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Forthcoming Graduates 2020 - 2021 PHD PROGRAM

Fall 2020 Dear Colleagues, We are delighted to introduce you to our upcoming graduates of the PhD programs at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis. We have an exceptionally promising group of graduates who are excited to bring their scholarship, teaching and leadership experiences to your institution or organization. As you review their research interests, biographies and curriculum vitae, you will find that our graduates have an impressive roster of publications and presentations at national conferences such as the Society for Social Work and Research and the American Public Health Association. Many have received external grants or competitive fellowships to support their research as well. Please contact our program managers for social work (Marissa Hardwrict, phdsw@ or public health sciences (Smriti Bajracharya, if we can help facilitate a meeting with any of our graduates or provide you with additional information. Sincerely,

Melissa Jonson-Reid, PHD, MSW Ralph and Muriel Pumphrey Professor of Social Work Research Director, Doctoral Education in Social Work Director, Center for Innovation in Child Maltreatment Policy, Research and Training

Patrick Fowler, PHD Associate Professor Director, Doctoral Program in Public Health Sciences

“This highly talented, international cohort is united by a passion to advance equity and improve the well-being of people across the globe using community-driven science. We are proud to welcome them to the Brown School community.” —MARY MCKAY, Neidorff Family and Centene Corporation Dean of the Brown School

Sara Beeler-Stinn

TO ACCESS A CV, PLEASE VISIT: Sara Beeler-Stinn’s research is focused on understanding the path to health and wellness among formerly incarcerated populations living with substance use disorders. Her dissertation investigates how social support networks and social service utilization change over time post-release among a multi-state sample of formerly incarcerated men and women diagnosed with substance use disorders. Gender and race differences are examined across outcomes of problematic drug and alcohol use, recidivism, and service utilization. RESEARCH INTERESTS:  Substance use disorders  Justice-involved populations  Service utilization  Health and wellness

Beeler-Stinn’s training and research has been supported by the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), Transdisciplinary Training in Addictions Research (TranSTAR) Predoctoral Fellowship (T32 DA15035). She is also a doctoral affiliate with the Institute for Justice Research and Development (IJRD). Beeler-Stinn earned a BSW from SIU Carbondale and MSW and MPA degrees from St. Louis University. Her practice experience includes direct practice with individuals and groups, community engagement, grant and performance management, and quality improvement leadership.

Shih-Ying Cheng

TO ACCESS A CV, PLEASE VISIT: Shih-Ying Cheng is a doctoral candidate in the School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis. Her research interests include services and policies that address intimate partner violence (IPV), health and social service utilization among recent immigrants and the implementation of evidence-based practice.

RESEARCH INTERESTS:  Gender-based violence  Recent immigrants  Evidence-based practice

Her dissertation study examines the associations of policy- and case-level factors and intimate partner homicide (IPH) over time with a focus on differences within and between victims’ sex and race/ethnicity subgroups. The study conducts analyses using the National Violent Death Reporting System, Restricted Access Database (NVDRS-RAD), and links data to Census and policy data (e.g., TANF benefit levels, IPV arrest policies, gun control policies) using the geographic indicator in the NVDRS-RAD. Latent class analysis (LCA) and mixed-effects multilevel modeling (HLM) are performed to identify patterns of risk factors among victims, perpetrators and other circumstances in IPHs and to investigate the differential impacts of policies on subgroups over time. The dissertation study aims to inform evidence-based policymaking in preventing future IPH.

Michael David Galvin

TO ACCESS A CV, PLEASE VISIT: Galvin’s interests center on the field of Global Mental Health, and particularly the role that culture, beliefs, and social environment play on mental illness. His dissertation studies the patient population at the Centre de Santé Mentale Morne Pelé, the first mental health clinic in Northern Haiti. He also examines traditional healers in the region and the role they play in the treatment of mental illness. RESEARCH INTERESTS:  Social determinants of health  Mental health disparities  Global health  Conflict and disaster zones

Galvin has recently published peer-reviewed articles examining his experience with group therapy in New Orleans, mental health in Haiti, gender-based violence and mental health in Côte d’Ivoire, and a systematic review of task shifting for mental health interventions in sub-Saharan Africa. He recently completed an international fellowship with Save the Children International in West Africa. Galvin earned an MSW/MPH from Washington University in St. Louis, and has been a practicing psychotherapist (LCSW) since 2017.

Aytakin Huseynli

TO ACCESS A CV, PLEASE VISIT: Aytakin Huseynli’s dissertation assesses the association between the resource curse (also known as the paradox of plenty) and child well-being in all oil, gas and mineral rich countries; this incorporates multinomial, longitudinal multi-level modeling and 48 in-depth interviews in six countries.

