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College of Social Work


Doctoral Student Awarded Graduate Research Grant

Feb. 20, 2019
Chris Woodley • cwoodley@mailbox.sc.edu 

College of Social Work Assistant Professors Breanne Grace and Benjamin Roth have completed research on immigration issues, including the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, forced migration and immigrant youth. Now, thanks to the University of South Carolina’s Support to Promote Advancement of Research and Creativity (SPARC) Graduate Research Grant, a doctoral student will have the same opportunity to address pressing immigration concerns.

Second-year Ph.D. candidate Amanda Stafford McRell recently received a nearly $5,000 SPARC grant to fund her research, “The Role of Local Nonprofits in the Promotion, Protection and Provision of Children’s Rights for Unaccompanied and Separated Minors.” Sponsored by the UofSC Office of the Vice President for Research, the SPARC Graduate Research Grant is a merit-based award designed to ignite research and creative excellence across all disciplines. SPARC funds can be used to pay for salary, supplies, travel and other costs essential to completing and promoting funded projects.

“I heard about the SPARC Grant last year and attended a workshop,” said McRell. “Dr. Sue Levkoff’s dissertation prep course gave me the opportunity to pursue different research grant opportunities. With her support, and guidance from my mentor Dr. Breanne Grace, I chose the SPARC Grant and drafted my proposal as a class assignment. I was anticipating getting feedback and planning to resubmit next year, so I was surprised when I learned I had been selected.”

According to McRell, one of the application requirements was creating the proposal narrative, which outlined the research, the step-by-step objectives, goals, and how her research is connected to current literature. She also worked with Grants Manager Nancy Bove to create a budget.

“Since I am doing research with a local nonprofit (Lutheran Family Services), I talked with them about this opportunity, and they were excited to work together,” said McRell. “I wanted to make sure this research project would support their clients and the important work they do in our community. Then, I studied the literature in child welfare, international migration and children in immigration custody and pulled together a narrative. Finally, I made sure my budget and timeline were reasonable. My work on Dr. Kristen Seay’s Foster Care Information Exchange project team provided experience working with community agencies and conducting qualitative research.  

According to McRell’s SPARC Graduate Research Grant proposal, unaccompanied and separated children face unique vulnerabilities. Upon their detainment by the Border Patrol, unaccompanied and separated children are placed under the guardianship of a complex network of more than 20 agencies, although little is known about how the nonprofit agencies charged with their care manage the complexities of children’s rights. McRell’s study intends to answer the questions, ‘How do employees of local nonprofits charged with the care of unaccompanied and separated minors conceptualize, promote, protect, and provide children’s rights?’; and ‘What factors facilitate or constrain those rights?’ Data will be collected through interviews with staff members at Lutheran Family Services, a Columbia-based nonprofit that provides services for unaccompanied and separated children.   

The overall objective of the SPARC Graduate Research Grant is to provide support and encourage students to pursue research directions during their graduate career. But McRell also believes the SPARC application process will prepare her for future research opportunities. 

“I previously worked in nonprofit settings, where I was a fundraiser and most recently an executive director,” said McRell. “My work with grant writing and looking up best practices is what interested me in research and led me to pursue a Ph.D. It was exciting to have an opportunity to do an inner-university grant and learn the differences between academic and nonprofit grant writing. My hope is that I can use preliminary data from this grant to apply for a larger funding source to support my dissertation research. I feel very fortunate to have this opportunity in my second year of study, and if all goes well, I am hopeful to use this as a springboard for a larger project to further expand what we know about children in nonparental care.”