First Cohort of PhD Students in Behavioral & Community Sciences Enter Doctoral Candidacy

-- By John Kregler

USF’s Behavioral and Community Sciences PhD program represents an exciting and innovative course of study that caters to students with diverse backgrounds and interests. The PhD program is unique to the college in its promotion of interdisciplinary study. Faculty from different backgrounds including psychology, rehabilitation sciences, medical sociology, health economics and educational psychology provide new perspectives to students enrolled. The doctoral core courses provide fundamental knowledge and skills applicable to all behavioral and community science disciplines yet allow students to work in cross-disciplinary teams to specialize in students’ individual areas of interest.

Amanda Sharp, Enya Vroom, Bonnie Wilson-Brown and Joshua BarnettWith a staggering 26 students currently enrolled in the program in only three years of existence, the College of Behavioral and Community Sciences is immensely proud of the hard work and commitment of students and faculty alike. Four students from the first cohort of the program have distinguished themselves as the program’s first to enter doctoral candidacy. Amanda Sharp, Enya Vroom, Bonnie Wilson-Brown and Joshua Barnett represent the epitome of academic trailblazers. Combined, they have published 16 papers, delivered 30 presentations and have taught 12 undergraduate courses at USF.

Regarding the decision to choose USF for her doctoral degree, Sharp said:

“The interdisciplinary nature of the program was appealing because it allowed me to combine my interests and live outside the traditional academic boxes. I came in with multifaceted interests in person-centered care, substance use treatment and harm reduction, the application of empathy and cultural competency, and behavior change science. I saw the thread that tied these together but needed a program that would be supportive of my vision without making me choose. This is what I found here.”

Sharp holds a master’s in Public Health from Boston University.  Her research focuses primarily on substance abuse and motivational interviewing. Sharp was recently awarded the Graduate Student Outstanding Behavioral Health Services Research Award from the Florida Mental Health Institute. Her dissertation will use a mixed methods approach to study regional faith leader perceptions and their implications on the opioid crisis.

Barnett holds master’s degrees in both Health Sciences from the Johns Hopkins University’s School of Public Health and Thanatology from Hood College and is an Internationally Certified Co-Occurring Disorders Professional (ICCDP-Diplomate). With interests in substance abuse, Barnett has given six presentations including one on local opioid overdose response and prevention at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, GA. 

Barnett’s dissertation research is focusing on safety-net health care provided to medically indigent populations to inform strategies that integrate behavioral health into community health plans at the county-level.  

Vroom, who holds a master’s in Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health from USF, has researched the implementation of evidence-based practices in school and community settings as well as the evaluation of substance use prevention, suicide prevention and social/emotional learning programs. Vroom completed her undergraduate at USF in 2015 and has been with the university for the entirety of her educational career.

Vroom has a longstanding interest in implementation science. Her dissertation topic focuses on the assessment of community-based organizations delivering behavioral health services to youth. She is especially interested in their capacity to implement evidence-based practices.

Brown holds a master’s in Educational Leadership and has extensive research experience on factors affecting the educational success of youth. Since 2011, Brown has taught courses on clinical education and teaching and recently completed a graduate certificate in Program Evaluation and Assessment. She is currently co-drafting a publication focusing on the psychosocial effects of parent incarceration on youths for the Journal of Social Work Research.

Brown’s dissertation analyzes post-secondary education success and the barriers and challenges for youth aging out of foster care programs.

Several students on track to enter their candidacy have published papers and delivered presentations on their research findings including one student who recently presented at the National Association of People Supporting Employment First (APSE) Conference in Orlando, Fl. Other graduates have presented their findings at conferences spanning the nation in cities such as Baltimore, Houston and Los Angeles.

The college and its partnering organizations are committed to helping students meet their educational and professional goals through faculty guidance, interdisciplinary coursework, research opportunities, and funding.

“The College of Behavioral and Community Sciences and its Department of Mental Health Law and Policy provided me with full tuition funding for pre-dissertation course work,” Barnett said. “Additionally, I was provided with a stipend for a 0.5 FTE graduate teaching assistantship to support faculty academic administration, classroom assistance and undergraduate teaching opportunities.”

Dr. Howard Goldstein, the Associate Dean of Research, values the dedication put forth by these four “trail blazing” students and their commitment to the college’s emerging program.

“Faculty and students alike are benefiting from interactions that are truly interdisciplinary manifestations of behavioral and community sciences,” Goldstein said. “I think the devotion to helping vulnerable populations from every facet of American society live full and rewarding lives benefits all of us associated with this unique PhD program and society in general.”