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Ph.D. Program Doctoral Student Profiles

Featured Student Profiles

Emily Lott

Emily Lott is part of an innovative new embedded researcher program where she completes her research while housed within a local social service agency.  She's doing program evaluation and research at Parrott Creek Child and Family Services with boys age 14-18 involved in the juvenile justice system.  

Having completed both her BA in social work and MSW at the University of Oklahoma, Emily has worked with children and families across a variety of settings including youth and families with developmental disabilities, women and families in re-entry from jail, and as a mental health clinician for youth and families.

"I've found the faculty in PSU's Ph.D. program to be very supportive," Emily says. "They provide lots of opportunities for doctoral students to do substantive work in the community." Email:

Andre Pruitt began his doctoral studies at Portland State in 2014.  Andre's current research focuses on investigatingmemory loss among African American elders in the community.  A 20+ year social work professional and long-­time advocate, Andre has also worked on statewide equal rights initiatives for gay men of color, as well as around issues concerning sexual minority youth, equity in employment, and the expansion of educational opportunities for African Americans. He has served on several community boards and task forces in the Portland metro area.

"Doing research in an urban environment like Portland supports my research goals perfectly," Andre says. "And being guided by the diverse expertise of Portland State's School of Social Work faculty, I know I'm getting a rich and rigorous doctoral degree."  Email:

Katie Winters conducts applied research for community-based, state, and national organizations in the areas of early intervention, child maltreatment prevention, and parent education.  Katie is part of a team that just launched a Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program evaluation in the state of Oregon.  Housed in the School of Social Work's nationally known Regional Research Institute (RRI), this project will examine engagement and retention in evidence-based home visiting programs. MIECHV provides culturally responsive services that can help meet the needs of Oregon's pregnant women, mothers, children, and families. Email:


More Student Profiles

Jeffrey Asprocolas received his BA from Rutgers University, Livingston College in 1999 and his MSW from Rutgers University School of Social Work in 2003.  He has experience providing individual therapy for youth experiencing mental health difficulties and substance abuse related challenges.  In addition, he has an extensive child welfare background working for Los Angeles County in California and the State of Washington, and gained experience in providing family reunification services, permanency planning, adoption home studies, and investigations of child abuse and neglect.  Jeffrey’s research interests include issues related to youth aging out of foster care, evaluation of public child welfare systems, and child welfare staff retention. Email:


Abby Bandurraga has an MSW from Portland State University. She has partnered for over five years with Native American organizations in an effort to counter top-down research by working with Native communities to develop cultural- and community-based measures that demonstrate the effectiveness of culturally based interventions. Her interests include indigenous frameworks of well-being for American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) youth and emerging AI/AN adults, human trafficking, and adolescent sexuality. She has co-authored several articles on Community Based Participatory Research with urban Native communities and has an encyclopedia entry in the Sage Encyclopedia of Street Crime in America on sexual street violence.

Ryan Elizabeth Bender, MSW is currently a PhD Student in the School of Social Work at Portland State University. Ms. Bender has a long history working with community based organizations in Portland that address educational, housing, and health care inequalities. Primarily, her role has been as a qualitative and quantitative researcher, gathering information about community members’ experiences of social and health disparities. Her research interests center on social determinants of health with an emphasis on diabetes care management, family dynamics, and family nutrition; community based participatory approaches that focus on community leadership and self-efficacy; and cultural responsiveness within the special education service delivery system. She is a member of the Community Partnership for Health and Equity (CPHE), which is planning a series of community-driven research projects investigating the problems and priorities neighborhoods affected by health inequities and serious health conditions. In January 2015, she will represent CPHE at an international conference “On Sustainability” in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Jared Israel Best grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah and moved to Portland in 2006 on a whim after dropping out of college for the second time. Jared began his studies at the University of Utah in 2001 as a theater major, eventually finishing 10 years later with a degree in Psychology from Portland State in 2010. Jared is the fifth of six children and the first in his immediate family to earn a college degree. During his college career, Jared changed his major six times, including Sociology, Vocal Performance, English Lit, and Creative Writing. A jack-of-all-trades, Jared possesses useless knowledge of cheese and astrology and has published two poems in a small, independent journal. Having experienced a brush with “the system” during his youth, Jared returned to his original calling in social work for a local youth welfare organization and on a research project at the Regional Research Institute. Jared’s future goals include serving youth in foster care through research and education. 

