Co-Lab Members


Anamika Barman-Adhikari

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Anamika Barman-Adhikari, PhD

University of Denver
Denver, CO

Specialty: Social Networks and Substance Use

Anamika Barman-Adhikari, PhD is an assistant professor of Social Work at the University of Denver. Her experiences in research, policy, and clinical services have coalesced in her current scholarly goals and agenda. These experiences have collectively helped her to formulate an academic agenda, which is devoted to the prevention of HIV and substance use among high-risk youth and other vulnerable populations. Her research interests are broadly centered on understanding the social-contextual determinants of risk and protective behaviors among vulnerable populations, such as homeless and minority youth. Her research broadly has four core foci: 1) survey-based research examining how face to face social networks and norms shape the risk and protective behaviors of marginalized populations such as homeless youth; 2) understanding digital practices among homeless and other minority youth and young adult populations; 3) developing and disseminating programs that utilize innovative technology to increase social connectedness and preventive behaviors in these populations and 4) using innovative observational and computational methods to evaluate interactions in both face-to-face and online social networks. The goal of this research is to inform prevention interventions that acknowledge these contextual environments and utilize social network methodology to determine how these new ideas can be disseminated and sustained using a community-based participatory research approach.


Kimberly Bender

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Kimberly Bender, PhD

University of Denver
Denver, CO
Specialty: Mental Health

Kimberly Bender, PhD is a professor of social work and Associate Dean of Doctoral Education in the Graduate School of Social Work at the University of Denver. Her area of expertise is development and adaptation of interventions to prevent adolescent problem behavior. A majority of her work has narrowed in on psychosocial interventions for homeless youth. She has conducted a five-state multi-site research project with homeless youth through shelter, drop-in, and transitional housing services to better understand risk and protective factors in this population. She has published extensively in the areas of substance use, trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder, and broader mental health concerns experienced by homeless youth. Dr. Bender currently serves as principal investigator on a NIDA-funded three-year randomized trial of a mindfulness-based cognitive intervention to prevent victimization and substance among shelter youth. She earned the university-wide Distinguished Scholar Award in 2015, and in 2014 she was designated Public Good Faculty of the Year in acknowledgement of outstanding commitment to the public good through community-engaged research. Dr. Bender teaches courses in mental health intervention with youth and research method. She has been recognized with several student-nominated awards, including the Excellence in Mentoring Doctoral Students Award in 2013 and 2015, and the Excellence in Teaching Award in 2010.


Kristin Ferguson

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Kristin Ferguson, PhD

Arizona State University
Phoenix, AZ

Specialty: Employment

Kristin M. Ferguson, PhD, MSW is an associate professor at the Arizona State University School of Social Work and the Director of the ASU Center for Human Capital and Youth Development. Her research focuses on understanding and mitigating the environmental and psychosocial factors that contribute to youth homelessness. Her intervention research is largely participatory and community-based, in which she partners with social service organizations to design, implement, and evaluate the feasibility and effectiveness of interventions for homeless youth that integrate employment and clinical services, including supported employment and social enterprises. Dr. Ferguson also focuses on understanding the service gaps and clinical and vocational needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning (LGBTQ) homeless young adults. To inform her intervention research, since 2008 Dr. Ferguson has been working with homeless youth researchers across seven U.S. cities to collect data on homeless youths’ risk and resilience characteristics, including housing status, transience, educational and employment history, substance use, mental health, and coping skills. Collectively, these findings affirm distinct patterns across cities and suggest the need to develop customized interventions by city for homeless young people.

