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College of Social Work

Meet Our Ph.D. Students

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.


Samuel Bethel, LCSW, received bachelor’s degrees in sociology and psychology from the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Kentucky. He later earned his Master of Social Work from the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis.

During his MSW program, Bethel completed his first-year practicum at an assisted living and skilled nursing facility for older adults experiencing dementia. He worked closely with medical, nursing, rehabilitation and activities staff to meet the psychosocial needs of residents and their families. Bethel completed his second-year practicum at an outpatient child and adolescent psychiatry department in an academic hospital setting, working with and learning from psychiatrists, resident physicians, psychiatric nurse practitioners, clinical psychologists and clinical social workers.

After earning his MSW, Bethel worked on an interprofessional forensics team where police detectives, child protection workers, forensic interviewers,            victim advocates, prosecuting attorneys and medical professionals worked together to holistically respond to allegations of child abuse and neglect. He then transitioned to a public school setting to work as a mental health clinician to help teachers, guidance counselors, principals and parents better address students’ mental health needs.

Because of years working on teams, Bethel is interested in interprofessional practice and education among the health science professions, with a specific interest in social work roles. He believes that the integration of social workers on healthcare teams can create a more holistic healthcare system, where a patient’s biomedical and psychosocial needs can be met.  Bethel hopes that through interprofessional practice and education, healthcare outcomes can be significantly improved at all levels; from individual-level clinical interventions to population-level health equity initiatives.

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.

Tasha M. Childs received her bachelor’s degree in Education (2017) and Master of Social Work (2019), with a concentration in school social work, from The Ohio State University. She completed her social work field placement and worked as a research assistant for the Community and Youth Collaborative Institute and Learning in Fitness and Education through Sports. This was part of several projects, including work with school districts across the country and local schools in Ohio. Within LiFEsports, Childs played a key role in collecting research during annual summer camp and assisted with managing development gifts to the organization. She was introduced to project management and developed research interests that she continues to pursue in her doctorate education.

Childs’ research interest is in addressing inequities in education through school social work targeting adolescent behavior, school climate, teacher education, school policy, and interdisciplinary teams. She works on research projects which include intervention development, facilitating group interventions and evaluating interdisciplinary education. Childs is supervised in her graduate assistant role by Associate Professor Aidyn Iachini, an expert in school social work and positive youth development.

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, North Carolina-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, Cross worked for two years in the field as an in-home worker with children at-risk of being placed out of home. He was also the program's coordinator for five years.

Cross returned to the UofSC College of Social Work in 2010 as a doctoral student to advance his studies. He is currently working towards a graduate certificate in Women & Gender Studies. Cross's 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 the event. Associate Professor Ronald Pitner chairs his dissertation committee.

Brittany Davis, LCSWA, began her doctoral studies in 2018. She previously earned her Bachelor of Social Work degree from Elizabeth City State University in 2007 and her Master of Social Work, with a focus in community organization, the following year from the University of Michigan. 

After earning her MSW, Davis worked as a family reunification worker and team leader at the Judson Center in Redford, Michigan. She relocated to the Charlotte, North Carolina area in 2009 and worked as a multi-systemic therapist, crisis counselor and master level social worker. Since 2017, Davis has been a remote online social work adjunct instructor for Indiana Wesleyan University. She also teaches online social work and sociology as an adjunct instructor for the University of Northwestern Ohio and Virginia Commonwealth University.   

Davis’ research interests include equitable development strategies for historically low-income African American communities, and avenues for maintaining a sense of community among African American communities facing gentrification.   

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 nearly a decade of psychotherapy practice, including working with juvenile sex offenders in a residential treatment setting and serving patients in a community mental health clinic in Athens, Georgia.

DeCelle's 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. DeCelle returned to school to think creatively about the challenges she encountered in clinical practice.

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. He worked for several years in the mental health field, specializing in psychotherapeutic treatment for adolescent males.

Flaherty's research interests include men in social work education, substance use recovery, and the Bible and social work. Flaherty is currently a research assistant in the Field Education Office, where he helps to conduct formative research into student perceptions of substance abuse recovery needs. This research is contributing to the development of the Gamecock Recovery Initiative. Flaherty's research mentor is Director of Field Education Melissa Reitmeier and his academic mentor is Associate Professor Aidyn Iachini.

Karen Andrea Flynn, LMSW, received a bachelor's degree in experimental psychology from the University of South Carolina in 2013, and completed her Master of Social Work with a concentration in Hispanic Children and Families from The Worden School of Social Service at Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio, Texas.  

