Doctoral Program Celebrates Commencement

June 2, 2004 @ 4:00 am

Fifteen Doctoral Graduates in 2004
The doctoral program celebrated the accomplishments of this year’s CUSSW PhD graduates.Lenna Nepomnyaschy was among them. Nepomnyaschy first considered becoming a social worker because she felt she “wanted to make changes on a bigger level” in the world around her. Her particular interest was in child and family policy ñ and that is one of the things that compelled her to pursue her doctoral studies after receiving her MSW from Rutgers. “I knew I had a lot more to learn about child poverty, health and well-being and ways to improve child outcomes in this country. It is outrageous that we live in such a wealthy country and yet there are so many children still living in poverty.” She credits a number of CUSSW faculty for helping her along the way during her doctoral studies, among them Sheila Kamerman, Irv Garfinkel, Ron Mincy, and Julien Teitler. Looking back, she says she chose CUSSW for its faculty (“Professors like Sheila Kamerman were a real inspiration to come to CUSSW.”), its resources across Columbia University and New York City (“It’s such an incredible and diverse community!”).

Juan Pena had a secret, albeit unusual, weapon for writing his doctoral thesis, “The Determinants of HIV Risk For First and Second Generation Cuban, Mexican and Puerto Rican Adolescents.” To remove himself from any possible distractions, Pena ñ a dedicated Zen student ñ drove two-and-a-half hours north of New York City to a Buddhist retreat in Mount Tremper, New York . There, steps away from a local monastery, he buckled down and wrote his dissertation. “Writing a dissertation,” says Pena, “is really a head game. There’s a psychological barrier that comes with writing such a big project. (Getting away) helped me stay focused on the moment and keep perspective.” Pena, who worked closely with CUSSW faculty members Andre Ivanoff and Steven Schinke, credits their input as well.

Now, Pena is once again headed north of city, this time to the University of Rochester Medical Center where he will begin his post-doc on the prevention of adolescent risk behaviors. This is a topic that Pena has spent time on before, both at CUSSW and earlier. Before beginning his doctoral studies at CUSSW, Pena worked at the ICD’s Mental Health Clinic in East Harlem, where he worked with Hispanic families and children. It is a social work issue that is close to his heart. “My parents immigrated from the Dominican Republic. I understand the importance of staying on target. I want to work with adolescents and help them reach their potential.”

Congratulations to Pena, Nepomnyaschy and the other accomplished CUSSW doctoral program graduates!

Lisa Ferri
June 2, 2004