Staff

 


Noël Busch-Armendariz
Associate Vice President for Research, The University of Texas at Austin
Director & Principal Investigator |
nbusch@austin.utexas.edu

Noël Bridget Busch-Armendariz, PhD, LMSW, MPA, is an Associate Vice President for Research at The University of Texas at Austin and full Professor at the Steve Hicks School of Social Work, teaching graduate courses in administration and planning, social policy, research, and domestic violence. Dr. Busch-Armendariz is Director and Principal Investigator of the Institute on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault. Her professional interests include: violence against women and children; social and public policy; social justice; international social work education, training and practice; and adoption and child welfare issues… In her spare time, she likes to learn all about super heroes, bake, cook, and dream about days past when she had a training schedule. >>MORE


Bethany L. Backes
Director of Research & Evaluation | bbackes@austin.utexas.edu

Bethany L. Backes, PhD, MSW, MPH, is a Research Associate and the Director of Research and Evaluation. Her areas of scholarship broadly encompass research and evaluation on violence against women (VAW) including formal and informal help-seeking trajectories, secondary and tertiary violence prevention strategies, and criminal justice and community-based interventions related to intimate partner, sexual, and stalking victimization. Her overarching goal is to develop and adapt measures, methods, and interventions to enhance victim engagement and autonomy at the systems level (health, community-based, and criminal justice).

Dr. Backes spent a decade directing research and evaluation on VAW and violent victimization at the National Institute of Justice/U.S. Department of Justice. She served as a VAW liaison across the Federal government and worked closely with the Office of the Vice President on domestic violence homicide prevention, campus sexual assault, offender interventions, and sexual assault kits. She has direct practice experience in health education and non-profit management and has worked extensively with survivors of violent crime, first responders, and criminal and community-based organizations. >>MORE


Margaret Bassett
Deputy Director & Director of Expert Witness Program | margaret.bassett@austin.utexas.edu

Picture of Margaret Bassett

Margaret Bassett, LPC-S, is the Deputy Director and Director of Expert Witness Program at the Institute on Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault (IDVSA) at The University of Texas at Austin. She provides consultation and training on the use of expert witnesses in cases involving interpersonal crimes. Margaret has worked in the field of domestic violence and sexual assault for more than 30 years in a variety of settings, most recently in the criminal justice system working with victims of intimate partner violence felony crimes. She testifies as an expert witness in criminal and civil court cases and teaches a graduate course on domestic violence. Margaret received her Master’s degree from Northern Illinois University and is a licensed professional counselor. She served as a Peace Corp Volunteer in the Dominican Republic. Her professional interests include: violence against women; intimate partner violence; sexual assault; trauma; safety planning and risk assessment. >>MORE


Mariel Dempster
Research Program Coordinator mcdempster@austin.utexas.edu

Mariel Dempster is the Research Program Coordinator at IDVSA. After graduating from The Colorado College in Colorado Springs with a degree in English Literature and she has since worked in a various roles in academia supporting professors, students, and fellow staff. She is thrilled to facilitate the mission of IDVSA and aid its team in all aspects of its operation, from providing editorial assistance and communications support, to developing and maintaining internal protocol, event planning, and providing pre- and post-award support to IDVSA’s many grants and projects. Mariel has a love of all things literary, and enjoys backpacking, running, and podcast-listening in her free time.


Eva Ebert
Project Manager eva.ebert@austin.utexas.edu

Eva Ebert, MA, is a research project manager at IDVSA.  She works primarily on the Cultivating Learning and Safe Environments (CLASE) project, which focuses on issues of sexual harassment, dating violence, stalking, and sexual assault at UT System institutions of higher education. She has experience working directly with victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, as a sexual assault crisis responder and domestic violence emergency shelter supervisor. Her prior work includes longitudinal, cross-sectional research on postsecondary education experiences and employment trajectories of bachelor’s degree recipients. She graduated summa cum laude from Appalachian State University in 2014 and earned a master’s degree in Experimental Psychology from Appalachian State University in 2016.


