Doctoral research

Why scholarship in social work matters

A scholar in the field of social work turns an eye toward the questions that may go unnoticed or seem, at first glance, too big to tackle. Our goal is not simply to determine why a social problem may exist, but also to formulate new interventions, policies or methods to alleviate that problem — and to engage with the practice and policy community so our knowledge can make the most impact.

To this end, the Ph.D. degree program at VCU’s School of Social Work prepares our students to shape exquisitely precise questions and enact the best research to answer those questions.

A culture of collaboration

Our program is founded on a culture of collaboration, in which our faculty and students work closely not only to develop contributions to the field that can make a difference in people’s lives, but also to instill the skills necessary to formulate theories, conduct proper and guided research and analyze data effectively.

Research collaboration isn’t limited only to School of Social Work faculty. Our students are encouraged and expected to engage faculty in other schools and departments throughout VCU, as well as community partners.

Our students have conducted extensive research in the following areas:

  • Children and youth services
  • Community organization
  • Cultural issues
  • Family violence
  • Gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual issues
  • Gerontology and aging-related issues
  • Health and wellness
  • Homelessness
  • Mental health
  • Military family services
  • Poverty and welfare
  • Religion and spirituality
  • Sexual abuse
  • Social media and nonprofit organizations
  • Social work pedagogy
  • Social work practice
  • Substance abuse
  • Therapeutic foster care
  • Women’s issues

Selected student presentations

Casey, R.C. & Bentley, K. J. (2016, June). Incarcerated women’s experiences and beliefs about psychotropic medication: An empirical study. National Organization of Forensic Social Work Annual Conference, New Orleans, LA.

Cummings, C.R. & Thissen, R. (2015, October). Peer support: An expanding role, an important opportunity. Interactive workshop presentation at the Council on Social Work Education 61th Annual Program Meeting, Denver, CO.

DeCarlo, M. & Bogenschutz, M. (2015, October). Self-directed supports for individuals with Autism, Intellectual, and Developmental Disabilities. Oral presentation at the Annual Program Meeting of the Council of Social Work Education, Denver, CO.

Dixon, M.A. (2015, October) The Resilience Reconditioning Intervention-Deployed (2RID): A Therapeutic Tool for Military Personnel. Oral presentation at the Annual Program Meeting of the Council of Social Work Education, Denver, CO.

George, C. & Robinson, J. (April 2016). Empowering Clerks of the Court to Provide Effective Accommodations to People with Disabilities. Poster presented at the VCU Graduate Student Association Research Symposium and the VCU School of Social Work Research Symposium, Richmond, VA.

Jettner, J.F., Compton, K.S., Hyojin, I., & Vatalaro-Hill, K. (August, 2015). The use of container gardening to improve health among refugees: A Preliminary assessment. Paper presented at the 2015 Community Gardening Conference at Monmouth University, West Long Branch, New Jersey, (Regional).

Murray, M., Khoury, D., & Farmer, E.M.Z. (2016, January) Improving Implementation and Dissemination in Treatment Foster Care. Poster presentation at the Society for Social Work Research, Washington, D.C.

Collins, E., Maternick, A., McDonald, S.E., Nicotera, N., Williams, J. H., & Ascione, F. (January, 2016). Women's experiences of companion animal maltreatment in the context of intimate partner violence: A qualitative study with implications for safety planning and intervention. Poster presentation for the 20th Annual Program Meeting of the Society for Social Work & Research, Washington DC.

Prorock-Ernest, A. (2016). Wading through the murky waters: A doctoral student’s reflection on research engagement in Indian Country. Oral presentation at the Twelfth International Congress of Qualitative Inquiry (Urbana-Champaign: IL).

Hyojin, I. & Rosenberg, R., (2016, January). Building Cultural Health Capital in the Refugee Community: A Qualitative Participatory Evaluation of Community Health Workshops with Bhutanese Refugees. Oral presentation at the Society for Social Work Research, Washington, D.C.

Secret, M., Ward, C. J.,& Newmark, A. (2015, October). From face-to-face to hybrid to online to MOOC: Choosing appropriate learning tools. An interactive workshop presented at the Annual Program Meeting of the Council on Social Work Education, Denver, CO. 

Recent dissertations

In progress

Boyles, Bryan R.  How Does Alcoholics Anonymous Affect Drinking Outcomes? A Grounded Perspective. Committee Members: Dr. Patrick Dattalo, Chair; Drs. Sunny Shin, Youngmi Kim, Mary Loos (VCU Dept. of Psychology)

Cummings, Cory  Exploring a Shared Space for Health Promotion: A CBPR Project with the Mental Health Peer Community. Committee Members: Dr. Kia J. Bentley, Chair; Drs. Liz Cramer, Sarah Kye Price, Rebecca S. Etz (VCU Dept. of Family Medicine and Population Health)

Jettner, Jennifer  Growing Food Justice: Exploring Race and Privilege in Community Gardens. Committee Members: Dr. Mary C. Secret, Chair; Drs. Patrick V. Dattalo, Elizabeth Farmer, Meghan Gough (VCU Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs)

Prorock-Ernest, Amy  The meaning of health and healing among Virginia Indian people associated with a reservation-based, non-federally funded health clinic. Committee Members: Dr. M. Alex Wagaman, Chair; Drs. Mary Katherine O’Connor, Sarah Kye Price, Maghboeba Mosavel (VCU Dept. of Social and Behavioral Health)

Ross, Avina  Black Feminist Discourse Analysis of Portrayals of Gender Violence Against Black Women: A Social Work Dissertation. Committee Members: Dr. Elizabeth P. Cramer, Chair; Drs. Shelby E. McDonald, Nicole L. Lee, Kellie E. Carlyle (VCU Dept. of Social and Behavioral Health), Rowena L. Briones (VCU School of Media and Culture) 


Masri, D. Neal (Aug 2016) A Correlational Analysis of Secondary Data for Factors Influencing Graduation from Adult Drug Court. Committee Members: Dr. Patrick Dattalo, Chair; Drs. Sanford Schwartz, David Fauri and James C. May (Richmond Behavioral Health Authority).

Newmark, Ananda (Aug 2016) Student Engagement in Undergraduate Social Work Education among “at-risk” students. Committee Members: Dr. Mary C. Secret, Chair; Drs. Elizabeth M.Z. Farmer, Timothy L. Davey, Laura J. Moriarty (Affiliate Graduate Faculty)

Dixon, Mark A. (Aug 2016) Deployment Resilience among U.S. Airmen: A Secondary Analysis of Risk and Protective Factors using the 2013 Community Assessment Survey. Committee Members: Dr. Joseph F. Walsh, Chair; Drs. Patrick V. Dattalo, Karen G. Chartier, Scott R. Vrana (VCU Department of Psychology)

George, Cynthia M. (May 2016) Supporting teen leaders: Validation of the I Drive Smart Survey. Committee Members: Dr. Patrick V. Dattalo, Chair; Drs. Sarah Kye Price, Elizabeth Cramer, Donna Dockery (VCU School of Education)

DeCarlo, Matthew P. (May 2016) Implementation of Self-Directed Supports for Individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities: A Political Economy Analysis. Committee Members: Dr. Sarah Kye Price, Chair; Drs. Matthew Bogenschutz, David Fauri, Parthenia Dinora (VCU Partnership for People with Disabilities)

Khoury, Dalia Y. (May 2016) Considerations in the provision of mental health services towards Arabs. Committee Members: Dr. Elizabeth M.Z. “Betsy” Farmer, Chair; Drs. Patrick V. Dattalo, Mary C. Secret, Paul Perrin (VCU Dept. of Psychology)