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For Students, Faculty, and Staff: MyU One Stop

Meet Our Ph.D. Students


Tanya Bailey

Tanya Bailey photo with horseTanya Bailey ( is a doctoral student interested in Animal-Assisted Interactions (AAI), with specific emphasis in codifying the therapeutic relationship between animals and people to help support mental health. She is also interested in Care Farming practices in European models of health care. She received her B.S. in Human Development and Family Studies from Indiana University and her M.S.W. from Washington University, where she created her own independent focus in AAI. She then spent 20+ years developing a nonprofit business providing AAI for youth, families, groups and community organizations, and is skilled at partnering with horses, dogs, chickens and other species in AAI delivery. She is the Animal-Assisted Interactions Program Coordinator at Boynton Health, University of Minnesota, and co-developed and leads the University's PAWS program. Her research examines the role of animals as social connectors for human beings, and her advisor is Dr. Helen Kivnick.

Tina Barr

Tina BarrTina ( received her B.A. in sociology and rhetoric & communication studies from the University of Virginia, and her M.S.W. from Virginia Commonwealth University. Her professional experiences in social work and public health include direct practice with youth in the juvenile justice system and children in foster care, family and intimate partner homicide surveillance, intimate partner fatality review consultation, program development and evaluation, and project management. Tina is currently studying the post-release experiences of exonerees; and is a research assistant to Dr. Jane Gilgun, working on projects seeking to understand the meanings of violence from perpetrators’ perspectives and adverse childhood experiences. Tina’s advisor is Dr. Elizabeth Lightfoot.

Raiza Beltran

Raiza BeltranRaiza Beltran ( received her B.A. in Journalism at the University of Minnesota and interned at the Center for Investigative Journalism in San Francisco, California. After witnessing and reporting on the economic, social and health inequities experienced by communities of color in the United States, Raiza pursued an M.P.H. at the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health under the Community Health Promotion track. Raiza was the Community Impact Manager at Neighborhood House, a social service agency in St. Paul's West Side prior to entering the Ph.D. program at the University of Minnesota School of Social Work. Now in her fourth year and a Ph.D. candidate with a Ph.D. minor in epidemiology, Raiza is working on her mixed methods doctoral dissertation examining how religious and gender ideology influences contraceptive behavior among young unmarried Filipino women. Raiza is currently a pre-doctoral fellow, funded by a grant from the Leadership Education in Adolescent Health (LEAH), at the University of Minnesota-Division of General Pediatrics and Adolescent Health. Raiza also works as a research assistant for Dr. Patricia Shannon evaluating the mental health screening and referral processes for newly arrived refugees in Minnesota. Her advisor is Dr. Elizabeth Lightfoot.

Molly Calhoun

Molly CalhounMolly Calhoun ( her B.A. in Psychology from Colorado College and her M.S.W. from the University of Denver.  Molly has spent over 15 years working in positive youth development programs and community-based practice through out-of-school time work with children, youth and families in both San Francisco, CA and Denver, CO.  For the past 12 years, Molly worked for the University of Denver’s Bridge Project with the mission to provide educational opportunities for children living in Denver’s public housing neighborhoods so they graduate from high school and attend college or learn a trade.  Molly’s research interests include the impact of gentrification and community redevelopment on low-income communities as well as comprehensive community initiatives that aim to mitigate barriers and promote the well-being of the residents of these communities. Molly’s advisor is Dr. Elizabeth Lightfoot and she is a research assistant to Dr. Wendy Haight.

Minhae Cho

Minhae ChoMinhae Cho ( received her B.A. and Master's degrees in Child Welfare from the Sookmyung Women’s University, South Korea. She completed her M.S.W. at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. She has worked as the secretary-general at an adoption organization to promote domestic adoption in South Korea and to challenge long held prejudice and negative perceptions of adoption there. Based on her work and academic experiences, her research interests are the well-being of vulnerable children and families, especially how society responds to these families with social change. Her advisor is Dr. Wendy Haight.

Sharyn Dezelar

Sharyn DezelarSharyn Dezelar ( her Bachelors of Social Work degree from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. She then worked for several years as a case manager for families with multiple episodes of homeless and who were deeply entrenched in poverty and public systems. After receiving her Masters of Social Work degree from St. Catherine's University/University of St. Thomas, she began working as a mental health clinician with similar populations. Sharyn's research interests include children with disabilities and their families, parental contributions to best outcomes for children with disabilities, and the involvement of these families in the child welfare system. Sharyn is a currently working as a research assistant with her advisor, Dr. Elizabeth Lightfoot

Molly Driessen

Molly DriessenMolly Driessen ( is a doctoral student interested in issues pertaining to sexual violence on college campuses. She received her B.A. in Public and Community Service with a minor in Political Science from Providence College. She obtained her M.S.W. from the Catholic University of America, in Washington, D.C., focusing on both clinical and macro studies of sexual violence, domestic violence, and trauma. After she received her M.S.W., she worked in Washington, D.C., in settings that included child welfare, and domestic and sexual violence nonprofit organizations, and trauma-informed yoga. Since moving to Minnesota in 2016, she has continued her work with youth, families, and communities healing from violence by working as a mental health therapist, advocate, and yoga instructor. Molly currently works as a research assistant with Dr. Lynette Renner, who is also her advisor.

