Meet Our Students
Michelle Alexander is a LCSW-S with over 25 years of experience in the field of social work. Currently, she’s a third-year PhD student in the Worden School. Throughout her 25 years in the field, she has worked for several agencies in the public and private sectors. Currently, she is working for a nonprofit that cares for those who are struggling with homelessness. Michelle serves as the VP of Programs providing strategic planning and oversight for more than 130 employees. Throughout the years, Michelle has been responsible for overseeing grants from SAMHSA, HUD and the Hogg Foundation.
Michelle’s research interests are racial microaggressions in academia, racist ideology, social work policy, DEI, homelessness, health care disparities for Black women, intimate partner violence, and immigration. Her clinical approaches include CBT, EMDR, motivational interviewing and mindfulness interventions. Michelle has presented at the National Keeping Our Communities Healthy conference in 2015 on Networking 101: Making the Connection, NACSW in 2016 on Working with 18–24-year-old Women Struggling with Homelessness and at the NASW-Texas conference in 2022 on Let’s Talk About Racism: An Investigation of the Meaning of Discrimination.
Cameron Ashdown received his Bachelor of Science in Psychology at the University of Utah where he graduated Cum Laude. He received his Master of Social Work from the University of Utah and was awarded MSW student of the year. He is pursuing his PhD in Social Work at Our Lady of the Lake University. He is employed as an Active-Duty Army Social Worker where he holds the rank of Captain. He is experienced in providing direct care to beneficiaries and implementing community-wide interventions, policy development and supervision. Cameron and his wife - who is also a Social Worker - are parents to two children.
His research interests focus on understanding suicidality amongst LGBTQ members of religious institutions.
Rheanisha Burrell is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with a Texas Board Approved Clinical Supervisor designation. She is currently a coordinator and a clinician for two healthcare systems. In addition to direct clinical practice, she is also a Teaching Assistant and a social work PhD student at Our Lady of the Lake University. Rheanisha has spent her social work career thus far working with specialized populations within state and federal agencies.
Rheanisha’s research interests and publication will seek to focus on the stigma of mental health within minority populations, primary care, mental health integration and increased mental-health engagement.
Angela Clavijo is a current Instructor of Social Work at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas. She received her Master of Social Work from Our Lady of the Lake University. She has professional experience in child and family welfare, including early childhood intervention services and child protective services, long-term health care and end-of-life services, healthcare consulting services, home study preparation for prospective foster and adoptive parents and school social work. She worked in the direct practice for 10 years prior to joining the faculty at Lamar University and has been working in higher education for three years.
Angela’s primary research interests focus on the holistic well-being of immigrant and refugee populations, with a special interest in understanding forced cultural assimilation as trauma and how this knowledge can impact social work practice. Her current ongoing research projects include understanding the complexities of vaccine hesitancy and understanding factors that promote resiliency in areas prone to natural disasters.
Ryan Dollinger (He/Him/His) completed his Bachelor of Social Work at Lamar University, Master of Public Administration and Certification of Urban Non-Profit Management at the University of Texas at Arlington, and Master of Social Work at Texas State University.
Ryan is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in Texas with nine years of direct practice experience which includes, veteran’s healthcare, substance misuse, mental health, crisis intervention, aging, inpatient and outpatient healthcare, case management and private practice. Ryan is active within his community and state as a Board Member for CASA of Southeast Texas, Inc., Advisory Board Member for Lamar University, Board Member and Executive Leadership Committee Member for the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) – Texas Chapter and Gubernatorial Appointee to the Texas Juvenile Justice Advisory Board.
Ryan’s research interests include clients transitioning from systems, primarily healthcare systems, health disparities, the well-being of low-income families, emergency mental health and enhancing case management services. Ryan is currently a Graduate Research Assistant for Project LAUNCH (Linking Actions for Unmet Needs in Children’s Health) with Alegnta Felleke, PhD.
Janet Espinoza is a first-year doctoral student. She is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the state of New Mexico. She has been a professional mental health clinician for the past 3 years in clinic and acute care settings with a specialization in children and families. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Social Work from New Mexico State University in 2017 and her Master’s degree from Our Lady of the Lake University in 2019. She is currently pursuing a Phd in Social Work at Our Lady of the Lake University.
Janet’s research interest include children mental health, immigration, suicidality amongst LGBTQ+ populations, and attachment.
Sarah M. Farell
Sarah M. Farrell (She/Her/Hers) graduated with a Master of Social Work from the University of Southern California, where she was a recipient of the Gladys M. Salit award and the Phi Alpha Honor Society research scholarship. She gained research experience through joint ventures between the School of Cinema and the School of Social Work. With experiences spanning from home health and hospice to community mental health, Sarah has served a diverse client base. She gained clinical licensure in 2018 and has nearly a decade of direct practice experience.
