Department News

Do you have news to share? Please email Jen Elswick at jlelswick@vcu.edu.


jones-thumb‌‌‌$1.1M grant to expand behavioral care for underserved youth, Latinx immigrants, refugees in Richmond

Heather Jones, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the clinical psychology program, has received a $1.1 million grant to increase the number of psychology doctoral students who provide behavioral health care to underserved youth, Latinx immigrants, and refugees in the Richmond region. The U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration is funding the four-year grant, "The VCU Primary Care Psychology Training Collaborative: Expanding Services with Underserved Youth, Latinx Immigrants, and Refugees."

The grant will increase the number of psychology doctoral students who work with the Primary Care Psychology Training Collaborative, a VCU program that provides pro bono treatment for a variety of behavioral health and mental health issues in primary care clinics. Commonly treated issues include depression, child behavior problems and ADHD, and sleep issues.

“All three of our targeted populations — underserved children and adolescents, Latinx immigrants, and refugees — are vulnerable, particularly at this moment in time in the United States,” Jones said. “The vast majority of our patients live in federally designated medically underserved areas. Right now, the future of our current health care and immigration policies are unclear, and some of our patients — including children — have reported stress related to current national events. Unfortunately, wait lists for behavioral health appointments can be months long.”


riley-thumb‌‌Riley receives SRCD Dissertation Funding Award

The Society for Research in Child Development has awarded Tennisha Riley, a doctoral student in the developmental psychology doctoral program, a $2,000 Dissertation Funding Award. The Dissertation Award Committee and the Student and Early Career Council of SRCD noted that a number of high quality applications were submitted this year. Riley's proposal was one of ten selected for an award.

The title of Riley's dissertation is "Adolescent Emotion Expression, Emotion Regulation, and Decision-Making in Social Context." Her study specifically examines whether emotion expression aids in the internal physiological regulation of emotion. In addition, her dissertation study will assess the extent to which emotion expression and emotion regulation influences African American adolescents’ decision-making in the presence of a peer. Her focus is on African American adolescents because they are often understudied in the emotion literature, and there is little known about their management of emotions across in-group and out-group social contexts.


lambert-thumb‌‌martelli-thumbLambert, Martelli receive SPSP travel awards

Ebony Lambert, a doctoral student in the health psychology doctoral program, and Alexandra Martelli, a student in the social psychology doctoral program, will travel to the 2018 Society for Personality and Social Psychology convention in Atlanta courtesy of SPSP travel awards. Lambert and Martelli are two of 150 recipients out of 504 applications for funding.

The title of Lambert's winning poster is "Going Beyond Perceived Discrimination: The Role of Stigma Consciousness in Black Americans' Trust in Physicians and Healthcare Utilitzation." Abstract: This study examined whether stigma consciousness predicts Black Americans' trust in physicians and healthcare utilization, above and beyond perceived discrimination. Results indicated that health researchers should draw on social psychology research of intergroup bias and consider a variety of race-related attitudes to better understand of the role of discrimination in health disparities.

The title of Martelli's winning poster is "When Less is More: Mindfulness Predicts Adaptive Affective Responding to Rejection via Reduced Prefrontal Recruitment." Abstract: This study examined the neural mechanisms through which mindfulness regulates the pain of social rejection. Participants (N=39) completed a social rejection paradigm (Cyberball) while undergoing functional MRI then reported trait mindfulness and state distress during rejection. Results suggest that mindfulness promotes effective coping with rejection without taxing top-down regulatory mechanisms.


moore-thumbMoore to study HIV testing decisions with two-year grant

The National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities has awarded a two-year grant to Melanie Moore, health psychology doctoral student, for the study "Developing Evidenced-Based Health Messages to Increase HIV Testing Among African American Young Adult Women." In this project, Moore will conduct a formative study identifying factors that influence HIV test decisions among young African American women (Study 1). Moore will use findings from this study to develop evidenced-based HIV testing messages, and then test the exposure effect of these messages on participants' decisions to get tested for HIV in a three-month follow up period (Study 2). These messages, if effective, can potentially be utilized by infectious disease clinicians and healthcare providers, HIV prevention groups/organizations and as components of HIV prevention interventions to increase rates of HIV testing. Increasing HIV testing among all young adults is important as more than 50% of HIV positive young adults (ages 18-24) are unaware of their positive status. The long-term goals of this research are to

  • reduce rates of HIV transmission that happen inadvertently by making more HIV positive young adults aware of their HIV status
  • reduce likelihood of HIV transmission by linking HIV positive young adults to healthcare which can thereby reduce their HIV viral load and make them less infectious
  • promote HIV testing as an effective HIV prevention and reduction strategy
  • decrease stigma associated with getting tested for HIV

Read the full VCU News feature on Moore and her grant. 


allen-thumbAllen and team win grant for Building Legacies Around Cultural Knowledge (B.L.A.C.K.) project

Keyona Allen, counseling psychology doctoral student, is the leader of a team based in the Department of Psychology who recently received a $2,500 grant from the VCU Division for Inclusive Excellence's Social Justice Fund for the project Building Legacies Around Cultural Knowledge (B.L.A.C.K.). These students are sponsored by Shawn Utsey, Ph.D., chair of African American Studies and professor of counseling psychology.

