2018-19 News

Svikis receives one of College's inaugural Catalyst Awards

AUG. 8, 2019


Dace Svikis, Ph.D., professor of clinical psychology, is the recipient of one of the VCU College of Humanities and Sciences' inaugural Catalyst Awards. Scholarship Catalyst and Seed Awards are meant to foster research and scholarship in all fields across the College. Specifically, they aim to enable researchers to develop successful grant proposals and nationally or internationally peer-reviewed scholarly and/or creative works.

Svikis is a substance abuse researcher with extensive intervention experience. Her award is for the project "Relapse Prevention: Setting the Stage for a Randomized Clinical Trial of a Computer-Delivered Intervention in a Residential Sample of Women with Substance Use Disorders."

Svikis reports that while cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based treatment for addiction, efforts to implement CBT in community treatment programs have met with limited success. "Technology is one means of increasing the quality and reach of CBT in economically practical ways."

Catalyst funding will allow Svikis and her team to collect pilot data on a promising seven-session, computer-delivered intervention (CBT4CBT)*.

"Such data are essential to obtaining NIH funding for a randomized clinical trial of the intervention. Catalyst funding will also strengthen the community partnership with the Richmond Behavioral Health Authority-North Campus residential program, providing opportunities for graduate students (Sydney Kelpin) and others to gain experience in the conduct of community-based addiction research."

* CBT4CBT was developed by Kathleen Carroll, Ph.D., at Yale University.


Student’s rise as a researcher takes her from law school in Brazil to an NIH lab

MAY 20, 2019

Sarah Izabel discovers a life-changing passion for neuroscience at VCU.

Sarah Izabel smiling

Sarah Izabel discovered Virginia Commonwealth University one frigid day when she just wanted to come in from the cold. Bundled up and shivering, she and a friend were walking near VCU in the winter of 2010 when they stumbled upon the University Student Commons and stepped inside to warm up. Izabel and her friend were both from Brazil, and were in the United States to improve their English and explore opportunities in the country. Unfamiliar with the area, they had never heard of VCU and didn’t understand what it was, but Izabel found herself immediately drawn to it.

“There were groups of people in there laughing and having a good time, and I thought, ‘Who are these people and what is this place?’” Izabel said.

Four years later, Izabel would remember the day when she was living in Richmond and pining to return to college. Izabel had gone home to Brazil for a spell but later decided to return to the U.S. By then a mother of a young son named Noah, Izabel had studied law at a college in Brazil, but ultimately decided the legal profession was not for her. She wanted to try college in the U.S. and find a better fit — she wanted to discover what her interests were. She enrolled at VCU with plans of pursuing a degree in criminal justice, figuring that best aligned with her previous studies and would be a natural place to restart her academic career.

In the years since, Izabel’s academic path has taken some surprising twists and turns, but the path has traveled steadily upward. She is now majoring in biology psychology and minoring in chemistry with a concentration in life sciences in the College of Humanities and Sciences. Also a member of the Honors College, Izabel has unearthed a talent for scientific research that works in tandem with her natural doggedness to make her a formidable researcher. Although she doesn’t graduate until May 2020, Izabel has already earned a raft of prestigious research opportunities and won a variety of awards, grants and scholarships.

Perhaps most impressively, Izabel last year was selected for the National Institutes of Health Undergraduate Scholarship Program. The scholarship pays for Izabel’s final two years at VCU in return for her commitment to attend a 10-week training session at the NIH this summer and to work for the federal research center for two years following graduation.

Read more about Sarah Izabel's academic path and where she's headed in the full article.

