Graduate Student Highlights

2019-2020 Graduate Student Highlights

Nelson O.O. Zounlome, M.S.Ed.

Indiana University

What drew you to this field?

  • I was drawn to Counseling Psychology based on the field’s emphasis on multiculturalism and social justice. Regarding prevention work, I saw a way to use multicultural and social justice based interventions to prevent adverse outcomes (e.g., university sexual violence and racial battle fatigue) as well as promote mental wellness, academic persistence, and holistic healing among People of Color and Indigenous Peoples (POCI). Based on my own intersecting privileged and marginalized identities, I find this applied area of research rewarding and personally meaningful.

What are your current research interests and/or projects?

  • My program of research focuses on combating the impact of intersectional oppression on groups with marginalized identities. Within this framework, I study sexual violence prevention, mental wellness, and academic persistence to promote holistic healing among People of Color and Indigenous Peoples (POCI). Currently, I am leading two scale development projects: a measure of racial battle fatigue as well as a scale measuring how students of color demonstrate persistence while attending predominantly White institutions. For my dissertation, I am experimentally examining the effectiveness of a Black encouragement intervention on university students’ mental health, academic, and intersectional identity-related outcomes. My career goal is to become a researcher and educator focusing on designing, implementing, and testing the effectiveness of culturally centered health-promotion efforts to improve the well-being of those with marginalized identities.

What are your current and past prevention efforts?

  • In a recent publication, my colleague and I experimentally examined the impact of male undergraduates’ exposure to real anti-sexual assault social norms related to their likelihood of committing sexual assault and future intentions to commit sexual coercion. Our 353 participants were randomly assigned to three conditions—local norms (anti-sexual assault norms based on real male undergraduates at their university), general norms (anti-sexual assault norms based on men in general), and a control. Using multiple regression and planned contrast ANOVAs, we found that local norms significantly decreased students’ likelihood of committing future assaults. Exposure to these norms was particularly effective for those with higher levels of prior sexual perpetration, demonstrating a potential answer for reaching high-risk perpetrators. In sum, this study provides evidence that universities might benefit from implementing male-directed university-specific local norms interventions to help combat sexual aggression on college campuses. To better understand the experiences of understudied populations, my colleagues and I also conducted interviews with Black men and women to understand their unique risk and protective factors in sexual violence prevention. Using a phenomenological approach and intersectional framework, we found that incorporating gendered racism and masculinity stress (for the men), and the historical legacy of racialized trauma against Black women might improve intervention outcomes for these groups. Moving forward, I plan to infuse and build upon these three studies to better reach Black students by creating culturally grounded sexual violence prevention and sexual health promotion interventions that can be manualized, replicated, disseminated, and implemented across U.S. campuses. One such study includes a tailored, local norms anti-sexual assault intervention for Black men. Aligned with the 2017 APA Multicultural Guidelines, I believe such culturally grounded efforts that promote holistic wellness are the future of Counseling Psychology.

2018-2019 Graduate Student Highlights

Alexis Rojas

Florida State University

What are your current research interests and/or projects?

  • One of my current projects is looking at prevention efforts through the program evaluation of the Tallahassee Pediatric Behavioral Health Center, Behavioral Health Navigation (BHN) program. I am presenting the project outline at the Florida National Association of Social Workers statewide conference in June, as first author. The poster is titled ‘Pediatric Behavioral Health Navigation: A Program Evaluation’. The idea is to evaluate the BHN program to see if it reduces hospitalizations and crises. In addition, I am looking at the increase in service use through helping families navigate the complexities of the behavioral health systems and accessing appropriate preventative care.

What are your current and past prevention efforts?

  • From the scope of opioid misuse and prevention, another project I have worked on and continue to work on as the scope grows, is the Tallahassee Orthopedic Clinic Pain Management project. I just presented the descriptive statistics at the American Society of Interventional Pain Physicians annual conference in Vegas, as first author. The poster is titled ‘Rates and Co-occurrences of Psychological Risk Factors Among Chronic Pain Patients. The objective aims to quantify the incidence of depression, resiliency, suicidality, and substance abuse in a chronic pain cohort under the care of a pain management specialist. Such an investigation will ultimately help identify at-risk patients, expand efforts to improve clinical outcomes, and prevent opioid misuse.

What is something interesting about yourself?

  • Finally, an interesting fact related to me personally and in regards to prevention, I was a social worker before going into the field of psychology. Before doing clinical work, I did legislative work for both the Florida Judicial Branch and the Executive Branch (with an agency that focused on offender reentry). I spent many years in the field of policy, specifically with the state of Florida government. My advocacy efforts have continued. In fact, this year I worked on a budget bill in the Florida House to expand targeted Pediatric Behavioral Health Navigation into Hurricane Michael impacted counties, which was successfully passed and appropriated by the Florida legislature. Again, we believe the use of BHN services will prevent hospitalizations and crises through adequate prevention and access to care.

Erin Carney

Tennessee State University

What are your current research interests and/or projects?

  • Currently, I am dedicated to learning more about the impact of intersectionality on suicidality, which I am examining in my dissertation research. Using a mixed methods study on the help-seeking experience of individuals who have lived experience with suicide, I hope to understand how factors like physical ability, gender identity, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status can impact an individual’s ability to recover and achieve complete mental health.

What advice to have to offer other graduate students or professionals in their prevention efforts?

