Our Research Team
Barbara Jones, Ph.D., Professor, Associate Dean for Health Affairs, Co-Director The Institute for Collaborative Health Research and Practice
Barbara Jones is the Josleen and Frances Lockhart memorial professor of direct social work practice and associate dean for health affairs at the Steve Hicks School of Social Work. She is also a university distinguished teaching professor and co-director of the Institute for Collaborative Health Research and Practice. At Dell Medical School, she is chair of Department of Health Social Work, associate director of social sciences and community-based research at the Livestrong Cancer Institutes and professor of oncology, population health and psychiatry. She is also a founding Steering Committee member of the University of Texas at Austin Center for Health Interprofessional Practice and Education. Jones is a distinguished scholar and fellow of the National Academies of Practice and immediate past vice-chair of the Social Work Academy. She is past president of the Association of Pediatric Oncology Social Workers (APOSW) and 2013 APOSW Social Worker of the Year. Jones was co-investigator on ExCEL in social work — an NCI-funded project to train oncology social workers — for which she received the 2014 APOS Outstanding Training and Education Award. She is a PDIA Social Work Scholar and recipient of the PDIA Social Work Leadership Award. She serves on the national advisory board of the Cambia Health Foundation Sojourns Scholars Leadership Program, on the steering committee of the National Pediatric Palliative Care Research Network and on the board of the Social Work Hospice and Palliative Care Network. Jones’ research focuses on improving care for children, adolescents and young adults with cancer and their families. Her current research focuses on palliative care, pediatric oncology social work interventions and adolescent and young adult cancer survivors. Her work has been funded by National Institutes of Health, Palliative Care Research Network, Ascension Seton, Texas State Department of Health and various foundations resulting in publications in top-tier journals including Pediatrics, Cancer, Pediatric Blood and Cancer and Journal of Cancer Survivorship. She has also been appointed to the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine Committee on Childhood Cancers and Disability.
Dede Sparks is a Clinical Associate Professor of Social Work at The University of Texas at Austin. In addition to serving as the Associate Director of the Institute for Collaborative Health Research and Practice, Professor Sparks teaches Foundations of Interprofessional Collaborative Practice, Patient and Practitioner Healing: Topics on Death, Dying and Resilience, and serves as the Program Director for the UT HEALS scholarship program. She was integral to creating and piloting the Interprofessional Simulation Program for the School of Social Work, the School of Nursing and the College of Pharmacy, and serves on the leadership committee for the Grief and Loss Consortium of Central Texas. Professor Sparks received her BSW and MSW from Texas State University. Prior to joining the faculty at UT Austin nine years ago, she practiced at Hospice Austin’s Christopher House, a non-profit inpatient hospice unit, and was on the team initiating a pilot program to create an inpatient Palliative Care Program for the Scott & White Healthcare System. She is very proud to be a Health Interprofessional Education Fellow at UT!
Farya Phillips, Ph.D., CCLS, is the director of research for the Department of Health Social Work at Dell Medical School and a research assistant professor at The Institute for Collaborative Health Research and Practice at Steve Hicks School of Social Work at The University of Texas at Austin. She oversees multiple projects relating to psychosocial care in oncology and palliative care. Her primary research interests include adolescent and young adult cancer survivors as well as interventions for children with a parent diagnosed with cancer. She teaches Introduction to Child Life: Psychosocial Needs of Children in Healthcare, Interprofessional Education in Healthcare, Advanced Child Development. Farya has a bachelor’s degree in Human Development and Family Studies from The University of Texas at Austin, a Master’s degree in Education with an emphasis on Hospitalized Children from Mills College in Oakland, California, and a PhD from the University of Texas at Austin. She is a certified Child Life Specialist and received her internship training at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center. She has over 15 years’ experience providing psychosocial support for children and families in healthcare environments and has worked extensively with children and families dealing with chronic illness and grief. Farya has been an active member of the Association of Child Life Professionals and volunteers her time at the national level to improve psychological resources provided to families dealing with healthcare challenges. Her professional interests include adolescents and young adult cancer survivors, parental cancer, children and healthcare, psychosocial oncology, grief and loss, palliative and end of life care, and inter-professional education for healthcare providers.