Dixie Hairston
Project Manager | dhairston@austin.utexas.edu

Dixie Hairston, LMSW, is a Research Project Manager at IDVSA.  Picture of Dixie HairstonDixie coordinates the Statewide Human Trafficking Mapping Project for Texas, a research project funded by the Office of the Governor of Texas, Child Sex Trafficking Team to provide empirically-grounded data about the extent of human trafficking in Texas. She received her Master of Social Work degree from the University of Houston with a Macro concentration and a specialization in Political Social Work. Dixie received her Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from the University of Texas Austin. She has experience in child sex trafficking prevention and intervention policy advocacy and policy analysis as well as case management with youth preparing to age out of the foster care system. Her professional interests include: child sex trafficking prevention and intervention, policy advocacy within the social worker community, exploitation risk factors among youth in the foster care system and among youth with histories of running away and homelessness. In her spare time, you can usually find Dixie on her yoga mat, hiking or planning her next trip.>>MORE


 

Matt Kerwick 
Affiliated Researcher mattkk@ic2.utexas.edu33065ea

Dr. Kerwick has extensive experience applying forecasting and conjoint analysis to early-stage product assessments. Typical engagements include product concept viability and optimization studies, post-launch awareness and usage tracking, customer satisfaction and loyalty surveys, market segmentation studies, as well as qualitative methodologies that incorporate predictive modeling at the individual respondent level. >>MORE


T’Shana McClain
Project Manager tshana.mcclain@austin.utexas.edu

T’Shana McClain, MSW is a Research Project Manager at IDVSA.  She received her Master of Social Work from Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina. Shana has provided counseling, crisis intervention, and case management services to survivors of intimate partner violence and sexual assault in institutions of higher education and community-based settings in the rural South. She has also experienced working in community organizing across the South to promote full LGBT equality and support grassroots organizers. Her professional interests include: intimate partner violence; sexual violence; perpetration risk factors; mass incarceration; suicide postvention; and resiliency in marginalized populations. In her spare time, she likes to read nonfiction, participate in trivia nights, and travel.  >>MORE


Mary (Maggy) McGiffert
Project Manager marymcgiffert@austin.utexas.edu

Maggy McGiffert, M.A. is a Research Associate at IDVSA who has worked to end violence against women, youth and children in Texas and Colorado for over 25 years. Recently, she has been a consultant focusing on survivor-centered policy and systems change; program development, awareness materials and evaluation with the Texas Council on Family Violence, CASA of Travis County and Denton County Friends of the Family. She was a Policy Manager at TCFV; Parenting Coordinator at Family Connections; Director of SafePlace’s transitional housing and Director of Youth Options AmeriCorps program. She began her activism at the Boulder County Rape Crisis Center. Maggy enjoys living in Austin with her family and friends. She is active in community work focusing on equity in education and equity in maternal health. >>MORE


Caitlin Sulley
Director of Sexual Assault Research Portfolio csulley@austin.utexas.edu

Caitlin Sulley, LMSW, is Director of the Sexual Assault Research Portfolio at IDVSA. The Sexual Assault Research Portfolio consists of a variety of research, evaluation, and training projects aimed to build knowledge on sexual assault. Sulley currently directs research and training initiatives focused on institutional response to sexual assault, gender-based violence among college populations, and victim engagement in the criminal justice system. She served survivors of sexual assault and family violence in law enforcement and community-based settings. Her professional interests include: violence against women; social justice; intimate and interpersonal violence; multidisciplinary response to sexual assault; victim services; trauma-informed care; social and public policy; violence prevention; vicarious trauma and resiliency; research and evaluation; organizational development and culture. In her spare time, she enjoys connecting with her sisters and playing with her dogs.  >>MORE

 


Melanie Susswein
Director of Marketing and Communications 
| melanie.susswein@austin.utexas.edu

Melanie Susswein, MSW, is the director or marketing and communications at IDVSA. She earned her MSW at the University of Pennsylvania.

