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.

Ask a Vet: Army Vet Discusses What Brought Him to DU

Josef Korbel master’s student and Army vet, Chris Mamaux, has some advice for his fellow DU veterans: No excuses. Crush it. He will be sharing more about what drives him and what it was like transitioning from active military to graduate school at DUSVA’s Ask A Veteran Anything event today from 12-1. Here’s a little snippet of his he’s learned over the years and what motivated him to explore the first-hand effects of non-functioning states across the Middle East/South Asia:

How long were you on active duty? I served 5 years of active duty for the U.S. Army, working in the Parachute and Stryker Infantry units.

Where did you serve? I served in a variety of different locales including:

  • Georgia– I received my initial and advanced Infantry training, as well as Airborne School, commonly known as Jump School in the Peach State.
  • North Carolina– Next I moved to North Carolina where I served in a line Company within the 82nd Airborne Division’s 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment.
  • Texas– Then my travels took me to Texas where I served in a line Troop within the 3d Cavalry Regiment’s Sabre Squadron.
  • Afghanistan– Finally, I was deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), to Logar Province, Afghanistan. Here I conducted a variety of missions including partner operations with an Afghan National Army brigade and securing and escorting the ballots for the RC (regional command) East in the 2014 election. Missions ranged from the mundane to the unique during our time there, and culminated into a massive effort in the fall of 2014. During this time we worked to strategically degrade the ability of the Taliban to continue to stage attacks in and around Kabul by surging into a district in the south of Logar which had not seen US/Coalition forces since 2011.

What was the hardest part about transitioning to civilian life? Everything moves at an incredibly fast pace in the military, even when you are playing the “hurry up and wait game.” Leaving that environment and getting back into the “real world” can feel like being dropped from warp speed. The pitfall to avoid in that instance is letting yourself get too comfortable with the slower pace and losing sight of what you need to do in order to achieve your personal and professional goals.

What are you studying at DU? I am pursuing my interest in the nexus of development and security in Josef Korbel’s International Security master’s program. I am specifically interested in seeing the first-hand effects of non-functioning states across the Middle East/South Asia, and trying to understand how security provides the atmosphere for development. I suspect that, after certain thresholds have been met, this will in turn require less security down the road. My scholarship is not for a thesis, nor a substantial research paper per se, but it drives how I structure my courses as well as topics I choose for required papers/projects.

Do you have any recommendations for other veterans transitioning from active duty to university life? Any higher level academic setting is going to be a challenge, not just for you, for everyone. We’re all in the same boat, and yes, there will be times when elevated stress will be the norm – for a short while. The tasks you face will be different, but not harder than what you’ve accomplished in the military. This is your time to succeed in a different arena you also volunteered to enter. No excuses. Crush it.

*Don’t miss DUSVA’s Ask A Veteran Anything event this today from 12-1! Ten DU student veterans will be sharing their diverse experiences while serving our country and transition to civilian life.

Ask a Vet: Marine Corps Veteran and DU Student Shares His Journey

Happy Monday Pios! We are very excited to highlight the military and university experiences of master’s student Conner Swett. Conner is a first year master’s student in the International Security program at the Korbel School of International Studies. His research focus is on international development and security. He’ll be presenting on the Ask A Veteran Anything panel tomorrow at 12, but we wanted to get things started a little early and give you a sneak peak!

How long were you on active duty? I served in the Marine Corps for 9 years and 3 months, reaching the rank of Staff Sergeant.

Where did you serve? I was lucky to have served on 5 major continents including a position in the U.S. at the Pentagon! Here’s a breakdown of my travels:

  • Okinawa, Japan 2008 – 2009
  • Marine Corps Embassy Security Guard
    • Pretoria South Africa 2010 – 2011
    • Asuncion, Paraguay 2011 – 2012
    • Moscow, Russia 2012-2013
  • Office of the Staff Judge Advocate to the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Headquarters Marine Corps, The Pentagon 2013 – 2016

What was the hardest part about transitioning to civilian life? I would say dropping everything and moving across to the country to attend graduate school was one of the hardest parts. I came to DU with a lot of unknowns. Once I was accepted I immediately put my stuff in storage, packed my car up, and attempted to drive from Washington to DC to Denver. Unfortunately, my car broke down on the way and I ended up taking a train and just barely made the first day of school this past winter quarter!

