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Chasing the American Dream
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Congregations and Health: Research Directions
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09

Graduation

The College of Social Work will be enhanced this fall by the addition of new faculty with experiences ranging from helping refugees in Tanzania to helping troubled youth in East Harlem.

And their paths to social work were as diverse as their interests. The five new teachers and researchers are: Breanne Grace, PhD, Michigan State University; Nikki Wooten, PhD, University of Maryland; Benjamin Roth, PhD, University of Chicago; B. Sudie Nallo, MSW, Washington University; and Kristina C. Webber, MSW, who is finishing her dissertation for her doctoral degree from the University of North Carolina.

GraceBreanne300X300Breanne Grace, PhD
Picking ‘once in lifetime’

Breanne Grace, PhD, joined the faculty in August as an Assistant Professor with research interests in refugees.

Dr. Grace grew up in Colorado, but her mother had kin in Sweden. So Sweden might have been a natural pick for overseas study before her senior year started in 2003 at Saint Olaf College, about 40 miles south of Minneapolis.

But Dr. Grace wanted to go to Tanzania, and her mother encouraged her.

“Oh, come on,” Dr. Grace recalled her mother saying, “you can go to Sweden anytime, and stay with your family. You’ll never get another chance to go to Tanzania.”

She has now spent about six of the past 10 years living, researching, and working in Tanzania. She has become fluent in KiSwahili and conversational in a Somali dialect of KiZigua/KiZigula.
While there she worked with refugees, igniting her passion for helping them and understanding their plight. All she needed was a profession that could support her passion. “I chose sociology. It was a means to an end for me.”

WootenNikki 300X300Nikki Wooten, PhD
Serving the military


Dr. Nikki R. Wooten joined the faculty in January as an assistant professor. Her research includes studying how military personnel and veterans cope with the stress of military service and deployments.

Dr. Wooten taught at Boston University for over three years after earning her doctoral degree in social work from the University of Maryland.

She is a major in the District of Columbia Army National Guard with more than 24 years of military service.

She has been part of a team using Department of Defense and Veterans Administration data to identify missed treatment opportunities for substance use among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. The team is supported by funding from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which is also funding a supplemental grant to Wooten to study the early identification of substance use and psychological problems in Army women veterans.

Dr. Wooten grew up in Tarboro, a town in the tobacco-growing region of eastern North Carolina, where military service is a family tradition.

She has a brother in the Army Reserves who served two tours in Afghanistan, an aunt who served three tours in Iraq, an uncle who retired from the Army at the rank of master sergeant, and an uncle who is a Vietnam war veteran.

Dr. Wooten earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1992, and her master’s in social work from Howard University in Washington, D.C., in 1995. She is also a licensed clinical social worker with experience providing services to military personnel, veterans, and their families.

Benjamin Roth, PhD
RothBenjamin 300X300 Listening to immigrants


Dr. Benjamin Roth joined the faculty in August as an Assistant Professor. His interest in studying immigration began when he was working on his master’s degree in social work at Hunter College in New York, N.Y.

Roth, who grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, was working with a family service agency that helped low-income immigrants living in East Harlem.

His visits left him with visions that evoked the scenes of New York slums of the late 19th century captured by photographer Jacob Riis.

“Many of the immigrant families I worked with were living in terrible housing conditions,” he said. “When I heard their migration stories, and learned how their landlords were refusing to respond to their complaints, it was clear I wanted to go into social work.”

His work also allowed him to see the influence that nonprofit organizations could have as advocates for disadvantaged families and immigrants—a theme that continues to be a focus of his research.

At the University of Chicago, where he earned his doctoral degree last spring, he studied how the children of Latino immigrants in two Chicago suburbs adapted to life in the United States. Dr. Roth said he was attracted to Columbia in part because of the rapid growth of the Hispanic population in South Carolina and neighboring states.

Sudie Nallo, MSW 
Empowering others


Sudie Nallo joined the faculty in August as a Clinical Assistant Professor. Her research interests include micro-lending and other programs that benefit marginalized populations.

Ms. Nallo was born in Conway, S.C., in 1981, the second of three children of Amidu and Agnes Nallo. Her parents emigrated from Sierra Leone as young people in the late 1970s.

After earning her bachelor’s degree in English from Wake Forest University in 2004, she worked for a year with AmeriCorps/VISTA at Greensboro College in North Carolina, matching students and faculty with volunteer opportunities with more than 30 nonprofit groups.

“AmeriCorps was my ‘ah-hah’ moment,” she said. “My job was to train volunteers to interact and engage with community leaders, allowing people to be the solution to their own problems—empowering them, rather than creating a dependency.”

In 2007, she moved to St. Louis to begin work on her master’s in social work degree at Washington University. While there, she worked under Dr. Amanda Moore McBride, the Director of the Gephardt Institute, who helped hone her skills in cultivating ties between a university and its community.

She also began working as a researcher and loan counselor for the nonprofit Justine Petersen Housing and Reinvestment Corporation. Ms. Nallo helped small businesses develop stronger roots and grow through “micro-loans,” loans for as little as $500.

In her final semester before she was awarded her MSW in 2008, Ms. Nallo began working as a field and research graduate intern for the Centre for Enterprise Development and Action Research in Ibadan, Nigeria.

In one project, she helped a group of orange growers band together to make frozen juice concentrate, rather than selling their fruit as a perishable commodity. She continues to consult for the organization and periodically travels to Nigeria.

Kristina C. Webber, MSWWebber Kristina300X300
Bridging differences


Kristina C. Webber joined the faculty of the College of Social Work at the University of South Carolina in August. Her research probes school social work, effective education and youth development programs, and sources of racial/ethnic disparities in education.

Ms. Webber, a granddaughter and great-granddaughter of coal miners, grew up in Shelbiana, a former coal mining village nine miles outside Pikeville, Kentucky.

Her mother was trying to support the family in an area where jobs were scarce. When Ms. Webber was in middle school, her mother moved the family to a town near Washington, D.C., where they lived for a time with extended family.

For Ms. Webber, the move involved crossing a cultural divide far wider than the 400 miles between Shelbiana and Washington, D.C. Her experience of that transition is one reason her research interests include the role of schools in helping children cope with psychological stress.

Ms. Webber graduated from Virginia Tech in Blacksburg with a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1997. Afterwards, she helped manage a hotel and volunteered with a women’s shelter.

The hotel offered her a promotion to general manager, but it meant a move to another town. She realized she would have to leave the shelter where she had enjoyed helping women and their children rebuild their lives after domestic abuse.

“I felt much more alive and passionate about what I was doing there than with my day job,” Ms. Webber said. “It felt like a career-defining moment for me.”

She earned her master’s in social work at the University of Maryland’s Baltimore campus in 2002.

She moved in 2003 to South Carolina, where she worked for Charleston County School District. She was in the doctoral program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill from 2008 until this year.

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