Research and Scholarly Activity

Our faculty are engaged in the development, dissemination, and application of knowledge for clinical practice, service delivery, and policy development. Our research has contemporary relevance to advance the mission of the School and the social work profession, and to local, national, and international issues.

Our faculty are working in the following topic areas:

Kelli CanadaDr. Kelli Canada

Dr. Canada’s clinical practice and research focuses on intervention and treatment for populations who are marginalized and underserved. Her primary research agenda examines interventions targeting vulnerable populations (e.g., people with serious mental illnesses, older adults, veterans) who enter the criminal justice system. These populations are at greater risk of experiencing negative outcomes in comparison to the general population of people who are arrested. Dr. Canada studies interventions along the criminal justice continuum including crisis intervention teams in police departments, specialty court programs, and prison-based interventions to reduce risk and stigma that vulnerable populations face. She is currently studying mental health and veteran treatment courts in order to determine the factors that impact successful completion of these programs, improved quality of life, and recovery.

Dale FitchDr. Dale Fitch

Dr. Fitch uses both quantitative and qualitative research methodologies addressing topics that include management of information systems in human service organizations, systems theory, and decision-making. He employs systemic intervention methodologies including critical system heuristics, soft systems, and system dynamics modeling. His research seeks to understand how the components of data, information, and knowledge are involved in the design of information storage systems so as to best create systems that support human service decision-making. Conceptually, these components would appear as:

comprised of datum, e.g., 1, 2, a, b, …

labels applied to data to inform, e.g., 1 = yes, 2 = no

uses information to answer a question, e.g., 14 people indicate ‘yes’ and 10 indicated ‘no’

Dr. Fitch studies an agency’s system components to determine where in the process of moving from data to information to knowledge a breakdown has occurred and to recommend system re-design solutions. He also examines it from the perspective of who and what can be served by the system. Misconceptualization of any of these components, either in use or in the design of the information system, reduces organizational service delivery, learning, and effective functioning. Dr. Fitch’s research projects are generally broken down by the component on which he is focused.

Erin RobinsonDr. Erin L. Robinson

Current Funding: Customized Health Alerts and Consumer-Centered Interfaces Using In-Home and Wearable Sensors funded by the National Institute of Nursing Research 2018-2021

Dr. Robinson is part of an interdisciplinary team that utilizes technology in order to assist older adults to age in place and track important changes in their health. In this current research, her research team, which includes collaborators in Nursing, Engineering, and Medicine, is developing embedded sensor systems to be used for early illness detection. This sensor system is installed in the independent living environments of seniors. The system monitors a resident’s activities and vitals and can detect such health events as falls, uneven gait, or changes in activity pattern. Alerts are generated when this information changes to indicate a possible change in health condition. Once the alert is generated, health professionals are able to conduct an assessment to determine if further intervention is needed. Dr. Robinson’s role in this project is to provide clinical support in the development of the alert system, including interfaces and alert thresholds and to research client and family satisfaction with the alert system. In addition, Dr. Robinson is the lead qualitative researcher in this project and is currently working with the team in order to tailor this technology for private in-home use by older adults themselves as well as their family members.

Kelli CanadaDr. Kelli Canada

Current Funding: Initiative to Reduce Avoidable Hospitalizations among Nursing Home Facility Residents funded by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services

Dr. Canada is a researcher who studies adults and older adults with mental health problems. Her clinical practice involved treatment and case management for older adults with depression and anxiety related disorders and adults with serious mental illnesses. She practiced within hospitals, home health, and community mental health agencies with nursing home residents. She is involved in an ongoing project with an interdisciplinary team of investigators, led by Dr. Marilyn Rantz in the School of Nursing, working on ways to reduce potentially avoidable hospitalizations through testing an intervention for long-stay Medicare-Medicaid enrollees. Features of the intervention include: a) early illness recognition using APRN’s for assessment and intervention; b) develop and implement best practices and quality improvement processes in participating skilled nursing facilities; c) facilitate improved resident transitions through enhanced communication within and between transferring facilities; d) develop communication systems and processes that encourage advance care planning and honor residents’ and family wishes; e) increase staff, family and resident understanding of goals of care, advance care planning, and end-of-life decision-making, and increase internal and external discussions and enactment of advance directives; and f) coordinate and improve management and monitoring of prescription drugs to reduce risk of polypharmacy and adverse drug events for residents.