The team will facilitate community dialogue centered on experiences that impact the well-being of Richmond’s black communities. Through weekly presentations and dialogue with individuals at a community center in the southside of the city, B.L.A.C.K. hopes to provide a vehicle to healing and positive development. 

Team members include the following Department of Psychology doctoral students: Allen, Christina Barnett, Randl Dent, Ebony Lambert, Krystal Thomas, Mona Quarless, Melissa Avila, Jasmine Coleman, Stephanie Wilson, Amanda Parks and Eryn Delaney


everhart-thumb‌‌‌Everhart receives $4.73M grant to launch program that will help Richmond children with asthma

Robin Everhart, Ph.D., assistant professor of health psychology, has received a $4.73 million grant that aims to improve the overall health and well-being of children with asthma in Richmond.

The six-year grant, “RVA Breathes: A Richmond City Collaboration to Reduce Pediatric Asthma Disparities,” was awarded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health.

“Pediatric asthma is manageable, but it is not curable,” Everhart said. “It can be challenging for families to manage their child’s asthma at home and at school and, in fact, Richmond is often named the ‘asthma capital’ or ‘most challenging place to live in the U.S. with asthma.’ Research has shown that children living in urban centers, such as Richmond, experience worse asthma outcomes. This grant will provide a comprehensive, community-based asthma care program for those children at highest risk for poor asthma outcomes.”

RVA Breathes will be a one-year program for elementary age children that will coordinate asthma care across four sectors — the family, home, community and medical care. Children and their families will participate in a randomized clinical trial that includes a 12-month follow-up period to assess the impact of the program on child asthma outcomes.


green-thumbwalker-thumbGreen, Walker receive SREB Doctoral Scholars Program Institutional Awards

Cathrin Green, left, an incoming student in the clinical doctoral program, and Chloe Walker, an incoming student in the developmental doctoral concentration, have each received a Southern Regional Education Board Doctoral Scholars Program Institutional Award. This award provides support service to underrepresented minority students seeking their Ph.D. who plan to become college or university professors. Green will work with Joshua Langberg, Ph.D., as her faculty adviser beginning this fall and Walker will work with Chelsea Derlan, Ph.D.

From the SREB website:

"More than one-third of America’s college students are people of color. But racial and ethnic minorities make up only small fractions of college faculty. Nationwide, about 5 percent of faculty are African-American, about 3 percent are Hispanic and about 1 percent are Native American. The SREB-State Doctoral Scholars Program is working to change that."


jones-thumb Dr. Fantasy LozadaJones, Lozada to attend NIH grant writing boot camp

The Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD) has selected Heather Jones, Ph.D., assistant professor of clinical psychology, and Fantasy Lozada, Ph.D., assistant professor of developmental psychology, as two of its 10 recipients of a competitive award to participate in the National Institutes of Health Grant Writing Boot Camp this summer. As participants, Jones and Lozada will travel to Washington, D.C., to work closely with a senior mentor and to receive extensive feedback on their research proposals during a two-day workshop. The grant Lozada will submit is called "Emotion Regulatory Flexibility: A Cultural and Emotional Competence Among African American Youth," and Jones' grant is called ''Developing an ADHD Health Communication Intervention for African Americans." The SRCD sponsors this event and it is funded by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.

serpell-thumb‌‌Serpell to serve as congressional fellow for 2017-18

Zewelanji Serpell, Ph.D., associate professor of developmental psychology, is one of four recipients of an American Educational Research Association Congressional Fellowship for 2017-18. Read AERA's press release.

As part of the fellowship, which begins Sept. 1, Serpell will work on the staff of a member of Congress or a congressional committee and use her research expertise to inform policy.

“I am thrilled about the opportunity and expect to learn a lot about education policy work this year,” said Serpell, whose research focuses on understanding and optimizing the learning experiences of African American students in school.

The AERA Congressional Fellowship Program was launched last year to contribute to the effective use of scientific knowledge about education in the formation of public policy, to educate the scientific community about the development of public policy, and to establish a more effective liaison between education researchers and federal policymakers.

“We are pleased these talented scholars will be contributing to the effective use of scientific knowledge about education in the formation of public policy,” AERA Executive Director Felice J. Levine said in a news release. “Through this program and other public engagement initiatives, AERA is further building connections between education researchers and the policy community.”