Alex Fink

Alex FinkAlex Fink ( received a B.A. in Cultural Studies and Philosophy from the University of Minnesota and is continuing his education in the dual degree M.S.W./Ph.D. Social Work program. Alex worked for several years in leadership education at the college level and has returned to that work as a Graduate Assistant in the Undergraduate Leadership Minor program, where he coordinates new instructor development and teaches several undergraduate leadership classes. Alex brings youth work and leadership development orientations to his social work, where he is interested in: youth cultural and political geographies and meaning making, mentoring relationships, and skill/craft/practice development models for social services practitioners. Alex's advisor is Dr. David Hollister.

David Glesener

David GlesnerDave ( has worked most of his professional life in child welfare. He worked in child protection for St. Louis County for 39 years as a family social worker and a social service supervisor. In his time as the supervisor of the Indian Child Welfare Unit, he has developed working relationships with Minnesota tribes. Dave’s interest is in researching strengths of native communities and advocating for resources to assist families to remain strong and thrive. He was a member of the Duluth area Interagency Family Sexual Abuse Treatment Project and facilitated treatment groups. His previous research has included use of psychotropic medication with foster children and the experiences and issues of foster children while in care. He also has used SSIS data to compile reports and measures for administrators and other researchers. He earned his M.S.W. at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

Karen Goodenough

Karen GoodenoughKaren Goodenough ( received her B.S.W. from St. Olaf College, and her M.S.W. from Augsburg College. Karen has a diverse direct practice skill set including numerous years working in child welfare, youth development and education, family support and case management, corrections and domestic violence. After her M.S.W., Karen worked for 12 years as a Director for a local non-profit, honing her macro practice skills in leadership, administration, supervision, program development, policy, fundraising, and evaluation. For several years, Karen has served as adjunct faculty in the M.S.W. programs at Augsburg College and St. Cloud State University. Her research interests include collective impact, international learning, self-care and child welfare. Karen is a Research Assistant for the Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare, and her advisor is Dr. Joseph Merighi.

Belle Khuu

Belle KhuuBelle Khuu ( received her BS in sociology, BA in philosophy and psychology with a minor in Asian American studies at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities in 2003. After graduation, she worked as a clinical research coordinator for the University of Minnesota Department of Psychiatry Schizophrenia Program. Belle completed her M.S.W. in mental health practice and MPH in community health education with a minor in prevention science. Belle is now a doctoral student in the School of Social Work. Belle is a research assistant for Richard M. Lee, PhD and Hee Yun Lee, PhD. Her social work program advisor is Hee Yun Lee, PhD. Belle’s overall research interest is cultural adaption and implementation of mental health promotion initiatives among Southeast Asian Americans. Her other research interests include: acculturation and acculturative stress among ethnic minorities, impact of ethnic identity on mental health outcomes, and social determinants of mental health disparities including health utilization behaviors.

Kao Nou L. Moua

Kao Nou L. Moua Kao Nou L. Moua ( received her B.A. in cultural anthropology from the University of Montana-Missoula in 2006. In 2009, she completed her M.S.W. at the University of Montana-Missoula. She has over 10 years of experience working with youth on integrating leadership skills and social justice issues focused on racism, sexism, and homophobia. Her research interests include youth development and empowerment, intergenerational trauma, and Hmong cultural and ethnic identity development. Kao Nou’s advisor is Dr. Michael Baizerman.



NdilimekeNdilimeke has 14 years of experience in the academic sector and four years in the civil sector. She worked to address social disparities among young men and women; with HIV and AIDS workforce development, and in managing the Global Fund Country Coordinating Mechanism in Namibia. She taught social change strategies and case management and research in the undergraduate Social Work program at the University of Namibia. She received a bachelor's degree in Social Work from the University of Namibia; a bachelor's degree in Business Administration from Namibia University of Science and Technology, and a master's degree in Development Studies from the University of the Western Cape in South Africa. She is a research assistant in the University of Minnesota School of Social Work. Ndilimeke’s overall research interests include culturally responsive social services; systems strengthening in child welfare and HIV and AIDS, and educational disparities for young girls and street children.

