eric Wagner serves as Principal Investigator for the FIU-RCMI Townhall Supplement, which conducts town halls to provide COVID-19 education and information, answer questions, and debunk myths about the COVID-19 vaccine. The townhalls are one hour each and are in partnership with various community organizations, whose representatives serve on the townhall panel alongside FIU medical and public health experts. The townhalls are held virtually in English, Spanish, and Creole to reach people across various communities.


Training social workers of tomorrow to serve communities impacted by substance use disorders The Learning Collaborative took place from 2020-2021 and was led by Jennifer Abeloff,

treatment, and policy related to substance use disorders throughout

In October of 2019, FIU’s School of Social Work was 1 of 10 schools selected for the Social Workers on the Front Lines of the Opioid Epidemic Learning Collaborative, funded by the New York Community Trust and in partnership with the Council on Social Work Education and the National

the BSSW and MSW curriculum. It also recruited three field placement

Council for Mental Wellbeing.

associate director and clinical assistant professor at FIU’s School of Social Work, with guidance from the faculty champion and professor, Dr. Eric Wagner. The Learning Collaborative helped increase substance use skills and knowledge in the social work workforce through the training of students. As part of this effort, FIU’s School of Social Work revised addictions electives and integrated information on prevention, assessment,

agencies to serve as internship sites for the eight selected BSSW and MSW interns. Students participated in discussions and webinars with the National Council, monthly meetings with professors, and attended case simulation conferences. Each student was also enrolled in one of the newly revised addictions courses and placed at one of the agencies.

AIDS exhibit showcases 40 years of artifacts and stories to highlight history and honor lives lost For over 20 years, Dr. Shedrick Boren, clinical assistant professor at FIU’s School of Social Work, has dedicated his life to helping people living with HIV. To tell this story, Dr. Boren collaborated with a Miami museum to commemorate the clients he worked with and honor their legacies while recognizing society’s growth and development. Dr. Boren was the guest curator of A Matter of Time: Examining Forty Years of AIDS at the Coral Gables Museum from April-July 2021. This exhibit gathered historical information on the emergence and development of AIDS, forty years after the first reported case in Miami, one of the world’s epicenters of the pandemic. Taking over four galleries of the museum, a myriad of objects, documents, ephemera, and major artworks in different disciplines helped trace Miami and Miami-related stories of those who succumbed to the disease and those who survived.



At FIU’s School of Social Work, our goal is to prepare students with the knowledge and skills needed to graduate and build successful careers in the field of social work. When the pandemic hit, our students rolled up their sleeves to help community partners in a time of dire need. Through virtual meetings, students worked to ensure people received the support needed to navigate the challenges brought on by the pandemic. This dedication and commitment make us proud of our students and excited for the bright futures that lie ahead of them.

Social Work student awarded $20,000 Dissertation Fellowship to support work with undocumented immigrants Maryam Rafieifar, a doctoral student at FIU’s School of Social Work, began her work with undocumented immigrants as a project manager for the International Committee of the Red Cross in her home country of Iran.

I got the idea that I really wanted to work with undocumented immigrants because they’re already underserved in many parts of the world. For refugees and immigrants, there are lots of different organizations with mandates to assist them, but no one recognizes the undocumented as people with rights.” – Maryam Rafieifar

When Maryam began her Ph.D., she found many similarities between undocumented children living in the United States and Iran, including the lack of access to social welfare and medical programs. Maryam wanted to understand better how being undocumented or the child of an undocumented parent or parents affects children’s mental health and what resources they could use or need. So, as part of a class project, Maryam began working with the Nora Sandigo Children Foundation, a Miami-based non-profit that aims to help undocumented parents and their children. She was awarded a Global Civic Engagement Mini-Grant, based out of the FIU Center for Leadership and Service, to help host an event – in conjunction with the foundation— that informed mixed-status families about their rights when stopped by the police or ICE. Today, Maryam is working on her dissertation that explores guardianship as it relates to undocumented families. She won a $20,000 Dissertation Fellowship from the American Association of University Women (AAUW). The AAUW fellowship program will help offset Maryam’s research expenses and stipends while she completes her dissertation. She aims to graduate in spring 2022 and hopes to run a non-profit to support undocumented families one day.