Danica Love Brown completed an undergraduate degree in human services and addiction studies at Metropolitan State College of Denver and a master’s degree in social work at Colorado State University. Danica has practice experience working in mental health, substance abuse, and school social work settings, with a focus on working with socio-economic and ethnically diverse communities. She also has served as an adjunct faculty member at Metropolitan State College of Denver. Danica is licensed in the state of Colorado as a certified addiction counselor III. Her area of research focuses on understanding how the worldview of indigenous peoples can contribute to the development of behavioral health interventions and programs for urban Native American youth. 
Danica’s postdoctoral goal is to engage in policy or program development practice and research with Native American populations while continuing to teach as an adjunct faculty member. She is a member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and loves dogs. Email:


Kevin Cherry is a PhD student in Social Work and Social Research at Portland State University. He received his BSW from Harding University in 2008 and his MA in Social Service Administration from the University of Chicago in 2011. Kevin’s professional experiences have centered around the prevention and intervention of men’s violence against women, research in an academic setting on issues related to LGBT health and HIV prevention, and the promotion and monitoring of ethical academic research through work with Institutional Review Boards. His current academic interests include social work ethics, the history and philosophy of the social work profession, radical and critical traditions within social work, political philosophy, and the historical and contemporary relationship between social work and the state. He dreams of writing a dissertation on the potential of anarchist thought to transform the field of social work into a revolutionary, social change focused profession.


Beckie Child received her BA from Weber State University in 2003 in Elementary Education and her MSW from Portland State University in 2009.  Beckie taught 3rd-9th grade students with learning disabilities and emotional challenges for two years. Beckie is the former Executive Director of Mental Health America of Oregon, and Peerlink National Technical Assistance Center.  She has helped start multiple peer-run organizations including a drop-in center and a statewide advocacy organization. Beckie also has served on a number of non-profit boards of directors for several years. She currently serves on the governor-appointed Oregon State Hospital Advisory Board and SAMHSA's Wellness Steering Committee. Beckie has been a mental health advocate for individuals and families for more than 15 years. Her research interests include health literacy and people with mental health challenges, interpersonal violence, and self-injury.  Her personal interests include reading, music, exploring waterfalls and her three cats.

Adrienne Croskey has an MSW from Portland State University and is currently a PhD student in the School of Social Work and Social Research program at Portland State University. Adrienne has a strong history working alongside research-based projects that support and mentor at-risk youth populations by offering coaching, evaluation assistance, designing measures and curriculum, data collection, management and analysis. Adrienne is currently program coordinator for peer delivered services at a community based mental health agency as well as a research consultant. She holds a strong social justice and trauma informed perspective with a growing professional area of expertise around program design, development, implementation and evaluation. She resides on various advisory boards that support youth populations and continues to offer training and consultation around peer support services by collaborating with community agencies currently integrating peers into their workforce. Adrienne’s other areas of interests include issues related to youth aging out of foster care, multi-ethnic identity development in adolescents, cultural responsiveness within the child welfare system, anti-oppressive practice and trauma informed research, and the intersection of race, gender and privilege.  Adrienne has been a mental health advocate for youth in foster care, youth of color and has been active in the emerging adult with lived experience movement.