Katlin Okamoto

Katlin Okamoto Katlin Okamoto ( received her B.A. in Biology with a minor in Asian Studies from Colorado College and an M.S. in Exercise and Sport Studies from Smith College. Her work with youth programs across the U.S. and abroad over the past 10 years has included organizational, leadership, and educational roles. Katlin coached collegiate soccer for 7 years and currently coaches boys and girls of all ages in various environmental, competitive, and developmental settings. Additionally, Katlin served as an instructor in the Exercise and Sport Studies program at Smith College and is currently a faculty member in the Summer Science and Engineering Program for high school girls. Katlin’s research interests revolve around youth work and include sports-based youth development in out-of-school settings and student-athlete transitions and adjustments in college athletics. Katlin currently works as a Teaching Assistant with the Youth Studies program and her advisor is Dr. Michael Baizerman.

Chittaphone Santavasy

Chittaphone SantavasyChittaphone Santavasy ( received her bachelor of Pharmacy degree from the National University of Laos. With a British Chevening scholarship, she completed her Master in Development Studies at the University of East Anglia, UK, in 2001. She was a Hubert H. Humphrey Fellow, at the Humphrey Institute at the University of Minnesota from 2005-06. She worked over ten years with Save the Children and UNICEF in the field of Child Protection and Child Rights in Laos. Chittaphone is interested in the development of youth friendly social welfare system, youth policies, positive youth development, and civic youth work. Chittaphone currently works as a Research Assistant to her advisor, Professor Michael Baizerman.

Erin Sugrue

Erin SugrueErin Sugrue ( her B.A. in psychology and French from Grinnell College in 1998 and then spent two years working as a caseworker at an alternative school for children with emotional-behavioral disabilities in Boston. She moved to Minnesota in 2000 and received her M.S.W. and M.P.P. from the University of Minnesota’s School of Social Work and Humphrey School of Public Affairs in 2003. She spent the next 11 years working as a school social worker in elementary schools in the Twin Cities metro area. Her primary research interests involve examining and addressing sources of injustice and inequity that exist among the policies, structures, and practices in the education and child welfare systems across multiple ecological levels. Erin’s advisor is Dr. Wendy Haight.

Cary Waubanascum

Tasha WalvigCary Waubanascum ( is a doctoral student committed to social work education and research that will advance healing and wellness in Native American communities. She is interested in partnering with Tribes to engage in community-based participatory research and program evaluation. After earning her bachelor’s degree from Alverno College and M.S.W. from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, she spent ten years working with Native American individuals, families, and communities toward empowerment in areas of community corrections, transitional housing, suicide prevention, reentry, and strategic planning in tribal justice systems. She also engaged in the Tribal Colleges and Universities Drug and Alcohol Problems and Solutions Study, a CBPR study with 26 Tribal Colleges, with the University of Washington Seattle, Indigenous Wellness Research Institute. Cary is a member of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin and is a 2016-17 DOVE Fellow under the advisement of Dr. Helen Kivnick. Her research assistantship is with the Center for Restorative Justice and Peacemaking.

Youngji Yoon

Youngji YoonYoung Ji Yoon ( received her B.A. in child welfare studies and B.Ec. in economics from Sookmyung Women’s University. She completed her M.S.W. at Yonsei University in South Korea. Her current research includes health disparities and psychological social adaptation of children. During her M.S.W., Young Ji participated in projects regarding cross-national comparisons of child abuse and domestic violence. She volunteered in a community child center and completed internships in a social welfare center, a geriatric hospital, and for the Korean National Council on Social Welfare. Her advisor is Dr. Joseph Merighi.

Heejung Yun

Heejung YunHeejung Yun ( received her bachelor's degree in Special Education from Dankook University and Masters of Public Policy degree from KDI School of Public Policy and Management, South Korea. She had worked for Korea Labor Institute (KLI) and Korea Research Institute for Vocational Education & Training (KRIVET) as a research assistant during her master's degree program. After receiving her master's degree in Social Work, Heejung worked for the Korea Disabled people’s Development Institute (KODDI) as a deputy manager of job development. Her research interests include social service, education and labor for persons with disabilities to improve their quality of life.

Mingyang Zheng

Mingyang ZhengMingyang Zheng ( received his B.A. in business administration from Beijing Normal University-Zhuhai in 2011 and his M.S.W. from Boston University in 2013. After completing his M.S.W., he worked as a case manager in a community-housing agency in New York. He also worked as a social worker in China with older adults and children with disabilities. Mingyang is primarily interested in evaluating the sustainability and the effectiveness of social welfare, housing, and health policies in order to promote better long-term care options for older adults. Mingyang is a recipient of the 2016-17 CEHD Graduate Student Fellowship and the David and Georgiana Hollister Fellowship. His advisor is Dr. Elizabeth Lightfoot.