Hsun-Ta HsuDr. Hsun-Ta Hsu

Dr. Hsu’s focus is on health and health disparities of homelessness. He investigates both risk and protective factors for this population such as personal characteristics, social network properties, and community environment. His intent is to develop or adapt interventions to meet prominent needs. Dr. Hsu’s dissertation was focused on reduction of HIV risk in homeless men through evidence-based (EB) interventions. From this work, he modified and finalized an evidence-based intervention manual that he plans to pilot within shelter agencies. This intervention aims to increase homeless men’s consistent use of condoms, decrease risky sexual activities, and decrease their number of sex partners. In the process of developing the modified EB intervention manual, he conducted focus groups with both shelter agency providers and homeless men, asking three questions: Is addressing HIV a critical issue for you, is addressing HIV a priority for you, and what should be addressed in an HIV intervention? For homeless men, HIV was both a critical issue and priority to be addressed compared to providers who felt that HIV was a critical issue but not a priority. The providers’ priority was to provide housing for the homeless populations.

In other research, Dr. Hsu investigated perceived safety and security, and resulting effects, of homeless individuals who just transitioned from homeless to permanent supportive housing (PSH). He supplemented an existing project with block-based neighborhood observation data to understand the relationship between the perceived safety and security among individuals transitioned to PSH and the neighborhood characteristics of their assigned housing locations.

Dr. Hsu’s homelessness research has previously focused on large metropolitan areas. He is interested in conducting similar research in smaller, more rural towns and comparing the results to his previous findings. Again, the development of effective evidence-based interventions to address homeless individuals’ health related needs is his ultimate goal.

Clark PetersDr. Clark Peters

Current Funding:

Assessing Enhanced Opportunity Passport™ Efforts: Assets for Youth Aging Out of Foster Care as a “Supervitamin” funded by the Jim Casey Youth Opportunity Initiative 2015-2016

Dr. Peters’ work focuses on helping vulnerable young people – especially individuals experiencing state care – successfully transition to adulthood. He works closely with the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative. A recent project involved examining asset building for young adults aging out of foster care. He analyzed the Opportunity Passport® program that provides individual development accounts (IDAs) to youths who have been in foster care. IDAs are matched savings accounts that connect young adults with a financial institution and encourage building individual savings; IDAs show promise for helping achieve successful transitions to adulthood. Dr. Peters is currently working on a project to assess “Supervitamin” asset-building activities. He will collect program data from five sites, conduct surveys and focus groups, and use text message-based surveys with participants over a 3-month period. The study analysis will result in suggestions for maximizing the impact of Opportunity Passport™ and Supervitamin efforts, and additional research questions to pursue.

Ginny Ramseyer WinterDr. Virginia Ramseyer Winter’s

Current Funding:

Dr. Ramseyer Winter is currently converting sexual health education programs into a virtual reality format for the MU Sexual Health Peer Educators, funded by the MU Technology Grant. Additionally, Dr. Ramseyer Winter has several funding proposals under review that would test various body image and health interventions.

Dr. Ramseyer Winter’s primary research agenda, grounded in theory and the strengths perspective, examines body image in relation to physical, mental, and sexual health. With her scholarship, she is most interested in improving body image to ultimately lead to improvements in health outcomes. Existing literature suggests that poor body image may be related to riskier sexual behaviors, eating disorders, anxiety, depression, and poor physical health outcomes, to name a few.

Dr. Ramseyer Winter is the Founding Director of the Center for Body Image Research & Policy, which aims to improve body image, health, and wellness for individuals, families, and communities. See CBIRP website and @CBIRP (Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram) for more information.

Leigh Tenkku LepperDr. Leigh Tenkku Lepper

Dr. Tenkku Lepper is Research Emerita and continues her work and research focused on the identification, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD), as well as screening, referral, and treatment (SBIRT) of alcohol exposed pregnancies. In 2019, Dr. Tenkku Lepper completed 17 years of funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) along with SAMHSA funding focused on training and education of medical and allied health professionals across the Midwest region. The online modules are available for no charge or for a small fee for those seeking Continuing Education credits. The modules are focused on FASD education, as well as SBIRT training, set within the virtual world environment. This work can be seen on her website:

Dr. Tenkku Lepper continues to work nationally and internationally within the field of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders at the National Organization for Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. She teaches online for the University of Missouri Veterinary Medicine/Public Health Program as well as an online course on FASD at the University of Nevada.