Miranda Cunningham is a first-generation college student. She enrolled in a local community college following a fortuitous phone call from a running coach and completed a transfer degree and an A.A.S. in early childhood education.  She spent 13 years working in child care and youth-serving programs, with ten of these years working with low-income families in Washington State’s Early Childhood Education Program, which furthered her interests in poverty and access to education.  In 2007 she enrolled in Washington State University Vancouver, completed a bachelor’s degree in Human Development and became interested in the experiences of foster youth transitioning out of care, serving as a primary investigator in an undergraduate research fellowship.  She also completed her Master’s degree in Teaching at Washington State University Vancouver, and entered PSU’s Social Work and Social Research program to study the experiences of foster youth in transition.  While at PSU, Miranda continued to research and write about “aging out.”  Miranda has taught undergraduate courses in University Studies, Child and Family Studies, and is an adjunct instructor in Human Development at Washington State University Vancouver.  Her dissertation is focused on the relational worlds of first-generation students, and she’s excited to continue participatory research with youth “aging out” of care and other first-generation college students, using feminist epistemologies which attend to the ways that race, class, and gender structure educational opportunities. 

Miranda and her partner have helped raise eight young adults as kinship, foster, and adoptive caregivers over the past 15 years.  She enjoys reading, writing, hiking, photography, and time with friends and family.


Maria Carolina Gonzalez-Prats completed her military service in 2004 (enlisted soldier in the Army Reserves and active-duty Army officer). She has focused her research and advocacy work on supporting veterans and their families’ efforts in access to resources, on the dynamic challenges of veterans transitioning from military to civilian life, and on social justice matters. Carolina has served as a consultant on a broad range of projects; and has various leadership experiences in the public, corporate and non-profit sector. These experiences and her passion for community development and adult education inspired Carolina to pursue the Masters of Psychology in Organization Development from Sonoma State University (2006). Her Master’s thesis, “The Transition of the Military Leader into the Civilian Workforce," addressed the enablers and barriers that veterans face upon reintegration into the civilian workforce. Carolina will be focusing her doctoral research on exploring the impact of gender exclusionary policies on the rates of military sexual trauma (MST).

Jesse Homan received his BA from Columbia College Chicago and worked as a motion picture grip for 7 years. He decided to return to school to become a counselor and received his MS in Rehabilitation Counseling from PSU in 2008. Since graduating Jesse has become interested in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. He currently works at the Portland DBT Institute where he is a therapist and a trainer. He is a DBT adherence coder for the Behavioral Research and Therapy Clinics at the University of Washington. His research area of interest is using technology to help disseminate treatments.



Kevin Jones is Practicum Director and Instructor in the Dorothy Day Social Work Program at University of Portland, where he teaches courses on individual and group counseling, interventions with children and youth, and social work and sustainability. He also teaches Sustainability and Social Work in the MSW program at Portland State University. His research interests include youth mentoring, sustainability assessment and reporting in nonprofit organizations, and university-community partnerships. He serves on the President’s Advisory Committee on Sustainability at UP and is a board member of two local nonprofit organizations, Groundwork Portland and The Portland Kitchen. He has master’s degrees in Education and Social Work, and is currently a doctoral candidate in Social Work and Social Research at Portland State University.

Sarah R. Lazzari received her BA in Sociology with a Criminal Justice Minor from University of Washington in 2010, and then received her MS in Criminology and Criminal Justice from Portland State University in 2012. After working for Girl Scouts Beyond Bars, Sarah became increasingly interested in better understanding how families are impacted by periods of incarceration. Currently, Sarah is the Chair of the Research Committee for Oregon Department of Corrections. Sarah is also teaching at WSU Vancouver, and in the Social Work and Criminology and Criminal Justice Departments at PSU. Sarah's research interests are focused on how an individual’s community/family/support networks are impacted by periods of incarceration. She is beginning to utilize more mixed methods approaches, and attempts to provide research opportunities for currently incarcerated individuals.  Email:

Sandy Leotti received her BA from Prescott College in 2002 and her MSW from the University of Montana in 2006. Her practice experience includes community mental health, violence education and prevention, community case management for adults and children with disabilities and long term illnesses, clinical practice with youth, and leadership development. Sandy’s research interests include the criminalization of women, reproductive justice, disability, and feminist methodologies. She is also interested in anti-oppressive practice and social work education with a specific focus on the infusion of critical and feminist theories in education and practice.