Article by Tom Gresham, University Public Affairs


#Gratitude: Thanks for 33 great years, Dr. Gramling

MAY 14, 2019

Dr. Sandy Gramling seen from behind facing 2019 graduatesDr. Sandra "Sandy" Gramling joined the VCU faculty in 1986. 2019 was her last one at VCU. She will be deeply missed by her colleagues and students. She has amazing plans for retirement including hiking and plans to spend a lot of time at Richmond Hill. Sandy was a behavioral medicine researcher publishing in the areas of pain, sleep, stress management,  religious coping, and coping with grief. Sandy has also been a stellar instructor of both graduate and undergraduate students. This past year alone, she taught more than 500 students!  Perhaps her most enduring legacy here at VCU will be her stress and its management class, a course that consistently enrolled upwards of 120 students per section each semester. Given what we know about the importance of managing stress, including and perhaps especially among college-age folks, the course served several key purposes. First, it offered a scientific foundation for understanding how the topic was studied. As well, though, it provided a strong education on how one can learn to manage one’s stress. And Sandy was a terrific guide. She literally wrote the book on stress and its management! Al Farrell, a long-time colleague, shared that she was once approached at King’s Dominion by a costumed figure there who wanted to thank her for the class. Her commencement speech focused on gratitude, a fitting theme, as we are all grateful for her years of service and friendship here at VCU. Good luck in the next chapter, Sandy!

VCU psychology professor edits special journal issue on disability and social justice in rehabilitation research.

APR 16, 2019

Dr. Paul PerrinA special issue of the journal Rehabilitation Psychology edited by a Virginia Commonwealth University psychology professor explores disability and social justice in rehabilitation research.

Paul B. Perrin, Ph.D., is an associate professor in the Department of Psychology in the College of Humanities and Sciences, director of VCU’s health psychology doctoral program and associate editor of the journal, a quarterly peer-reviewed publication that is dedicated to the advancement of the science and practice of rehabilitation psychology.

The special issue features 13 articles on diversity and social justice in disability research that focus on themes of critical disability identity theory, discrimination and prejudice, and health disparities in the context of disability.

VCU News has the full feature on Dr. Perrin's work.

Article by Brian McNeill, University Public Affairs

Baldacci Fund recipient heads to Ghana to study sleep quality.

APR 9, 2019

Sarah Yankson standing

Between 2015 and 2017, 624 million insecticide-treated mosquito nets were distributed, mostly for free, to reduce malaria, severe disease and death in regions of the world where malaria is endemic.

The nets, which serve as a protective barrier for the people sleeping under them, have been proven to help prevent the spread of malaria, a disease that saw 219 million cases and 435,000 deaths in 2017, according to the World Health Organization.

Yet research shows that households that own insecticide-treated nets, often referred to as ITNs, do not always use them.

This summer, Virginia Commonwealth University student Sarah Yankson, a junior in the Department of Psychology in the College of Humanities and Sciences, will travel to Ghana to work on a pilot study investigating sleep quality under insecticide-treated nets, which could help explain why Ghanaians do not consistently use them.

VCU News has the full feature on this Baldacci Fund recipient.

Photo by Brian McNeill, University Public Affairs

Psychology student is first at VCU to receive a Newman Civic Fellowship.

MAR 28, 2019

Nauje Jones smiling

Nauje Jones, a psychology major in the College of Humanities and Sciences, has long had a passion for service and a keen interest in public health. She participated in a host of community projects during her initial years as a student at Virginia Commonwealth University, especially through her membership in ASPiRE, the university’s living-learning program focused on community engagement. Still, it wasn’t until Jones became the first VCU student to receive a Newman Civic Fellowship that she found a way to direct her energies in a way that satisfied her.

The fellowship recognizes and supports community-engaged students at institutions that are members of the Campus Compact, a coalition of colleges and universities committed to the public purpose of higher education. As part of the fellowship, Erin Burke Brown, Ph.D., director of ASPiRE, served as a mentor for Jones, meeting with her regularly this academic year to discuss her career and service interests. Jones shared that she wanted to become a nurse practitioner who specializes in women’s health in low-income urban communities. Brown soon arranged a meeting for Jones with Candace Johnson, Ph.D., clinical assistant professor in the VCU School of Nursing. When Johnson first met Jones, she could tell the undergraduate student was intelligent and driven. She also could see that Jones was “a researcher in the making.”

