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College of Social Work

Meet Our Ph.D. Students

Our students are dynamic, emerging scholars, generating new knowledge to drive social change on a wide range of pressing social issues.

Learn more about the impact of our Ph.D. students’ work in South Carolina and beyond.

 

samuel

Samuel’s research interests include the social determinants of health and health care sector responses to address patient and community social needs.  Samuel is particularly interested in the psychosocial aspects of disease and disability and the role of professional social workers on interprofessional health care teams across the continuum of care. 
 
Samuel’s practice experience includes completing internships during his MSW program at an assisted living and skilled nursing facility exclusively for adults experiencing dementia and at a university-based outpatient child and adolescent psychiatry clinic.  Post-MSW, Samuel worked as a professional social worker in the forensic sector helping children and families involved in the legal system due to abuse, neglect, or being witness to violent crime; in the mental health sector providing school- and outpatient clinic-based psychotherapy services; and in the health care sector providing case management and care coordination services to pediatric and adult patients in an acute care setting. 
 
Samuel earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Kentucky with a double major in sociology and psychology and his Master of Social Work (MSW) degree from the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis.  Samuel holds an LCSW in the State of Missouri and an LISW-CP in the State of South Carolina.

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chris

Christian Gorchow, LMSW began her doctoral studies in 2018. She previously earned her Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Virginia Tech in 2013, followed by her Master of Social Work, with a focus in health and mental health, from the University of South Carolina in 2016. After earning her MSW, Gorchow worked for the South Carolina Department of Mental Health providing therapy and case management services to children and adolescents on an inpatient crisis stabilization unit. She also was employed with the South Carolina Department of Children’s Advocacy where she worked on a grant aimed at decreasing detentions among juvenile offenders in South Carolina. 
 
Gorchow has served as a student representative on the college’s Doctoral Program Committee and currently serves as a student leader on the college’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Taskforce and Advisory Subcommittee. Gorchow also teaches part-time in the BSW and MSW programs. 
 
Gorchow’s research focuses on centering the voices and experiences of Black and African American children involved in foster care and their caregivers. Her secondary research area focuses on improving the outcomes of Black and African American children in foster care who are transracially placed by developing interventions, trainings, and supports that promote racial socialization and cultural competence practices among foster parents. Her research advisor is Associate Professor Kristen Seay. 

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Tori Charles received her bachelor’s degree in psychology with a minor in sociology in 2008 and a Master of Social Work degree in 2010 from Winthrop University. After graduation, she worked in a community mental health clinic developing treatment groups and conducted individual counseling.

Charles later returned to Winthrop and worked in the Center for Social Welfare Research and Assessment as a project coordinator, performing program evaluation services for the Bureau of Long Term Care and Behavioral Health Services at the South Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. She also served as an adjunct faculty member in the Winthrop Department of Social Work and was selected as a member of the Association for Gerontology Education in Social Work Pre-Dissertation Initiative 2014 cohort.

Charles' primary research interest is examining how social networks impact quality of life for older adults. In addition, she explores the development, implementation and evaluation of programs, and examines person-centered, self-directed care in home and community-based services. Charles is developing methodological expertise in social network analysis and multilevel modeling. 

Tasha M. Childs received her bachelor’s degree in Education (2017) and Master of Social Work (2019), with a concentration in school social work, from The Ohio State University. She completed her social work field placement and worked as a research assistant for the Community and Youth Collaborative Institute and Learning in Fitness and Education through Sports. This was part of several projects, including work with school districts across the country and local schools in Ohio. Within LiFEsports, Childs played a key role in collecting research during annual summer camp and assisted with managing development gifts to the organization. She was introduced to project management and developed research interests that she continues to pursue in her doctorate education.

Childs’ research interest is in addressing inequities in education through school social work targeting adolescent behavior, school climate, teacher education, school policy, and interdisciplinary teams. She works on research projects which include intervention development, facilitating group interventions and evaluating interdisciplinary education. Childs is supervised in her graduate assistant role by Associate Professor Aidyn Iachini, an expert in school social work and positive youth development.

