Dean’s Remarks & Faculty Panel

Dean Melissa Begg

Dr. Melissa Begg is a population health scientist with 30 years of experience and a longstanding commitment to developing the strongest possible evidence base for human health and well-being. Her early research focused on technical methods for evaluating associations from correlated data (such as sibling and family studies), especially as applied to early life determinants of adult health. Dr. Begg has promoted innovation in graduate health professional education, including the implementation of a major redesign of the Columbia MPH curriculum, emphasizing interdisciplinary engagement, practical skill-building, and leadership training for health professionals at all levels. In collaboration with public health and social work colleagues, she participated in launching a new cultural competency training program for MPH students, co-authoring a manuscript on the results. She formerly served as Vice Provost for Academic Programs for Columbia University and Co-Director of the Irving Institute for Clinical and Translational Research.

Throughout her career, Dr. Begg has developed and directed a number of educational and career development programs to support success in interdisciplinary team science. She has led two NIH-funded training programs to promote diversity: one aimed at undergraduates from under-represented groups, introducing them to careers in the population health sciences; and one aimed at under-represented junior faculty, providing grant-writing advice, career guidance, and mentorship. In 2006, Begg received both the University-wide Presidential Award for Outstanding Teaching and the Mailman School Teaching Award from the Graduating Class. She also received the 2013 ASPPH/Pfizer Award for Teaching Excellence. Over the past 15 years as an academic administrator, she has focused on convening interdisciplinary scientific teams, developing innovative curricula, creating mentorship programs, and enhancing diversity in the research workforce.

Dr. Begg received a Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics from Fairfield University and a Doctor of Science in Biostatistics from the Harvard School of Public Health.

Richard Hara

Dr. Richard Hara is a Lecturer at the Columbia School of Social Work, where he teaches courses on direct practice, clinical practice evaluation, and health care policy. He previously served as a clinical social worker at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, and as Director of Online Services at CancerCare, in which role he managed a national program of online support groups serving the needs of cancer patients and caregivers.

Dr. Hara has presented on cultural competence in oncology social work, end-of-life and bereavement counseling, and the use of online communication with clients in a clinical context. He co-authored a guide for cancer caregiving, and has published articles on cancer survivorship, domestic violence screening, and intervention issues in the oncology population. He contributed a chapter on bereavement groups to the Handbook of Oncology Social Work (Oxford University Press, 2015). He has been the principal investigator for an institutional training grant from the American Cancer Society for second year MSW students in clinical oncology social work.

Natasha C. Johnson

Dr. Natasha Johnson is a personality psychologist and social work scholar who utilizes quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods to assess culturally-relevant developmental processes that facilitate resilience for Black youth. Her three research foci are: (1) social identities, (2) vulnerability and resilience in the context of racial discrimination, and (3) racism awareness. She aims to reduce mental health disparities by developing and evaluating sustainable interventions that promote Black youth’s wellness. Dr. Johnson’s current work examines racism awareness development, a phenomenon defined as the cognitive process through which a person knows about, makes meaning of, and understands racial inequality. Her goal is to build empirical evidence for racism awareness influence on Black youths’ development and experiences. She is also developing a psychometric tool, using qualitative and quantitative methods, that will capture youths’ understanding of racial inequality across historical, individual, interpersonal, and institutional contexts. This multidimensional scale of racism awareness will advance scientific knowledge on the developmental process of racism awareness and support intervention programs that address race-related stress.

Dr. Johnson is a Detroit native and Spelman alumna, who earned her MSW and joint PhD in Social Work and Psychology at the University of Michigan.

Ovita Williams

Dr. Ovita Williams is Executive Director of the Action Lab for Social Justice and Lecturer of Discipline at Columbia School of Social Work. During her clinical practice as a social worker, Dr. Williams worked with survivors of intimate partner violence in the forensic social work arena with ten years of experience as the Director of Clinical Services in the Counseling Services Unit at the Kings County District Attorney’s Office. Prior to this position, Dr. Williams was a
child and family therapist at the Children’s Aid Society. She is currently involved in racial equity facilitation and committed to social justice and ending gender-based violence.

Dr. Williams has developed and facilitated interactive workshops for social workers, managers, and various practitioners at organizations on facilitating challenging dialogues around race, class, gender, sexual orientation and intersecting identities. At Columbia, Dr. Williams has worked with students, alumni, faculty and administrators on the development of a new course Decolonizing Social Work through a power, race, oppression, privilege framework. The course centers dismantling anti-Black racism and white supremacy culture. She is coauthor of Learning to Teach, Teaching to Learn: A guide for social work field education (2019) and contributed a chapter to The enduring, invisible, and ubiquitous centrality of whiteness, (2022), Ed. Kenneth Hardy.