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Hsun-Ta Hsu

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Hsun-Ta Hsu, PhD

University of Missouri
Columbia, MO
Specialty: Social Networks and Sexual Activity

Hsun-Ta Hsu, PhD is an assistant professor at the University of Missouri School of Social Work. His  focus is on health and health disparities of homelessness. He investigates both risk and protective factors for this population such as personal characteristics, social network properties, and community environment. His intent is to develop or adapt interventions to meet prominent needs. Dr. Hsu’s dissertation was focused on reduction of HIV risk in homeless men through evidence-based (EB) interventions. From this work, he modified and finalized an evidence-based intervention manual that he plans to pilot within shelter agencies. This intervention aims to increase homeless men’s consistent use of condoms, decrease risky sexual activities, and decrease their number of sex partners. In the process of developing the modified EB intervention manual, he conducted focus groups with both shelter agency providers and homeless men, asking three questions: Is addressing HIV a critical issue for you, is addressing HIV a priority for you, and what should be addressed in an HIV intervention? For homeless men, HIV was both a critical issue and priority to be addressed compared to providers who felt that HIV was a critical issue but not a priority. The providers’ priority was to provide housing for the homeless populations. In other research, Dr. Hsu investigated perceived safety and security, and resulting effects, of homeless individuals who just transitioned from homeless to permanent supportive housing (PSH). He supplemented an existing project with block-based neighborhood observation data to understand the relationship between the perceived safety and security among individuals transitioned to PSH and the neighborhood characteristics of their assigned housing locations. Dr. Hsu’s homelessness research has previously focused on large metropolitan areas. He is interested in conducting similar research in smaller, more rural towns and comparing the results to his previous findings. Again, the development of effective evidence-based interventions to address homeless individuals’ health related needs is his ultimate goal.


Sarah Narendorf

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Sarah Narendorf, PhD

University of Houston
Houston, TX

Specialty: Mental Health

Sarah Narendorf, MSW, PhD is an assistant professor of social work at the University of Houston. She has focused her research on ensuring a successful transition to adulthood for marginalized young people. She is particularly interested in the transition to young adulthood for youth with mental disorders who face additional challenges including homelessness and involvement in foster care or the juvenile justice system. This interest has led her to investigate where, when, and what type of services can most effectively support these young people as they navigate both developmental and institutional transitions. Dr. Narendorf's interest in mental health services stems from a decade of practice experience working with children, youth, and adults across the continuum of care from school outreach to the maximum security unit of a state mental hospital. Her interest in adolescent mental health began in Houston through her work doing street outreach with Youth Advocates, Inc. and Communities in Schools. Her practice experience informs both her teaching and research and has fueled her desire to ensure that her research is relevant to social work practitioners. Dr. Narendorf received her BA from Rice University, her MSW from the University of Houston and her PhD in Philosophy in Social Work from Washington University.She is a licensed clinical social worker.



Robin Petering

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Robin Petering, PhD

University of Southern California
Los Angeles, CA
Specialty Area: Violence

Robin P. Petering, PhD, MSW is a recent graduate from the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work. Her research is centered on understanding the social determinants of risk behaviors among vulnerable youth populations such as homeless. Her focus has previously been on understanding both interpersonal and intimate partner violence within homeless youth, a subject that is relatively understudied. Utilizing innovative research methods, her work aims to elucidate patterns in social networks of youth and how this relates to risk and protective behavior. The goal of Dr. Petering's research is to create innovative prevention techniques that consider the importance of social-environments and to determine how these new ideas can be disseminated and sustained using a community based participatory research approach. She was funded with a National Institute of Health NRSA F31 fellowship that will support her continued research on gang involved homeless youth (F31-MH- 108446-01A1). Dr. Petering is currently the lead methodologist for the Greater Los Angeles homeless youth count. She also serves as key personnel on the California HIV/AIDS Research Program (CHRP) grant entitled “Peers and Social Media to Promote HIV Testing and Treatment for Homeless Youth” which will test the effectiveness of artificial intelligence to reduce HIV risk taking behaviors in homeless youth populations.