Qi Chen is a second-year PhD Student in Steve Hicks School of Social Work at the University of Texas at Austin. She is a recipient of the American Cancer Society Oncology Social Work Doctoral Training Grant. Her research focuses on dyadic coping and functioning among cancer patients and spousal/intimate partner caregivers. She is the PI of a pilot study examining the bidirectional relationship between stress communication and psychosocial outcomes in cancer patients and caregivers. Qi is also part of the study of healthcare social workers’ adaptions and losses associated with roles during COVID-19.
Catherine Wilsnack is a doctoral fellow at The University of Texas at Austin Steve Hicks School of Social Work. Catherine completed a Cancer Research Training Award Fellowship at the National Institutes of Health in the National Cancer Institute prior to her doctoral studies where she studied psychosocial aspects of hereditary cancer syndromes. She continues to work with populations experiencing hereditary cancer by serving on the board of directors for a patient advocacy group called Living LFS. She has expanded her research focus to include other underserved populations in oncology, specifically adolescents and young adults, and the role of advocacy based interventions in models of cancer care. She has continued to earn her clinical hours toward licensure by working as a mental health clinician for a private practice group in Maryland where she specializes in treating individuals and families facing terminal illness, cancer, grief, loss, depression, anxiety, and PTSD.
Jen Currin-McCulloch, PhD, MSW is an Assistant Professor at Colorado State University School of Social Work. Her research focuses on individuals with cancer and how they explore meaning in their illness. She is currently studying an intervention for young adults living with cancer that is an online group format that combines photovoice and meaning-centered psychotherapy. Jen is also partnering with members of the ICHRP team in studying how healthcare social workers are coping with the role adaptions and losses associated during COVID-19.
Kendra Koch received her PhD from the UT Steve Hicks School of Social Work where she coordinated and conducted research for several years before transitioning to her current position at The University of Texas at Austin Dell Medical School serving as a Research Associate within the Department of Neurology and a Research Professor with a courtesy appointment within the Department of Health Social Work. Kendra’s research interests are guided by the understanding that children and families need support and guidance for the entirety of life, in addition to diagnosis and end-of-life. Her research has focused on the effectiveness of models of comprehensive primary care for children with medical complexity; lifespan decision making for parents of children with complex illness; transition of children with medical complexity to adult care and services; supporting children with complex illness or disability and their families; and promoting meaningful patient- and- family-centered care through research and interdisciplinary education. Kendra also holds a Master of Arts in Counseling from the Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, Texas and has initiated and led parent advisory groups and provided psychosocial and mental health support in hospital, agency, and clinic settings. She continues to be informed by her nineteen-year experience of parenting her daughter who was born with Aicardi Syndrome, a life-limiting illness, and by continuing relationships with innumerable parent-peers who continue along similar paths.
Liana Petruzzi is a postdoctoral research fellow at Dell Medical School, within the Population Health Department and the Division of Community Engagement and Health Equity. She recently completed her PhD in Social Work at the Steve Hicks School of Social Work at the University of Texas at Austin. She is a mixed methods researcher, and her research interests are at the intersections of social work and public health. She is particularly interested in how social workers and community health workers can collaborate to assess and address social determinants of health, improve healthcare access and reduce racial and economic health disparities.
Jahanett Ramirez is a research faculty fellow and Assistant Research Professor at the Steve Hick’s School of Social Work. She received her MPH in Epidemiology from Columbia University and completed her clinical training in Family Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Her research focuses on improving health equity for marginalized populations in primary care. Her work has been accepted at several national and international conferences, including the Society of Teachers of Family Medicine (STFM), the National Hispanic Medical Association (NHMA), and the American Public Health Association (APHA).