Sarah’s research interests center around religious trauma, especially in insular religious communities, and the impact of religious trauma on attachment style, health outcomes and epigenetics. She also has an interest in further studying the impacts of purity culture on sexual outcomes. She has participated in invited panel presentations at the University of Southern California on the need for changes in field education and diversity, equity and inclusion: Honoring our stories. She has submitted a paper for publication on the need for relevant strategies in preventing adolescent dating violence.
Rickie Fleck completed her undergraduate and graduate degrees from Texas State University and achieved clinical social worker status before starting the PhD program at OLLU. She also had the opportunity to teach a course at Texas State. Rickie has had proposals accepted at NASW and CSWE conferences for presentations. She has worked with colleagues to produce a manuscript that is currently out for publication.
Rickie’s research interests include socially just education, particularly in social work education. She is also interested in racial equity and autism diagnosis for non-male children and adults. She is a quantitative researcher that utilizes Feminist Theory, Intersectionality and QuantCrit to guide her research.
Greg Gibbons (He/Him) is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker currently pursuing his doctoral degree in Social Work at Our Lady of the Lake University. He obtained his Bachelor of Social Work from Arizona State University and his Master of Social Work from the University of Texas at Arlington with a focus on children and families. Greg is a military veteran with more than 10 years of experience in child advocacy, working with foster parents and children, non-profits, vocational rehabilitation, individual counseling and drug and alcohol programs. Currently, he works in a leadership role for an outpatient mental health clinic that serves all populations. As a doctoral student, Greg has collaborated closely with faculty on projects such as student mindfulness, gun violence and Project LAUNCH.
Greg’s research areas of focus include veterans, gun violence, trauma, ADHD and conflict within communities. After receiving his PhD, he hopes to work in a tenure-track faculty position in a university social work program dedicated to creating future leaders.
Franzcesca is a Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) in San Antonio Texas. Her areas of experience in Social Work practice has included work within a number of populations to include; families in crisis, homelessness, aging, medical, school based, behavioral health, program development. Franzcesca hopes to use her knowledge and skills to help guide the next generation of Social Workers.
Franzcesca’s area of research interest include social justice, equality, and equity, specifically areas involving racial and ethnic disparities within systems. Franzcesca’s dissertation focuses on exploring the experiences of the intergenerational effects of racial trauma on African Americans.
Pedro Hernandez graduated from the University of Texas at Rio Grande Valley in 2017 with a Master of Science in Social Work with a micro practice concentration. He is a Licensed Master Social Worker in the State of Texas. Pedro is a medical social worker at a dialysis clinic in Weslaco, Texas. As a third-year doctoral student at Our Lady of the Lake University, he has gained extensive knowledge in the field of pedagogy and research. Pedro’s practice experience includes; medical social work, integrated medical health interventions and inpatient psychiatric services for children, adolescents and adults. He is a member of the Society for Social Work and Research, OLLU LGBTQ Alliance and PhD Pre-Health Dreamers. He is also an active volunteer at the Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley, Inc.
Pedro’s research interests are related to immigration, DACA and healthcare disparities in minority communities
Eimmy Kafka-Hernandez graduated with an Associate of Science in Chemical Dependency from Wenatchee Valley College, a Bachelor of Social Work from Union Institute and University and a Master of Social Work from Our Lady of the Lake University. She is currently in her second year as a PhD student in the Social Work program at Our Lady of the Lake University. She has been in the social services field for almost 15 years and her background includes Early Head Start advocacy, addiction counseling, victim of crime advocacy and homeless outreach. She is currently a Lead Social Worker for a government child welfare agency.
Eimmy’s research interests are Hispanic Autistic children and the perception of Autism diagnosis within the Latino community, sex trafficking, developmentally delayed children in foster care, social worker burnout, vicarious trauma and the importance of self-care within the social work community.
Eliseo Ilarraza is a second-year doctorate student with a wide range of social work experience, including work with the elderly, children, families, the homeless and the HIV/AIDS community. From Brooklyn, N.Y., he earned a Master of Social and a Master of Business Administration. With his expertise, Eliseo hopes to encourage and instruct future social workers.
Eliseo's research focuses on social justice, ethical and cultural issues and group therapy for vulnerable populations, especially adolescents. He is curious about the experiences of teenagers, who are addicted to drugs and alcohol, have been mistreated and are in foster care. Ilarraza promotes social justice for underprivileged and minority populations by engaging the community in resolving their issues. His dissertation analysis focuses on the most crucial period in the lives of addicted adolescents and attempts to engage the community in assisting with their difficulties.