Prior to beginning the doctoral program in 2019, Flynn worked as a school-based therapist at Centerstone, a not-for-profit health system providing mental health and substance use disorder treatments in Montgomery County, Tennessee. During her time, she provided individual and family therapy and acted as a liaison between families and schools to help ensure families received additional supports through the school system. 

Flynn’s research interests include migration trends in the Southern Cone, immigration policies, and how they impact immigrant outcomes. Flynn’s academic advisor is Associate Professor Breanne Grace and upervised in research by Associate Professor Benjamin Roth


Tamara Grimm received her bachelor’s degree from Miami University of Ohio, where she double majored in psychology and comparative religion, and minored in women's studies. She earned her Master of Social Work from the University of Cincinnati. 

Grimm is a licensed independent social worker and worked for approximately three years at a community mental health agency in Cincinnati that served adults with severe and persistent mental illness. She supervised a traditional case management team and an interdisciplinary assertive community treatment team that served severely mentally ill adults on probation. Next, Grimm worked for the Veterans Health Administration as lead women veterans program manager for the VA Healthcare System serving Indiana, Michigan and Ohio. In this role, she was responsible for network-wide program development related to the healthcare needs of women veterans. She served in this capacity for approximately eight years.

Grimm's research interests include sex and gender related health disparities (particularly within military and veteran communities), women's mental health (especially psychosocial, complementary and alternative medicine prevention and treatment strategies) and the impact of gender socialization on women's mental health. Associate Professor Nikki Wooten serves as her research mentor and Associate Professor Christina Andrews is her academic mentor.

Christian Holmes began her doctoral studies in 2018. She previously earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Virginia Tech University in 2013, followed by her Master of Social Work from the University of South Carolina in 2016. Holmes began working at the South Carolina Department of Mental Health after graduating with her MSW.   

Sadia Jehan earned bachelor's and master's degrees economics and worked for three years in data analysis and reporting in different settings (corporate, non-profit and academia).

Jehan's primary research interest is opioid use. She is interested in studying access to medication assisted treatment for opioid use disorder, racial and geographic disparities, and performing impact evaluation of policies and programs aimed at improving substance use related outcomes. Jehan intends to specialize in secondary data analysis by using surveys, administrative data, and Geographic Information System to understand the barriers to opioid use disorder and how can it be addressed using policy intervention to reverse the opioid epidemic. 

Eric King earned his bachelor’s degree in behavioral science from Duquesne University and his MSW from the University of Southern California. He received his LISW-CP to practice clinical social work at the independent level within the state of South Carolina.

Prior to Entering the Ph.D. program, Eric was an outpatient mental health therapist for almost three years at the Williams Jennings Bryan Dorn Veteran Affairs Hospital in Columbia. He is interested in analyzing American military recruitment policy and mixed-methods research with a focus on veterans and military recruits.

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.maridfddd

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

Leon 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.

Amanda Stafford McRell received a Bachelor of Social Work and a bachelor’s degree in political science, public policy from Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina. She also earned a Master of Public Administration with a concentration in international nonprofit management from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Prior to pursuing her doctoral education, McRell worked as the executive director of Reach Out Orphanage Ministries (ROOM), an international agency providing abandonment prevention, orphanage support and family placement programs for children in non-parental care in Central America and Southeast Asia. Her research interests include child well-being, international social work and human service organizational management. 

Mariah Moran received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Metropolitan State University in Denver, Colorado, and a Master of Social Work from the University of Georgia. She is a licensed clinical social worker with experience in psychiatric, medical and forensic social work. She was employed with a Georgia state psychiatric hospital and a VA Medical Center.

Moran’s primary research interest is the pragmatic, perceptual and existential factors associated with geographic mobility in the rural Southeast U.S. Additionally, her interests extend to how mobility is related to well-being, decision-making and social relationships. She also has interests in social work education and reexamining fundamental questions about the profession through the writings of Charlotte Towle, Bertha Reynolds and Helen Harris Perlman. Moran is mentored by Associate Professor Naomi Farber

Sarah Pace received her undergraduate degree in sociology from Claflin University, with minors in Spanish and gerontology. She earned a Master of Social Work degree and a graduate certificate in drug and addiction studies from the University of South Carolina.

Pace is bilingual in English and Spanish and served as a volunteer in Lima, Peru, for one-and-a-half years. As a licensed master social worker, Pace has experience working with adults living in community and institutional settings and has served as guardian ad litem for adults taken into emergency protective custody.

Pace's 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 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 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 Support to Promote Advancement of Research grant from the Office of the Vice President for Research and a Preparing Future Faculty program award.

