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Katherine Leith, PhD

Making Change Happen

Dr. Katherine Leith finds great professional and personal satisfaction in working with aging populations. Originally from Germany, Dr. Leith says that after arriving in the United States in the late 1980s, she was inspired to find ways to change the systems that sometimes let the elderly slip through the cracks.

Through her career, Dr. Leith has pursued this goal, researching the health—both mental and physical—of older adults and collaborating with colleagues to develop policies and projects that improve older adults’ lives. With an academic background in psychology, social work, and public health, Dr. Leith has worked in a variety of positions. These positions have ranged from direct service as a licensed medical social worker to designing, implementing, and evaluating federally and state funded projects and policy initiatives. Currently, she is Director of the Certificate of Graduate Studies in Gerontology Program at USC and Coordinator of the MSW Dual Degree Programs (MSW/MPH; MSW/MPA; MSW/JD).

While Dr. Leith is passionate about research, she is also passionate about sharing knowledge with students. She believes that making change happen involves both research and practice.  Effective change rests, in part, on equipping students with the expertise necessary to become knowledgeable and capable professionals. Dr. Leith sees a great affinity between the fields of social work and public health, and research related to social and health issues can have an impact far beyond the immediacy of the projects themselves. Thus, Dr. Leith continually strives to make her research and teaching accessible and comprehensible. 


Research Background

Trained as a clinical social worker, Dr. Leith uses qualitative research methods, mixed methods, and community-based participatory strategies in her evaluation work.  Her work focuses on evidence-based prevention practices in the areas of chronic disease and mental health. In particular, Dr. Leith concentrates on implementation fidelity, systems capacity, and collaborative partnerships to enhance the dissemination and sustainability of these practices. She uses a range of mixed methods, including descriptive and inferential quantitative methods as well as qualitative focus group and personal interview methods.

Research Projects (recent)

Dr. Leith is the lead evaluator/project core team member on the following projects:
  • Towards Implementation of Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) in South Carolina Community Mental Health Centers: Determining Critical Elements of ACT (SC Department of Mental Health, 2005-current)
  • Healthy Aging Research Network (HAN) (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2005-current)
  • Better Choices Better Health (previously: Living Well South Carolina,  Chronic Disease Self-Management Program (CDSMP) (Administration on Aging; 2006-current)
  • South Carolina Cancer Disparities Community Network Project (SCCDCN) (National Cancer Institute, 2009-current)

Selected Publications

  • Snowden, M., Steinman, L., Carlson, W., Mochan, Abraido Lanzo, A., Bryant, B., Duffy, M., Knight, B., Jeste, D., Leith, K., Lenze, E., Logsdon, R., Satariano, W., Zweiback, D., & Anderson, L.  (Under review).  Effect of physical activity, social support and skills training on late-life emotional health: A systematic literature review and implications for public health research.  American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
  • Albrecht, T., Tanjasiri, S., Stengle, W., Hicks Long, G., Berry-Bobovski, L., Leith, K., Fore, E., Kenison, K., Smith, S., Viswanath, V., Ramirez, A., Gallion, K., & Buchwald, D.  (Under review).  Social network analysis approaches for studying community engagement.  Health Education Research.
  • Hughes, S., Leith, K., Marquez, D., Moni, G., Nguyen, H., Desai, P., & Jones, D.  (2011).  Physical Activity and Older Adults: Expert Consensus for a New Research AgendaThe Gerontologist, doi:10.1093/geront/gnr106. 
  • Leith, K.,  Knott, A., Mayer, A., & Westermann, J.  (2010).  Germany.  In J. A. Johnson & C. H. Stoskopf (Eds.), Comparative health systems: Global perspectives (pp. 147-166).  Sudbury, MA: Jones & Bartlett. 
  • Steinman, L. Frederick, J., Prohaska, T., Satariano, B., Dornberg-Lee, S., Fisher, R., Graub, P., Leith, K., Presby, K., Sharkey, J., Snyder, S., Turner, D., Wilson, N., Yagoda, L., Unutzer, J., & Snowden, M.  (2007).  Recommendations for treating depression in community-based older adults.  American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 33(3), Pages 175-181.
  • Frederick, J., Steinman, L., Prohaska, T., Satariano, W., Bruce, M., Bryant, L., Ciechanowski, P., DeVellis, B., Leith, K., Leyden, K., Sharkey, J., Simon, G., Wilson, N., Unützer, J., & Snowden, M.  2007).  Community-based treatment of late life depression: An expert panel–informed literature review.  American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 33(3), Pages 222-249.
  • Leith, K.  (2006).  Home is where the heart is…or is it: A phenomenological exploration of the meaning of home for older women in congregate housing.  Journal of Aging Studies
  • Leith, K., & Phillips, L.  (2005).  In their own voices: Using Qualitative Research and Consumer Narratives for Systems Change.  Social Policy Journal, 4(3/4), 19-35.
  • Patterson, D., Probst, J., Leith, K., Corwin, S., & Powell, P.  (2005).  Recruitment and retention of emergency medical technicians: A qualitative study.  Journal of Allied Health, 34(3), 153-162.
  • Leith, K., Phillips, L., & Sample, P.  (2004).  Exploring the service needs and experiences of persons with TBI and their families, Part II: The South Carolina experience.  Brain Injury, 18(12), 1191-1208.


Leith K
Contact Information
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Major Classes Taught

  • SOWK732: Social Work with Communities and Organizations
  • SOWK741: Social Welfare Problems and Policies
  • SOWK742: Social Welfare Policy Analysis
  • SOWK791: Social Work Research Methodologies
  • SOWK793: Evaluation of Policies and Programs

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