Another difficult aspect of transitioning to university life was not having the support staff that I had gotten so used to. I had become so comfortable with having offices for events in the area, financial/education, admin to help me with my pay, and a legal office to provide me free legal services. Oh and the lack of insurance and figuring that out. That was something I never had to think of before. (I am still pumped that I get gym access!)

What brought you to DU? I lived in South Africa for a year and fell in love with the area. Over the years, I have read more about the continent to stay aware of the political events, history, cultures of the individual countries. Those aspects instilled me with the desire to focus on international development that region. Korbel’s program International Security seemed like a perfect fit for that. Right now I’m taking my first development class this quarter and those I have met in the class have been amazing and have kept my interest in development going strong.

Do you have any recommendations for other veterans transitioning from active duty to university life?

  1. Reach out to the SVA. The SVA staff and members have gone through the same stuff you have and will have some advice. It also gives you a place to socialize with other veterans and you can discuss (or vent) on your transition and student life.
  2. Get involved with a club or group. Leaving the military can seem lonely and you can feel like there’s a lack of direction. You were a Marine, a soldier, or a sailor, that was who were and it can be a shock that that’s not you anymore. I was warned about it, but it wasn’t until a few months later that it hit me. Joining a club or group or getting involved in the community of the school is a great way to find that new role and mission to help out.
  3. Meet new people but don’t jump in with talking about the military. Sounds strange but it’s comparable to going to college and talking all about high school or going to a new unit and only talking about your past unit. It’s hard for other people to relate and build a connection with you and that’s what university life is about, meeting new people and expanding your perceptions. I found that I had a lot in common with people once I stopped talking solely about my Marine Corps life all the time, which really helped me adjust to my new life. Let’s be clear, I’m not ashamed or hiding that I’m Marine, I just don’t go waving it around.

*Curious to learn more? Don’t miss DUSVA’s Ask A Veteran Anything event this Tuesday! (Also, there will be free lunch from Garbanzo Mediterranean Grill!)

Ask a Vet: US Army Vet Reflects on His Transition to University Life at DU

So much goes into the transition from active duty to civilian life for a veteran, especially when it comes to integration into a university. This Tuesday, 10 student veterans will be sharing their diverse experiences while serving our country and transition to civilian life at DUSVA’s Ask a Veteran Anything event. We hope you’ll be able to join DU faculty, staff, students and alums as they ask DU veteran students about their varied perspectives. Today we’re excited to highlight one of those student veterans, Dan Rouse. Dan Rouse is a graduate student enrolled in Daniels College of Business’ Executive MBA Program (EMBA).

How long were you on active duty? My total service in the U.S. Army comprised 27 years. I served 23 years as an officer, and 4 years as an enlisted soldier.

Dan in Tibet

Where did you serve? I guess all over is too broad, but I did cover some serious distance whilst serving in 5 of the 10 Army divisions. After Ranger School, I started out in Hawaii with the 25th Infantry Division. Next was the 101st Airborne in Kentucky. Following that I went back to Hawaii and did three years of POW/MIA investigations and recoveries. Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) kicked off and I did a year there. Then I went to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, for a year at the Command and Staff College, before stationing at Fort Bliss, Texas, with the 1st Cavalry Division/1st Armored Division and followed by15 months in Iraq. Finally, I went back to Hawaii for 3 years of POW/MIA missions and then retired from the 82nd Airborne, Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Overall I’ve worked in the United States, Australia, New Guinea, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, China, Tibet, North Korea, South Korea, Japan, Kuwait, Iraq, and the United Arab Emirates!

