Faculty-staff news and notes

The power of ‘spit’

Karen Chartier, Ph.D., associate professor, is the new director of VCU’s Institute for Research on Behavioral and Emotional Health and its Spit for Science student survey, whose genetic and survey data are invaluable to researchers.

Karen G. Chartier headshot
Karen Chartier, Ph.D.

Spit for Science began in fall 2011 as a way to gain an understanding of how genetic and environmental factors contribute to alcohol use and emotional health, using a voluntary and confidential digital survey as well as a DNA sample through saliva. “I’ve been affiliated in some way since I started,” says Chartier, who joined VCU in 2013. 

Students are surveyed annually and are tracked as cohorts, and there are a number of related outcomes managed by the institutional arm. “The survey is focused on their emotional health, their substance use and their overall well-being,” Chartier says. “We want to see how students are doing as they progress and who may be at a greater risk for those things at what can be a critical point in their development as emerging adults.”

Chartier sees a natural connection between the institute’s initiatives and social work, as well as benefits for her faculty colleagues and students in the School of Social Work.

“I think the application piece, it’s what social work is really all about,” she says. “As much as it’s about doing research and generating information, it’s also about how to apply that information once we know it to help other people. My hope is that our faculty doing related research will gain from developing new collaborations. And can we provide social work students field placements through the institute as we think about ways we can apply this to inform programs and services."

Stocking up to fight food insecurity

The recent expansion of VCU’s Ram Pantry food bank is tied to research on student food insecurity conducted by Youngmi Kim, Ph.D., associate professor.

Portrait of Youngmi Kim, Ph.D., associate professor
Youngmi Kim, Ph.D.

Dr. Kim's studies with VCU students found 35 percent had experienced food insecurity, co-occurring basic needs insecurity, intensified risk during the pandemic, and barriers to access to affordable and nutritious food (Kim et al. 2022a; Kim et al., 2022b).

To promote food access, 13 Little Ram Pantries, inspired by little libraries in neighborhoods, were launched in 2021, extending the central Ram Pantry. The Little Ram Pantries are kiosks similar to a newspaper box that are stocked with non-perishable food and toiletries.

The project is an interdisciplinary partnership through the Sustainable Food Access Core of VCU’s Institute for Inclusion, Inquiry and Innovation (John Jones, Ph.D.; Leland Waters, Ph.D.; Lisa Mathews-Ailsworth, M.Ed.) and included collaboration with social work graduate students Jennifer Murphy and Jessica Hoy.

“Whenever you have limited financial resources, food is a very easy thing to cut out,” Dr. Kim says. “College students are young adults, and they think they can compromise temporarily. But that is harmful for your health and academic success.”

The project assesses the implementation process and potential impacts using mixed methods. The findings will inform effective strategies for better helping college students at risk of food insecurity.  

Social Justice and Outstanding Staff awards

Cinnamon Francis with graduation cap and 2021 tassel
Cinnamon Francis, M.Sc.'21/M
Hollee A. McGinnis headshot
Hollee McGinnis, Ph.D.

Hollee McGinnis, Ph.D., assistant professor, and Cinnamon Francis, (M.Sc.'21/M), field education enrollment and agreements manager, were honored with the school's Social Justice and Outstanding Staff awards, respectively.

  • Dr. McGinnis: "I am truly humbled by this award and recognition. Anti-Asian racism typically shows up as invisibility – the racial 'model minority' stereotype of Asian Americans effectively erases our experiences of racism and pits Asian Americans against other racially minoritized groups. As such, when it comes to racism, Asian Americans typically have to fight to be seen and heard. 

    "As a woman who was born in South Korea and raised in a white transracial adoptive family, I have had to additionally interrogate my sense of being an 'imposter' Asian and reclaim ownership of my Asian-American identity. Transforming society's notion of race and racism has been a core mission of my life's work because I understand the conflict I felt in my identity stemmed from not fitting into the racial boxes imposed on me. I would never look white, and my upbringing made my racial group foreign to me. So I am committed to dismantling the ways that racism prohibits us from seeing, working, and living with others in their full humanity – to ultimately see how racism is used and to move beyond it – so that we can be free to claim and be our authentic selves, in all the ways we choose to identify."

