USC Social Work Students Receive Most CSWE Fellowships this Year for Work with Underserved Minority Populations

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Lisbeth Gaona
PhD candidate Lisbeth Gaona

Meet the five USC social work graduate students recognized by the Council on Social Work Education for their work among underserved ethnic minorities.

Students from the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work are among the most recognized in this year’s class of CSWE Minority Fellowship Program recipients, with four PhD students and one master’s degree student chosen for their dedication to helping underserved minority populations.

Each year, through this fellowship program, the Council on Social Work Education offers a training and professional development grant award to a group of outstanding master and doctoral social work students committed to providing behavioral health services to underserved ethnic minority populations. The fellowships, backed by grant funding from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), include specialized in-person and virtual education, a monthly stipend, mentorship, and comprehensive professional development support.

This year, the MFP is welcoming 14 new fellows and 11 returning fellows, including five from the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work.

Lizbeth Gaona

Since obtaining a psychology degree at the University of California, Los Angeles, and an MSW at California State University, Los Angeles, Lizabeth Gaona’s research has sought to explore the role of culturally relevant coping resources for adults struggling with mental illness. “I’m aiming to gain a deeper understanding of how religion and religious involvement can help Latinos diagnosed with schizophrenia to cope with their illness,” she said.

Among the benefits of the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work’s PhD program, Gaona cites its focus on the development of rigorous research skills. This skillset has allowed her to participate effectively in the research initiatives at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, where she practices as a licensed clinical social worker.

“As a first generation college student, I’m driven by the memories of seeing my widowed mother clean homes for a living,” Gaona said. “I want to be an agent of change in giving Latinas in research a seat at the table—and the Minority Fellowship Program has given me a seat, front and center.”

Carolina Villamil-Grest

A second-year MFP fellow, Carolina Villamil-Grest completed her bachelor’s degree in social work at Florida State University and her MSW at Catholic University before pursuing her PhD at USC. “I chose USC because it offers a rich combination of rigorous training and the chance to work with excellent and productive faculty—all in the diverse environment of Los Angeles,” Villamil-Grest said.

Villamil-Grest’s research has focused on minority health disparities among Latino adolescents and young adults, with a focus on partner violence, mental health and substance abuse. Her interest in this area of study developed in part due to her clinical experience working with survivors of gender-based violence in residential services and in a legal service organization.

“My mission is to improve the lives of immigrants and alleviate the suffering of those who struggle with behavioral health issues,” she said.

Stephanie Rosado

After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Purdue University Fort Wayne, Stephanie Rosado joined the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work. “I chose USC’s MSW program due to its CSWE accreditation, customizability and student-centered approach,” Rosado said. “I was welcomed like family—every professor genuinely cares about empowering students to reach their goals.”

Rosado, who plans to pursue a PhD after completing her MSW, is passionate about the intersection between social work and sports. As an advocate for policy change aimed at increasing access to mental health care for student athletes, Rosado recently presented original research at the Alliance of Social Workers in Sports Annual Symposium.

“I hope that this fellowship will help me become not only a better social worker, but a more informed advocate so that I can serve the athletic population to the best of my abilities,” she said.

Judith Perrigo

A third-year MFP fellow and USC social work doctoral student, Judith Perrigo holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology and business from California State University, Northridge, and an MSW from USC. With more than 15 years of experience in the nonprofit sector meeting the behavioral health needs of various populations, Perrigo’s current research focuses on the many protective factors and risks that impact the physical, cognitive and socio-emotional development of young children.

Perrigo is invested in progress on the forefront of behavioral health, child welfare, developmental disabilities and early childhood education—especially as they relate to underserved and ethnic minority populations. After finishing her PhD, Perrigo hopes to obtain a tenure-track position at a research institution.

Monique Holguin

Monique Holguin received a bachelor’s degree in psychology from UCLA and an MSW from California State University, Los Angeles. As a doctoral social work student, Holguin is implementing social network theory—which explores the role of social relationships in conveying information and promoting behavioral change—to pinpoint and address restrictions in access to behavioral health services and health care for marginalized transitional age youth.

As an LCSW, Holguin recently served as a clinical supervisor for a community research initiative targeted at low-income ethnic minority patients and families. The initiative aimed to accommodate the financial needs and social determinants of health affecting this population through an integrated health service delivery model at a local pediatric clinic. Holguin is also currently the principal investigator on a study investigating integrated mobile health service delivery for youth experiencing homelessness.

“During my 15 years serving marginalized populations, I’ve come to realize that many of those we serve are directly impacted by the multi-morbidity of health, mental health and substance use disorders, and more significantly, by the many barriers that hinder integrated, comprehensive and effective treatment of these conditions,” Holguin said. She believes that the CSWE fellowship will afford her the opportunity to collaborate with other researchers interested in addressing these racial and ethnic health disparities.

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