What was the hardest part about transitioning to civilian life? Actually, two things come to mind. The first, and most significant, was the loss of purpose. No matter “the suck,” when you’re in the military, you always had a sense of duty to a higher cause, whether it was to your comrades, your unit, or the basic oath to “Defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign or domestic.” You were a part of a distinct culture with its own values and norms. So the cultural dislocation was huge. You live your life as a member of it, but end as an employee moving on. It’s hard to get that same feeling from turning a profit, etc.

The second, for me anyway, was finding my next career. I did my time and could have had all the “security” t-shirts I wanted, but I had no desire to be a government contractor/beltway bandit or get a government job. When you put those restrictions on future choices, the prospects dim a little. As one recruiter candidly put it, “I’m looking for round pegs for round holes and you’re an oval.” I was either overqualified (meaning they didn’t think I’d stick around very long) or didn’t have the right background experience. Bluntly, too many civilian recruiters and HR folks considered me too expensive. HR computerized applicant tracking systems didn’t really digest military resumes very well – even when they’re “civilianized” by resume reviewers. These two components, along with many others, were what motivated me to pursue the EMBA program in Daniels; civilian credentials and networking as “mercenary” as it sounds.

Do you have any recommendations for other veterans transitioning from active duty to university life? Treat your education as you treated your service; you can’t just show up. You need to maintain the work ethic and discipline you had when you were in service and transition it to your studies. Build connections with your professors, alumni, peers, etc.; they may be the key connection to your next career. For undergraduates: you have life experience advantages that almost none of your peers do, so use them. “S2” your situation (most service members will know what “S2” is) and get the most out of your university experience (which doesn’t end at attending class or getting good grades).

*Curious to learn more? Don’t miss DUSVA’s Ask A Veteran Anything event this Tuesday!

Graduate Citings: DURAPS Edition with Kirsten Fahlbusch

Hello Grad Students!
All this week and next week we’ll be featuring research that will be featured at the DU Research and Performance Summit (DURAPS), which is only 2 weeks away! Today we’d like to bring you the eye-opening research of GSPP master’s student Kirsten Fahlbusch. Kirsten’s prior experience as a deputy probation officer motivated her to tackle the tricky issues surrounding gender in law enforcement. She specifically looked into whether a probation officer’s and/or victim’s gender had an influence on a probationer’s compliance. We hope you’ll enjoy learning more about her research both in this blog and at the summit!

Researcher: I am a second year master’s student enrolled in the Forensic Psychology program which is in the Graduate School of Professional Psychology department.

DURAPS Presentation: Title- Probation Compliance and Gender

I conducted research on the interaction between the gender of probation officers, probationers, and the victims of the probationers’ offenses, I then explored how these various gender combinations impacted the probationers’ compliance. Some of my questions included: “were male probationers more compliant when assigned to female probation officers compared to male probationers assigned to male officers?” and “were probationers with female victims more compliant when assigned to female probation officers compared to those assigned to male officers?” My sample came from a Domestic Violence and Sex Offender unit, so all of the probationers’ offenses had identifiable victims. The results of my study found that the gender of the probation officer has an effect on the probationers’ compliance, and that the gender of the probation officer and the probationers’ victim makes a difference regarding the probationer’s compliance. Specifically, probationers were more compliant when assigned to female probation officers.

I was a deputy probation officer on the Domestic Violence and Sex Offender Unit for my field placement during the first year of my program, and I was interested in the demographic makeup of both the clients and the officers working on the unit. Probation is historically a male-dominated field, but the unit I worked on was predominately staffed by female officers so I wondered whether gender played a significant part in any of the work. I was especially interested in how probationers who had offended on female victims would interact with female versus male officers, since probationers would have to interact with a female in an authoritative role rather than as their victim.

Collaborators: This was an independent research project, but I received help throughout the process from Dr. Neil Gowensmith and Dr. Laura Meyer.

Research Advice: Going through the IRB process and getting the project off the ground was probably the most frustrating aspect of conducting my study, and the process took longer than I expected. So, my research advice to other DU graduate students would be don’t let the IRB process get you down or discourage you from working to get a project approved.

I hope to see you all at DURAPS on Friday April 7th, 2017 where I’ll be presenting my research!