  • Francis: "I am honored to be recognized and am humbled to share this acknowledgement with those Outstanding Staff Award winners before me. I choose to navigate the world as one self, a transparency that takes no time at all and all the heart I have. I'm most proud to give all that energy to my staff colleagues at the School of Social Work; you are all excellent, and I share this award with you all. My hero, Ray Bradbury, wrote, 'If you hide your ignorance, no one will hit you and you'll never learn.' I hold these words close and apply them to my work and all of my relationships." 

Teaching fellows

During 2021-2022, the school had three teaching fellows:

Qasarah Bey Spencer headshot
Qasarah Bey Spencer (Ed.D.'21/E; M.S.W.'08/SW)

Dr. Bey Spencer: "My interest in the Inclusive Teaching Fellows program stemmed from my experience in the Seminar on Social Work Teaching and Education course I completed in the spring of 2021. Dr. Liz Cramer used several inclusive teaching techniques in her class that I found refreshing as a student and challenging to think about implementing as an instructor. As part of an assignment, I explored the transparency in learning and teaching framework (TILT). The research on TILT shows a connection between an instructor’s efforts to make course content accessible and the academic success and retention of students, particularly first generation students, non-traditional students and students of color."


Liz P. Cramer headshot
Elizabeth "Liz" Cramer, Ph.D., LCSW, ACSW

Dr. Cramer: "For the SLWK 604 and 605 courses (M.S.W. direct practice courses in foundation year), I was interested in providing opportunities for the students to practice their social work skills and receive feedback, specifically how to use the space, whether in the classroom or online through our Canvas course site. I decided to approach these courses, and all my courses in the past two years, with a spirit of adaptability and accessibility. I set up a standing Zoom link for class sessions that students could use to join classes for any reason, and for as many as they desired. I also made sure to post class notes, handouts, and anything we would be doing in class on the Canvas site ahead of time so that my 'Zoomies' would have access to all materials to be able to fully participate in the class. Students have expressed much appreciation for the flexibility in class participation and in assignment options."

Abbie Kinnebrew headshot
Abbie Kinnebrew (M.S.W.'05/SW), LCSW

Kinnebrew: "I was excited about the consultation and instructional design support as well as training in terms of improving my teaching practices and endorsing some sort of best practice guidance for teaching topics related to the transgender and gender expansive (TGE) population and ways to support students who identify as TGE. I welcomed any support on anti-racist and anti-oppressive teaching frameworks beyond that of oppression based on gender identity. Each semester, I have had students who identify as TGE tell me how much they appreciate the support I provided them. And this past semester, more than the others, I have had cisgender students produce assignments that I would evaluate at truly gender-affirming."

Winter coat drive

Allison Bell headshot
Allison Bell (B.A.'18/H&S; M.A.'22/H&S)

Allison Bell (B.A.'18/H&S; M.A.'22/H&S), executive assistant to the dean, helped lead a winter coat drive within the School of Social Work and with other VCU units, resulting in more than 100 donations of coats for adults in children to a South Richmond apartment complex in November 2021. 

Families in the Southwood Apartments received the coats as well as donated hats, gloves, shoes and other clothing. Participants donated $340 to help with the cost of dry cleaning gently used items. 

Bell encouraged a friendly competition among the School of Social Work, the School of World Studies, the Department of Political Science, the Department of Psychology, the Department of Sociology, the School of Education and Barnes & Nobles @ VCU.

“All the units and departments at the university, we’ve been separated for so long. And I thought we could use something that could be a little fun and a little competitive across campus and maybe have a little bit of the camaraderie that we've been missing,” Bell says. “We had all these units come together, and they paired up together and challenged one another.”

