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College of Social Work

Meet Our Ph.D. Candidates

Students like you pursue a doctorate in social work at Carolina seeking the knowledge, skills and experiences that will help you tackle the tough issues facing our communities through research and teaching.

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

Victoria "Tori" Charles


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. Her mentors are Associate Professors Bethany Bell and Kirk Foster.

Timothy Cross


Timothy Cross received his bachelor's degree in social work at Western Carolina University in 2000. After completing his master of social work degree at the University of South Carolina in 2002, he joined an Asheville, N.C.-area non-profit organization as a family preservation specialist. Working closely with the state's Department of Social Services, Department of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and local mental health providers, Timothy worked for two years in the field as an in-home worker with children at risk of being placed out of home and then spent five years as the program's coordinator. Timothy returned to the College of Social Work in 2010 as a doctoral student to advance his studies. He is currently a doctoral candidate and is working towards a graduate certificate in Women & Gender Studies. His dissertation concerns the representation of voices in online media during the government shutdown of 2013, particularly the presence or absence of typically marginalized groups in online media reporting of this event. Ronald Pitner chairs his dissertation committee.

Kimberly DeCelle


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 almost a decade of psychotherapy practice that included working with juvenile sex offenders in a residential treatment setting and serving patients in a community mental health clinic in Athens, Ga. Her 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. She returned to school to think creatively about the challenges she encountered in clinical practice.

Sara English


Sara English received her bachelor’s degree in behavioral science from Columbia College in and her master’s in social work from Winthrop University, where she worked for the Center for Social Welfare Research and Assessment. She has worked in the fields of aging, palliative care and long-term care administration. Her primary research interests are mental health concerns, the creation of meaningful connections and the relationships created and maintained within institutional settings, with an emphasis on how grief is experienced by professional caregivers. She has been selected for the 2016 cohort of the AGE SW Pre-Dissertation Initiative and serves as an appointee for the S.C. lieutenant governor’s Office on Aging alzheimer’s advisor board. She is a graduate assistant for her academic adviser Terry Wolfer and is mentored by Sue Levkoff and Richard Woodrow (of New York University Medical Center).

Andy Flaherty


Andy Flaherty received a bachelor's degree in biblical studies from the University of Sheffield in England and a master of social work degree from California State University, Chico. Andy worked for several years in the mental health field specializing in psychotherapeutic treatment for adolescent males. His research interests include men in social work education, substance use recovery and the Bible and social work. Andy is currently a research assistant in the Field Education Office where he is helping to conduct formative research into student perceptions of substance abuse recovery needs; this research is contributing to the development of the Gamecock Recovery Initiative. Andy's research mentor is Melissa Reitmeier, director of the Field Education Office, and his academic mentor is Aidyn Iachini.

Jeongsuk Kim


Jeong-Suk Kim received a bachelor's degree in communication arts and sciences from Handong University and a Master of Social Work from Ewha Women’s University. Both institutions are located in South Korea. 

Kim's research centers on identifying factors associated with intimate partner violence. Specifically, her research examines the effect of contextual and situational factors on dating violence perpetration and victimization among college students. Other areas of research include, bystander intervention of intimate partner violence and school violence, and mindfulness intervention for violence survivors. 

Prior to starting the doctoral program, Kim researched women and child welfare at the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs. She has also co-authored a several research books and articles using national representative data sets. 

Kim is currently part of the research team at the Spirituality and Psychoneuroimmunological Outcomes in Breast Cancer Survivors and works with Dr. Jennifer Hulett in the nursing department. She is also  an adjunct faculty member in the Bachelor of Social Work and MSW programs at the College of Social Work. Her advisor is Associate Professor Naomi Farber.

Karen Léon


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. Her research focuses on domestic violence and Latino immigrants, and she 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. Karen has worked as a bilingual eligibility screener for the autism division at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine's Center for Disability Resources, as a program evaluator in a Latino community-based organization and as an early intervention counselor in a local domestic violence organization. She 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.