Roy Malecha is a current doctoral student in the Social Work PhD program at Our Lady of the Lake University. Prior to being accepted at OLLU, Roy obtained a Bachelor of Social Work (2009, Freed-Hardeman University) and a Master of Science in Social Work (2013, University of Tennessee College of Social Work). Currently, Roy serves in a dual role within the Social Work Program at Freed-Hardeman University as an Assistant Professor of Social Work as well as the Director of Field Education. Overall, Roy has nine years of experience within the field of social work in both clinical and supervisory roles as well as seven years of experience in higher education.
Roy’s research interests include the therapeutic aspects of long-distance running as it relates to mental health, the utilization of online methodology (distance education) to provide educational opportunities among underserved and underrepresented populations and the connection between faith/spirituality/religion and social work practice with specific emphasis on the identification and utilization of effective intervention strategies directed at student skill development within BSW and MSW programs regarding the ethical integration of faith into social work practice.
Sheryl Mathew is a doctoral student at Our Lady of the Lake University. Sheryl has worked in medical social work in Dallas’ safety net hospital, Parkland Health, for more than 10 years in roles that include inpatient social worker, complex case social worker and manager for post-acute services. Sheryl is currently the manager of clinical innovation for the Center of Innovation and Value at Parkland. Sheryl graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a Bachelor of Social Work and from Baylor University with a Master of Social Work. Sheryl is a licensed clinical social worker in Texas.
Sheryl’s research interests and publications focus on healthcare disparities and improving patient outcomes by focusing on social determinants of health. She is interested in community-based participatory research to address disparities for uninsured and underinsured populations. Sheryl’s recent publications focus on co-created messaging for influenza vaccination uptake in a high-risk Hispanic community, healthcare utilization patterns for patients with a history of substance use requiring outpatient parenteral antibiotic therapy and childcare as an overlooked social determinant of health. Her work with Parkland’s complex case and high utilizer program was also featured in Politico and KERA.
Miranda Mestas Vatterott
Miranda Mestas Vatterott received her Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Santa Clara University and her Master of Social Work from the University of Southern California. She has experience supporting new parents and families in various roles since 2013. She has worked as a birth and postpartum doula, patient advocate, a parent and me yoga instructor, a childbirth educator and a parent coach. She currently works as an associate clinical social worker at Harvest Home, a maternity home in Los Angeles. She enjoys reading, traveling and watching soccer. Miranda lives in Southern California with her husband, three children, and their labradoodle.
Miranda is interested in researching issues relevant to perinatal mental health, specifically birth trauma, infant attachment, lactation and access to quality healthcare. She is a research assistant under Alegnta Felleke, PhD on project evaluation for Project LAUNCH (Linking Actions for Unmet Needs in Children’s Health).
Leslie Moorehead is a licensed associate clinical social worker pursuing full independence licensure with a background in journalism. She graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism. Leslie received her Master of Social Work from the University of Southern California and is pursuing her PhD in Social Work from Our Lady of the Lake University. Leslie encourages learning with the students she works with in rural Washington State. Previously, Leslie worked in child welfare and community mental health. Leslie focuses on empathy and understanding and on asking questions to better appreciate individual stories.
Leslie’s research interests focus on chronic pain in women, chronic illness in women and the impact of chronic health conditions on mental health. Leslie is additionally interested in working within the child welfare systems as well as providing person-centered therapy services for behavioral health treatment. Her clinical approaches include Polyvagal Theory in psychotherapy, mind-body connections, motivational interviewing, Cognitive Processing Therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy as well as art and play approaches. She is interested in applying either feminist theory or grounded theory to chronic conditions.
Karla Najera is an experienced bilingual mental health therapist/ clinical social worker in Maryland. She obtained her Bachelor of Social Work from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and her Master of Social Work from Our Lady of the Lake University. Karla is a first-generation college graduate and a daughter to parents born in Honduras.
Karla obtained her LCSW-C in 2021 and has worked in different capacities within the social service field for more than 12 years. She has worked with newly arrived immigrants who have experienced significant trauma, were coping with depression/anxiety, as well as adjusting to a new culture. Karla currently works as an Internship Program Supervisor for a nonprofit and also as a therapist for a group practice.
Karla’s research interest involves first-generation college students, specifically the mental health impacts of first-generation Hispanic college students. She knows the challenges that come with being a first-generation college student and growing up navigating life while respecting and holding two cultural identities.
Danielle S. Parker
Danielle S. Parker, MSW is a PhD student at Worden School of Social Service who is passionate about the unlimited possibilities in the field of social work. Danielle earned her Bachelor of Science in Family Science from the University of Maryland College Park and her Master of Social Work from the University of Maryland at Baltimore School of Social Work.
Her research interests include equitable and growth practices in learning and work environments; policy, social justice, diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging; and trauma and mental health among marginalized populations.