Students answer the call during COVID-19 to serve others Beginning in March 2020, FIU’s School of Social Work, like similar programs across the nation and world, faced the challenge of classes moving to online and how to handle field practicum. With 128 students in internships in spring 2021, the Office of Field Education quickly worked with students and agencies to develop telehealth and training opportunities. The Field Coordinators reached out to community partners and explored any social work needs interns could assist via telehealth. Student interns assisted with crisis resource lines for a community empowerment agency and checked in on clients via telephone for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Miami. FIU’s School of Social Work enabled those students to continue to learn and grow as

Spring 2020 – Fall 2021 • 676 BSSW, generalist MSW, and advanced clinical MSW interns placed with agencies to provide inperson, telehealth, and hybrid opportunities. • Students contributed 12,488 hours of service.

well as help the community in its time of need.

Honoring students for their contributions to social work In spring 2021, we honored students who showed outstanding commitment and skill during their internships. Our Bachelor of Science in Social Work Student Intern of the Year went to Jamie Casimir, who interned at the Miami-Dade County CAHSD Wynwood Neighborhood Center. She provided a variety of social services to economically disadvantaged individuals and families under the supervision of Ulysses Arteaga, LCSW. Mr. Arteaga shared that Jamie “showed initiative in wanting to partake in all the job aspects from emergency evictions to utility assistance, homeless customers, and even VITA tax services.” Our Master of Social Work—Generalist Level Student Intern of the Year was Daniela Pejcic. She interned at Douglas Gardens Community Mental Health Center under the supervision of Derek S. Moore, LCSW. Daniela provided case management services to low-income residents of the Greater Miami Beach area. Mr. Moore described Daniela as “a person of great integrity” who “has a positive personality that brings energy and inspiration to those she comes in contact with. Her thirst to learn and grow as a clinician make her a great candidate for this profession.” Our Master of Social Work—Advanced Clinical Student Intern of the Year went to Paige Carter. Paige interned at Banyan Health Systems’ Broward Adult Residential program. Under the supervision of Monica Gallino, LCSW, Paige provided individual and group therapy to substance-using clients. Ms. Gallino remarked that “Paige conducts herself in the utmost professional manner with all clients and staff alike. Paige’s passion for social work shines through in her work with her clients.”



At the School of Social Work, we are committed to building an academic community whose members represent and embrace the diverse cultures, backgrounds and life experiences that reflect the multicultural nature of South Florida and our world.

Dr. Shanna Burke was promoted in August 2021 with tenure to associate professor. Her research focuses on cognition and cognitive impairment, including neurodevelopmental disabilities and neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease. She aims to decrease health disparities by utilizing culturally responsive multi-modal assessment procedures, diagnostic methods, and interventions targeting cognitive impairments and chronic disease across the lifespan. She has published (or has in press) 48 peer-reviewed journal articles—22 of which she is the first author— since August 2015. Dr. Burke was awarded the Social Work Educator of the Year 2021 by the Florida Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers and the Social Work Educator of the Year 2021 by the Miami-Dade Unit of the Florida Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers.

Dr. Mario De La Rosa was appointed as an endowed university professor in Health Equity. This recognition is supported by a National Institutes of Health (NIH) $9.5M endowment award that has helped establish a robust health disparities research and training program at FIU. Dr. De La Rosa was also recently selected as a member of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine Roundtable. Dr. De La Rosa is the Director of the Center for Research on US Latino HIV/AIDS and Drug Abuse (CRUSADA) at FIU. He is a pioneering scientist with more than three decades of experience and expertise in substance abuse, HIV/AIDS, and cross-cultural issues affecting Latino populations.

