Promoting Leadership and Research Skills of Social Work Students: The Center for Addictions Research and Services’ Mentoring Model

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August 12th, 2013

Boston University Center for Addictions Research and Services (CARS) is increasingly moving toward a new model of research mentoring that provides both master’s level and doctoral students opportunities, through experiential learning, to gain skills needed to first-author conference presentations and articles.

CARS is not only addressing a wide variety of issues affecting individuals, families, and communities struggling with HIV/AIDS, substance abuse, and access to substance abuse treatment, the center is taking great strides to promote first authorship for graduate students. CARS director and Associate Dean of Research Dr. Lena Lundgren is at the helm of this initiative to support graduate students publishing academic materials, and has been an invaluable mentor.

“During my time at CARS, I gained many skills that have shaped my professional and personal identity and will continue to guide my academic and career path going forward,” said Caty Wilkey (SSW ’11, SPH ’12), former project coordinator at CARS. “Dr. Lundgren has shown me that being a leader in social work research means saying yes to new ideas and collaborating with diverse people, all while staying deeply committed to the community.”

Recognizing the importance of publishing work early in one’s graduate career, Lundgren said, “Going through each step in developing a publishable research manuscript or a conference presentation allows for leadership potential to grow and be fostered under the watchful eye of mentors who are respected researchers in the field. The CARS team works to strike a balance between giving freedom for creativity and guiding with an expert hand.”

This is exemplified by, for example, Robert Mitchell Thomas, a current MSW student, who will be first authoring a presentation at the upcoming American Public Health Association annual conference in Boston this year entitled, “Implementation barriers and fidelity in implementing evidence-based addiction treatment: A national study.”

Mindy D’Ippolito (SSW ’11, SPH ’12) was interested in research when she first began the MSW program, and she sought opportunities to learn about and do research beyond her coursework. She worked as a research assistant at CARS for the three years she was in the MSW/MPH program. Said D’Ippolito, “My experience was incredibly enriching, and a learning experience beyond anything I could have gotten from a classroom setting.”

D’Ippolito worked on publications, including a first-author opportunity, performed data collection and management, quantitative and qualitative analysis, conference poster presentations, and program evaluation, and learned about all components of research, including critical thinking about research. “At CARS, I had the opportunity to be curious, grow, ask questions, and come up with my own ideas about projects on which to work. Because of my experience through CARS, I am well prepared to use and perform research as a part of my social work practice, which will ultimately benefit the clients that I serve. I hope to use these skills to bridge the gap between research and practice.” Indeed, the opportunities presented to BUSSW students at CARS go beyond those afforded within the confines of the classroom.

Ivy Krull (PhD, SSW ’13) noted that, “Mentoring from Dr. Lundgren on the journal publication process has been enormously valuable. She has allowed me to be a part of every step of the process—from the conception of the work to the finalization of the proofs. My exposure to the full process has made me much more confident as a writer, and I have a much greater understanding of research and the peer-review process.” Krull has two first-authored articles published in Substance Abuse and the Journal of Addictive Diseases.

Students have benefited from CARS in numerous ways and have, in turn, contributed to the field in notable ways, post graduation. Therese Fitzgerald (PhD, SSW ’08), director, Women’s Health Policy & Advocacy Program, Connors Center for Women’s Health and Gender Biology at  Brigham & Women’s Hospital, credits Lundgren for the encouragement to pursue a doctorate degree. Fitzgerald was a young, working mother at the time she decided to embark on this daunting feat, as she described it.

“Dr. Lundgren was an important role model for me, and she made me feel like I could do anything while maintaining a healthy balance between my personal and professional life. The research, policy, and writing skills I learned under her leadership put me in the perfect position to excel in my policy and advocacy work,” she said.

Similarly, Lisa de Saxe Zerden (PhD, SSW ’09) attributes her development and cultivation of macro skills to CARS and the work she has done with Lundgren, CARS Associate Director Deborah Chassler, and the rest of the team. Currently a clinical assistant professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, teaching within the community management and policy practice concentration, de Saxe Zerden continues to work with CARS as a faculty collaborator. “I have been able to adapt my work at CARS to build community partnerships with the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition and work on program evaluation studies of HIV prevention with law enforcement in the state,” she said. Valuing her learning experience at CARS, she continues to utilize tools acquired as a student in her professional life today. “It is through my experience at CARS that I was exposed to grant writing, data collection, and evaluation requirements of federal grant mechanisms,” she said.

Sarah Trocchio (SSW ‘11 SPH ‘12), a doctoral student at Rutgers University School of Criminal Justice, attributes her doctoral career decisions to CARS. “Working with CARS was an indispensable experience. During my years there, I was able to hone my research skills, develop and clarify my scholastic areas of interest, and assume a leadership role in the publications process. Each of these opportunities made me an extremely competitive candidate during the doctoral admissions process and uniquely positioned me to have a productive first year as a PhD student.”

“A few years ago, I received a gift from a colleague which was a sculpture of a door. She told me she gave me this ‘because I provide opportunities (open doors) for others,’” Lundgren reflected while discussing her decision to focus on students taking leadership roles in research. “This is one of the key aims of CARS and my continued commitment to social work.”

Below is a sample of first-author publications by BUSSW graduates. Please visit www.bu.edu/ars for more:
Krull, I., Lundgren, L., Beltrame, C. (In Press).  Association between addiction treatment staff professional and educational levels and perceptions of organizational climate and resources. Substance Abuse.
Krull, I., Lundgren, L., Zerden, L. (2011). Attitudes toward evidence-based pharmacological treatments
among community-based addiction treatment programs targeting vulnerable population groups.
Journal of Addictive Diseases, 30:4, 323–333. PMID: 22026524.
Zerden, L.D., Lundgren, L., Chassler, D., Horowitz, A.C., Adorno, E., & Puttington, T. (in press). Social and economic factors associated with recent incarceration and overall time spent in jail/prison for a US-Puerto Rican drug using criminal justice sample. Journal of Ethnicity and Substance Abuse.
Zerden, L.D., López, L.M., & Lundgren, L. (2012). HIV prevention with Puerto Rican injection drug users. In K. C. Organista (Eds.), HIV Prevention with Latinos: Theory, Research, and Practice.(383–405). New York: Oxford University Press.
Zerden, L.D., López, L.M., & Lundgren, L. (2010).  Needle sharing among Puerto Rican injection drug users in Puerto Rico and Massachusetts: Place of birth and residence matter. Substance Use and Misuse, 45(10), 1605–1622.
Trocchio S., Chassler, D., Storbjork, J., Deluchi., K., Widtbrodt., J & Lundgren, L (2013).The association between self-reported mental health status and alcohol and drug abstinence 5 years post-assessment for an addiction disorder in US and Swedish samples. Journal of Addictive Diseases. Online at: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10550887.2013.795468.
Wilkey, C., Lundgren, L., Amodeo, M. (2013). Addiction training in social work schools: nationwide analysis. Journal of Social Work Practice in the Addictions, 13(2): 192–210.
D’Ippolito, M., Lundgren, L., Amodeo, M., Beltrame, C., Lim, L., & Chassler, D. (under revision).
Addiction treatment staff perceptions of training as a facilitator or barrier to implementing
evidence-based practices: A national qualitative research study. Substance Abuse.
Fitzgerald, T., Lundgren, L., & Chassler, D. (2007).  Factors associated with sustained HIV/AIDS
high risk behaviors among female injection drug users. AIDS Care, 19(1), 67–74.