Graduate Citings: Tales from the Field – Molly Sarubbi

Molly-Sarubbi-Graduate-Citings-Tales-From-the-FieldWelcome back pios! We’re so elated to have you back on campus this fall, it’s been so lonely without having your bright, shining, studious faces around here! We hope that you had wonderful and relaxing (is that possible in grad school?) summer breaks. To get you pumped up for your upcoming papers, projects, and presentations we’re excited to highlight the work of Molly Sarubbi, a PhD student in the Morgridge College of Education. She is working to break down the silos and broaden the focus surrounding the role that foster youth histories play throughout the higher education experience. Happy reading!

Researcher: Molly Sarubbi, PhD student enrolled in the Higher Education program in DU’s Morgridge College of Education. She is also a policy researcher for the Postsecondary Institute at the Education Commission of the States (ECS).

Initial Inspiration: As a foster care alumni and lifelong advocate, I am intimately aware of not only the barriers this population faces but their resounding resiliency. I am committed to sharing these narratives. In addition to experiencing prolonged abuse and maltreatment, numerous transitions, and long-term disparities in support resources, foster youth face significant obstacles to educational attainment. Of the almost 400,000 youth in the system this year, 26,000 youth will exit foster care at age 18.  Only 46% will graduate high school, and less 3% of those will go to college (AFCARS, 2015). I have seen these disparate odds play out over and over, whether it was in my own peer groups, the families I worked with as a director of an urban family YMCA, or in the advocacy role I serve through research and mentoring within the foster care system.  These youth, their voices, and their stories of persistence continue to be absent within higher education discourses, and policy agendas. The need to fill in these gaps continues inspire my own research and practice.

Current Research: My scholarship and practice focuses broadly on equity through the examination of the relationship between traditionally under-served communities, higher education, and policy. Grounded in a commitment to social justice and equity in education, I focus broadly on access for traditionally under-served students and families, with a specific emphasis on educational pathways for former foster care youth, and the resulting imperatives for higher education policy and practice.

Much of my work is grounded in asset-based collaboration with communities, and various advocacy initiatives for foster youth. I have been a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA), and youth mentor for 7 years, and work to help guide children through court and education systems. Similarly, I continue to build alliances across national foster youth support programs, and work to increase awareness about the educational barriers for this population.

As I continue to build my research portfolio, I work towards honing my skills as a critical, qualitative researcher, centering the resilient voices and experiences of this population.  This past summer, I collaborated on an multi-institutional, interdisciplinary project investigating the impact of mentoring programs for youth in the child welfare system. My impending dissertation work will examine the experiences of foster youth through post-secondary education. This research will begin to position foster youth narratives  within larger social, ecological, and educational systems, and highlight their resiliency and persistence in higher education.

My expertise in highlighting education attainment for foster youth has lead to my work at Education Commission of the States (ECS) as a Policy Researcher. I am currently leading a project centered on a the development of a 50 state comparative analysis of state financial aid policies that impact foster youth education attainment. A forthcoming brief, release in late October, will include a historical review of  federal and state statute,  analysis of state-based authority for policy implementation, and recommendations for best practices and policy development. Additionally, as a member of the postsecondary team, I serve as a resource for state constituents on a variety of education policy issues including free community college, organization and governance, and the college completion agenda.

Collaborators: I am currently collaborating as a research assistant with my advisor, Dr. Judy Marquez Kiyama, to understand the role of families in college transitions, the influence of funds of knowledge in family outreach programs, and  the role that low-income and families of color play in cultivating their children’s educational aspirations and ideologies. We are currently engaged in data analysis and multiple publications resulting from this work. In addition to collaborating with the higher education department faculty, and the other institute staff at ECS, I am proud to work with both local and national community-based organizations that support both families, and foster youth educational access and attainment.