  • “Expect setbacks.” Some people experience a linear path in their prevention efforts, others (like me) experience a more circuitous one. There’s a saying that I’ve taken to heart: If you get knocked down five times, get up six. It may hurt and frustrate you every time, but your work is so important; take a tiny bit to recover and then get back to it.
  • “Choose mentors wisely.” Your advocacy efforts will go much farther if you work for individuals who believe in your ideas and want nothing more than to support you as you fight to make them happen.

What drew you to this field?

  • My interest in suicide prevention drew me to the field of counseling psychology. I majored in neuroscience as an undergraduate, which involved rigorous training in research and the natural and social sciences. I enjoyed learning about the brain at the microscopic level but ultimately loved working with people more, which I discovered while volunteering at a hospital and a local crisis line. Those sites gave me my first Rogerian experiences of being a “fellow traveler” to distressed individuals, sitting and listening with humility and empathy. At the same time, I became a suicide loss and attempt survivor. In short, this lived experience brought heartbreak and hardship but also enlightenment. As my time at college came to a close, I began to dedicate my personal and professional life to suicide prevention.

As a master’s student, I conducted clinical research in a suicide-focused lab. I soon learned that effective suicide prevention requires a comprehensive approach that often relies on a thorough understanding of the factors that impact a person’s quality of life. Sometimes this means going beyond psychological functioning and looking at how other life domains (e.g. physical health) influence mental health recovery. Because of this complexity, I also learned that our understanding of suicide still lags far behind that of other mental health issues. In this way, if I wanted to make a meaningful contribution to suicide prevention efforts, I realized I would have to pursue a Ph.D.

I was specifically drawn to a doctoral program in counseling psychology because of its historic emphasis on taking a holistic, more comprehensive approach to mental health treatment, which seemed to fit well with the complexity of a suicidal client. Furthermore, my program is at a Historically Black University, which has strengthened my ability to examine how systemic and individual factors can impact quality of life. We talk about clients with such richness, examining how their sociodemographic background impacts their worldview, their strengths, and their psychopathology.

As such, I have adopted a recovery-oriented approach to my work, joining other suicidologists in trying to understand what entails a meaningful life worth living. Inspired by the work of other lived experience advocates (Dr. Pat Deegan, Dr. Stacey Freedenthal, and Dese’Rae Lynn Stage), I decided to explore how my own lived experience could inform my clinical and research work. This question is what continues to draw me toward suicide prevention, that is: How can we use lived experience to shape our clinical interventions and research questions? In other words, what could we have done differently to help people like me, you, or our loved ones when they felt suicidal?

Zachary Dschaak

University of Kentucky

What are your current research interests and/or projects?

  • My research interests include substance use help seeking and rural mental health. I, along with Doug Spiker, are currently collecting data for a research project that is examining how the type of romantic partner support (i.e., autonomy-supportive, controlled) influences an individual’s motivation for substance use treatment, and subsequently, their intention to seek professional help for their substance use concerns. By understanding how romantic partners influence beliefs about psychotherapy, we hope to inform future research that develops targeted family system interventions to promote intention to seek formal psychological help for substance use concerns. Additionally, I have three manuscripts (two first-author) under review examining a variety of factors (e.g., self-compassion, mental health literacy, attitudes towards help seeking) that promote formal help seeking for mental health and substance use concerns.

What are some of your major findings via personal research or review of literature regarding prevention?

  • To date, I have two published manuscripts. The first examined differences between public stigma, self-stigma, substance use (i.e., alcohol and/or drugs), and attitudes toward psychological help-seeking among rural and urban individuals. My coauthor and I found 1) significant between-group differences in public stigma for individuals who screened positive for an alcohol use disorder compared to those who used alcohol but did not meet the screening threshold, 2) no significant between-group differences in self-stigma or attitudes toward psychological help-seeking, and 3) no significant between-group differences based on DAST-10 scores for individuals who did not report drug use, individuals who reported using drugs, and those who screened positive for a substance use disorder on public stigma, self-stigma, or attitudes toward psychological help-seeking. The second manuscript describes a doctoral-level course focusing on the intersection of consultation and social justice, particularly in working to prevent homelessness. This includes a literature review on the etiology of homelessness, project overview, data collection procedures, process considerations, and recommendations for future consultation projects for faculty and students.

What drew you to this field?

  • I was born and raised in a rural county in eastern Montana that covers more than 2000 square miles. For the majority of my life, this county was vastly underserved (oftentimes only having one mental health provider specializing in substance use treatment covering the whole county) as it relates to the prevention of psychological concerns. I witnessed firsthand how untreated mental health and substance use disorders and a lack of access to mental health resources can impact the well-being of a community. It is these experiences that continue to motivate my research, clinical, and service work to address mental health disparities.

Interested in Becoming a Graduate Student Highlight?

The Graduate Student Highlights aim to promote students across a variety of disciplines working in the prevention field. We are in search of graduate students conducting outreach or prevention research or implementing prevention efforts. Students, professors, and supervisors can nominate a graduate student by submitting the form linked below.
Highlighted students will be invited to present at our annual APA convention Division 17 Prevention Section Social Hour and students may be eligible to receive scholarships to help in aid in the continuation of their prevention efforts. 
For information on how to apply, follow the link here: Highlight Nomination Form.
Applications are accepted throughout the year and can be submitted to