Category Archives: Research Team

TEAM SPOTLIGHT: Lauren Johnson

LaurenMeet Lauren Johnson, the newest SOVA team member: Research Assistant and Main Moderator.  Lauren is a graduate of California University of Pennsylvania with a degree in Social Work.  Her main interests include: social activism, traveling, and attempting to learn new languages.

We interviewed Lauren to find out a little more about her as well as gain insight about our project.

What are your educational aspirations?

As of right now, I am focused on gaining work experience and building a career.  My aspiration would be to use my educational background to try to make the world a better place in some small way.  I have spent the better part of my life in a classroom, and now is the time to take everything that I have learned and put it to use in the “real world.”

Despite having no immediate plans to continue my education, I would like to take several Swahili classes, to become more familiar with the language.

Where do you see yourself in your career 10 years from now?

Ten years from now I would like to own my own business, possibly a non-profit, and continue to fight for social justice.  Ideally I would love a job that would allow me to directly impact my local community, while also attempting to affect positive social change on a global scale as well.  I would love to be work to address health disparities that exist for so much of the world’s population.

What personal goals are you working toward right now?

Right now I am attempting to teach myself Swahili.  I have a limited working knowledge of the language, but I would ultimately like to become fluent one day.

swahili quote

I have also been focused on remembering the importance of self-care.  Life can become chaotic and overwhelming, but every day I try to do something for myself. I have recently begun meditating, which greatly contributes to my self-care.

What do you like about the SOVA project?

I love the idea of engaging people and bringing them together through an online platform.  I think that the SOVA project is an innovative idea and could positively impact on so many people.  I am a firm believer that in order to help people you have to meet them where they are at, and the SOVA project does a fantastic job of this.

What do you think are some of the barriers to the project gaining speed?

I believe the greatest barrier to getting the project to gain speed would be the registered users not logging on, reading, and commenting on a regular basis.  If every registered user for the website commented at least once a month, the website would see a lot more traffic and an online community could really begin to take shape.

What do you think are some of the strengths the project already has?

Just like the greatest barrier, I believe the greatest strength of the SOVA project would be the registered users.  There are several users that regularly log on and comment on the various blog posts.  Due to the number of registered users, it is proof that there is a need for an intervention of this type.  The users are the backbone of the SOVA project and are the ones that create that online supportive community.

Summer Research Student Day 2016

Yesterday was the 2016 Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC Summer Student Research Poster Day. Our summer students, Amie and Anh presented their posters on the SOVA Project.

Amie spent this summer working  hard on engaging youth and parents to check out the sites, comment, and get more involved. For her poster, she looked at whether use of the site increased with some of her strategies, like doing a pet photo contest!

Anh examined our baseline data on adolescents and young adults who were involved in giving us feedback on the SOVA sites. She was specifically interested to see if characteristics of positive youth development, such as caring, correlated with depression severity.

We thank them for their awesome work and enthusiasm this summer and wish them the best of luck!

 

 

TEAM SPOTLIGHT: Amie DiTomasso

Meet Amie DiTomasso, our Moderator Supervisor. Amie is a graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh in the Combined Public Health/Social Work program. She is also a certified yoga instructor. Her main interests include: working with adolescents and young adults, promoting positive health, playing the guitar, and teaching or practicing hot vinyasa yoga.

We interviewed Amie to find out a little more about her as well as gain some insight about our project.

Amie Face

What are your educational aspirations? 

Right now I am very focused on completing my dual master’s program in Public Health and Social Work at Pitt. I am currently working on draft two of my master’s thesis! I plan to graduate in August and jump right into work. Longer term, I aspire to achieve a Ph.D. in Public Health.

In addition to my academic aspirations, I hope to continue my yoga certifications. Right now I am a registered yoga teacher (RYT) in a 200 hour program. I would love to complete my 500 hour certification in the future.

Where do you see yourself in your career 10 years from now?

            Ten years from now I hope to have completed my Ph.D. and would like to be jointly working in the non-profit and academic sectors. I want to design, implement, and evaluate healthy lifestyle programs (especially geared towards positive reproductive sexual health) for adolescents. I would love to teach part-time for undergraduate or graduate level students who are interested in community and clinical research. In addition, I hope to create and evaluate a combined behavioral health and yoga therapy program geared towards helping young women who have experienced interpersonal violence.

What personal goals are you working toward right now?

            Well, not long agAmie Yogao I was working on a stable handstand yoga practice! Recently however, I needed surgery on my foot and am currently focused on healing (it is important to listen to your body!). I’ve also been working on singing while playing the guitar which, in my opinion, is very challenging but a lot of fun!

What do you like about the SOVA project?

            I love the overarching goals of the SOVA project! I think creating a safe online community for young people is SO important! There is so much information out there and it can be so tough to sort through all of it. I think SOVA is doing a fantastic job at posting accurate, useful, and relatable information. I really like that SOVA encourages users to get involved through blogging and commenting and that SOVA welcomes all feedback, positive or negative!