A graduate of Vassar College (’90) and Columbia University (’93), Dr. Williams received her doctorate from the City University of New York Graduate Center, Silberman School of Social Welfare in New York City.
Dr. Williams was born in Guyana, South America and calls Brooklyn, New York home. The eldest of four brave women, daughter to a strong woman and mother to a beautiful daughter, Dr.Williams is committed to celebrating womanhood and sisterhood. She enjoys exploring beaches, locating lighthouses and random road trips.

Amy Kapadia

Dr. Amy Kapadia (she/her, hers) is a Lecturer in Discipline at the Columbia School of Social Work. Her research interests stem from community-based clinical work within the field of serious mental illness and substance use and include the mental health effects of discrimination and stigma among marginalized groups, and psychoeducation intervention development to enhance community-centered mental health capacity-building. Dr. Kapadia is a Co-Principal Investigator for the Trust-Building through Truth-Telling project aimed to address the impact of COVID-19 among community and spiritual leaders within marginalized communities to enhance mental health recovery, and to address mistrust caused by institutional racism and discrimination.

Dr. Kapadia teaches clinical, research, and programming courses within the Advanced Clinical and Integrated Practice and Programming tracks. She also teaches Human Behavior and the Social Environment, Stigma and Mental Health, and Evidence-Based Practice for People with Serious Mental Health Challenges. She is a Co-Principal Investigator for the New York State Office of Mental Health Evidence Based Practice Project that partners with schools of social work in New York to provide training and education for MSW students in recovery-oriented evidence-based practices for adults with serious mental health challenges. In her teaching and other work, Dr. Kapadia embodies anti-oppressive, intersectional, cross-systems and strengths-based approaches that center collaborative learning, shared experiences, and is committed to on-going self-reflection.

When not working, Dr. Kapadia enjoys spending time with her little ones, reading and taking long walks along the Hudson River. Dr. Kapadia holds a PhD from the Columbia School of Social Work.

Charles Lea

Dr. Charles H. Lea III is an Assistant Professor of Social Work at Columbia University and a Faculty Affiliate of the Columbia Population Research Center. He uses qualitative, mixed, art, and community-based and youth participatory research methods to investigate structural and cultural determinants of health and well-being among Black youth and young adults at risk and involved with the juvenile/criminal legal system. His program of research focuses on (1) anti-Black racism as a driver of racial inequities in educational, health (mental, substance use, HIV/STI), and carceral outcomes; (2) cultural predictors of educational and health equity; and (3) the implementation of multilevel, culturally grounded health prevention and treatment interventions. Through this work, Dr. Lea aims to develop knowledge and build theories that inform racially just and liberatory policies, programs, and practices that promote healing and healthy development among Black youth and young adults, especially young men, and lessen their risk for health-compromising behaviors, arrest, incarceration, and recidivism.

Dr. Lea’s research is informed by his practice experience with racial/ethnic minoritized young people in community, educational, and correctional settings; prior research on reentry, school reform, and workforce and youth development policies, programs, and practices; and training in qualitative methodology and participatory action research. His research is also informed by his NIH T32 fellowship with the Indigenous, Substance Abuse, Medicines and Additions Research Training Program (I-SMAR), NIH T32 fellowship with the HIV/AIDS, Substance Use, and Trauma Training Program (HA-STTP), and NIH R25 fellowship with the Helping Everyone Achieve LifeTime Health Future Addiction Scientist Training Program (HEALTH-FAST).

Before joining the School of Social Work in 2022, Dr. Lea was an assistant professor of social work at the University of Washington and the University of Houston. He received his PhD in social welfare from the University of California, Los Angeles; MSW from the University of Michigan; and bachelor’s in sociology from the University of California, Berkeley.

Nkemka Anyiwo

Dr. Nkemka Anyiwo is an artist and youth advocate who is dedicated to supporting Black youth in cultivating loving and culturally affirmed realities where they can holistically thrive. She applies a multimethod, transdisciplinary approach to identify the cultural, communal, and contextual influences that shape how Black youth 1) make meaning of themselves and their society and 2) engage in practices to promote joy, social justice, and personal and collective wellness. Across this work, she engages media and creativity as a tool to foreground the lived realities and voices of Black youth.