Dr. Hui Huang, associate professor, focuses primarily on developing and evaluating macro-level interventions in child welfare and public health to build evidence-based policy and programs. Dr. Huang is currently co-leading (Co-PI) the external evaluation of the Reducing Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities: Closing the Gap (CTG) grant program awarded by the Florida Department of Health (DOH) Office of Minority Health and Health Equity (OMHHE). The CTG grant program has awarded funds to grantees to stimulate the development of community-based and neighborhood-based projects to improve health outcomes of racial and ethnic populations. The tasks of this evaluation include establishing a broad evaluation infrastructure for the CTG grant program, assessing the success of grantees in achieving the intended goals of the CTG grant program, and expanding the capacity of OMHHE and grantees to evaluate and improve efforts to drive health improvement. She has published 38 peerreviewed journal articles and is the first author on 12 of these articles. She has also published three book chapters.


Amethyst St. Thomas, visiting assistant teaching professor and BSSW field coordinator, joined the faculty in spring 2021 after serving in clinical and administrative positions in behavioral health, child welfare, and criminal justice agencies in Miami and Atlanta. She specializes in transgender care. For several years, Professor St. Thomas has been active in the Miami Chapter of the Association of Black Social Workers (ABSW), previously serving as the Community Action Chair. She was just recently elected president of the chapter.

Long-time faculty, assistant teaching professor David Saltman, was appointed by the Miami-Dade County Commissioner, District 4, to serve as a Community Relations Advisory Board member. He also serves as the elected Secretary of the Board of Directors of the Health Council of South Florida.

Joining our faculty are three Assistant Professors: Sofia Fernandez, Courtney Wilson, and Berenice Castillo. Dr. Sofia Fernandez came to FIU’s School of Social Work after serving as a postdoctoral associate on FIU-RCMI’s Investigator Development Core, a program designed to provide early state investigators with pilot grant and training opportunities to pursue research careers in the health sciences. Dr. Fernandez earned her doctorate in Social Welfare from FIU’s School of Social Work in 2017. Her research focuses on utilizing community-based approaches to addressing health disparities among hardto-reach populations, primarily HIV. She has a strong background in understanding the various contextual factors of health and well-being, including cultural, social, economic, and community influences on health. Her research aims to incorporate these aspects into the design of interventions and programs. Dr. Courtney Wilson received his doctorate from the University of Florida’s Public Affairs Program—Social Work track. Dr. Wilson began his career working in the mental health field in New York City, supporting patients with comorbid mental health disabilities. After completing his master’s in social work at Touro College in New York City, he focused on education and academic outcomes for minoritized youth. Over the years, Dr. Wilson has developed a particular interest in working with atrisk populations, communities, educational institutions, and city council members to increase interconnectedness, civic engagement, and opportunities available to marginalized groups. His research focuses on incorporating geographic information systems in understanding social and economic barriers to academic success for marginalized groups. Berenice Castillo will be joining FIU’s School of Social Work in spring 2022, after earning her joint doctorate in Social Work & Development Psychology from the University of Michigan School of Social Work. Her research has focused on substance use behavior over time in adolescents. Her dissertation examines Hispanic adolescent health disparities and mechanisms to improve the health and well-being of Hispanic adolescents who engage in substance use or demonstrate externalizing behaviors.



M A K I N G A N I M PAC T FIU’s School of Social Work spent the past two years further identifying ways to better serve communities. In F.Y. 2020-21, our school brought in over $6.1 million in award actions, which has helped make this work possible. Grants Dr. Shanna Burke, associate professor at FIU’s School of Social Work, was recently awarded a $900,000 grant from the Florida Center for Students with Unique Abilities (University of Central Florida) to enhance and evaluate a postsecondary program for students at FIU with intellectual disabilities. Dr. Burke is the Principal Investigator for Enhancing work-based learning, interdependent living skills, and universal design in postsecondary education for students with intellectual disabilities. Dr. Shanna Burke

Drs. Shanna Burke and Eric Wagner, professor at FIU’s School of Social Work, received a $350,653,74 grant from the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD) for a study entitled Sleep cognition among Latinx midlife adults at-risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Burke and Dr. Wagner serve as the Principal Investigators. Dr. Nicole Fava, assistant professor at FIU’s School of Social Work and director of the Childhood Adversity and Resilience Dr. Eric Wagner

(CARES) lab, which studies the impact of trauma and childhood adversity on healthy development with a particular focus on adolescent sexual health from a trauma-informed, resiliencefocused framework, was recently awarded a $425,145 grant from The Children’s Trust for the project entitled Traumainformed screening & treatment in community-university clinic: Parents & youth. Dr. Fava serves as the Principal Investigator, providing trauma services to youth 3-17 years of age who have experienced trauma, along with their families, through various

Dr. Nicole Fava


agencies in Miami-Dade County.