Biggest Challenge: The biggest challenges in doing this important work are the lack of asset-based research, understanding of foster youth experiences, and opportunities for them share their counter narratives.  Research on foster youth has traditionally been siloed within fields of psychology and social work, and often only addresses the negative impact of time spent in foster care on child development and life outcomes. Beyond this focus, there is minimal literature examining the role that foster youth histories play throughout the higher education experience. This scarcity has led to narrow understandings of foster youth persistence and achievement. Furthermore, negative stigmas of individuals in foster care, their distrust in support systems, and inconsistent tracking initiatives can also make it difficult to identify these youth and subsequently share their success narratives.

Research Advice: My major piece of advice may seem obvious, but I have found it to be extremely salient in my own endeavors; do work that you are passionate about!! As an emerging scholar/researcher/practitioner, the process can be isolating. You will constantly question your abilities, feel overwhelmed, and rejection can be tough! However cliche it may sound, it really is what it takes to create real change. Be confident in the importance and potential impacts of your work. While it’s certainly difficult to not be discouraged by setbacks, you have to use the feedback as positive building blocks for moving your important work forward. Having a grounded stake in the meaning of your work helps diminish that rejection and fatigue, and of course, creating a network of people who celebrate your potential never hurts!

*Do you know of any fascinating research happening on campus? If so, send us an email at!

Graduate Citings: Tales from the Field – Taylor Firman

TaylorFirmanPictureWelcome to your last full month of summer vacation pios! We hope you’ve had a wonderful break and look forward to seeing your lovely faces this fall. To conclude your summer break, and get those synapses firing for Fall Quarter, we’d like to share with you the intriguing work of PhD student Taylor Firman. Taylor is exploring examining randomness in gene networks in order to shed light on previously unexplored areas of research in quantitative biology. We hope you enjoy this month’s Graduate Citings and be sure to check out Taylor’s video at the end!

Researcher: Taylor Firman, PhD student enrolled in the Molecular & Cellular Biophysics Program, active in the Physics Department

Initial Inspiration: Growing up, I was fairly obsessed with math puzzles (my mom used to catch me writing multiplication tables in the fog of our car windows), but these skills just seemed like neat parlor tricks until I took a high school physics course. To see how the fundamental nature of the world around us could be described using the basest of languages, mathematics, was fascinating and I’ve been hooked ever since.

Current Research: My current research is generally focused on the computational modeling of biology. For instance, in a previous project, we were able to recreate how a fruit fly takes its elongated shape within the embryo using computer simulations. More recently, we have been looking at the role of randomness and fluctuation within gene networks to see how they affect the overall behavior of the system. Biology is a very rich subject matter and the mathematical approach of a physicist can help to shed light on previously unexplored areas of the field.

As of this point, our research involving randomness in gene networks has been published in the Journal of Chemical Physics and we are hoping to publish more recent developments about a principle called Maximum Caliber in the next year. A manuscript about our work on simulating fruit fly morphology is working its way through the submission process and will hopefully be published within the next year as well. Ultimately, we hope that these papers and the concepts behind them will help to inform experimentalists on new directions of questioning and shed light on previously unexplored areas of research in quantitative biology.

Collaborators: My research advisor is Dr. Kingshuk Ghosh within the Department of Physics and Astronomy, and in the past couple of years, we have worked very closely with Dr. Dinah Loerke (Physics) and Dr. Todd Blankenship (Biology) here at DU.

Biggest Challenge: Thus far, my biggest challenge was coming to the realization that cutting-edge science is never going to be a straight line from idea A to idea B like it’s portrayed in scientific literature. A biophysicist named Uri Alon described it perfectly as traveling through “the cloud between the known and the unknown.” Experiments are going to fail or produce data contrary to what you would expect and it will be necessary to take multiple detours to get to a new and innovative idea. This doesn’t make you a bad scientist. To get through this cloud, it requires patience, time, and lots of support from the people around you, things I’ve been lucky enough to find here at DU.

Research Advice: As I touched on earlier, my advice to future graduate students would be to realize that research truly is like “traveling through a cloud.” Equipment is going to break, ideas are going to fall apart, frustration will set in, but realize that this is all part of the process of generating innovative ideas. Enjoy the investigative nature of research, have faith in your capabilities, and stay the course.