Brittany Parsels is a third-year doctoral student. She is a Licensed Master Social Worker in the Southeast Texas area. Her practice experience spans a multitude of concentrations including the criminal justice system, homelessness, substance abuse, IPV, aging and behavioral health populations in a rural setting. With experience in a variety of areas of social work, Brittany hopes to share her experiences as a teaching opportunity for aspiring social workers.
Brittany’s research interests involve social justice issues connected to racism and discrimination across systems, police brutality with a concentration on minority and vulnerable populations and psychiatric trauma after encounters with the criminal justice system. Brittany’s dissertation is focused on exploring the attitudes, feelings and perceptions of members of the Black community toward law enforcement.
Sandra Rosas draws on more than 20 years of experience in higher education. Since 2004 she has worked in a higher education setting with a federal grant from the U.S. Department of Education known as TRIO programs. She has worked as a college readiness coordinator and served first-generation Hispanic students and families. Additional experience includes extensive community outreach in colonias along the Texas-Mexico border, Mujeres Unidas, and Southwest Keys Juvenile Justice Alternative Education Program. Sandra graduated from the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, obtaining her Bachelor of Social Work. She later attended Our Lady of the Lake University, receiving her Master of Social Work.
Sandra’s research interests are first-generation college students and the impacts of affordability, academic preparation, and follow-up information specific to college student access and success. Apart from her research, she would like to test a series of interventions designed to support families and students as they prepare for college and advancement through higher education. Her primary focus on first-generation college student outcomes seeks to understand the complexities of culture, learning processes and development with a secondary focus on the intricacies of navigating ecological systems in creating and implementing effective transitions into college.
Leslie Salazar-Hinojosa, LMSW, received her Master of Science in Social Work from West Texas A&M University in 2016. Currently, she is a faculty member/ field liaison at West Texas A&M University in the bachelor’s program. Throughout her career, she has worked with children and families, in medical social work and higher education social work. Leslie was awarded the 2021 Top Rising Star award through Los Barrios de Amarillo.
Leslie’s research interest focus on higher education, Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSI), medical research, Hispanic populations and social workers’ impact on higher education systems.
Javier Segovia is currently a second year PhD student at OLLU Worden School of Social Service. Prior to his PhD studies, Javier received his Bachelor of Social Work from the University of Texas Pan American in 2015 and his Master of Science in Social Work from the University of Texas of the Rio Grande Valleyin 2016. Javier served as a direct service provider in the medical and mental health field, support group facilitator and in education. Javier enjoys working and studying in the mental health field and plans to continue his work alongside teaching at a university.
His research interests lie within LGBTQ+ population, suicidality and dual diagnosed medical and mental health disorders.
Viridiana Sigala is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Board Approved Supervisor, and a Certified Family Trauma Professional. She graduated from the University of Texas at El Paso in 2015 with a master’s degree in Social Work, with a clinical and medical social work concentration. She is a third year PhD student in social work and her dissertation will focus on mental health utilization among Hispanics. Viridiana works full-time at a Native American reservation in El Paso, Texas as the Mental Health Coordinator and is the owner and Clinical Director at Mind Forward Health Center in El Paso, Texas.
Viridiana’s research interests are related to mental health with minority communities, health disparities and immigration.
Arthalia Weekes is a Licensed Specialist Clinical Social Worker in both Kansas and Missouri. Arthalia received her Bachelor of Social Work at Tarleton State University part of Texas A&M University and her Master of Social Work at Our Lady of the Lake University. She has been certified as a Cognitive Processing Therapy therapist, trained in EMDR, Prolonged Exposure Therapy, DBT, Motivational Interviewing, ACT and CBT-I. Arthalia currently works for InnovaTel Telepsychiatry as an embedded therapist in a rural mental health clinic and owns her private practice Kavanah Life Counseling Services.
Arthalia’s research interests focus on mental health, race disparities in mental health specifically when involving law enforcement, sexuality and religion, trauma, and evidence-based practices effectiveness with complex issues and diverse populations. Arthalia has created psychotherapy-focused groups related to military trauma, sexual trauma and women empowerment. Arthalia was the first Virtual Liaison for Region 3 Veterans Health Administration and essentially built the program in her assigned area laying the groundwork for transitioning service members who would otherwise not have access to services in the traditional way. In addition, Arthalia co-authored a book titled “Resilient Warriors: Stories of the Perseverance of Women in the Military”.
Eloisa Zamora graduated with her Bachelor of Social Work from the University of Texas at Austin in 2014, and received her Master of Social Work from the University of Texas at San Antonio in 2017. Eloisa is currently a second-year PhD student in the Worden School of Social Services at Our Lady of the Lake University. For the last five years, she has been working as a school social worker in a nonprofit located in San Antonio.
Eloisa Zamora’s interests are the impact of COVID-19 on the mental health of school-aged children, counselors and social workers.