Casey Walsh, PhD, LICSW is a post-doctoral fellow in the Biobehavioral Cancer Prevention and Control Training Program at the University of Washington and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Her research focuses on the complex health, mental health, and social factors impacting the health-related quality of life and disease-related outcomes in adolescent and young adult (AYA) cancer survivors. She is developing specialized knowledge and expertise in biobehavioral interventions with an emphasis on learning how to design and implement randomized controlled trials with AYA cancer survivors. She is actively involved in the AYA cancer support community as a volunteer wellness guide with Project Koru. She is a scholar in the Michigan Integrative Well-being and Inequality Training Program, an affiliate of the research group of the AYA oncology program at Michigan Medicine, a collaborator in the Palliative Care and Resilience Research Program at Seattle Children’s Research Institute, and a member of the Biobehavioral Sciences Team at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
Derek Falk, PhD, is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Cancer Prevention and Control at the Wake Forest School of Medicine and Research Associate in the Institute for Collaborative Health Research and Practice at the University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Falk’s research focuses on health equity in cancer outcomes across the continuum with particular interests in rural populations and supportive care services. His work includes multiple peer-reviewed publications highlighting the impact of a cancer education and patient navigation program to increase breast and cervical cancer screening among a sample of more than 8,000 rural and border residents in Texas. Dr. Falk continues to examine the supportive care needs of rural and underserved populations of cancer survivors in multiple studies at the Wake Forest Baptist Health Comprehensive Cancer Center. These National Cancer Institute (NCI)-funded studies examine financial hardship and toxicity among rural cancer survivors as well as navigation services to improve financial outcomes and increase diversity in clinical trial enrollment using the navigation services located in the Office of Cancer Health Equity. Currently, Dr. Falk is applying for research funding from the Geographic Management of Cancer Health Disparities Program (GMaP) Region 1-South and the NCI to study food insecurity and financial hardship in rural populations of cancer survivors using data from the National Health Interview Survey.
Lisa S. Panisch is currently an Assistant Professor at Wayne State University. She received her PhD from the Steve Hicks School of Social Work at the University of Texas at Austin, where she examined connections between maternal histories of trauma and subsequent mental health outcomes for mothers and their children over time. In addition, she developed and is a Co-Principal Investigator of the Chronic Pelvic Pain and Women’s Well-Being Study, in partnership with the Women’s Health Institute at UT Austin. Lisa’s transdisciplinary research agenda focuses on intergenerational patterns of childhood trauma and adversity and their implications for health and mental health across the lifespan. Her targeted areas of emphasis are tri-fold: 1) pre- and perinatal mechanisms of trauma transmission and implications for maternal-child health and mental health, 2) exploring the intersection of racial oppression and trauma, and their combined effects on physical and mental health disparities, and 3) the development and evaluation of trauma-focused interventions that alleviate symptom burden and reduce the risk of trauma transmission to future generations. Lisa has also provided research and teaching assistance for the Foundations of Interprofessional Collaborative Practice course, as well as the Integrated Behavioral Health Scholars program, and has served as a guest lecturer on topics such as trauma, unexplained medical symptoms, and implications for health and mental health care practice.
Beth Pomeroy, Ph.D., Bert Kruger Smith Centennial Professor in Social Work and Coordinator of Clinical Social Work Concentration
Dr. Beth Pomeroy and Dr. Barbara Jones co-founded the Institute in 2004 and she served as Co-Director. She taught clinical social work courses with a focus on mental health, health and children and families; trauma and grief counseling; and clinical social work interventions for children, adults and families. She was a University Distinguished Professor. Her research focused on psychosocial interventions for chronically/terminally ill adults and families, issues of grief, loss and stigma. She was an expert in the application of the DSM 5 and other emotional issues confronting children, adults and families.