The week preceding a dissertation defense can be tense for doctoral candidates. But for the Ozanian household, it was a particularly eventful week. Al and Rhonda Ozanian, both 2003 PhD candidates at the Columbia School of Social Work, defended their respective dissertations on the same day at the same time ñ his on multimedia substance abuse interventions and hers on patient satisfaction in mental health services.

“There was a lot of pacing the floors in our house,” says Rhonda. “It was a very interesting couple of days.”

The Ozanians, who have been married for 13 years and are both enlisted in the Air Force, moved to New York with their two children from San Antonio in order to pursue their doctorates in social work. “We came to CUSSW because it had a diverse program in policy and practice,” says Rhonda, “and we wanted to expose our children to an urban environment.” After graduation, the Ozanian family will head to St. Louis where Al will work in behavioral health under the Air Force Surgeon General and Rhonda will embark on a family practice residency.

The Ozanians typify what is one of the CUSSWís largest, most diverse and distinctive doctoral classes in the School’s history. With eighteen graduates this year, the class stands apart from others in terms of size alone. But the 2003 PhD class is also marked by richness in diversity both in terms of the graduates’ histories and career aspirations. The range of doctoral dissertation topics is noteworthy: from identity issues amongst South Asian women to ramifications of welfare-to-work programs and African-American women’s participation in HIV-prevention programs to political participation among gay and lesbian senior citizens.

This year’s PhD class was highly international, with graduates from Brazil, China, South Korea, Taiwan, Trinidad and Vietnam. Brian Lam is one such PhD graduate. A native of Vietnam, Lam spent two years in a Malaysian refugee camp before immigrating to California. Today, Lam considers his years in the refugee camp to have been a transforming experience. “There was a great deal of hardship, but it cultivated in me important values,” says Lam, “and strengthened my resilience and hardiness.”

Lam’s past also shaped his career goals at CUSSW.

“When I first immigrated, I never thought Iíd be where I am today. I was given an opportunity to excel. I would not be at this level in Vietnam today because of the limited resources there,” says Lam. Going forward as a social worker, Lam says, he will be in a position to return the favor: by giving others the resources and opportunities he struggled to attain. “The important thing for social workers to remember is that we can help provide others with the resources and opportunities to excel.” After graduation, Lam will assume an appointment as an assistant professor at California State University at Long Beach.

Lisa Ferri
May 22, 2003

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