What do you think are some of the barriers to the project gaining speed?

            It can be tough to put yourself out there and share your experiences with others. I think it’s challenging to get SOVA and WiseSOVA members to engage with each other, but it’s helpful to remember these are sites that promote peer support! On the backend there is so much hard work that goes into every little detail, once the SOVA team works out some of those tiny details (or kinks) I believe the project can soar!

What do you think are some of the strengths the project already has?

First off, I think the SOVA team is superb! Our team members have a variety of backgrounds and experiences that we can use to share and learn from one another. I think a major project strength is the usability of the website and the continued efforts to make improvements. The project has the ability to reach people from all over the place and is such a great resource for young people and even parents. In addition, the project already has a number of all-star users who regularly engage with the site and the team. I am very excited to be a part of this project and can’t wait to hear from you!

 

Presenting for the first time ever, the SOVAProject Video!

Have you heard about the PInCh award? This year the University of Pittsburgh is sponsoring its 4th innovation challenge. During Round 1, teams are asked to submit a 2 minute video to:

  1. define a vital health problem
  2. propose a bold solution
  3. introduce our team members

This was tricky! but we managed to put it all together. My favorite part of this video is the clips of all of our wonderful team members – I am very proud and grateful for you all! This year Katrina has done an excellent job maintaining the SOVAproject blog to keep our stakeholders up to date with our progress and with interesting news about mental health in adolescents and technology.

Check it out below and let us know if you have any feedback! Wish us luck!

Join our advisory board!

SOVA would not be where it is without our stakeholders! We knew from the start that user design is important to designing the SOVA websites. We did not realize how important it would be to really every step in the research process. Depression and anxiety are such an individual experience that affect so many people – adolescents, young adults, teachers, counselors, therapists, parents, religious figures, medical providers… the list goes on and on. With 1 in 5 of us experiencing mental illness, we know in some way – whether us or a loved one – it affects us all. The more we listen to others, the more likely we are to develop an intervention that meets the needs of adolescents and their parents.

They provide us with a context, take us out of our “research world,” and challenge us with real life questions, forcing us to grow!

We have many stakeholders but our core team consists of the SOVA advisory board. Advisory board members consist of adolescents and adults who have an interest in advocating for adolescents with symptoms of depression or anxiety. Maybe they have experienced it, their children have, or they take care of others through their careers or community advocacy who experience depression or anxiety. Our SOVA advisory board meets about 4 times a year. In between meetings, individuals may take on individual projects as well, but that is not mandatory. In the past, our advisory board has helped give us vital feedback about our website design, provided connections to community organizations, and about how we can reach out to new users. They provide us with a context, take us out of our “research world,” and challenge us with real life questions, forcing us to grow!

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If you are interested in getting involved and think you could commit to about 4 in person meetings a year in Pittsburgh, please take our brief survey. Looking forward to hearing from you!

Team Spotlight: Kripa Venkatakrishnan

Meet Kripa Venkatakrishnan, our new Research Assistant. Kripa is an undergraduate student at the University of Pittsburgh majoring in Molecular Biology with a focus on cell and developmental biology. With an interest in making healthcare more accessible to the under-served populations of the world. We interviewed Kripa to find out a little more about her as well as gain some insight about our project.

kripa

 

What are your educational aspirations? 

I’m currently in between two career paths (although they’re closely related in some aspects). For the longest time I’ve always thought and had the desire to go to medical school and become a doctor (in pediatrics or oncology), however, I’ve recently been exposed to a lot of public health issues/cases and it’s really been peaking my interest. I believe that I would also be very happy to pursue a Master’s in Public Health as well. 

Where do you see yourself in your career 10 years from now?

I can see myself either getting through med school or continuing with clinical public health research. I could also see myself travelling around the world or trying to do something spontaneous like that. 

What personal goals are you working toward right now?

Academically, I really wanted to get involved in some psychological and behavioral research projects (which SOVA is clearly perfect for) and witness as many types of research as I can.  Also, my mom and my dad speak 4 different languages and I’m trying to catch up to them and learn as many more as I can. 

What do you like about the SOVA project?

I think the tie that SOVA makes with social media and depression/anxiety is very interesting and unique in comparison to research studies that I have previously been exposed to. It is more than well known that social media is playing a greater part in our lives by the day, and I think creating a forum where users and moderators can channel social media in a way that’s productive and healthy is very progressive and clever, especially when this forum can eventually be proven to drive positive results. But in addition to just that, the SOVA project hits very close to home for me as I once was an adolescent who also faced depression and anxiety. Helping others to not feel the same way I felt or lessen the duration of their struggles is the one of most driving feelings for me and is what makes me like the SOVA project so much.

What do you think are some of the barriers to the project gaining speed?