Casidy "Khaki" Marino received a B.S. in Sociology in 1993 and a MSW in 1999 from Portland State University and entered the PhD in Social Work and Social Welfare in 2011.  She worked in community mental health for eighteen years in a number of settings including supported housing, secure and forensic facilities, and dual diagnosis programs. She is a certified alcohol and drug counselor and a National Yoga Alliance registered yoga teacher. Khaki has been active in the mental health consumer and mad movements and identifies as an individual in recovery. Her research interests include social recovery and mad activism and service delivery. 


Martha Jean McCormack received her BS degree from the University of Oregon in 1974 and her MS degree in Counseling Psychology from Central Washington University in 1984.  She entered the PSU PhD program in 2011 after a 25 year work history in publicly-funded children’s mental health services in Oregon and Washington states. Over the span of that work, Martha held a variety of roles, including therapist, clinical supervisor, program manager, consultant, and administrator.  For the five years prior to starting her doctoral program, Martha supervised a team of facilitators and family partners in a SAMHSA-funded early childhood wraparound project in Portland, Oregon.   Her professional areas of expertise are systems of care, community-based treatment of trauma, team-based planning, and program design and evaluation. Her research area of study during her doctoral program is caregiver strain in families raising children with mental health needs.  She currently holds a graduate fellowship position with Big Brothers Big Sisters Columbia Northwest, in connection with The PSU Center for Interdisciplinary Mentoring Research, where she is an agency-embedded researcher.  Email: 

Lindsay Merrit received her BSW in 2011 and her MSW with a concentration on Social Service Administration and Leadership in 2012 from the School of Social Work at Portland State University. Her practice experience includes serving children, youth, adults, and seniors with developmental disabilities in both residential and program settings. She has also served adults with co-occurring disorders in community-based mental health settings, served youth with substance use challenges and criminal justice involvement, and provided support services through an LGBTQ crisis line. For the previous six years Lindsay has assisted with program development and evaluation, including development of curriculum, fidelity, methodology, data collection, management, and analysis. She is currently co-investigator for two Tribal Maternal Infant Early Childhood Home Visiting (TMIECHV) program evaluations at the Regional Research Institute. Lindsay’s primary research interests are community-based participatory and anti-oppressive approaches to program evaluation in reservation-based tribal communities and privilege and positionality in program evaluation. Lindsay intends to use program evaluation as a conduit for advancing social justice and client/community self-determination.   Email:

Rhen Miles started her journey in advocacy work at a Women’s Resource Center in a community college setting in Portland Oregon. From here she traveled into the non-profit sector working with youth who were developing within oppressive juvenile justice and foster care systems. After developing a passion for research as an avenue towards improving the environmental context in which children and adolescents grow and learn, she pursued doctoral work in Social Work and Social Research at Portland State University in the combined MSW/PhD program. Rhen’s research interests include school climate as a contextual framework for understanding the myriad of relational dynamics that impact identity development and social-emotional well-being. Specifically, she is interested in the ways in which the education system fosters or hinders students’ experiences of inclusion. Disproportionate discipline practices, student identity affirmation within the school and classroom, exposure to social justice issues, and avenues for participation are the key dimensions of school climate that Rhen hopes to investigate and advocate for change. She is currently working on a school-based evaluation project in which students and families will engage in a Photo Voice and dialogue process highlighting community strengths and building capacity and opportunities for engagement in student-family leadership.  She also teaches Families in Society within the University Studies Sophomore Inquiry Child and Family Studies cluster. Email:  

Miriam Miranda-Díaz earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and the Master of Social Work Degree from Portland State University. Her experience includes working with youth and adults in the judicial system, in education, and in other non-profit organizations. This experience provided her with knowledge and skills in mental health, chemical dependency, and community-based research. Her areas of interest include social work with Latinos, animal (equine) assisted interventions, and quantitative and qualitative methodologies. Miriam enjoys spending time with her family and riding horses. 