Kim DeCelle received a Master of Social Work degree at the University of Georgia and a master’s of divinity degree from the Princeton Theological Seminary. She joined the Ph.D. program after nearly a decade of psychotherapy practice, including working with juvenile sex offenders in a residential treatment setting and serving patients in a community mental health clinic in Athens, Georgia.

DeCelle's research interests include trauma treatments and interventions, non-traditional families, stigma and cults. She is also interested in exploring larger questions of human suffering and collective responses to pain and suffering in the world. DeCelle returned to school to think creatively about the challenges she encountered in clinical practice.

Karen Andrea Flynn, LMSW, received a bachelor's degree in experimental psychology from the University of South Carolina in 2013, and completed her Master of Social Work with a concentration in Hispanic Children and Families from The Worden School of Social Service at Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio, Texas.  

Prior to beginning the doctoral program in 2019, Flynn worked as a school-based therapist at Centerstone, a not-for-profit health system providing mental health and substance use disorder treatments in Montgomery County, Tennessee. During her time, she provided individual and family therapy and acted as a liaison between families and schools to help ensure families received additional supports through the school system. 

Flynn’s research interests include migration trends in the Southern Cone, immigration policies, and how they impact immigrant outcomes. Flynn’s academic advisor is Associate Professor Breanne Grace and upervised in research by Associate Professor Benjamin Roth

Tamara Grimm received her bachelor’s degree from Miami University of Ohio, where she double majored in psychology and comparative religion, and minored in women's studies. She earned her Master of Social Work from the University of Cincinnati. 

Grimm is a licensed independent social worker and worked for approximately three years at a community mental health agency in Cincinnati that served adults with severe and persistent mental illness. She supervised a traditional case management team and an interdisciplinary assertive community treatment team that served severely mentally ill adults on probation. Next, Grimm worked for the Veterans Health Administration as lead women veterans program manager for the VA Healthcare System serving Indiana, Michigan and Ohio. In this role, she was responsible for network-wide program development related to the healthcare needs of women veterans. She served in this capacity for approximately eight years.

Grimm's research interests include sex and gender related health disparities (particularly within military and veteran communities), women's mental health (especially psychosocial, complementary and alternative medicine prevention and treatment strategies) and the impact of gender socialization on women's mental health. Associate Professor Nikki Wooten serves as her research mentor and Associate Professor Christina Andrews is her academic mentor.

Christian Holmes began her doctoral studies in 2018. She previously earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Virginia Tech University in 2013, followed by her Master of Social Work from the University of South Carolina in 2016. Holmes began working at the South Carolina Department of Mental Health after graduating with her MSW.   

Sadia Jehan earned bachelor's and master's degrees economics and worked for three years in data analysis and reporting in different settings (corporate, non-profit and academia).

Jehan's primary research interest is opioid use. She is interested in studying access to medication assisted treatment for opioid use disorder, racial and geographic disparities, and performing impact evaluation of policies and programs aimed at improving substance use related outcomes. Jehan intends to specialize in secondary data analysis by using surveys, administrative data, and Geographic Information System to understand the barriers to opioid use disorder and how can it be addressed using policy intervention to reverse the opioid epidemic. 

Eric King earned his bachelor’s degree in behavioral science from Duquesne University and his MSW from the University of Southern California. He received his LISW-CP to practice clinical social work at the independent level within the state of South Carolina.

Prior to Entering the Ph.D. program, Eric was an outpatient mental health therapist for almost three years at the Williams Jennings Bryan Dorn Veteran Affairs Hospital in Columbia. He is interested in analyzing American military recruitment policy and mixed-methods research with a focus on veterans and military recruits.

Karen Leon is from Lima, Peru, where she earned her bachelor's degree in psychology. In 2015, she graduated from the University of South Carolina with a Master of Social Work degree and a graduate certificate in drug and addiction studies.maridfddd

Leon's research focuses on domestic violence and Latino immigrants and is interested in studying the use of power and control within the domestic violence shelter system and its impact on Latino immigrants' journey to remain free from violence. She has worked as a bilingual eligibility screener for the autism division at the UofSC School of Medicine's Center for Disability Resources as a program evaluator in a Latino community-based organization and an early intervention counselor in a local domestic violence organization.

Leon is passionate about gender inequality, immigration and environmental issues. She currently serves as a volunteer for Lutheran Services Carolinas in the division of refugee resettlement.