Priester has served as the student representative on the college's doctoral program committee. She taught part-time in the Bachelor of Social Work program and is currently an adjunct faculty member in the MSW program at UNC-Charlotte.

As a health services researcher in training, Priester 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. Specifically, Priester 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. She is also interested in behavioral health and social trajectories of persons exposed to ACE and working to develop theory-driven, trauma-informed interventions and service delivery models to affect the processes, particularly among racial and ethnic minorities.

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 of Social Work from the University of South Carolina, Robinson 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, research coordinator at the Center for Child & Family Studies, and her academic adviser is Cheri Shapiro, director of the Institute for Families in Society.

Raymond Smith received his Bachelor of Social Work degree from North Carolina A&T State University and his Master of Social Work from the University of South Carolina. He also earned a master’s degree in criminal justice and a post-baccalaureate certificate in quantitative methods at South Carolina, while concurrently enrolled in the doctoral program.

Prior to earning his degrees, Smith's work experience included service in the  U.S. Army, corporate team management, the medical field and the judicial system at the state and federal levels. He is currently the grants manager for a South Carolina-based foundation, where he is responsible for managing incoming and outgoing grant efforts. 

Smith is interested in studying the process of social identity formation, social identity maintenance, and the transition of new social identities of persons involved within the criminal justice system. Specifically, he desires to study the the criminal social identity and the process of removing internalized barriers for the purpose of increased social function. Smith's mentor is Associate Professor Bethany Bell.

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, Smith worked in direct services and management at a non-profit community health center. As a youth employment and job skills development case manager, she 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, Smith worked in policy analysis, program development and evaluation. In the field of child protection, she provided direct services to children and families, in addition to policy analysis, program development and evaluation.

Smith 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 South Carolina Department of Social Services.

Smith works with Maryah Fram as a research assistant. Her 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. 

Steve Wahle, LCSW, is a second-year doctoral student. He received a Master of Social Work from St. Louis University and a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Central Florida. Wahle has a Without Compensation appointment at Columbia VA Health Care System to work with outpatient mental health staff on implementing adaptive reorientation principles in daily practice. He is also working to study student veteran identity and resource engagement on campus.

Wahle honed his individual, community and policy experience while working with the VA St. Louis Health Care System as the community employment coordinator. Later, at the Columbia VA Health Care System, he worked as a primary care mental health integration social worker and worked to empower veterans making health care decisions and increase self-efficacy.

Before completing his MSW at St. Louis University, Wahle worked with military veterans at the Veterans Curation Program, Student Veterans of St. Louis, and The Mission Continues. He also staffed the crisis line at Life Crisis Services as part of his graduate work, where he learned skills that influence his daily work.

Wahle’s research interests include veteran identity, history of social work education, and training of mental health providers. His research experience includes a graduate research assistantship under the supervision of Associate Professors Nikki Wooten and Naomi Farber

Melissa Westlake received her bachelor’s degree in experimental psychology in 2013 from the University of South Carolina, where she also competed as an NCAA Division I student-athlete on the equestrian team. She also earned her Master of Social Work from UofSC in 2016. During her time in the MSW program, she worked with college faculty to develop the university’s first collegiate recovery program, Gamecock Recovery.

Prior to starting her Ph.D. studies, Westlake worked as the project manager on Assistant Professor Christina Andrews National Institute on Drug Abuse-funded award, analyzing the impact of Medicaid expansion on the development and access of substance use disorder treatment in general practice settings. She has also been involved in multiple supplement projects from a National Institutes of Health funded-award. For example, Westlake is currently examining the scope of health care benefits and limitations for substance use disorder treatment and recovery services across all Medicaid managed care organizations in the United States.

Westlake’s research is focused on the impact of health care and social policies on access to and quality of substance use disorder treatment. She is also interested in the availability of social, financial and clinical supports for the relatives and caregivers of individuals struggling with substance use. Her research advisor is Associate Professor Christina Andrews.

Betty Wilson received her bachelor’s degree in sociology, with a minor in criminal justice from Claflin University in Orangeburg, South Carolina and her Master of Social Work from the University of South Carolina. Wilson’s combined background in criminal justice and social work make her a strong advocate for social justice and community engagement, with a goal to develop positive relationships and leveraging resources for community improvement.

Wilson is the founder of Community Connect, a community-based initiative in Denmark, South Carolina. Community Connect coordinates outreach projects addressing issues such as, access to healthy food choices and nutrition education in rural communities. Her research interests are in racial injustice and the psychological trauma experienced by those who experience or witness law enforcement misconduct.

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