Graduate Citings Tales from the Field – Samantha Brown

samantha-brown-university-of-denverHello Graduate Students! We hope you’re having a spectacular summer filled with a balance of relaxation and productivity. For August we’re featuring postdoctoral fellow and DU alumnae Dr. Samantha Brown. Dr. Brown is committed to reducing barriers to accessing services for vulnerable children and families and has conducted extensive research surrounding child health and well-being. As a recent DU grad student Dr. Brown is very familiar with the stresses brought on by publication and dissertation completion. Be sure to read her research advice at the end of the article!

Researcher: Dr. Samantha Brown, postdoctoral fellow in the in the SEED Research Center in the Department of Psychology and PhD alumnae from the Graduate School of Social Work.

Current Research: My overarching graduate research program sought to translate research on adverse childhood experiences, family functioning, and stress into the development and testing of preventive interventions aimed at promoting prosocial parenting behavior and child health and well-being. In support of this work, I implemented a randomized controlled trial of a mindfulness-based intervention that I adapted for child welfare-involved families with substance misuse for my dissertation. In addition, I am working with a research team to identify the mechanisms through which early adversity and family stress impact current parenting and child well-being.

While conducting my dissertation research (which I finished in 2016, yay!) I found that the mindfulness-based intervention could be feasibly integrated within public child welfare. Findings also indicate that the program reduced parenting stress and improved parenting and child behavior problems. These results are exciting in that there is potential to implement integrative mindfulness programs within child- and family-serving agencies. I am currently in the process of submitting findings from my dissertation for publication.

Collaborators: I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to learn from talented scholars across multiple fields. The work that I have accomplished thus far would not have been possible without the great support and mentorship that I have received from my advisor and dissertation chair, Kimberly Bender, and my committee members, Jeffrey Jenson, Jennifer Bellamy, and Lavita Nadkarni. I will also continue to pursue this important area of study as a postdoctoral fellow under the mentorship of Sarah Watamura in the SEED Research Center.

Initial Inspiration: My prior clinical experience as a substance abuse counselor and child welfare caseworker is the driving force behind my current research interests and has motivated me to serve as a catalyst for change in reducing barriers to accessing services for vulnerable children and families. I worked with many children and families impacted by early adverse experiences and became interested in exploring alternative interventions that might be useful in helping individuals to develop sustainable skills to cope with these stressful situations.

Biggest Challenge: Setting aside enough time to complete tasks has been a challenge! I often underestimate how long projects may take, and then feel guilty when I don’t cross items off of my list. I have slowly learned to be strategic about every bit of time that I have available, which has helped me to stay productive and motivated, for the most part!

Research Advice: It is important to connect with a community of scholars who can provide support during a time that seems like a never-ending process! Surrounding yourself by positive role-models can only strengthen your skills and will add immensely to your experience. Sometimes the publication process can be tedious, but don’t let rejections or negative comments sway you from pursuing your important work! It is simply part of the process, and use those moments as learning experiences.

Graduate Citings: Tales from the Field – Xochilt

profile-picture-xochilt-alamilloThis week we’re happy to share with you the work of GSSW alumnae Xochilt Alamillo. Xochilt received her master’s degree in 2016 and is now working as a school-based therapist at Aurora Mental Health. While at DU, Xochilt’s scholarship brought attention to social justice issues surrounding health services for disadvantaged communities and as a grad student she helped develop the HIV, Alcohol, and other Drugs Needs Assessment with a community of Mexican American Indians in Washington.

Researcher: Xochilt Alamillo, alumnae from the Graduate School of Social Work master’s degree program.

Current Research: I am currently interning at the Aurora Mental Health Center as a school-based therapist, where I provide therapy services to youth of color and their families at Aurora Central High School. As a student at DU I had the privilege of working with various faculty on and off campus on different research projects, most of which involved direct work with the Latino community. Most recently, I assisted Dr. Ramona Beltran, in the Graduate School of Social Work, on an HIV, Alcohol, and other Drugs Needs Assessment with a community of Mexican American Indians in Washington.

I also served as a Family Coach on a randomized control trial team at DU that collaborates with the University of Oregon, and originates from Harvard University. Filming Interactions to Nurture Development (FIND) is a video coaching program that aims to strengthen positive interactions between caregivers and children. It uses select clips of adults engaging with children to reinforce the kinds of responses that are the foundation of healthy development. In this position, I had the opportunity to conduct home visits with families in the program and coach them using this intervention.

It was also my great honor to serve as the Navigation Chair for DU’s Latina/o Graduate Association in 2016. As an organization we collaborated to bring a Dia de los Muertos event to campus, a La Raza Writing Group series, as well as the amazing spoken word duo, Sister Outsider. Most importantly, we helped to provide a safe space for Latinos on campus.