Amanda Stafford McRell received a Bachelor of Social Work and a bachelor’s degree in political science, public policy from Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina. She also earned a Master of Public Administration with a concentration in international nonprofit management from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Prior to pursuing her doctoral education, McRell worked as the executive director of Reach Out Orphanage Ministries (ROOM), an international agency providing abandonment prevention, orphanage support and family placement programs for children in non-parental care in Central America and Southeast Asia. Her research interests include child well-being, international social work and human service organizational management. 

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Sarah Pace received her undergraduate degree in sociology from Claflin University, with minors in Spanish and gerontology. She earned a Master of Social Work degree and a graduate certificate in drug and addiction studies from the University of South Carolina.

Pace is bilingual in English and Spanish and served as a volunteer in Lima, Peru, for one-and-a-half years. As a licensed master social worker, Pace has experience working with adults living in community and institutional settings and has served as guardian ad litem for adults taken into emergency protective custody.

Pace's research interests relate to the use of social marketing and mass communication to promote evidence-based practice for a global audience. She is also interested in policy changes that ensure social justice for competent adults who, against their will, are placed in assisted living and long-term care facilities, brought into emergency protective custody, or denied their right to self-determination in other settings.

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Mary Ann Priester received her bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of North Carolina at Asheville and her Master of Social Work degree at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She was named a fellow in the inaugural cohort of the USC Graduate Civic Scholars Program and was a 2016 recipient of the Breakthrough Graduate Scholar Award. In addition, she earned a Support to Promote Advancement of Research and Creativity Graduate Research Support to Promote Advancement of Research grant from the Office of the Vice President for Research and a Preparing Future Faculty program award.

Priester has served as the student representative on the college's doctoral program committee. She taught part-time in the Bachelor of Social Work program and is currently an adjunct faculty member in the MSW program at UNC-Charlotte.

As a health services researcher in training, Priester has more than 10 years of experience working with underserved and vulnerable populations, particularly individuals who are homeless or involved with the criminal justice system. These experiences have fueled her commitment to improving access to behavioral health services for vulnerable populations and informed her research focus. Specifically, Priester is interested in structural and behavioral processes that contribute to barriers to behavioral health service access and utilization by persons exposed to Adverse Childhood Experiences. She is also interested in behavioral health and social trajectories of persons exposed to ACE and working to develop theory-driven, trauma-informed interventions and service delivery models to affect the processes, particularly among racial and ethnic minorities.

Stacy Smith received a bachelor’s degree in applied psychology from Belmont Abbey College and a master’s of social work degree at Winthrop University.

Before enrolling in the Ph.D. program, Smith worked in direct services and management at a non-profit community health center. As a youth employment and job skills development case manager, she worked with local businesses to secure summer employment for youth in foster care and impoverished backgrounds. In the housing and neighborhood services division of municipal government, Smith worked in policy analysis, program development and evaluation. In the field of child protection, she provided direct services to children and families, in addition to policy analysis, program development and evaluation.

Smith is a Spanish interpreter certified by the university’s Interpreter Qualification Project and translator and has served in various settings as an interpreter. She began her research training at Winthrop University’s Center for Social Welfare Research and Assessment. From there, she moved on to an evaluator role with the South Carolina Department of Social Services.

Smith works with Maryah Fram as a research assistant. Her research interests include social work’s unique position to address the intersections of individual experience with issues of food insecurity, poverty, economic exploitation and environmental degradation. 

steven

Steve Wahle, LCSW, is interested in veteran identity, history of social work education, and training of mental health providers. He received a Master of Social Work from St. Louis University and a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Central Florida. Wahle is currently conducting interviews for his dissertation, “So there I was… An emic conceptualization of veteran”. He is also working on a study of student veteran identity and resource engagement on campus. 
Wahle honed his individual, community and policy experience while working in Veterans Affairs hospital systems. Wahle has worked with military veterans at the Veterans Curation Program, Student Veterans of St. Louis, and The Mission Continues. Wahle is mentored by Associate Professor Naomi Farber. 