Aaron ThompsonDr. Aaron Thompson

Current Funding:

Boone County Schools Mental Health Coalition funded by Boone County 2015-2020

Evaluation of a Self-Monitoring Training Program funded by the U.S. Dept. of Education 2015-2021

Family Access Center for Excellence (FACE) of Boone County funded by Boone County Children’s Services Fund 2016-2024

Dr. Thompson’s work and research is primarily focused on collaborations with schools, families, and communities to determine the best ways to help school-aged children with social, emotional, and behavioral health concerns. It is a complex solution that puts the child and his or her family at the center of a system of supports designed and implemented by school personnel, representatives of local government (law enforcement, courts, housing, health department, etc.) and community service agencies. There are various levels of evidence-based prevention and intervention programs and supports that can be prescribed depending on the needs of the child and of the family.

Dr. Thompson collaborates with Drs. Wendy Reinke and Keith Herman to run the Missouri Prevention Science Institute (MPSI). Through MPSI, Dr. Thompson and his team continue to develop several projects in schools across Missouri and the US—including the development of a coordinated, multidisciplinary, and collaborative initiative across six school districts in Boone County, known as the Boone County Schools Mental Health Coalition. Recently, Drs. Reinke, Herman, and Thompson have held contracts with the Boone County Children’s Services Board to develop a comprehensive model of assessment and prevention. The project provides best practice trainings to about 3,000 school personnel, universal prevention programs to approximately 25,000 K-12 students, and targeted intervention supports to approximately 2,000 high risk students and their families. Dr. Thompson’s team has developed a state of the art data collection and reporting system to monitor the social, emotional, and behavioral health of students three times per year using an online survey format. The system produces user-friendly online reports summarizing a school’s areas of greatest concern, and then school personnel apply those data in a standardized, team-based decisional process whereby they select scientifically supported programs shown to reduce the identified risks.

In June 2015, Dr. Thompson and his MPSI collaborators were awarded a 3.5 million dollar U.S. Department of Education grant to evaluate an intervention program for 5th grade students who exhibit disruptive and challenging classroom behaviors. The team will test the efficacy of the program to influence classroom behavior, social emotional learning, and academic achievement. They also aim to follow study participants into later grades to determine whether the effects of the program are sustained after the transition to middle and high school.

In March of 2016, Dr. Thompson and his MPSI collaborators—along with Dr. Kristin Hawley of MU’s Psychological Sciences department—received a Boone County Children’s Services Board contract to implement the Family Access Center for Excellence (FACE) of Boone County. The goal of FACE is to improve access to high quality mental health assessment and services for struggling youth and their families. FACE also aims to improve the quality of existing services in Boone County by providing training in scientifically supported practices that address youth and family social, emotional, and behavioral health issues. Specifically, the FACE of Boone County will (a) accept referrals from any family or social service program in Boone County, (b) conduct a scientifically-based child-centered and family focused assessment, (c) develop a goal driven child and family treatment plan, (d) provide families with a choice of provider to meet each treatment plan goal, and (e) offer case-managers who will coordinate service access, monitor progress of the plan, and assist families to overcome barriers to accessing evidence-informed treatments.

Sarah TlapekDr. Sarah Myers Tlapek

Dr. Myers Tlapek’s research focuses on the relationships between trauma, mental health, and interpersonal violence. She is particularly interested in examining ways that exposure to one type of violence may increase the risk for future interpersonal violence; her recent work has focused both internationally, with couples exposed to genocide violence, and domestically, with adolescent girls who experienced childhood maltreatment. For her dissertation, she conducted seven months of fieldwork in Rwanda as a Fulbright Scholar, exploring risk and protective factors for intimate partner violence in that post-conflict setting. The mixed methods study focused on the role of genocide trauma exposure and trauma-related mental health problems in the perpetration of violence. Dr. Tlapek’s domestic work has examined pathways between maltreatment and interpersonal revictimization for adolescent girls enrolled in a trauma-focused cognitive behavioral interventional study. She is currently looking at the role of resiliency characteristics in mitigating the effects of childhood maltreatment on negative mental health and behavioral outcomes.