Collaborators: In regard to research, I had the pleasure of working with Dr. Ramona Beltran on a couple of projects. Her scholarship focuses on intersections of trauma, environmental elements, and other determinants of health among indigenous communities. I have learned a great deal from her as an indigenous woman and as a scholar.

I also had the pleasure of working with Dr. Omar Gudiño, in the department of psychology on a project to explore what encourages or discourages Latino parents from seeking mental health services for their children. The impact of his work within the Latino community, and youth specifically, is truly inspiring.

Initial Inspiration: I am passionate about working with my Latino community, especially youth. I have three young children and I am inspired by them daily to go out and do what I can to contribute to our community.

Biggest Challenge: Saying no! I loved being involved at DU and there were so many interesting projects I wanted to be a part of, but I just didn’t have enough time or energy to do everything.

Research Advice: For students who might be in a program, such as mine, that does not necessarily require research the way that a PhD program might, I would advise to get yourself out there and get to know faculty and other students as much as you can. If you are interested in research, don’t be afraid to let people know that you are interested in working on projects with them, or that you have an idea for one. You would be surprised at how much people are willing to help and include you.

Graduate Citings: Tales from the Field – Stephanie Begun

Happy spring pios! Hope you’re all having a wonderful and restful spring break. This Monday marks the second half of the dreaded “mega quarter” here at DU. To give you a little encouragement to keep plugging away, we thought we’d create a blog series specifically focused on the fruits of your fellow pios’ research labors. The new series, Graduate Citings: Tales from the Field, features graduate students who are conducting some important and inspiring scholarship here at DU. The series serves to highlight the various research happenings on campus, as well as provide you with some timely research advice from your colleagues that can help you in your future endeavors. Our first post features Stephanie Begun, a PhD candidate at GSSW, who is investigating the impact of social media on homeless youths’ attitudes towards sexual health.

Stephanie-BegunResearcher: Stephanie Begun, PhD candidate at the Graduate School of Social Work.

Current Research: My dissertation research focuses on reproductive and sexual health attitudes and decision-making among homeless youth, and how youths’ social networks, perceptions of social norms, and sources of social support may serve as risk/protective factors in youths’ engagement in sexual behaviors. More broadly, I also investigate opportunities by which prevention science, policy, and community-based participatory research may work in tandem to positively impact family planning access and reproductive outcomes for all populations. Additionally, I am currently working on an interdisciplinary grant that seeks to identify new ways of using design thinking and social media to engage vulnerable youth in teen pregnancy prevention and education efforts.

My hope is that my dissertation efforts will result in more effective and culturally responsive approaches to pregnancy prevention specifically among homeless youth. I truly enjoy writing and have been very lucky to publish numerous peer-reviewed articles with my many wonderful collaborators at DU and beyond. I have published manuscripts on topics including reproductive health and family planning, youth homelessness, social networks, community-based participatory research methods, social innovations, among other topics. A full list of my publications are available in my DU portfolio.

Collaborators: Throughout my time at DU, I have had the great fortune of working with so many amazing formal and informal mentors. Kim Bender is my mentor/dissertation chair, and I have also worked extensively with Anamika Barman-Adhikari, Ramona Beltrán, Jae McQueen, and many others at GSSW, in addition to Anne DePrince in Psychology. Learning from our many diversely talented faculty members has been one of the major highlights of my doctoral education.

Initial Inspiration: For as long as I can remember, I have always loved working with youth and helping them to reach their incredible potential! Pregnancy and parenting at a young age can be very stressful, and as I worked more with homeless youth, I began to think about how such stressors are even further amplified among this population. Many homeless youth indicate either an ambivalence toward or an active desire to become pregnant or involved in a pregnancy, as they often see pregnancy and parenting as the only perceived “cure” to other life challenges and experiences of abuse, neglect, and trauma. I think that understanding the complex reasons behind such pregnancy attitudes may help us to better reach and educate youth populations that continue to exhibit the highest pregnancy rates.

Biggest Challenge: At my core, I am such a nerd! I find almost everything interesting and I have such a hard time saying “no” to projects. For me, the biggest challenge is being realistic and strategic about which projects to take on and which ones to (unfortunately) decline due to time constraints.

Research Advice: Stay persistent! The peer-reviewed publishing process can often take a long time and can be frustrating, but your work is important! Also, study something you truly care about. Becoming a scholar is exceptionally difficult, so you have to love what you do; perhaps more importantly, the people your work is seeking to help really need your passion and commitment to conducting novel and ethical research, too.

Do you know anyone who is conducting some inspirational scholarship? Let us know and we might feature them in an upcoming series post!