MSW Research Award Winners Describe the Inspiration for Their Projects

Foster youth approaching emancipation. Homeless at-risk youth. Refugees. Youth in the juvenile justice system. Survivors of sexual trauma. 

The five recipients of the 2015 Research Award for MSW Students found inspiration for their winning research projects from the populations they worked with as well as from their personal interests and passions.

Rudaina Elalami, CSU, Fullerton, Orange County Social Services Agency“The Effect of Social Worker Involvement on Educational Attainment, Employment, and Internalizing and Externalizing Issues Among Foster Youth”
In the child welfare concentration, professors encouraged students to be critical of the system and find creative ways to address common issues that arise. The goal of child protective services is to ensure the safety of children and families; however, there are some unintended consequences.  I was especially interested in addressing former foster youth's outcomes. Unfortunately, foster youth experience higher rates of homelessness, unemployment, substance abuse, and involvement in the legal system compared to the general population. Youth approaching emancipation from foster care experience a much more accelerated path to adulthood with poor outcomes. 

As a future child welfare social worker, I was interested in identifying social work practices that promote a successful transition into young adulthood. The purpose of this study is to examine the effect of social worker involvement on educational attainment, employment, and internalizing and externalizing problems among foster youth. The study's results revealed social work practices and services that predicted better foster youth outcomes. 

Heather Metz, CSU, Monterey Bay, Community Human Services, Monterey County“Assessing Trauma in Safe Place Clients: A Descriptive Study”: 
I started working at Safe Place in Monterey the same month that I started my MSW program at California State University, Monterey Bay. I worked for two years as a Street Outreach Counselor and worked with many homeless and at-risk youth between the ages of 12 and 24, providing basic needs and very informal counseling/case management.

I noticed in my time working with and talking to youth that they often get "stuck" in the homeless life and found it difficult to reintegrate into mainstream society. As I learned more about trauma and trauma-informed care throughout my graduate school education, I realized that there seemed to be a correlation between homelessness and trauma.

After speaking with the program director of Safe Place and the executive director of Community Human Services, I found that there had been no research done on the unique population of youth who receive services at Safe Place. Additionally, the issue of homelessness on the Monterey Peninsula is often misunderstood and talked about with a negative connotation. I felt the need to do a study on trauma and homeless youth so that our program could better meet the needs of our client base, but also so that my research could hopefully educate the greater population of Monterey County about the complexities that make up homelessness. 

Jennifer Nakata, UC Berkeley, International Rescue Committee’s Center for Well-Being, “Refugee Wellness Navigators (RWN) to Improve Refugee Community Wellbeing in Alameda County”: 
I decided to pursue this research project, which evaluates a community navigator program, because it aligns with my interests of improving refugee health in our community. Refugees often experience a multitude of barriers when resettling to the U.S., which may result in poor health outcomes, mental health issues, social isolation, and restrcted health care access. The Refugee Wellness Navigator program utilizes comunity navigators who are refugees themselves to build social connections, improve health outcomes, and increasse overall wellness for the refugee clients served. This method aims to maintain a high level of cultural sensitivty and draw from community strengths. 

As an intern with the International Rescue Committee, I assisted with the design, implementation, and, most recently, the evaluation of the Refugee Wellness Navigator program. Through this process, I hope to have made an impact, in some way, to improve refugee wellness in Alameda County. 

Meghann Newell, CSU, Fullerton, Riverside County Department of Mental Health“Social-Environmental Influences on Self-Regulation among Male and Female Youth Offenders”
A long-time avocation of mine has been studying and practicing self-regulatory capacity building—particularly mindfulness. It has been a goal of mine to bring aspects of self-regulation into my research. As an undergraduate student, I began volunteering with a nonprofit, Freedom4Youth, focused on building community with youth in the juvenile justice system. I noticed connections between self-regulation capacity and gender-specific parental/peer/community level factors effecting re-incarceration rates among the youth.

My curiosity of self-regulatory processes among juvenile justice populations sustained throughout graduate school. I honed in on this particular research project's purpose when I learned about the tremendous effectiveness and need for interagency collaborative efforts in working with youth during my MSW practicum placement with Riverside County Department of Mental Health. I hope that my research will shed light on the importance of a systemic shift towards increased gender-specific community-based collaborative mental health services that target multi-level social-environmental factors to deepen our knowledge on understanding deviant behavior in a biopsychosocial context.

A thank you to all the people who inspired me to pursue this research: my sincere love and gratitude to the highly knowledgeable faculty at CSU, Fullerton (especially to my research advisor, Dr. Juye Ji), the remarkably talented youth in the juvenile justice system, and my exceptionally supportive friends, family, and colleagues.

Serom Sanftner,  CSU, East Bay, Stanford Health Care“Sexual Assault History and Gynecological Care”: 
I’ve had an interest and passion in supporting survivors of sexual trauma since high school, but I learned through volunteering on a Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) for a local rape crisis agency how terrifying the medical setting can be to some survivors.

After I accepted my second-year graduate internship in a gynecologic oncology service line at a hospital, I knew that I would want my research project/thesis to be about trauma-informed care in the medical setting to address the needs of survivors of sexual trauma. This desire was strengthened as I discussed the idea with colleagues and professors, and several people echoed the importance of such a study, even sharing their personal experiences in the medical setting as survivors of sexual trauma. Their personal stories mirrored the literature I read, and their hopes and requests for trauma-informed care also reflected the suggestions that were made throughout the literature.

This guided me in fine-tuning the objective of the study, as well as having the support of my professor, an amazing field supervisor and a brilliant physician research partner. Given my initial interest, the setting of my internship, the feedback from others and the support I received, I could not even imagine a topic different from the one I chose.