RAACE: A force for school change

The participating members for 2021-22 of the Radical Alliance for Anti-Racism, Change and Equity (RAACE), the school's social and racial justice task force, included:

Student fellows

  • Rebecca Davidsson, M.S.W. student
  • Oscar Kemp, ABSW representative
  • Vanessa Martinez, B.S.W. student
  • Jen Murphy, Ph.D. student
  • Francesca Spencer, M.S.W. student
  • Ruth Tiguh, M.S.W. student

Faculty and staff members

  • Jill Butler, M.S.W., (former) online M.S.W. field coordinator and assistant professor in teaching
  • Nicole Corley, Ph.D., assistant professor
  • Kimberly S. Compton (M.S.W.'13/SW; Ph.D.'21/SW), assistant director, M.S.W. Program; and assistant professor in teaching
  • Co-chair Daryl Fraser (B.S.'00/H&S; M.S.W.'07/SW), (former) associate professor in teaching
  • Youngmi Kim, Ph.D., associate professor
  • Miriam Kuttikat, Ph.D., associate professor
  • Nicole L. O-Pries (M.S.W.'04/SW), LCSW, associate professor in teaching
  • Co-chair Alex Wagaman, Ph.D., associate professor
  • Madison Woodroof (B.S.'14/H&S; M.S.W.'17/SW), assistant director of field education and program field coordinator

Alumni and community-embedded faculty

  • Cortney Calixte (B.S.W.'15/SW; M.S.W.'17/SW)
  • Taylor Davis (B.S.'17/H&S; M.S.W.'19/SW)
  • Katelynn Jarrells (B.S.W.'16/SW; M.S.W.'17/SW)
  • Kristin Lennox (B.S.W.'11/SW; M.S.W.'16/SW)
  • Kristen Pritchard (M.S.W.'15/SW)
  • Alethia Watford (B.S.'03/GPA; M.S.W.'07/SW)

Congratulations to ...

  • Matthew Bogenschutz, Ph.D., associate professor
    → Director of Virginia Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (VA-LEND) • Working with Partnership for People with Disabilities on project funded by National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research

  • Denise Burnette, Ph.D., professor and Ph.D. Program director
    → Named Fulbright Specialist • Serving as president of GADE, the Group for the Advancement of Doctoral Education in Social Work

  • Jamie L. Cage, Ph.D., assistant professor
    → Part of multidisciplinary team awarded one of VCU's highly competitive Breakthrough Awards • Pursuing an NIH Research Career Development K Award

  • Jamie L. Cage, Ph.D., and Nicole A. Corley, Ph.D., assistant professors
    → Recent recipients of a project funded by the Virginia Department of Education to study the experiences of school-aged children and youth in the foster care system

  • Karen G. Chartier, Ph.D., associate professor
    → Received VCU Quest Award for study on early detection and  intervention for alcohol problems among young adults

  • Elizabeth P. Cramer, Ph.D., professor
    → Received continuation on proposal for I-CAN! Accessibility Project through the Partnership for People with Disabilities

  • Maurice N. Gattis, Ph.D., associate professor
    → Named Fulbright U.S. Scholar

  • Rebecca Gomez , Ph.D., interim dean and associate professor and Naomi Reddish (B.A.'05/H&S; M.S.W.'09/SW), administrator of Community Engaged Child and Family Well Being Initiatives; Child Welfare Stipend coordinator; assistant professor in teaching
    → Received continuations for CWSP and Consortium for Resource, Adoptive, and Foster Family Training • Received additional Virginia Department of Social Services funding to incorporate evaluation of CWSP

  • Sarah Kye Price, Ph.D., professor
    → Part of multidisciplinary team awarded $1.2 million by U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs for proposal Project PIRR: Preparing Interdisciplinary, Responsive, and Reflective EI/ECSE Professionals and Social Workers

  • Shenita Williams (B.S.W.'93/SW; M.S.W.'95/SW; Ph.D.'22/E), LCSW, director of field education and assistant professor in teaching
    → Received both VCU’s and School of Education’s Distinguished Dissertation Awards during her doctoral program

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