The University of Connecticut’s Institute for Collaboration on Health, Intervention, and Policy (InCHIP) has announced the recipients of its first-ever Dissertation Assistantship Award.
The assistantship aims to fill a gap at UConn by providing support to graduate students in the social sciences as they complete dissertations related to human health. In addition to the financial support, awardees will benefit from InCHIP’s network by working alongside InCHIP investigators who are leaders in the fields of public health and applied social and behavioral research.
“We are excited to have received many outstanding applications for InCHIP’s inaugural Dissertation Assistantship Award and thrilled to congratulate Maritza Vasquez Reyes and Jude Ssenyonjo on their impressive proposals,” says Tricia Leahey, Ph.D., Interim Director of InCHIP. “Their social justice and global health research projects are innovative, timely, and have the potential for significant public health impact.”
Maritza Vasquez Reyes, a Ph.D. candidate in the School of Social Work, will work with her major advisor, Caitlin Elsaesser, associate professor in the UConn School of Social Work, to examine how youth organizations support well-being and sustain youth engagement in positive social change.
Vasquez Reyes worked as a medical social worker and case manager at Vassar Brothers Medical Center in Poughkeepsie, NY for 12 years. Her research interests include economic and social justice, particularly poverty and inequality issues and policies, community organizing, and international social work. Vasquez Reyes feels passionate about social change at the local, national, and international levels and plans to pursue an academic career in social work and critical youth studies.
“My upbringing in a developing country, years of schooling in the fields of social work and sociology, and my experience as a medical social worker and in research all led to my interest in scholarship addressing the wellbeing of youth of color who live in neighborhoods with high rates of violence,” said Vasquez Reyes. “This award will provide me with the support to focus on my dissertation data analysis and writing, enabling me to graduate next year.”
Jude Ssenyonjo is a Ph.D. candidate in health promotion sciences at the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources. Under the supervision of Michael Copenhaver, a professor in the Department of Allied Health Sciences (College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources), Ssenyonjo’s dissertation will examine HIV prevention among female sex workers in Uganda and evaluate the efficacy of a behavioral intervention to promote Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), HIV testing and counseling, and condom use.
“Uganda is still one of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa with a disproportionately high HIV prevalence compared to other nations and the incidence of HIV in female sex workers is significantly higher than the national prevalence. This prompted my interest to engage in this research to understand the barriers to safer sex practices and engage female sex workers to design a tailored health intervention using PrEP, HIV testing, and promoting condom usage to reduce the prevalence of HIV in this sub-group,” said Ssenyonjo. “The Dissertation Assistantship will support my research and provide a platform to showcase my academic work in behavioral science research.”
Ssenyonjo has 22 years of experience in public health, designing and implementing intervention strategies and social and behavior change (SBC) programs in HIV/AIDS, Malaria, Tuberculosis, family planning, nutrition, and maternal and child health and Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19).