Melanie is an award winning social marketing communicator and project manager. Social Marketing is the discipline of marketing to change behavior, generally a health behavior.  Before coming to UT, she worked for 14 years for SUMA Social Marketing in Austin, including as vice president of account services and business development. Her clients included: Texas Department of Health and Human Services, Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, the March of Dimes, the Utah Department of Health, the Arizona Department of Health, the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston, and Harris County Health. Melanie’s portfolio includes extensive work on women’s health issues including preconception, interconception, breastfeeding, and postpartum care. She has also worked with and on behalf of children with special health-care needs and disabilities and a wide array of diverse populations in Texas and around the country. Melanie was the project manager and senior strategist for award-winning preconception campaigns in Utah and Arizona and the NavigateLifeTexas.org website in Texas, which won two Communicator Awards. She has also worked on violence prevention with military families, and several fatherhood educational and violence prevention initiatives.  Early in her career she worked on the Children’s Health Insurance Program and on in-home emergency communications for the aged. She completed a year of service in Israel for the domestic violence prevention program called, Woman to Woman.

Melanie loves to travel, eat good food, swim, hike and spend time with family. She and her husband have a son and daughter, both of whom are high school students at Austin’s Liberal Arts and Science Academy. Her other loves include her Rocky, the cutest dog ever.


McKenna Talley
Research Associate mckenna.talley@utexas.edu

McKenna Talley, MSSW, is a Research Associate on the Statewide Sex Trafficking Study of Texas as part of the Human Trafficking Research Portfolio. She received her Master of Social Work from the University of Texas at Austin. In her time at IDVSA, she also assisted with the CLASE project. She has experience in direct practice with survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence and in research with survivors of human trafficking. Her work includes counseling on an individual, couple, and group level, case management, crisis intervention, interviews, and assessments with survivors of interpersonal violence. McKenna has also worked with Veterans in the Austin area who struggle with PTSD symptoms due to war related trauma. Her professional interests include: labor trafficking prevention and intervention, child sex trafficking advocacy work, at-risk youth risk factors for sex trafficking, trauma-informed care, relationship dynamics and intervention and military social work. In her spare time, you will find her at the kitchen table playing a board game or on the nearest hiking trail with her husband and dog, Cho.


Jennifer Thompson
Project Manager | jennifer.thompson@austin.utexas.edu 

Jennifer Thompson is a Research Project Manager at IDVSA. She currently works on a variety of projects within both the sexual assault and intimate partner violence portfolios, as well as providing service to the field via education and training. Jennifer was raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina and returned to the U.S. to attend the University of Texas at Austin. She served as an officer in the United States Public Health Service in Tucson, AZ with the Indian Health Service working on injury prevention evaluation and programming prior to pursuing her Master of Public Health. Jennifer comes to IDVSA most recently from the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault (TAASA) where she served as a researcher and a campus law enforcement training specialist. Her areas of expertise include the dynamics and impact of sexual assault within institutional environments, barriers to engagement, secondary victimization, and effective policing responses.

Her professional interests include: public health approaches to the prevention and response to sexual violence, secondary trauma, and the effective assessment of the impacts of sexual violence. Specifically, she has an interest in resiliency among survivors

and those responding to sexual violence, improving responses across all aspects of the criminal justice system, reducing the impact of vicarious trauma, and in incorporating survivor voices in to training content. Jennifer is a certified TCOLE instructor and has taught courses on crime victimization and sexual assault at local, state, regional, and national levels.

She is currently working towards her Masters of Public Health at Michigan State University.


Melissa Torres
Director of Human Trafficking Research Portfolio | mitorres@austin.utexas.edu

Melissa Irene Maldonado Torres, PhD, MSW, is the Director of the Human Trafficking Research Portfolio. She oversees the Statewide Human Trafficking Mapping Project for Texas, a research initiative funded through the Criminal Justice Division of the Office of the Governor to provide empirically-grounded data about the extent of human trafficking in Texas. She received her Masters of Social Work and PhD at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work where she is Adjunct Faculty and co-founder of the college’s Latin American Initiative, which provides summer learning abroad programs to Latin America in conjunction with local universities and NGOs.