RESEARCH INTERESTS:  Social welfare in resource-rich countries  Child welfare  IGlobal social work  Social work education

Huseynli interests include international social policy and social work; child welfare; evaluation of program and services; and research methods with statistical application. Prior to pursuing her PhD, she worked to reform the child well-being system of Azerbaijan, and would like to establish child development accounts in that country. Huseynli contributed to the establishment of the field of social work in Azerbaijan, founding the first chapter of the National Social Work Association in the country. She is an evaluation expert for UNICEF and serves on the editorial boards of the International Social Work and International Journal of School Social Work. Huseynli has published articles in many respected journals.

Robert Motley


RESEARCH INTERESTS:  Community violence  Trauma, Mental and behavioral health among emerging adults

Robert Motley’s research broadly examines community violence and related mental and behavioral outcomes for emerging adults 18- to 29- years old. For his dissertation project, he is employing both qualitative and quantitative methods to examine the relationship between exposure to perceived racism-based police use of force, racism-based trauma symptoms, and substance use in a sample of Black emerging adults. In his role as manager for the Race and Opportunity Lab at the Brown School, he has gained experience in project planning and management, supervision of graduate research assistants and practicum students, data collection and analysis, and manuscript development and submission. As a National Institute of Mental Health (T-32) Pre-doctoral Fellow, Motley received extensive training in grant review and development and is the principal investigator for three grants that are currently under review. In addition, Motley has first authored and coauthored several peer-reviewed publications and presented research findings at national scientific conferences.

Thabani Nyoni

TO ACCESS A CV, PLEASE VISIT: Thabani Nyoni, MA, MSW, has a broad research agenda focused on the role of social networks and social support on health behaviors and disparities. More specifically, Nyoni’s research investigates the mechanisms by which socio-contextual factors (i.e. family support and community resources) shape health and mental health outcomes.

RESEARCH INTERESTS:  Social networks  Social support and social norms  HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment  Health disparities  Translational science, Survey methodology and qualitative methods

His dissertation research employs quantitative methods to identify the stressors and protective factors that are associated with mental health and medication adherence of perinatally HIV-infected adolescents in South Africa. Additionally, this study examines the moderating role of protective factors on the relationship between HIV-related stressors and mental health and medication adherence. Nyoni earned a Master of Social Welfare from the University of California-Berkeley School of Social Welfare, with support from the MasterCard Foundation Scholarship Program. Nyoni has presented research at national and international scientific conferences and has also published articles in peerreviewed journals.

Meagan Pilar

TO ACCESS A CV, PLEASE VISIT: Meagan Pilar’s research focuses on dissemination and implementation science, particularly related to mental health policies and interventions. Pilar has formal training and experience in both qualitative and mixed method approaches. For her dissertation, Pilar is analyzing the current state of measures and methods used to assess national-level mental health policy implementation.

RESEARCH INTERESTS:  Dissemination and implementation science  Policy implementation and evaluation  Mental health services research

As a graduate student, Pilar held a student leadership position with the Society for Implementation Research Collaboration and has worked closely with the Washington University Dissemination and Implementation Research Core to provide methodological expertise to researchers interested in translational research. Pilar has experience teaching courses on program evaluation, implementation science, and translating epidemiology into policy. Her research has included policy implementation, as well as the implementation of mental health interventions in community settings.

Kyle Pitzer

TO ACCESS A CV, PLEASE VISIT: Kyle Pitzer’s academic agenda covers a wide range of interventions for challenging issues in communities. He has conducted research on a variety of domains such as policing, mental health, voting access, and services for older adults in order to provide his expertise on neighborhood effects and community development.

RESEARCH INTERESTS:  Urban poverty  Neighborhood effects  Community development

Pitzer’s dissertation research focuses on neighborhood-level interventions for community development, collecting empirical evidence on the role of community development organizations in affecting both social and physical outcomes in neighborhoods. To this end, he employs statistical methods as well as on-the-ground ethnographic fieldwork at organizations in the St. Louis metropolitan region. This study will empirically document impacts of community development organizations on neighborhood conditions and the life trajectories of community residents. In addition to his research, Pitzer teaches several different courses on quantitative methods, and consults with students, staff, and faculty on data collection, management and analysis.

Natalicio Serrano

TO ACCESS A CV, PLEASE VISIT: Natalicio (Nat) Serrano’s research focuses on chronic disease prevention, with an emphasis on upstream influences of physical activity. He hopes to promote sustainable and healthy communities by contributing evidence on the influence of the neighborhood and policy environments on physical activity and chronic diseases among disadvantaged groups.

