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College of Human Environmental Sciences

Research and Scholarly Activity

collage of faculty and students participating in research activities

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.

Virginia Ramseyer WinterDr. Virginia Ramseyer Winter’s

Current Funding:

Writing Retreat for the Development of a Grant to Pilot Test a Body Image Intervention Using 3D Body Scanning Technology funded by the HES Seeding Interdisciplinary Research Collaborations program 2016

An Exploration of Body Image in Mental Health Practice with Women funded by the MU Richard Wallace Faculty Incentive Grant program 2016

Dr. Ramseyer Winter’s primary research agenda, grounded in theory and the strengths perspective, examines body image in relation to women’s physical, mental and sexual health. With her scholarship, she is most interested in improving women’s body image to ultimately lead to improvements in women’s 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.

In future work, she would like to examine service providers to discover how body image discussions are presented in practice with their clients and what impact this may have on their overall health. Additionally, this work will hopefully highlight any barriers to providing services and interventions around body image to women in practice. Ultimately, Dr. Ramseyer Winter plans to conduct intervention research in collaboration with community agencies that serve marginalized women.

Ninive SanchezDr. Ninive Sanchez

Dr. Sanchez's work focuses on understanding health and healthcare disparities, health and mental health of adolescents and young adults, and the influence of race, ethnicity, culture and gender on health and well-being. She is a recipient of the Minority Health and Health Disparities International Research Training program, funded by the National Institutes of Health, and the Michigan Institute for Clinical and Health Research at the University of Michigan.

Dr. Sanchez has experience coordinating a longitudinal, multidisciplinary study of substance use among adolescents and their families in Santiago, Chile. Fluent in Spanish, Dr. Sanchez has traveled to Chile and conducted research on sexual behavior, substance use, and community member’s perceptions of safety in Santiago.

Her most recent research focuses on the psychosocial aspects of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a chronic condition the National Institutes of Health Office of Disease Prevention has described as a major public health problem for women in the U.S. Dr. Sanchez examined how adolescents and women with PCOS are portrayed in digital teen and women’s magazines. She also examined national healthcare data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to investigate potential disparities in health care access and utilization associated with PCOS.

Leigh Tenkku LepperDr. Leigh Tenkku Lepper

Current Funding:

Mental and Reproductive Health Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Practice Implementation Center (MRPIC) funded by CDC 2014-2018

Physician Assistant Alcohol Education and Screening Brief Intervention Referral and Treatment (SBIRT) Curriculum in Missouri Programs funded by SAMHSA 2015-2018

Dr. Tenkku Lepper’s work and research for the past 14 years has 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 2014, Dr. Tenkku Lepper received funding for four years from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for the Mental and Reproductive Health Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Practice Implementation Center (MRPIC). In this project, she will design robust discipline-specific FASD training materials for Social Work (SW) and OB/GYN disciplines to increase the proportion of mental and reproductive health professionals who achieve education and training on FASD and alcohol screening and brief intervention. Three levels of training will be developed: 1) discipline-specific web-based training modules and materials, 2) discipline-specific continuing education programs/webinars on reducing alcohol-exposed pregnancies, and 3) web-based SBIRT training set within the virtual world environment. This work builds upon her previous work under the CDC-funded Midwest Regional FASD Training Center (MRFASTC) which covered a 19-state geographic region. The MRPIC project will move this work to a national level working with professional associations to include NASW and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).

In 2015, Dr. Tenkku Lepper was funded for three years by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to develop and implement an alcohol education and SBIRT curriculum in all of the Physician Assistant programs in Missouri. The skills-based training will be provided through a web-based curriculum using the avatar world environment. Regional training and continuing education training will be done throughout the state working with Missouri Academy of Physician Assistants (MOAPA) and on a national level working with the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA) and other specialty PA professional societies.

All of her work can be seen at

Aaron ThompsonDr. Aaron Thompson

Current Funding:

Boone County Schools Mental Health Coalition funded by Boone County 2015-2016

Evaluation of a Self-Monitoring Training Program funded by the U.S. Dept. of Education 2015-2019

Family Access Center for Excellence (FACE) of Boone County funded by Boone County Children’s Services Fund 2016-2019

Dr. Thompson’s work and research is primarily focused on collaborations with schools and community service agencies to determine the best ways to help school-aged children with social, emotional, and behavioral health concerns. It is a complex issue involving the child, the family, school personnel, school systems, and community services. There are various levels of intervention depending on the needs of the child and of the family, as well as various prevention strategies.

Dr. Thompson has collaborated with Drs. Wendy Reinke and Keith Herman in the College of Education over the past three years to develop several projects in area schools—including the development of a coordinated, multidisciplinary, and collaborative initiative across six school districts in Boone County known as the Boone County School Mental Health Coalition. Recently, Drs. Reinke, Herman and Thompson were awarded a 1.2 million dollar contract from the Boone County Children’s Services Board to develop a comprehensive model of assessment and prevention. The project targets school personnel, students, and families. In short, the effort will provide training to over 3,000 teachers and school professionals to recognize signs of mental health symptoms in youth and to respond effectively. The team is working with school professionals to develop a data collection system to monitor the social, emotional, and behavioral health of students. School-based teams will then be trained to use these data to select scientifically supported programs to reduce risk associated with concerns identified in the data. For school-aged youth who are found to be at elevated levels of risk—approximately 1,000 youth with early signs and symptoms of mental health problems—school-based teams will engage existing community resources to support those youth and their families through a comprehensive mental health assessment and case management system.

In June 2015, Dr. Thompson and his 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 examine whether the effects of the program are sustained after elementary students make the transition to middle school.

Dr. Aaron Thompson, in collaboration with colleagues from MU’s College of Education (Drs. Wendy Reinke and Keith Herman) and Department of Psychology (Dr. Kristin Hawley) received a Boone County Children’s Services Board contract to implement the Family Access Center for Excellence (FACE) of Boone County. The goal of this program is to improve the mental and physical health, well-being, and safety of children and their families in Boone County by developing and implementing a mechanism to expand access to high quality mental health assessment and services for youth and their families. FACE also aims to improve the quality of existing services in Boone County through 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 Myers 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.

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.

The 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.

CCJJP logo

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.

Specific research interests for each faculty member