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College of Social Work

  • SPARC grant recipients: Tasha Childs, Christian Holmes and Melissa Mull

Three Ph.D. Students Awarded SPARC Graduate Research Grants

Earlier this month, Ph.D. students Tasha Childs, Christian Holmes and Melissa Mull were selected as three of 43 campus-wide recipients of the Support to Promote Advancement of Research and Creativity Graduate Research grants. Sponsored by the Office of the Vice President for Research, SPARC graduate research grants are merit-based awards designated to ignite research and creative excellence across all disciplines at the University of South Carolina.

The SPARC program provides the opportunity for graduate students to secure funding up to $5,000 to support their research or other scholarly project. All applicants must complete and submit a competitive grant proposal package.

Tasha Childs

Proposal Title: “Exploring Mental Health Supports during COVID-19 School Reopening: A Qualitative Study”

Description of Research: “My SPARC grant is intended to focus on South Carolina school districts responses to student mental health needs. Now, more than ever, schools may serve as a crucial provider of mental health services for a growing number of students experiencing mental health concerns.

The SPARC grant will support data collection of school district reopening plans, participant incentives for interviews from 12 to 15 South Carolina school social workers and data analysis, synthesis, and dissemination throughout the term of the grant. This study aims to understand whether mental health supports are described in school reopening plans, and if so, what types of mental health supports exist; explore South Carolina school social workers experiences delivering mental health supports in their schools in relation to the types of supports described by their school districts’ reopening plan; and elicit school social workers perceptions of facilitators and barriers that have impacted delivery of mental health supports and services. 

This research may provide crucial insight to the types of mental health supports school districts are suggesting schools provide and the extent to which school social workers provide these supports during COVID-19.”

What did you learn during the SPARC application process that you can utilize when applying for future research grants or funding?

“The SPARC grant and application process provided the first opportunity to pursue funding for my own specific research interests in school social work and student mental health. I learned that outlining clear research questions and a data collection and analysis plan can help develop the research project more fully. Additionally, the SPARC grant is reviewed by faculty from across campus, therefore it is important to communicate clearly to emphasize the importance of conducting this research. The individual reviewer feedback will also be helpful in applying to future grants as I learn how to build a strong study rationale.”

Christian Holmes

Proposal Title: “Exploring Foster Parent Cultural Competence Practice in Transethnic-racial Placements”

Description of Research: “I am a child welfare researcher who primary goal is to support the positive development and holistic well-being of Youth of Color within the U.S. child welfare system. I am particularly interested in how experiences of racism impact the health risk behaviors, mental health, and placement outcomes of Youth of Color in foster care.

My interest in this area stems from personal experiences with adopted children as well as my practice experience of working with racial minority youth in South Carolina in inpatient and outpatient psychiatric settings. My current research focuses on foster youth experiences of individual-level and institutional racism. The goal is to help facilitate the shift towards an anti-racist U.S. child welfare system.”

What did you learn during the SPARC application process that you can utilize when applying for future research grants or funding?

“I had to learn that any feedback given on my first proposal was not a rejection of my ideas or a personal dig but an opportunity to rethink and refine those ideas. Also, I learned that bouncing those ideas and sharing drafts of your work with your mentors and fellow Ph.D. students is the key to writing a strong proposal. Sometimes it is hard to see beyond your own thought processes and writing style, and that’s where bouncing those ideas and sharing your drafts for feedback comes in handy.”

Melissa Mull

Proposal Title: “The Role of State Medicaid Programs in Regulating the Quality of Opioid Use Disorder Treatment in the United States”

Description of Research: “Information on state-level regulations of substance use disorders treatment is sparse, but initial findings indicate a lack consistency with current recommendations for best practices. The aim of this project is to conduct a review of publicly available documentation to create a novel dataset that documents regulatory policies for addiction treatment providers in all 50 states and Washington DC that can be linked to patient-and-provider-level datasets to assess the impact of these regulations on opioid use disorder treatment outcomes.

Collecting this data will enable me to create a novel policy data resource that will serve as the foundation for a broader research program into the effects of Medicaid regulatory policy on opioid use disorder treatment outcomes and will be a cornerstone of my dissertation research and early career scholarly trajectory.”

What did you learn during the SPARC application process that you can utilize when applying for future research grants or funding?

“Working on this SPARC grant helped me understand the time and effort that goes into writing proposals. While a two-page proposal may sound manageable at first, it can be extremely challenging to clearly communicate the goals and significance of your project to a group of reviewers not in your field with such limited space. It is a delicate balance between providing important details and making clear and concise points in your proposal. When it’s your idea in your head it seems so clear, but on paper its much more of a challenge to communicate.”

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