Kathleen PrebleDr. Kathleen Preble

Community based and survivor centered research is important to Kathleen because it directly impacts the quality of care survivors of trafficking receive while exiting exploitation. In boosting the survivor voice, we can ensure the services developed for survivors have the intended outcome and empowers survivors to live their intended lives. Though Kathleen is interested in all forms of trafficking found in the United States and how survivors perceive the experience, most recently she has been focusing her efforts on understanding phenomenon in Missouri, including: demographics, gaps in services and training, and bolstering coordinated, evidenced-based responses. Because Kathleen’s research is community driven and survivor led, it is especially helpful in understanding the needs, contexts, and implications various anti-trafficking responses might have in addressing human trafficking in the state. Last year Kathleen collaborated with MU Extension faculty and community-based organizations to complete a statewide resource guide, needs assessment, prevalence count and strategic plan that she hopes will strengthen Missouri’s anti-trafficking response.

Dong Pil YoonDr. Dong Pil Yoon

Dr. Yoon’s research interests have centered on religiosity and spirituality and how they affect both physical and mental health. He explores the impact of religiosity/spirituality on quality of life among people with HIV/AIDS, cancer, and disabilities such as spinal cord injury and traumatic brain injury. The overall findings of his research support a growing body of literature documenting a positive relationship between religiosity, spirituality, and mental/physical health.

Dr. Yoon continues to ask questions about the theory of knowledge as follows: What can we really know? How can we be certain that we have the truth? How can we be certain that we know anything at all? What is knowledge, and how is it different from belief? If we know something, must we know that we know it? He has been fascinated with philosophy of science and research. He is interested in the contemporary shift in social work research paradigms including positivism, logical positivism, and social constructionism. He engages in an epistemological debate as to the best approach to building new knowledge in practice and/or policy. Dr. Yoon is also very interested in the differences and similarities between physical and social sciences.

Mansoo YuDr. Mansoo Yu

Dr. Yu’s research has been focused on health disparities and the interconnections of mental health, physical health, and health risk behavior. Each of these components of a person’s life impacts the others. Dr. Yu compares different segments of populations, particularly vulnerable and disadvantaged populations, to identify problems and issues around these aspects of people’s lives. His goal is to generate scientific evidence that practitioners in the field can use to better meet the needs of their clients.

CCJJP logoThe Center for Criminal and Juvenile Justice Priorities (CCJJP) is an interdisciplinary center of scholars and community stakeholders committed to creating and disseminating research, education, and training for practitioners, policy makers, people with lived experience, and people at risk of justice involvement. The justice system consumes tremendous public resources and affects the lives of millions of people around the world. In the U.S., each year about two million youth face arrest. More than two million adults reside in jails and prisons. An additional 6.7 million people are supervised by justice authorities because they are on probation or parole. Many others are not incarcerated but await prosecution on charges. Those affected are disproportionately racial and ethnic minorities. In addition, although crime rates are down, millions of people continue to be impacted by violent crime every year.

These figures are sobering and not new, but the justice system is facing a period of great change. The high costs of maintaining prisons and jails, a declining crime rate, and a broader understanding of drug and mental health treatment’s role in limiting recidivism have combined to drive states to reconsider their approaches to criminal justice. Responses increasingly emphasize community-based efforts, assistance with reentry, and attention to mental health and substance use needs. Social workers, who have always had a presence in criminal and juvenile justice settings, are now more than ever at the center of efforts to improve the country’s justice system.

CCJJP was created to be responsive to this changing environment. The center’s primary focus is on interdisciplinary research projects at MU and in partnership with other universities. A secondary focus is on building education and training resources to address the field’s need for prepared professionals who are literate in mental health and the impacts of substance use, trauma, and child maltreatment. CCJJP aims to serve multiple audiences including students, professional social workers, people working with the criminal and juvenile justice fields, community members, and state agencies. For more information on the specific CCJJP research projects, MU course work related to criminal justice, and faculty affiliates, please visit the CCJJP webpage.

Ashley GivensDr. Ashley Givens

Current Funding:

Equipping Probation and Parole Officers to Supervise Probationers with Mental Health Needs funded by Missouri Department of Corrections 2019

Dr. Givens’ primary research revolves around salient issues facing justice-involved individuals. Dr. Givens focuses her work around traumatic histories, criminogenic risks and needs, and serious mental illnesses among early adults (18-29 year olds) involved in the criminal justice system. This age group constitutes a higher proportion of the justice-involved population than any other 10-year age group and presents unique challenges in regards to custody and supervision. Dr. Givens studies programming and interventions that provide opportunities to this population, as well as equip officers to be better prepared to assess the risks and needs of this age group. Recently, Dr. Givens has been working with probation and parole officers to build foundational knowledge around mental illnesses and their role for the individuals on community supervision.

Specific research interests for each faculty member