Core to Dr. Anyiwo’s work is the conviction that the brilliance and innovation of Black youth are essential to knowledge production and social transformation. She seeks to work in community with youth, and the important figures in their lives, to design research projects, policies, and programs that are grounded in a developmental science centering a holistic vision of Black humanity.

Dr. Anyiwo earned her MSW and PhD in Social Work and Developmental Psychology from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and BAs in Psychology and African American Studies from the University of Maryland, College Park.

Personal Website:
Research Website:
Twitter: @NkemkaA

Matthea Marquart

Matthea Marquart is the Assistant Dean of Online Education at the Columbia School of Social Work. She collaborates with colleagues across the School, focusing on quality of experience for online MSW students and instructors. She also teaches Social Enterprise Administration.

Ms. Marquart previously served as the National Director of Training at Building Educated Leaders for Life, in which role she launched an award-winning blended e-learning and in-person training. She also served as President of the NYC Chapter of the National Organization for Women, and as Director of Foundation and Government Relations at Inform, Inc. She has been a member of the Community Resources Exchange Leadership Caucus for Early Career Executive Directors, and a blogger for New York Nonprofit Press.

Ms. Marquart has published articles related to online education and training, and has presented at conferences including the Social Work Distance Education Conference, the International Conference on E-Learning in the Workplace, the Online Learning Consortium’s International Conference, the National Organization for Women Conference, the Women Fighting Poverty Conference, and the Somos El Futuro Hispanic Conference. Recent publications include the EDUCAUSE Review article “Online Students Develop Marketable Professional Skills” and the co-authored book chapters “Instructional Strategies for Synchronous Components of Online Courses” and “That Human Element: Fostering Instructor Presence Through Online Instructional Videos.”

Ms. Marquart holds a BA in English from Emory University, during which time she completed a year at Oxford University and coursework at UC Berkeley, and an MSW from the Columbia School of Social Work. Her additional coursework includes a United Way of NYC Senior Fellowship in the Nonprofit Leadership Development Institute at Baruch College, and a Business Certificate from Columbia University, both completed by taking online courses.

Alumni and Student Panel

James Sampson Jr., MDiv., MSW

James Christopher Sampson Junior is a class of 2020 graduate at the illustrious Columbia University School of Social Work (CSSW). Before he arrived at CSSW, he enrolled at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., and completed his Master of Divinity program in 2016. He also graduated from Morehouse College in Atlanta, GA., in 2012. In 2017, James ordained at Saint Claire Missionary Baptist Church in Chicago, IL. Where he also served as an assistant pastor. After he graduated from seminary, he worked for the Syracuse City Public schools and volunteered at the Mary Nelson Center. During his time at CSSW, Reverend Sampson interned at the Urban Justice Center-Mental Health Project and a former intern at the Harlem United Adult Daycare Health Center. He provided services for clients who were HIV positive, Mental Illness, Substance Abuse, and other life-threatening illnesses. He was also a fellow for the Minority of Fellowship Program Counsel of Social Worker Education 2019-2020, a former board member of the National Association of Social Workers New York City Chapter; a member of Association of Black Social Workers New York City Chapter; as well as one of the former leaders of the Black Caucus as well. Currently he is a Yogi and the Social Worker of the Boy’s Club of NYC Gerry Clubhouse located in East Harlem.

Jennifer Morrison, MSW, MA

Jennie Morrison (she/her) has an interdisciplinary background, with experience in youth development, social work, oral history, and nonprofit communications. Jennie currently serves as the Communications Manager at Partnership for After School Education (PASE), a nonprofit that supports the afterschool practicum in New York City through professional development and capacity building services. Prior to joining the PASE team, Jennie worked in nonprofit and school-based settings in a variety of direct service, program management, and communications roles. After designing and leading out-of-school time and community engagement programs in public schools in Seattle, Washington at the beginning of her career, Jennie moved to New York City to pursue a graduate degree in social work at Columbia School of Social Work (CSSW), hoping to deepen her skill set for working with children, youth, and families. While at CSSW, Jennie studied on the Advanced Generalist Practice and Programming (AGPP) track, through which she discovered an interest in storytelling as a strategy for social change. This commitment to amplifying the voices of individuals closest to social justice issues, such as educational equity, in turn led her to pursue further training in nonprofit communications and oral history. At PASE, Jennie is thrilled to utilize her skills for ethical social impact storytelling in connection with her first area of professional passion: youth development. In addition to her MSW from Columbia School of Social Work, Jennie has a BA from Kenyon College and MA from the Columbia University Oral History Masters of Arts (OHMA) program.