RESEARCH INTERESTS:  Chronic disease prevention and the role of the built and social environment on health behaviors and outcomes  Reducing health disparities among disadvantaged communities

As part of his dissertation, Serrano has also explored unintended consequences (e.g., gentrification) of building health promoting communities in already disadvantaged groups. This work has been partially supported by a NHLBI funded T32 pre-doctoral training program in Cardiovascular Disease and Obesity (T32HL130357). Serrano’s teaching experience in public health includes obesity prevention, built environment, epidemiology, foundational statistics, and research methods. Prior to pursuing his PhD, Serrano earned his BS in Health Sciences and MPH in Health Promotion and Behavioral Sciences from San Diego State University.

Sicong (Summer) Sun


RESEARCH INTERESTS:  Social determinants of health and health disparities  Asset building and financial capability  Poverty and social mobility

Sicong (Summer) Sun’s research centers on socioeconomic and racial inequities in health. Funded by the NASW Foundation Jane. B. Aron Doctoral Fellowship, Sun’s dissertation investigates racial/ethnic differences in the relationship between wealth and health. She examines how racial inequities in wealth and financial access—as upstream social determinants—fundamentally shape downstream determinants of health, such as medical care and health behaviors. She applies hierarchical generalized linear models and structural equation models using the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth in her dissertation. Sun has worked with four research centers at the Brown School on multiple foundation and NIH funded research projects. She had gained experience in grant writing, project management, manuscript development, and graduate student supervision. Sun’s scholarship appears at more than 20 research conferences and peer-reviewed journals. Her teaching experience includes Asset Building, Social Welfare Policies and Services, Health Behavior and Health Promotion, Structural Equation Modeling, and System Dynamics.

Xiaoyan Wang

TO ACCESS A CV, PLEASE VISIT: Xiaoyan’s research aims to understand the social factors associated with cancer diagnoses and prognosis inequities, particularly childhood cancer. These lines of research have been funded by St. Baldrick’s Foundation and Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation and published by multiple highly regarded journals, including JAMA Pediatrics, British Journal of Cancer, International Journal of Epidemiology, and Cancer. RESEARCH INTERESTS:  Cancer Epidemiology  Childhood Cancer  Health outcomes

Wang’s independent teaching experience includes two master’s level courses at the Brown School – Advanced Data Analysis and R Skills Lab. She also served as a teaching assistant for the following courses: Propensity Score Analysis, Structural Equation Modeling, Biostatistics, and Environmental Health. Before pursuing a Ph.D., Wang earned a Bachelor of Preventive Medicine and a Master of Molecular Medicine.

Maya Williams

TO ACCESS A CV, PLEASE VISIT: Maya Williams is a fourth-year PhD student in the Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis. Maya serves as the principal investigator on her IRB-approved, mixed methods study highlighting the experiences of skin tone bias and discrimination among African American girls. She has guest lectured at The University of Michigan and Michigan State University on the implications of colorism in the field of social work. RESEARCH INTERESTS:  School-based social work  Interventions to the schoolto-prison pipeline  Community engagement  Policy reform

Further, Maya will present four research projects at the annual Council on Social Work Education conference in fall 2020. These presentations will involve a(n): symposium, interactive workshop, oral presentation, and e-poster on the impacts of colorism on educational attainment, employment, marriage, and health in the African American community. Maya is a Chancellor’s Graduate Fellow, Cohort Representative for the Class of 2017, and the Historian for the Black Graduate Student Association.

Yiqi Zhu

TO ACCESS A CV, PLEASE VISIT: Yiqi Zhu’s scholarship aims to develop and support strategies to improve rural families’ well-being in response to rapid globalization, urbanization and modernization. She has conducted research and consultant work on food security, nutritional well-being, and educational attainment with organizations in China, India, and Afghanistan.

RESEARCH INTERESTS:  International social welfare  Food security  Rural development  Child welfare

Zhu’s dissertation research in China, supported by the Brown School International Dissertation Scholarship, used mixed methods to analyze the food security and nutritional well-being of families with parents who are migrant workers. She conducted ethnographic research with families living in mountainous regions exploring the underlying factors affecting children’s dietary diversity, health, and educational outcomes. In addition, she used advanced statistical methods to analyze nationally representative data to confirm the qualitative findings. Zhu’s teaching experience includes courses in statistics, international social and economic policies and programs, and evaluation of programs and policies.


Founded in 1925, the George Warren Brown School was named with a generous gift from Betty Bofinger Brown in memory of her late husband.

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Forthcoming Graduates - 2020-21 PhD Candidates  

We're proud to share the scholarship and drive of this year's PhD graduates.

Forthcoming Graduates - 2020-21 PhD Candidates  

We're proud to share the scholarship and drive of this year's PhD graduates.

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