“She had a philosophical approach that made me think she would be great for community-engaged research,” Johnson said. “She was an out-of-the box thinker who was very interested in doing something that would be impactful.”

VCU News has the full feature on Nauje Jones.

Photo by Kevin Morley, University Marketing


Outgoing chair reflects on the department's trajectory and university mission

JUN 25, 2018

Wendy Kliewer

After eight years as department chair, Wendy Kliewer, Ph.D., will return to the ranks of the faculty on July 1, 2018. Michael Southam-Gerow, Ph.D., will serve as the new department chair thereafter. Recently Kliewer offered her thoughts and reflections on the department's transformation during her time as chair.


"...[D]uring my time as chair, faculty in the department secured $18.1 million in National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding for a five-year grant – the second largest in VCU’s history at the time – to establish the Center for the Study of Tobacco Products; $5.8 million in NIH funding for a six-year cooperative agreement to study RVA Breathes – an intervention to reduce asthma disparities in children; $5.9 million in funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for a five-year community-based cooperative agreement to reduce violence and enhance positive youth development in two east end communities; three Institute of Education Sciences grants totaling more than $6.8 million to improve the care of individuals with ADHD – either students in college or individuals being served in community-based pediatric clinics; $2.5 million in NIH funding to intervene with families to promote healthy eating and exercise; and $1.5 million from SAMHSA to work on HIV and substance abuse prevention among African American college students. Our involvement as a department with two transdisciplinary cores – Culture, Race and Health and Oral Health in Childhood and Adolescence as part of the iCubed (Inclusion. Inquiry. Innovation) initiative – also affirms our commitment to addressing needs of the urban community in partnership with the urban community. Collectively these projects are not merely addressing the needs of our urban community, they are helping our department to rise in national prominence, one focus of the new strategic plan Quest 2025. I am proud to note that during these eight years, the Department of Psychology moved into the top 25% of Departments of Psychology in the country."

Read the full essay on Dr. Kliewer's reflections.


Congratulations to the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth grant award recipients!

JUN 21, 2018

Portrait of Rosalie CaronaPortrait of Oswaldo MorenoPortrait of Caroline CobbPortrait of Kristina HoodPortrait of Robin EverhartPortrait of Randy Koch

Congratulations to Drs. Rosalie Corona, Oswaldo Moreno, Caroline Cobb, Kristina Hood, Robin Everhart, and Randy Koch, all faculty in Psychology, for receiving funding notices from the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth.  Grant awards were announced today and will begin in the next fiscal year.

Drs. Corona and Moreno, Co-Principal Investigators, along with two colleagues from William and Mary and Virginia Tech, and their community partner, the Sacred Heart Center here in Richmond, received $449,912 for a 3-year grant titled Culturally Enhancing a Motivational Interviewing Intervention for Latinx Adolescents.

Here is a description of their project: The Latinx community is a fast growing and underserved ethnic group in the greater Richmond area (Clapp, 2011) with language access serving as a significant barrier for Latinx adolescents in the local community (Holton & Jettner, 2015). Accordingly, a significant opportunity is being missed to disseminate tobacco use prevention skills for Latinx adolescents, especially those from Spanish-speaking families. This application will address a local service need by culturally enhancing an evidence-based tobacco prevention intervention and determining the pilot efficacy of the culturally enhanced intervention. The current project has several strengths including a focus on a group of high-risk adolescents whose community is disproportionately burdened by the consequences of smoking (e.g., cancer, heart disease). This application will also explore how cultural factors may influence Latinx adolescents’ tobacco use, including ATPs and poly-tobacco use.

Drs. Caroline Cobb and Andrew Barnes (a faculty member in Health Behavior and Policy), Co-Principal Investigators, along with co-investigators Drs. Kristina Hood and Robin Everhart, psychology faculty, and Dr. Patrick Nana-Sinkam of Internal Medicine, received $149,130 for a 1-year project titled “Profiling youth cigar use in low SES communities: A mixed methods approach.” The project also will work with Research Unlimited, a company founded by Drs. Michell Pope and Jasmine Abrams, graduates of the Health Psychology PhD program.