Gipsy Castellanos, LCSW

Gipsy Castellanos is a first-generation Guatemalan American who grew up in Los Angeles CA. Gipsy is a CSSW grad, class of 2020. During her time at CSSW, Gipsy was a Latinx Caucus leader, PAC (Peer Advocacy Champion) leader, and an admissions ambassador. Gipsy was also a part of the POC graduation planning committee.

Gipsy’s experience includes medical social work and social justice advocacy. During the COVID-19 pandemic Gipsy worked in an emergency room in Los Angeles and returned to New York to work in the Manhattan courthouse with CASES. Ultimately her passion for medical social work called her back and has been working in adult liver transplant at Mount Sinai hospital for 2 years and palliative care social work for one year on the weekends. Eventually, Gipsy would like to become a hospital administrator for a children’s hospital to serve one of the most vulnerable populations. Gipsy currently obtains both her LMSW to practice in NY and her ACSW to practice in CA.

Lorenzo Shaw-Graham

Lorenzo Shaw-Graham is the Assistant Director of DEI. As a native of Detroit, Michigan, he strives to practice social work with the intersectional understanding of social issues necessary to create and sustain lasting change. Prior to his return to the CSSW community, Lorenzo was a Program Manager at the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), overseeing grant programs, leadership initiatives, and co-planning an annual leadership summit, collaborating with executive leadership on various initiatives to provide ongoing support for projects that address changing areas of social work practice, as well as convening task forces/advisory boards on critical issues facing social work education. Recently, Lorenzo also served as a Racial Equity Consultant for the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. In that role, he consulted with administration on the buildout of an anti-bias medical education curriculum for future healthcare leaders that was centered in anti-racist & anti-oppressive practice. He also advised on anti-racism, bias-reduction, organizational change approaches and workshops that would assist the Icahn medical community in its effort to create institutional and transformational change. Lorenzo’s return to CSSW also feels as though he has come full circle as he was a Program Coordinator for the Professional Development and Self-Awareness (PDSA) initiative, designing and executing programs related to social justice, anti-oppressive social work, and self-awareness regarding themes of power, privilege, race, and oppression. Lorenzo is a strong collaborator and, as you can see, is drawn to work that focuses on an anti-oppressive lens. In addition to his MSW from CSSW, he also holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Lorenzo’s pronouns are he/his/him. He remains committed to decolonization, transformative justice, social justice values and disrupting systemic racism.

Aaron Kim

Aaron Kim, MDiv, MSW coordinates social justice initiatives and community service programs to meet critical needs. He is seeking to connect with students, alumni, researchers, faculty, and staff to cultivate pipelines of opportunity and engagement.

Aaron’s career and all work toward meeting critical social needs are rooted in the experiences of his family and loved ones through cultural bereavement, exploitation, homelessness, incarceration, neglect, poverty, and separation. He continues to challenge his implicit biases, and remains close to the work through coordination of justice initiatives, organizational structure, partnerships, pathways, and workflow.

With practicum practice and experience in International Social Welfare and Services to Immigrants and Refugees, he has worked extensively in Anti-Human Trafficking and Refugee Resettlement. Aaron has worked in direct practice as well as in administration, policy, task forces, outreach, and development in these fields. Since 2003, he has traveled and served in various NPOs and is a lifelong learner on how to better support meeting critical needs and building community engagement across the world. He is also an active leader and Eastern U.S. district representative within his faith community.

Aaron holds an MDiv from Drew University and an MSW from the Columbia School of Social Work with a specialization in Leadership Management and Social Entrepreneurship for Social Justice (fka SEA).

Jeremy Lehrer

Jeremy Lehrer is a second-year residential student on the PTFT track, and intends to pursue the Advanced Clinical Social Work Practice pathway. At CSSW, Jeremy has become involved in the Environmental Justice Initiative, one of the Action Lab for Social Justice projects. While studying at CSSW, Jeremy works as an editor/writer for an online magazine in addition to his role as a writing mentor at an educational consultancy. After completing his degree, Jeremy hopes to combine his social work training with his writing background to explore the ways that narrative can empower individuals and communities.

Sharlene Greene, LMSW

A proud CSSW lion, class of 2019, Sharlene Green is a forensic social worker for Legal Aid, Criminal Defense. In this role she writes the sentencing recommendations for persons indicted on violent felonies. Sharlene credits the rigorous policy track of Columbia University’s Social Work school for her career success. Past social work experience includes roles as a psychotherapist, medical social worker and a shelter director for domestic violence impacted clients. Alongside being a forensic social worker, Sharlene is currently a first year law student at CUNY school of law.