Student and alumna team up to examine the role social support plays in breast cancer screening Earlier this year, Dr. Shanna Burke co-authored “Examining the family support role of older Hispanics, African Americans, and Non-Hispanic Whites and their breast cancer screening behaviors” in the Journal of Social Work in Public Health. A current doctoral student, Adrienne Grudzien, as well as alumna Dr. Mitra Naseh, were among the co-authors of this publication. This study examined the critical role that social support may play in participation in breast screening among older, female adults, particularly those populations with higher mortality rates. Findings from the study indicate that, among older Hispanic and non-Hispanic White women, certain aspects of social support impact breast cancer screening participation. However, older Black women’s cancer screening participation did not appear to be influenced by these aspects of social support. This study’s findings can assist in developing social work and public health interventions that address improving positive social support to increase breast cancer screening among older adults.

Professor’s work on refugee resettlement helps inform Biden administration

Researcher co-authors study on the impact of COVID-19 on African American communities

Dr. Miriam Potocky, professor at FIU’s School of Social Work, work on U.S. refugee resettlement was recently cited in a report by the National Conference on Citizenship and the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement, A Roadmap to Rebuilding the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, to inform the Biden administration’s decisions.

Dr. Eric Wagner co-authored “The impact of COVID-19 on African American communities in the United States” in Health Equity. The study examined the impact of the density of African American communities on COVID-19 prevalence and death rate in three of the most populous counties in each state and territory in the United States. The findings indicate that communities with a high African American population density have been disproportionately burdened with COVID-19. Therefore, interventions and programs are needed to address and understand the social determinants of this health disparity. 11


Researcher explores underlying causes of health disparities among underserved populations Dr. Michelle Thompson graduated with her Ph.D. in Social Welfare from FIU in 2019. After her graduation, Dr. Thompson started a 3-year Office of the Vice Provost for Research Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy & Practice where she explores social determinants of health in the community and social context as underlying causes of health disparities among underserved groups. This work expands on her dissertation research, which examined the impact of microaggressions on the health and well-being of emerging adult sexual minorities, with a specific focus on emerging adult sexual minorities of color. During her graduate research assistantship, Dr. Thompson was the project coordinator for the Project SACRED Connections study at the Community-Based Research Institute at FIU; the study was a 5-year R01 research grant funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA; 5R01DA029779-05) devoted to reducing substance use problems among Native American teens in rural communities in the Midwestern United States.

Alumna continues impactful work at the United States Department of Health and Human Services Since 2019, Lieutenant Adelaida M. Rosario, Ph.D., has been a scientist in the Office of the Surgeon General, the United States Department of Health and Human Services. Before her work in the Office of the Surgeon General, Lt. Rosario worked as a health specialist at the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD), National Institutes of Health (NIH), where she studied the connections between behaviors and social and cultural determinants and how these factors affect health disparities for different minority communities. She worked with Hispanic and Pacific Islander populations to study how these factors relate to early childhood development, mental health, risk behaviors, HIV/AIDS prevention, and substance abuse. Dr. Rosario has also explored the role of indigenous spiritual systems and how they may complement traditional healthcare systems. Lt. Rosario began her work at NIMHD during the last year of her doctoral program in social welfare at FIU’s School of Social Work. She subsequently earned her Ph.D. in social welfare from FIU in 2014, where she studied the psychosocial effects of an indigenous religion practiced by Latina women with cancer. In 2018, Lt. Rosario was inducted into the Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS).


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