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College of Social Work

Meet Our Ph.D. Students

Our students are dynamic, emerging scholars, generating new knowledge to drive social change on a wide range of pressing social issues.

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

yarin cohen

Yarin Cohen earned his BSW and MSW degrees from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In his master’s thesis, he delved into the lives of grandmothers whose intensive caregiving role has ended. This work led him to introduce the term "The Second Empty Nest," shedding light on these grandmothers' emotional journeys.

Yarin is the inaugural recipient of the Connor Fellows Program scholarship, which supports doctoral education to advance research and teaching in the field of aging. His research revolves around exploring social issues and understanding the real-life experiences of older adults. Yarin looks forward to further research on the roles, experiences, priorities and challenges of primary caregivers for older adults, guided by Dr. Sue Levkoff and Dr. Maryah Fram.

Previously, Yarin worked with individuals facing mental health challenges. More recently, he worked with older adults, especially Holocaust survivors in Israel. He is dedicated to bettering the lives of older adults and their primary caregivers, and aims to amplify their stories and ensure they're truly heard.


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.

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.

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.

Originally from Canada, Shawn McNally earned both his BSSW and MSW from the University of North Dakota. In addition to his degrees, McNally also has a certificate in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Prior to his doctoral studies, McNally worked as a mental health professional within three school districts in Central Minnesota where he provided individual, family, and group therapy to middle/high school students and their families. Parallel to these duties, McNally also provided clinical supervision to mental health practitioners and clinical trainees. McNally’s primary research interest focuses on the mental health and well-being of adolescents and emerging adults. More specifically, McNally is interested in messaging around mental health and mental health services, in schools and on college campuses, and, how this messaging impacts mental health/well-being and mental health service use. Ultimately, McNally is interested in examining this – and other related topics - through a Self-Determination Theory (SDT) lens. 



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. 

courtney ober

Courtney Jessica Ober, LMSW, received her BSW from Ramapo College of New Jersey in 2022 and her MSW from New York University in 2023. During this time, Ober gained clinical experience serving as a Family Worker in a Head Start program, a School Social Worker in a K-2 elementary school, and a volunteer mindfulness educator and yoga instructor.  

Ober is a traditionally published author of a mental health guide, The KrazyGirl (& Guy) Parent Survival Guide: Helping Your Child of Any Age Thrive with Mental Health Challenges, and is the cofounder of the KrazyGirl Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to reducing the stigma associated with mental health challenges and promoting wellness education.  

Ober’s research interests focus on school-based mental health programs. She is passionate about exploring both barriers to services and mitigating factors for utilization among youth who need, but do not receive, mental health services within their school environment; this may include students who do not outwardly display symptoms or those residing in locations where school-based services are not accessible. Ober is curious about the ways in which school-wide mindfulness-based implementations, such as mindfulness-integrated SEL programs, can bring aid to all students including those who do not receive services.  


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. Pace has experience working with older adults living in community and institutional settings and has served as guardian ad litem for vulnerable adults taken into emergency protective custody. She has experience as an instructor for Social Work courses at the University of South Carolina and has a passion for teaching. She is a volunteer for a local refugee resettlement agency.   

Pace's research interests are focused on technology use among minority older adults. The purpose of her dissertation is to explore the perspectives of African American older adults’ perspectives on how information and communication technology (ICT) impacts loneliness.   

She plans to pursue a career in teaching and research as they relate to improving the quality of life of older adults. 



abigail reza

Abigail earned their bachelor’s degree in Criminology with minors in Psychology and Japanese from the University of South Carolina and their master’s degree in Law with an emphasis in Human Rights & Rule of Law from Regent University. In addition to their degrees, Abigail also has a certificate on human trafficking from Arizona State University. Before enrolling in the PhD program they worked as a victim advocate for a prosecutor’s office, specializing in commercial sexual exploitation of children, and as the anti-trafficking program coordinator for the South Carolina Department of Social Services. Abigail’s research interests focus on child exploitation and maltreatment of children with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Currently they are involved with faculty research on interventions to enhance the capacity of kinship caregivers caring for children with disabilities. 

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. 


Julisa Tindall is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and third-year PhD candidate at the University of South Carolina College of Social Work in Columbia, SC. She received her BA in Psychology with a minor in Coaching and Spanish from the College of Charleston in Charleston, SC, and earned her MSW with a Family Practice Certificate at Tulane University in New Orleans, LA. Prior to starting her Ph.D. studies, Julisa worked mainly in the behavioral health and substance use realm. She worked as an Addiction Patient Navigator and Social Worker within the Psychiatry Department at Ochsner Health System in New Orleans, LA, and then as a Clinical Counselor at Rock Hill Treatment Center, a methadone clinic in Rock Hill, SC. Julisa’s research interest focuses on the health disparities African American women experience and their impact on African American women’s maternal and mental health. 



juan wang

Juan Wang received her BSW in 2021 from Northwest A&F University and her MSW in 2023 from Renmin University of China. She has a rich background in Child Welfare Systems within diverse cultural contexts, expertise in Child Maltreatment, Family Policy, and Family Parenting. Her scholarly pursuits revolve around enhancing Child Welfare Systems and providing services for maltreated children and their families. In the forthcoming year, she anticipates engaging in several projects to further her research, including evaluating a dissemination trial of the Teen Triple P parenting program within a local school district and conducting a system review focused on adverse childhood experiences.  

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.

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