Dr. Torres served as the Subject Matter Expert on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ healthcare professional’s response to human trafficking program, an initiative of President Obama’s Federal Strategic Action Plan on Services for Victims. She developed and teaches a class on human trafficking and social work at the University of Houston and has served as the human trafficking expert for various academic studies in the U.S. and Latin America. Over the last 10 years, her research has included the trafficking of women from Latin America for sexual exploitation, policy analysis on the protection of domestic minor sex trafficking survivors, labor abuse and exploitation faced by undocumented immigrants, assessments on displacement and knowledge of trafficking risks in indigenous communities, and exploring the demand side of sex trafficking… In her spare time, she loves being with her family, traveling the world, going to concerts, and skydiving. Of Mexican descent, Dr. Torres is a native of the Rio Grande Valley of Texas and was raised on the U.S.-Mexico border. She resides in Houston with her pit bull, Dylan Aquinas. >> MORE


Alexander Wang
Research Associate | wanga@austin.utexas.edu

Picture of Alex Wang

Alexander Wang earned their Bachelor of Arts from Lawrence University with a major in Psychology and a minor in Gender Studies. They also earned their Master of Science in Psychology from the University of Texas at San Antonio. They aspire to earn a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology or a related field in order to help sexual minority people in their emotional lives. Their professional areas of interest include clinical psychology, social justice, sexual wellness, sexual assault prevention, and research and advocacy concerning LGBTQ+ and other sexual minority people. In their spare time, Alex enjoys tabletop roleplaying games, video games, webcomics, traveling, cooking, and spending time with friends.>>MORE


Anna Wasim
Project Manager | annawasim@austin.utexas.edu

Anna Wasim, LMSW, is a Research Project Manager with the Institute on Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault (IDVSA) at the University of Texas at Austin. Anna oversees the Recording Victim Video Statements as Evidence to Advance Legal Outcomes in Family Violence Cases (REVEAL) Pilot Evaluation and the Legal Aid Services of Sexual Assault (LASSA) Network Evaluation. Anna completed her graduate education at UT-Austin and brings with her over seven years’ of serving the Central Texas community. Her direct service work includes crisis intervention and advocacy for survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking seeking protective orders. She has also worked with community service providers, coalitions, public and private entities to meet the needs of underserved and vulnerable populations. Anna is passionate in working to end gender-based violence; mixed-methods research; program and network evaluations; innovative approaches to enhance victim/survivor well-being and safety; cultural humility and community empowerment. Outside of work, Anna is a runner, dog-lover, St. Louis Cardinals fan, and podcast consumer.  >>MORE


Leila Wood
Research Assistant Professor  | leilawood@austin.utexas.edu

Leila Wood, PhD, LMSW is a researcher at the Institute on Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault (IDVSA) at The University of Texas at Austin Steve Hicks School of Social Work. Her scholarship areas are intimate and interpersonal violence in the campus context, intimate partner violence service evaluation, and qualitative methods. Leila’s research focuses on survivor-centered approaches and establishing evidence for practice in the intimate partner violence field, including college campuses. Leila’s experience in the IPV intervention and prevention work began as high school volunteer at a local shelter, and quickly blossomed into a passion for working to end gender-based violence.

Throughout college, Leila worked as sexual assault and dating violence prevention educator in middle and high schools and in family services at a transitional housing facility. This role evolved after college to advocacy work with adolescent survivors and child witnesses. Leila provided counseling, and directed a regional crisis line and hospital accompaniment program after her MSW program, and continued to volunteer on the crisis line while obtaining her PhD. Leila has also worked in child welfare and medical social work roles with women and children. Her practice history frames her approach to research on intimate partner violence and sexual assault. Over the last several years, she have conducted IPV shelter service program evaluations in close collaboration with area agencies. Leila also had conducted several qualitative studies about advocacy staff experience providing services, and resident experiences and outcomes at shelter and transitional housing. Leila is a mixed methods researcher, but has emerging expertise in qualitative research, particularly with the Grounded Theory method. >> MORE