Here is a description of their project: This mixed methods study will recruit cigar-smoking and non-tobacco-using youth residing in low SES communities near Richmond, VA to complete biological and survey measures that will describe the physiological effects of cigar use as well as the attitudes, perceptions, and knowledge about cigars and tobacco-relevant environmental factors. Subsamples of these groups will be recruited for focus groups, which will provide greater depth and detail on which factors influence intentions and behaviors surrounding cigars. Finally, we will engage a community advisory board to translate research findings to the community and to state policymakers.

Finally, Dr. Hong Xue (Health Behavior and Policy), Principal Investigator, and co-investigators Drs. Andrew Barnes (Health Behavior and Policy) and Randy Koch (Psychology) were awarded funding for their proposal, "Systems modeling & simulations for effective tobacco control and prevention policies among youth." 

This was a very competitive grant cycle, and we are very proud of these successes!


Congratulations to our recent graduate and Ph.D. students!

JUN 21, 2018

Master of Science

  • Barsell, Duc-Thi J.
  • Cariello, Annahir
  • Cusack, Shannon E.
  • Davies, Alexandria E.
  • Hailu, Selamawit
  • Hitti, Stephanie
  • Maloney, Sarah F.
  • McGuire, Kristina A.
  • Ravyts, Scott
  • Rudy, Alyssa
  • Washington Nortey, Princess Melissa T.

Doctor of Philosophy

  • Spindle, Tory R.
  • Tabaac, Ariella R.
  • Trujillo, Michael A.
  • Velazquez, Efren A.
  • Morlett-Paredes, Alejandra
  • Riley, Tennisha N.


Student Awards and Scholarships Announced

JUN 21, 2018

Please join us in congratulating our departmental and program award and scholarship recipients for 2018!


  • Undergraduate Psychology Black History in the Making: Akea Robinson
  • Graduate Psychology Black History in the Making: Tennisha Riley
  • Outstanding Junior Award: No nominees
  • Outstanding Senior Award: Akea Robinson and Ashley Bacalso
  • Outstanding Clinical Psychology Behavioral Medicine Concentration Graduate Student Award: Sarah Clark and David Rothman
  • Outstanding Clinical Psychology Clinical Child Concentration Graduate Student Award: Julia Cox and Stephen Molitor
  • Outstanding Counseling Psychology Graduate Student Award: Courtney Simpson and Melissa Kwitowski
  • Outstanding Leadership and Community Engagement in Counseling Psychology: No recipient this year
  • Outstanding Developmental Psychology Graduate Student Award: Jessica Greenlee
  • Outstanding Health Psychology Graduate Student Award: Michael Trujillo and Melanie Moore
  • Outstanding Social Psychology Graduate Student Award: Athena Cairo
  • Outstanding Graduate Student Teacher Award: Alexandra Martelli
  • Psychology Graduate Student LGBTQ Ally Award: Jaclyn Sadicario
  • Psychology Graduate Student Award for Community Multicultural Enrichment: Calvin Hall
  • Psychology Graduate Student Latinx Award: Efren Velazquez


  • Deborah Braffman Schroeder Award to Outstanding Clinical Student: Nour Al Ghriwati
  • Elizabeth Fries Memorial Scholarship: Nour Al Ghriwati
  • John P. Hill Award for Adolescent Research: Jessica Greenlee
  • Evelyn E. Gunst Scholarship (Outstanding Master's Candidate): Dana Schreiber
  • Melvin V. Lubman Scholarship in Psychology: Camila Tirado
  • John Corazzini Award for Therapeutic Group Work: Keyona Allen 
  • Peirluigi Antonio Menna Scholarship: Shelby Jean Forosan
  • Donald J. Kiesler Memorial Research Fellowship Fund: Stephen Molitor
  • Dr. Peter Zucker Scholarship: Samantha Mladen


Fulbright scholar Gordon conducts research in Buenos Aires

MAY 29, 2018

Puerto Madero in Buenos Aires

VCU Fulbright scholar and triple major Cydni Gordon is conducting research focused on the emotional impacts of antipsychotics and antidepressants. To read more about her research, you can find the entire article on VCU News.