Diane Santa Maria

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University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston Cizik School of Nursing
Houston, TX

Specialty: HIV/STI/pregnancy prevention among homeless and at-risk youth

Diane Santa Maria, DrPH RN, is an Assistant Professor and the Dorothy T. Nicholson Distinguished Professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston Cizik School of Nursing. She is adjunct faculty in the Center for Health Promotion and Research at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) School of Public Health and a Visiting Professor at the University of California San Francisco Center for AIDS Prevention Studies. Dr. Santa Maria has extensive experience in public health nursing and adolescent health, particularly with HIV/STI and pregnancy prevention, including intervention development, dissemination, and determinants research. She has served as the principal investigator (PI) and program director of research and demonstration grants on multiple NIH-, CDC-, ACF-, and foundation-funded HIV/STI and pregnancy prevention projects. With wide-ranging experience working in underserved communities in the U.S. and abroad, her research is primarily with homeless youth and at-risk youth and their families. Her work aims to increase our understanding of the behavioral, social, environmental, and real-time factors that influence engagement in sexual risk behaviors and put one at risk for experiencing sexual assault, partner violence, and human trafficking. She is currently conducting mixed methods research using ecological momentary assessments and qualitative methods, and testing nurse case management HIV prevention intervention models. She is PI of the Homeless Youth Healthcare Initiative to inform intervention development to increase healthcare utilization among homeless youth and young adults. Dr. Santa Maria is also PI on a NIH-NICHD funded randomized controlled trial of a nurse-led sexual health and HPV vaccination intervention with at-risk youth. Dr. Santa Maria received her BSN from Ohio State University, her MSN in Public Health Nursing from Case Western Reserve University, and her DrPH in Health Promotion and Behavioral Sciences from the UTHealth School of Public Health.


Jama Shelton, PhD

Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College
New York, NY

Specialty: Housing and LGBTQ Issues

Jama Shelton, MSW, PhD is an Assistant Professor at the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College. Dr. Shelton’s research examines the needs and experiences of LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness and the service providers with whom they work. In particular, Dr. Shelton is interested in identifying and addressing systemic barriers rooted in hetero/cisgenderism that frequently constrain the successful transition out of homelessness for LGBTQ youth and young adults. Previously, Dr. Shelton served as the Deputy Executive Director of the True Colors Fund. In this role, Dr. Shelton was engaged in systemic change efforts directly informed by years of direct practice experience. Having worked in the areas of clinical practice with LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness, as well as program development, evaluation, research, technical assistance and training, Dr. Shelton brings a comprehensive understanding of the issues facing both LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness and also the service providers with whom they work. Most recently, Dr. Shelton co-edited the peer-reviewed text here Am I Going to Go? Intersectional Approaches to Ending LGBTQ2S Youth Homelessness in Canada and the US, published by the Canadian Homelessness Research Network Press. 

Co-Lab Doctoral and Graduate Members


Jonah Dechants

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Jonah DeChants

University of Denver
Denver, CO

PhD candidate in Social Work

Jonah DeChants is a third year doctoral student at the University of Denver's Graduate School of Social Work (GSSW). He studies the experiences of homeless youth, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth, and approaches to youth empowerment. Prior to coming to GSSW, Jonah worked for the Philadelphia Department of Human Services, supervising a federal planning grant that examined risk and protective factors of homelessness among youth aging out of foster care. Jonah has also worked for the LGBT Center at the University of Pennsylvania and Seeding Change, of Kalamazoo, Michigan. He earned his Master of Social Policy from the University of Pennsylvania's School of Social Policy and Practice and his Bachelor of Arts from Kalamazoo College. He is also an alum of the AmeriCorps VISTA Program.

Co-Lab Team


Julie Chiron

Know it Out Loud

Julie Chiron

Know it Out Loud
Julie Chiron is the founder of Know it Out Loud, a strategic communications firm for the research community. She has 25 years of experience partnering with universities, non-profits, corporations and startups to communicate the relevance, value, and impact of their efforts.  For 15 years she held leadership roles in fundraising communications at some of the top research universities in the country. She specializes in advising researchers on how to present their work so that it engages with the public and attracts sustained investment. 

Shonelle Sosa

Shonelle Sosa
Shonelle Sosa graduated from the University of Hawaii at Manoa with a Bachelor’s of Arts in Studio Art (graphic design) and a Bachelor’s of Arts in Information and Computer Sciences (human-computer interaction). She is currently a freelance graphic designer with project experience including book layout design, icons, photo-editing, infographics, stationary design, and poster and flyer designs. She is experienced in Adobe Photoshop, InDesign, and Illustrator.