Trang Nguyen


Trang Nguyen received her bachelor's and master's degrees in social work at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities, Vietnam National University in Hanoi, Vietnam. Following graduation, she worked at the university for four years as a social work instructor and a researcher. Trang's research interest is the adjustment process and influential factors on the adjustment process of older adults with cognitive disabilities and their family caregivers in the Asian population. Her adviser is Huong Nguyen.

Sarah Pace


Sarah Pace received her undergraduate degree in sociology from Claflin University, with minors in Spanish and gerontology. She is bilingual in English and Spanish and served as a volunteer in Lima, Peru, for one and a half years. She earned a master of social work degree and a graduate certificate in drug and addiction studies from the University of South Carolina. As a licensed master social worker, Sara has experience working with adults living in both community and institutional settings and has served as guardian ad litem for adults taken into emergency protective custody. Her 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.

Mary Ann Priester

Mary Ann

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 is a decorate student. 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 (SPARC) grant from the Office of the Vice President for Research and a Preparing Future Faculty program award. Mary Ann has served as the student representative on the college's doctoral program committee. She has taught part-time in the bachelor's of social work program and is currently an adjunct faculty member in the master's of social work program at UNC-Charlotte. As a health services researcher in training, Mary Ann 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. In particular, Mary Ann 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 (ACE). She is also interested in behavioral health and social trajectories of persons exposed to ACE and is working to develop theory-driven trauma-informed interventions and service delivery models to affect these processes, particularly among racial and ethnic minorities.

Parthenia Robinson


Parthenia Luke Robinson earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Furman University in 2007. After graduation, she worked as a service coordinator with both the Pickens and Greenville Counties’ disabilities and special needs boards. After graduating in 2011 with a master’s in social work from Carolina, Parthenia worked as a case manager with New Foundations Home for Children, then as supervisor of the community-based prevention services program at Specialized Alternatives for Families & Youth of Greenville. Parthenia is interested in the processes by which we, as a community, protect and bolster the children most at risk for maltreatment, as well as their families. With strong ties to Liberia, West Africa and the Caribbean, Parthenia is especially interested in developing methods to strengthen community-based prevention of child abuse and neglect in African and Afro-Caribbean communities that have experienced trauma. Parthenia’s research supervisor is Cynthia Flynn, director of The Center for Child & Family Studies, and her academic adviser is Cheri Shapiro, interim director of the Institute for Families in Society.

Raymond Smith


Raymond Smith received his bachelor’s degree in social work from North Carolina A&T State University, and then attended the advanced standing master’s of social work program at the University of South Carolina. Prior to earning his degrees, Raymond gained a host of work experiences that ranged from the U.S. Army, corporate team management, the medical field and the judicial system at the state and federal levels. He is interested in studying the process of identity formation, identity maintenance and the transition to new identities. Specifically, Raymond desires to study the stigmatized identity and the process of removing internalized barriers for the purpose of increased social function. Raymond’s current research adviser is Ronald Pitner.

Stacy Smith


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, Stacy worked in direct services and management at a non-profit community health center. As a youth employment and job skills development case manager, Stacy 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, Stacy worked in policy analysis, program development and evaluation. In the field of child protection, Stacy provided direct services to children and families, in addition to policy analysis, program development and evaluation. Stacy 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 S.C. Department of Social Services. As a research assistant at the college, Stacy works with Maryah Fram. Stacy’s 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. Stacy’s academic adviser is Dennis Poole.

Weizhou Tang


Weizhou Tang received her bachelor’s degree in sociology in mainland China in 2009 and her master of social work degree at the University of Hong Kong in 2011. Through her mentorship with Sue Levkoff, she was awarded a scholarship by the South Carolina Healthy Brain Research Network doctoral scholars program. She is currently working as both a scholar member and research assistant for Daniela Friedman (principal investigator of SC-HBRN) and also enrolled in the health communication certificate program. Weizhou’s current research interests center on family caregivers of patients with Alzheimer’s disease, with an emphasis on using quantitative research methods to understand caregivers’ mental health across ethnic populations, and the relationship to coping skills, perceived social support and patients’ symptoms. In addition, she hopes to promote public awareness of cognitive health through health communication.