Elizabeth "Lisa" Norton is a member of the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians where she has lived and worked for over 20 years. She has worked and volunteered in a variety of capacities for the Siletz Tribe, including Tribal Court, TANF, Child Welfare, Enrollment, Mental Health Research, and Small Business Development. She has been a sexual assault advocate for over five years, both on and off the reservation. She received her MSW from Portland State University, and is working on her Ph.D. in Social Work and Research. Her research interests include community-based, participatory action research. She also is looking at ways to reduce secondary trauma, as a result of sexual assault, in Indian Country. She currently serves as adjunct faculty at Portland State University’s Social Work Program, and a Sexual Assault Advocate Trainer for the Oregon Sexual Assault Taskforce and the Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board.

Molly Oberweiser Kennedy received her B.A. in Social Work in 1999 from the College of Saint Benedict, and in 2009 earned her M.Ed. with a focus on Youth Development and Leadership from the University of Minnesota.  Her professional experience has been working with youth and families across a variety of settings including alternative schools, community mental health, and residential and juvenile corrections placements.  Most recently she worked as a Wraparound Care Coordinator for Washington County Mental Health.  Her research interests include youth development, adolescent mental health, the effects of intergenerational trauma, Wraparound and Systems of Care.


Meg Panichelli completed her BA in Women's & Gender Studies in 2005 and her MSW in 2010, both from West Chester University of PA. Her primary interests revolve around feminist teaching and research methodologies. Prior to starting school she taught sexual violence prevention education in Santa Fe, New Mexico and coordinated a harm reduction program for sex workers and drug users in Philadelphia, PA. As a white, queer, femme, and feminist she enters teaching and research through the lens of these identities, work experiences, education, and life experiences in which she believes weave together, and cannot be separated or unattached to professional and academic work. Her interests in research, activism, and teaching include: Anti-oppressive social work practice and research, critical feminisms, intersections of sexuality and drug use, sex work and academia, examining privilege in sex work and sex worker activism, intimate partner violence and sexual violence in queer and transgender communities, intersections of privilege, and teaching about sexuality and consent.

Claudia Sellmaier earned her Diplom in Social Work in Bamberg, Germany in 2001 and her Master’s in Intercultural Conflict Management in Berlin, Germany in 2006. She has years of experience working with families around parenting issues and with homeless young adults. Claudia moved to the United States in 2007 and continued her work with families and young adults. She entered the PhD program in Social Work and Social Welfare at Portland State University in 2011. Her research interest revolves around work family conflict involving a cross-national focus.

Stephanie Sunborg received a BA in Journalism and an MS in Psychology, both from the University of Oregon.  Stephanie currently lives in Bend with her husband, three children and lab named Moose.  In addition to being a student, she works as the Research Analyst for Deschutes County Health Services, where a primary role is program evaluation for a national childhood wellness program, Project LAUNCH. With a background in early childhood issues, Stephanie plans to pursue research focused on young children experiencing chronic stress due to environmental conditions.



Christine M. Velez Klug received her BA from Bates College in 2002 and her MSW from the State University of New York at Buffalo in 2010. She has experience working with adults and children living with mental health challenges, refugees from all over the world as part of the federal Match Grant program, adults with developmental disabilities, medical social work in a cancer hospital setting, and working as a case manager in a non-profit with the Latina/o population in upstate New York.  Christine’s research interests include issues related to reproductive justice and women’s health with a focus on women of color, maternal and child health issues, critical social work, and integration of feminist methodologies in research.  She is also interested in environmental racism as it affects women of color and marginalized communities. Email:

Nichole (Nick) Winges-Yanez earned both her BSW and MSW from Portland State University.  She has worked extensively with individuals labeled with developmental disabilities. She also has experience working with individuals living with HIV/AIDS, adults labeled with developmental disabilities and sexual offending behavior, and queer identified youth.  She has recently finished a project talking with queer identified youth across Oregon about their experiences with sexual education in schools.   Her research focus involves  reframing the current discourse surrounding individuals labeled with an intellectual disability and their sexuality utilizing queer and feminist theories interlaced with disability studies’ literature.  She is also interested in both queer and disability activism as it manifests locally, nationally, and internationally.