I definitely think that the biggest barrier would be the marketing of the project to the participants, but on that same note it’s definitely far from impossible. What I believe to be the biggest hurdle for participants is the initial decision to try it out especially at a time in their lives when motivation may be low. However, I think that once that is overcome, participants will realize how much SOVA has to offer to the quality of their life. It’s always just that initial pitch. 

What do you think are some of the strengths the project already has?

The first time I first went onto the SOVA website, I could immediately tell that it was already very established, organized, and up to date which is great from a usability standpoint. But in addition to that, coming into my first day of work, meeting everyone and seeing how supportive, motivated, and committed everyone was, really made the biggest positive impact on me (at least from an outsider’s perspective). I think that the passion that everyone exudes will always be one of the biggest strengths that SOVA will have especially with the nature of the research it’s exploring and I think everyone has so much to offer! 

 

 

Team Spotlight: Kaitlin Glover

Meet Katilin Glover, one of our Master of Social Work graduate interns.  We interviewed Katilin to find out a little more about her as well as gain some insight about our project.

kaitlin2

What are your educational aspirations?

I am working on my Master’s in Social Work with a certificate in mental health. Someday, I would also like to enter a doctoral program. I am interesting in working with young children or adolescents in the mental health field. I am also interested in research about the LGBTQ community and how it affects mental health.

Where do you see yourself in your career 10 years from now?

I see myself having a job in the field of research or clinical populations. I also will hopefully be close to receiving my doctorate. One of my main goals is to move to North Carolina after graduating because I love the weather!

What personal goals are you working toward right now?

I’m working on graduating with my MSW. I am also in the process of converting to a more active and healthy lifestyle by running 4 miles a day, lifting, and eating better foods!

What do you like about the SOVA project?

I think it’s awesome that we are trying to create an online community. There are so many barriers for treatment and by creating an online environment we can increase the avenues to access greatly. I love the idea of people being able to communicate with others who are feeling just like them, with just the click of a button.

What do you think are some of the barriers to the project gaining speed?

I think with any new project starting out, it’s hard to find the first few individuals that are going to use the site. I have confidence that it will pick up tremendously once people get to know navigating the website and feel comfortable sharing personal experiences anonymously.

What do you think are some of the strengths the project already has?

The SOVA research team is such an awesome and motivated group of people! It really makes working on this project enjoyable and exciting. The SOVA and WISESOVA pages are also very user friendly. The information is very interesting and I can see it helping a lot of people!

New Team Members

kaitlin2We are pleased to have two Master of Social Work Graduate Interns to our SOVA Project team! Katilin Glover has her Bachelors degree in Psychology & Sociology from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Currently, she is working on her MSW with a focus on mental health at the University of Pittsburgh.  She has an interest in creating a safe and equal environment for all LGBTQ members everywhere and destigmatizing mental illness.

katrinakeane_sovaKatrina Keane has a BS in Political Science from East Carolina University, and is a Licensed Massage Therapist, and foster parent. She currently is working toward her MSW at the University of Pittsburgh with a concentration in Community, Organization, and Social Action (COSA).  If Katrina had a magic wand she would eliminate child abuse in all its forms forever and have free ice cream everyday.

 

Team Spotlight: Alex DeMand

Meet Alex DeMand, researcher at the University of Pittsburgh as well as a Masters of Science in Applied Developmental Psychology student.  We interviewed Alex to find out a little more about her as well as gain some insight about our project.

ADeMand_bike

 

What are your educational aspirations?

My educational aspirations, as of now, are to graduate with my Master’s in Applied Developmental Psychology. After a few years, I’d like to reapply to graduate school to attain my Doctorate in Clinical Psychology. I am interested in working with individuals with developmental disorders like Autism in clinical and community settings.

Where do you see yourself in your career 10 years from now?

I see myself still in the field of research and hopefully working with clinical populations. I’d like to be working somewhere out in California closer to my family also!

What personal goals are you working toward right now?

I am working on graduating with my Master’s in Applied Developmental Psychology, and working on writing a couple of manuscripts. In the upcoming year I am hoping to also start riding my bike more and maybe start a blog of my own about everyday environmentalism!

What do you like about the SOVA project?

What I like most about the SOVA project is the online platform. I think this is a really unique way to reach out to a whole array of people to create an online community of supportive people. I really like that users get to contribute to the site and start honest and sincere conversations with each other. I think that the SOVA project is using technology, and it’s role in the lives of people, to its advantage.

What do you think are some of the barriers to the project gaining speed?

I think that the largest barrier, like with any website, is trying to get the first users onto the website is very difficult. I think that once users start to explore the website and contribute to the conversations and content of the website- this will make the website hard to slow down!

What do you think are some of the strengths the project already has?

There are so many strengths of the project! We have an awesome online platform that we are working from which enables the website to be user friendly and filled with interesting and insightful knowledge. The SOVA project also has an awesome and supportive research team that is ready to work online with the users.