Courtesy of VCU News


dunn-thumb‌ABPsi awards Dunn for innovative research

The Association of Black Psychologists has named Chelsie Dunn, health psychology doctoral student, the winner of its Black Ribbon Scholarship: Graduate Student Research Award.

From the ABPsi website:

"[This] award aims to fund graduate student research related to issues within the Black community​; especially ​rigorous, innovative studies that might not otherwise be conducted without this award.​ ​ABPsi’s Student Circle seeks to increase the participation of Black students in research and scholarship, to enhance the professional development of Black students, and to increase the overall number of Black clinicians and professionals within the field of psychology via scholarship and award opportunities."

Dunn's research project "Gendered Racial Microaggressions, Ethnic Identity and Black Women’s Sexual Behaviors" will explore the impact gendered racial microaggressions​ (GRM) have on Black women’s ​sexual​ ​risk/protective ​behaviors (i.e., number of sexual partners​, condom use​)​​ and explain the role of ethnic identity and self-concept in the GRM-sexual ​behavior relationship using an intersectional analytic framework.


heller-thumbHeller, CPSD provide psychological assessments to veterans

The Richmond Times-Dispatch ran a front-page article recently detailing a local veteran's difficulties with PTSD and obtaining services through the VA. As part of the feature, Beth Heller, Ph.D., director of the Center for Psychological Services and Development (CPSD), described the difficulties of the psychological evaluation of PTSD. The CPSD partners with the Lewis B. Puller Jr. Veterans Benefits Clinic at the College of William & Mary Law School to provide free psychological evaluations to veterans and active service members as part of an innovative, multi-disciplinary program that also offers free legal services to veterans seeking disability benefits. 


lotze-thumb‌Service learning course provides mentors to children of incarcerated parents

Each summer, Geri Lotze, Ph.D., teaching associate professor of developmental psychology, leads students in her undergraduate service learning course "Mentoring Children At-Risk" through a program of the Virginia Conference of The United Methodist Church called “All God’s Children.” The camp is for children of incarcerated parents and aims to provide them a weeklong sanctuary from the many challenges they face. Lotze coaches undergraduate mentors who serve as trusted advisers to the campers. Barbara Myers, Ph.D., emerita professor of developmental psychology, was the founder of the mentoring program at the camp and passed the baton to Lotze upon her retirement in 2016.

VCU News profiled the course in a recent news feature. Excerpt:

“This is such an important program because it allows the children to come to camp and forget about the struggles at home and just be children again,” said camp director Lori Smith. “It is also important because they attend a class each day where they learn about conflict resolution and self-esteem building, allowing them to use these tools and skills when they return home. Here at camp, they learn that they truly are somebody and really begin to live into that.”


kwitowski-thumbriley-thumbsimpson-thumbKwitowski, Riley and Simpson awarded dissertation assistantships

All three of Psychology's applicants to the VCU Graduate School's Dissertation Assistantship Award Program - Melissa Kwitowski (counseling program), Tennisha Riley (developmental program) and Courtney Simpson (counseling program) - will receive an $18,000 stipend and full tuition for the 2017-18 academic year. ‌This funding program is for doctoral scholars who have completed all program requirements, including didactic courses, except for the dissertation and who will be defending the dissertation and graduating by the end of the fall 2017 or spring 2018 semesters. ‌Importantly, the award stipulates there may be no work required other than work on the dissertation. Nominations are evaluated on the basis of scholarship, methodology, clarity of style and presentation, strength of recommendations and academic record.

heller-thumbdautovich-thumbDr. Joe DzierzewskiHeller, Dautovich and Dzierzewski bring mental health support to firefighters

Beth Heller, Ph.D., director of the Center for Psychological Services and Development, is working with a colleague at the School of Education to launch a peer support network that will allow Richmond firefighters to help their fellow ‌firefighters struggling with the trauma, violence and other challenges they encounter on a routine basis. Two other Psychology faculty members - Natalie Dautovich, Ph.D., and Joseph Dzierzewski, Ph.D. - will lead a sleep intervention study with the firefighters that will begin this summer and will aim to minimize the impact of the work environment on both on-duty and off-duty sleep and to maximize healthy sleep behaviors.


hoetger-thumbHoetger to Receive Massey Cancer Center Scholarship

Cosima Hoetger, a doctoral student in the health psychology program, will receive the $1,000 VCU Massey Cancer Center Cancer Prevention and Control Research Development Scholarship for her project "Cigarette Smoking in an International Student Population: Assessment of Unique Risk Factors to Reduce Cancer Risk." The study will investigate the impact of acculturative stress, depressive symptoms, need to belong, and other unique risk factors on smoking behavior in an international student population in order to decrease cancer risks. 


Read news from previous academic years on our archive page.