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College of Social Work

McRell and Wilson Named Co-Winners of Doctoral Student Award

June 22, 2020
Chris Woodley • cwoodley@mailbox.sc.edu 

Two Ph.D. candidates were recently recognized for excellence in their scholarly leadership and service activities. Third-year candidates Amanda Stafford McRell and Betty Wilson were selected by a faculty committee as the co-winners of the Doctoral Student Award.

Amanda Stafford McRell

Amanda Stafford McRell’s research interest is global social work, and she has presented on the topic at the Society for Social Work Research and Council on Social Work Education national conferences. She has also several publications on global social work currently under review. Stafford McRell received funding through the university’s Support to Promote Advancement of Research and Creativity program and is currently working on two faculty led projects, the Positive Outcomes for Orphans study, and the Foster Care Information Exchange Project. She has served as a student representative on the Ph.D. program committee and represented the program at the Reimagining Social Work symposium at the University of Denver. Stafford McRell has taught and served as a teaching assistant for social work classes.

What does winning the Doctoral Student Award mean to you?

“It is a huge honor and makes me feel supported by college faculty members. The award was made more special because Betty Wilson, my classmate and friend, also won.”

How has the college’s doctoral program helped support and enhance your research?

“The doctoral program has supported my research in global social work through one-on-one mentorship. I have been fortunate to work with leading researchers in my research area of children in global nonparent care systems lies at the intersection of child welfare, global social work, and global health. Dr. Breanne Grace, an expert in humanitarian aid and international development, is my dissertation chair and academic advisor; Dr. Kristen Seay, a preeminent child welfare and child well-being scholar, is my research supervisor; Dr. Sue Levkoff, a distinguished global health and health disparities researcher, has mentored me on academic and grant writing. Through their mentorship, these professors have allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of global child welfare scholarship.”

What do you appreciate the most about the college’s doctoral program?

“I am truly grateful for my Ph.D. student cohort. My classmates, Betty Wilson, Melissa Mull Westlake, Mariah Moran and Tamara Grimm are some of the most brilliant and kind people I have ever worked with. The last three years of doctoral education has been difficult and stressful, but these strong women have been a consistent source of support and encouragement.”

What are your plans after graduating with your Ph.D.?

“I aspire to work on research projects that advance mental health programs and services for children living in nonparental care systems, particularly for children living in low-and-middle income countries. I also enjoy teaching and working with college students, so I am interested in finding a career where I can do both research and teaching, such as a tenure-track university faculty position.”


Betty Wilson

Betty Wilson’s research is focused on the impact of police violence exposure on the mental health of Black people and their communities. She is also interested in developing and implementing culturally specific interventions to help mitigate the trauma-related impacts of police violence as well as policy reform and social change efforts around policing. Thus far, she has three journal manuscripts in print or in press, with others under review and in progress. Wilson’s current fellowship is through the Institute for African American Research, and she is also working on two faculty-led projects regarding racial hate crimes in South Carolina and understanding positive community relations in police departments. She was a teaching assistant in the college’s diversity course, guest lectured on trauma-informed social work practice and served as a field instructor. Prior to starting her doctoral studies, Wilson founded Community Connect, a community-based initiative in Denmark, South Carolina providing outreach services and resources for residents living in rural communities.

What does winning the Doctoral Student Award mean to you?

“This is a huge affirmation for me. It recognizes the incredible effort, mental fortitude, and consistent growth and development that I have demonstrated since entering the doctoral program. More importantly, receiving the Doctoral Student Award highlights my capacity and dedication for scholarship, and signals a promising future as a researcher and scholar.”

How has the college’s doctoral program helped support and enhance your research?

“I embarked on my doctoral studies with purpose about my research interest, which seeks to examine the impact of police violence on the mental health and well-being of Black people and communities. However, the college’s doctoral program has helped to nurture my research interest through its inter-professional networks, rigorous coursework, and unique practicum experiences. I have amazing mentors who support my research interest and offer guidance with research opportunities in my area.”

How has the college’s doctoral program prepare you for a professional career?

“The college’s doctoral program has empowered me to move toward my career goals through opportunities to present my research at local and national conferences, teach at the collegiate level, and engage in interdisciplinary research with scholars from the University of South Carolina and other universities.”

What are your plans after graduating with your Ph.D.?

“I plan to obtain a faculty position at a research institution committed to high-level research, teaching and public scholarship. I envision a future as a scholar in the social work academy using my research to strengthen awareness and education of the trauma and mental health consequences associated with police violence in Black communities. In addition, I want to be an advocate for policy reform and social change around policing.”


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