Samantha Shaak, HDFS Alumni Spotlight, December 2022

Samantha Shaak, PhDSamantha Shaak (formerly Goodrich) graduated with her Master’s in Human Development and Family Studies from UConn in 2011 and went on to complete her Doctorate degree in 2014. She was drawn to the program because of the perspective it provided in understanding the interaction of personal and environmental influences on people’s development over time. During her time at UConn, she focused on prevention and intervention, program evaluation, and quantitative and qualitative data analysis. She had the opportunity to work with HDFS faculty on research evaluating child welfare, foster care, home visiting, and other social programs throughout the state of Connecticut and through the Center for Applied Research for Human Development. Core to this work was partnering with the agencies and organizations implementing programs and initiatives, including the Department of Children and Families, Supportive Housing for Families, Child FIRST, Jumpstart, and others.

As Samantha finished her degree and time at UConn, she was interested in continuing to work on applied, translational research outside of the academic environment. She accepted a position as a Senior Research and Evaluation Scientist in the Department of Community Health at Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN) in Pennsylvania. In this position, Samantha continued her program evaluation work, applying her Human Development and Family Studies perspective to health-related issues. Many of the influencers of social outcomes are also influencers of health outcomes, which led to her working on evaluations of a pediatric asthma program, a TimeBank, and a program for super-utilizers of the healthcare system. 

In 2015, Samantha was invited to participate in the Rider-Pool Foundation Collective Impact Fellowship. This experience broadened her perspective to not only understand the impacts of a particular program but also the systems in which the program operates. This led to more of a focus on cross-sector approaches to build community, using data to inform and mobilize community change. Still focusing on partnerships, this work requires cross-sector collaborations between the healthcare system and community and governmental agencies, fostering trusting partnerships to address social needs. She is now the Director for Community Innovation & Evaluation at The Leonard Parker Pool Institute for Health at LVHN, working full time on creating systems-level changes to address deep-rooted social influences on health.  Samantha and her husband live in Allentown, PA and recently welcomed their second daughter into their family in May.

Ashley Dyer, HDFS Alumni Spotlight, November 2022

Ashley DyerAshley Dyer graduated from UConn in 2019 with a B.A. in Human Development and Family Studies with a concentration in Early Childhood Development. While at UConn, she was very fortunate to be involved in many club organizations and mentorship programs such as the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP), Preparing African American Students to Sustain Success (PASS) Program, Sisters Inspiring Sisters, and volunteer work through her sorority, Sigma Gamma Rho Inc. Her participation in these activities fueled her passion for working with children and families. She started at UConn wanting to be a sports medicine doctor and was on the pre-kinesiology track. As she went through her college career she quickly realized that that was not her true calling and ended up switching her major a few times. It was only when she took her first intro class in HDFS that she was hooked on a major. It was the HDFS 1070 course (Individual and Family Development) that really sealed the deal for her! It not only helped her learn a lot about herself but also led to her passion of finding a way to make an impact in families’ lives outside of the classroom.

After she graduated, Ashley became an Early Intervention Service coordinator with a nonprofit organization under the Massachusetts Dept. of Public Health (MDPH). In this position, she was able to help the families of children from birth to three years old learn about child development and resources within their area for children with developmental delays. While working at MDPH Ashley was grateful to get into the world of Applied Behavior Analysis, or ABA therapy, through working with these same children. Two years later, she became a registered behavior technician and moved back to Connecticut where she now works with school-aged children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and other neuro-diverse developmental delays.

Being part of the HDFS community at UConn not only gave Ashley a sense of belonging but also allowed her to explore her interests to find out who she wanted to be and do in this world! To all those who may have thought about taking an HDFS course but are unsure… do it! You may never know what impact it might have on your life as it did on Ashley’s. She is forever grateful to UConn’s HDFS department and advisors for allowing her to find her purpose and true calling!

Joshua Miller ’97 HDFS Alumni Spotlight, October 2022

Joshua Miller, PhDJoshua Miller received his Ph.D. from HDFS in 1997. He had previously earned an MSW and worked as a social worker for 20 years with individuals, families, and communities in Seattle, London, Dublin, and Western Massachusetts before entering the UConn HDFS program. He was also an assistant professor at Smith College School for Social Work while studying at UConn. Josh was a full-time professor at Smith College for 30 years before retiring as a full professor in July 2022. At Smith, he taught courses in social policy, community activism, anti-racism, psychosocial responses to disasters, and positive psychology. Josh also co-facilitated an ongoing seminar for faculty to deepen their competency with issues of oppression and social identity in the classroom called “Pedagogy and Diversity.” He taught about responding to disasters at Beijing Normal University and Fudan University between 2008-2016 after responding to the Wenchuan earthquake in 2008.

Josh has published six books, including three editions of Racism in the United States: Implications for the helping professions, which he co-authored with Ann Marie Garran and Lisa Werkmeister Rozas (both professors at the UConn School of Social Work) and Hye-Kyung Kang, program director of the Seattle University School of Social Work. He published a book called Psychosocial capacity building in response to disasters and is completing a book with the working title of Psychosocial responses to sociopolitical targeting, oppression and violence: Intervention strategies for helping professionals.

In addition to his teaching and scholarship, Josh has responded to many disasters in his community, the U.S. and around the world. He is a member of a local team that offers critical incident responses to firefighters, police officers and emergency medical personnel in his community. He responded to Hurricane Katrina and 9/11 and has consulted with responders to school and community shootings. Internationally, he has worked in Sri Lanka, Haiti, China, and Canada in response to disasters and armed conflict.  He has also led a psychosocial and medical capacity building project in Northern Uganda since 2010 in response to a 20-year armed conflict.

Throughout all of his work, Josh has been concerned with confronting the affects of coloniality and white supremacy and Western cultural hegemony on the psychosocial well-being of the global majority residing in many different countries, and recovering and respecting indigenous practices. Although recently retired, he plans to continue his writing and responses to disasters and ongoing social targeting and oppression, along with spending time with his daughters and grandchildren. His experience at HDFS, particularly the knowledge, support, respect and flexibility that he encountered from his professors, provided him with a solid foundation for a very meaningful and productive academic and practice career.