Belgrave to receive APA award

MAR 20, 2018


Faye Belgrave, Ph.D., university professor, will be a recipient of the 2018 Psychology and AIDS Distinguished Leadership Award from the American Psychological Association.

The award from APA’s Ad Hoc Committee on Psychology and AIDS recognizes those who have made significant contributions in the areas of policy/advocacy, research, service or teaching related to issues pertaining to HIV/AIDS.

“It is an honor to be recognized with an award for work I am very passionate about,” Belgrave said. “HIV disparities are enormous for African-Americans and I am appreciative of being at a university and department that supports the work we do in HIV prevention, including the work of my students, community partners and faculty at the Center for Cultural Experiences in Prevention.”

Belgrave’s work is community and intervention focused and attends to aspects of culture (gender, ethnicity, age and place, etc.) to promote well-being among African-American youth and young adults. She works collaboratively with community-based agencies to identify and implement relevant programming and research.

Her recent projects have provided culturally integrated substance abuse, HIV prevention and sex education curriculums to African-American college students and middle school students. In another project, Belgrave implemented and evaluated a culturally specific HIV prevention intervention for African-American females. That project was later expanded to also include a male component.

Belgrave will receive the award at the annual APA convention in San Francisco in August.


Student awards from the Southeastern Psychological Association annual meeting

MAR 20, 2018

brown, deon-thumbDr. Fantasy Lozada

The SHIELD lab directed by Fantasy Lozada, Ph.D., assistant professor of developmental psychology, recently attended the Southeastern Psychological Association's annual meeting, where several graduate and undergraduate students from the lab received awards for presentations on family emotion socialization.

Deon Brown , left, a doctoral student in the developmental psychology program, and Alexandra Merritt, a doctoral student who will enter the developmental program in fall 2018, won first place for the Committee for Equality and Professional Opportunity Student Research Award (including $250 prize) for their oral presentation "Parental Emotion Socialization, Racial Socialization and Report of Children’s Emotion Regulation." This presentation explored interactions between African American mothers' responses to children's emotions, their behavioral racial socialization messages, and child gender to predict their children's emotion regulation and emotion lability.

Two undergraduate students in the lab, Raven Ross and Darian White, won a Psi Chi Undergraduate Research Award (including $400 prize) for their poster presentation "The Relationship Between Maternal Emotional Expressiveness and Child Emotion Recognition." This presentation explored correlations between African American and European American mothers' self-expression in the familial context and their children's emotion recognition of basic emotions.

Of her students' stellar performances, Lozada said, "I am so proud of my students! Their presentations were thorough, well-organized and professional. This was Deon and Alex's first oral presentation at a regional conference and this was Darian's first poster presentation ever. I certainly believe this is only the beginning of things to come for these talented students."


Mazzeo, Parr selected as Translational Research Fellows

FEB 20, 2018

mazzeo-thumbTeresa Parr, Ph.D.

The Office of Public Policy Outreach in the Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs has selected Suzanne Mazzeo, Ph.D., and Teresa Parr, Ph.D., to participate in its 2018 Translational Research Fellowship Program.

Launched in 2017, the fellowship program selects competitive applications from faculty across VCU to be part of its unique mentoring program. Each faculty member who participates receives individualized policy briefs of their public policy relevant research, a customized public policy outreach plan and at least three individualized meetings with policymakers who have knowledge and/or interest in the faculty research.

Mazzeo is a professor in the counseling psychology program and an expert on eating disorders. As part of the program, she will work with experienced policy communicators to translate her obesity research into actionable policy briefs for presentation to Virginia's legislators.

Parr, an adjunct psychology professor, hopes to do the same in the area of educational policy. "I've been learning a lot through interactions with local and state policy makers, but I'm hoping this [fellowship] will help speed up the learning curve."