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Doctoral Students Partner with Organizations for Summer Internships

Second Year Doctoral Students


June 13, 2022 


(Houston, TX) The University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work has a unique requirement for second-year doctoral students: a research internship based in the community. This internship prepares our doctoral students to be leaders in connecting research to practice and policy. Students have the opportunity to apply their innovative skills learned in class to conduct anti-racist research to address complex challenges and ask questions to amplify the voices of those impacted. Each student connects to an experienced and established scholar across the nation in an area of their interest. The student is expected to complete a project independently, with the guidance and feedback from the course instructor, Dr. Cardoso, and the agency or community-based researcher. At the end of the summer course, students submit a research report on the project. 

We spoke with the doctoral students participating in the internship this summer to learn more about their community partnerships and the impact of their work. 


smith,-l-preferred-headshot-.jpegLimor Smith and UTHealth McGovern Medical School

I will be doing my summer in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and will be identifying demographic and personality variables related to adaptive illness perceptions and the association between illness perceptions and treatment outcomes, this study will increase our knowledge of whether illness perceptions contribute to positive outcomes among individuals with bipolar disorder. Illness perceptions contribute to multiple important outcomes affecting the quality of life among individuals with bipolar disorder. More adaptive illness perceptions have the capacity to exert a positive impact on the lives of individuals living with bipolar disorder and their family, friends, community, and other individuals with bipolar disorder.



"More adaptive illness perceptions have the capacity to exert a positive impact on the lives of individuals living with bipolar disorder and their family, friends, community, and other individuals with bipolar disorder." 
Limor Smith



Helen Spencer Helen Spencer and CASE For Kids 

I will be partnering with a regional organization that supports after-school programs for 15,000 youths in Harris County in order to gain a better understanding of contextual influences on the resilience processes of families and adolescents during the collective trauma of COVID-19. This research internship with CASE for Kids will provide an opportunity to interview program directors and site coordinators while learning about the pandemic adaptations and experiences of community partners, which include the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Houston, Change Happens, and PAIR (Partnership for the Advancement and Immersion of Refugees), among others. This is important because organized activities during out-of-school time can provide crucial emotional and relational support for children, adolescents, and families during a period of academic disruption. 

Marcus Brown and Best Starts for Kids (BSK)

Best Starts for Kids (BSK) has partnered with researchers from universities to work on a county-wide health and wellness initiative to positively improve youth's health, well-being, and educational outcomes. For my research internship, I will conduct a secondary analysis of focus group data to understand how racially and ethnically diverse youth's socio-cultural context influences their understanding of social-emotional development. This project will help identify culturally relevant social-emotional learning strategies to support young people in a local community-based initiative.

Elena IonescuElena Ionescu and Ventura County Area Agency on Aging (VCAAA)

VCAAA is a complex service delivery system that provides access to home and community-based services for older adults in place through Area Agencies on Aging (AAA). Ventura County (VC) AAA is one of the 33 AAAs CA contracts. It offers an expanded portfolio that includes integrated care services, health insurance counseling, advocacy programs, and family supportive services. With over 20 programs serving 11 senior/ adult centers, VCAAA is a leader community-based agency that provides and promotes older adults’ wellbeing. My internship project will allow me the opportunity to focus on my interests, family caregivers for older adults diagnosed with dementia. I will be expected to conduct a Dementia Program review, create lesson plans, deliver educational sessions on issues related to dementia caregiving at home, and update/create educational reports based on the latest research in the field.  


Ying Ma and VOYCE

My internship this summer will be at VOYCE in St. Louis, Missouri, where I will be supervised by the director of the long-term care Ombudsman program. My summer research internship program will be using the secondary database at National Ombudsman Reporting System (NORS)  to evaluate the effectiveness of the Long-term Care Ombudsman Program in reducing elder abuse in long-term care facilities, and identify the changes in patterns of elder abuse pre-post COVID-19 and explore the reasons for those changes. This program will provide evidence for improving the identification, intervention, and prevention of elder abuse in long-term care facilities. This is important work because the Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has had devastating effects on nursing homes and other long-term care settings. Long-term care residents are bearing a disproportionate share of morbidity and mortality from the virus. Emerging evidence indicates that the prevalence of elder abuse in both the community and in institutions has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Anil AroraAnil Arora and The Institute for Military and Veteran Family Wellness (IMVFW)

I will be doing my summer internship at the Institute for Military and Veteran Family Wellness (IMVFW) at the University of Texas at Austin. I will be working directly with Dr. Elisa Borah who chairs the annual military social work conference at UT-Austin and leads the Veteran Spouse Network. Dr. Borah focuses on how peer support can improve veterans’ and veteran spouses’ quality of life and mental health. During the internship with IMVFW, I will have the opportunity to support manuscript writing on past data regarding the treatment of Cognitive Behavioral Conjoint Therapy and support with creating one-pagers that will help disseminate research. This will be a unique opportunity because I will get to transfer my new skills from the Hub for Engaged Action Research. I will be able to help amplify the team’s work and create one-page summaries of the research that can be provided to participants and allow for more possible cross-collaboration. 

Riya BhattRiya Bhatt and Full Circle Strategies

My internship is with Full Circle Strategies where I will be joining the data team to evaluate organizations on their racial equity practices, culture, and policies. Full Circle’s mission is to help organizations learn to practice racial equity through their beliefs, practices, and policies while providing social and emotional support. This is incredibly important work as it helps these organizations to understand the disconnection they may have between beliefs and practices of racial equity. Ultimately Full Circle’s work helps to create organizations that central anti-racism and racial equity, resulting in safe and equitable workspaces for all.  


"This is incredibly important work as it helps these organizations to understand the disconnection they may have between beliefs and practices of racial equity."
Riya Bhatt 


Sean BurrSean Burr and The Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD

I am interning with the Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD, which serves the behavioral health and intellectual and developmental needs of Harris County residents. I will be working on the Healthy Minds/Healthy Communities project, which is a locally-led mental wellness and resiliency initiative, that focuses on ten Harris County zip codes that underutilize traditional mental health care and have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. The program aims to leverage natural and existing social support systems to create a community-led network of emotional support and assistance. Sean will contribute to the evaluation team by creating community and staff surveys, designing sampling strategies, and developing community profiles of the targeted communities. These activities will support the efforts of the implementation team and contribute to the overall execution of the project. 

Jody GardnerJody Gardner and The Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD 

I am interning with the Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD (like my colleague Sean), but working on a separate project.  I am working with the Clinical Director of IDD services and the Health Analytics and Research Director to validate the Columbia- Suicide Severity Rating Scale (C-SSRS) for the Intellectual and/or Developmental Disability (IDD) population. This is important work to conduct because people with disabilities are at elevated risks of suicidal behavior yet The Harris Center is unable to use the C-SSRS to screen for these behaviors because it has not yet been validated for the population. This project also aligns with my personal research agenda which includes understanding and addressing disparities in care for individuals with IDD diagnoses. 

Holly DaviesHolly Davies and the Earthquake Early Warning and Schools Study

My research agenda investigates the impact of disasters on health and psychological well-being throughout the disaster lifecycle. Focusing on diverse populations, my work in both academia and with my Community Emergency Response Team has helped support more resilient individuals, families, and communities to help ameliorate the impacts of disaster. As a graduate research assistant at the Natural Hazards Center, I am working on the mixed-methods Earthquake Early Warning (EEW) and Schools Study. I am assisting in the quantitative analysis of survey data from K-12 superintendents across Alaska, California, Oregon, and Washington. My work will inform strategies to increase EEW uptake in K-12 schools and integrate this new technology into extant school drills and emergency plans.