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Melissa Westlake received her bachelor’s degree in experimental psychology in 2013 from the University of South Carolina, where she also competed as an NCAA Division I student-athlete on the equestrian team. She also earned her Master of Social Work from UofSC in 2016. During her time in the MSW program, she worked with college faculty to develop the university’s first collegiate recovery program, Gamecock Recovery.

Prior to starting her Ph.D. studies, Westlake worked as the project manager on Assistant Professor Christina Andrews National Institute on Drug Abuse-funded award, analyzing the impact of Medicaid expansion on the development and access of substance use disorder treatment in general practice settings. She has also been involved in multiple supplement projects from a National Institutes of Health funded-award. For example, Westlake is currently examining the scope of health care benefits and limitations for substance use disorder treatment and recovery services across all Medicaid managed care organizations in the United States.

Westlake’s research is focused on the impact of health care and social policies on access to and quality of substance use disorder treatment. She is also interested in the availability of social, financial and clinical supports for the relatives and caregivers of individuals struggling with substance use. Her research advisor is Associate Professor Christina Andrews.

julisa

Julisa Tindall received her BA in Psychology with a minor in Coaching and Spanish from College of Charleston in Charleston, SC, where she also competed as an NCAA Division I student-athlete on the track and field team. Additionally, she earned her MSW with a Family Practice Certificate from Tulane University in New Orleans, LA in 2017. Tindall is a licensed clinical social worker with experience in medical social work, along with behavioral health and substance use services. 

Prior to starting her Ph.D. studies, Tindall worked as an Addiction Patient Navigator and Social Worker within the Psychiatry Department at Ochsner Health System in New Orleans, LA and then as Clinical Counselor at Rock Hill Treatment Center, a methadone clinic in Rock Hill, SC. Tindall’s research interest focuses on the health disparities African American women experience and their impact on African American women’s mental health. In the upcoming year, she looks forward to further exploring her scholarship focus and working on several projects expanding her work in health and racial disparities and maternal and mental health. 

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luke

Parthenia Luke (she/her) is a social worker by passion and profession. She is moved by anything concerning social justice, especially as it relates to the human right to be and to belong. This interest presents itself in two ways in her research: in a focus on the long-term implications of displacement pressure for residents of gentrifying communities, and also in a focus on the implications of inclusion, equity, and diversity efforts in higher education. Parthenia is an instructor in the College of Social Work and leads efforts to promote a more inclusive, diverse, and equitable experience for students, faculty, and staff as the College’s Diversity Fellow. Finally, using the assessment and investigative skills she cultivated during years of work in the field, Parthenia also serves as a mitigation specialist and social historian for individuals facing capital punishment.

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Originally from Canada, Shawn McNally earned both his BSSW and MSW from the University of North Dakota. In addition to his degrees, McNally also has a certificate in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Prior to his doctoral studies, McNally worked as a mental health professional within three school districts in Central Minnesota where he provided individual/family/group therapy to middle/high school students and their families. Parallel to these duties, McNally also provided clinical supervision to mental health practitioners and clinical trainees. McNally’s primary research interest focuses on school-based mental/behavioral health promotion, prevention, and intervention. More specifically, McNally is interested in how a tiered public health approach might impact the effects of mental/behavioral health on adolescent health/well-being, motivation, and emerging adulthood. Other closely associated interests include athlete mental health and school social work.  

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jenn

Jennifer Ornelas, LCSW, received her bachelor’s degree in Cultural Anthropology from the University of California in Irvine. During her undergraduate studies she was awarded several grants that made it possible for her to work with indigenous populations in Chiapas, Mexico.  

She later went on to earn her MSW at the University of Southern California. After graduating, she began deepening her clinical understanding of complex trauma in the work she did with refugee and asylee populations at International Rescue Committee.  

In 2015, she began working with San Diego Fire-Rescue Department to develop mental health services for firefighters. In 2017, she opened and operated a private practice that solely served first responders and the family members of first responders.  

Jennifer’s research interests include firefighter mental health, firefighter identity, and fire family wellness. Her aspirations are to contribute to social work by developing knowledge that expands understanding of the interplay between repeated exposure to trauma and concomitant on-the-job pressures unique to firefighting. She hopes her work will bring meaningful insight into how social work and its allied fields can more relevantly support the first responder community. 

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