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ASU social work doctoral students chosen for prestigious health scholars program

Cohort will learn interdisciplinary approach to creating a ‘culture of health’

Side-by-side portraits of ASU students Ezequiel Dominguez and Turquoise Skye Devereaux.

Ezequiel Dominguez (left) and Turquoise Skye Devereaux, PhD students in the ASU School of Social Work, have been selected for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health Policy Research Scholars program. Courtesy photos

October 26, 2023

Two students seeking PhD degrees in the School of Social Work are among the newest members of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health Policy Research Scholars (HPRS), a leadership development program for second-year doctoral students.

Turquoise Skye Devereaux and Ezequiel Dominguez join only three other students from Arizona who have ever been named to any of the program’s total of seven cohorts.

Designed for individuals from historically marginalized backgrounds and populations underrepresented in specific disciplines, the Health Policy Research Scholars program helps students from all fields apply their work to policies that advance equity and health while building a diverse network of leaders who reflect changing national demographics.

According to the program’s website, its students “want to apply their research to advance health and equity, and their innovation helps build a culture of health, one that enables everyone in America to live longer, healthier lives.”

Here are summaries of the two 2023 ASU scholars’ research from the program’s website, with links to more detailed descriptions:

  • Devereaux’s research focuses on creating culturally safe spaces within social work education to ensure a culture of health for Indigenous populations by combating systemic oppression and the impacts of colonization. Devereaux said Indigenous populations deserve justice and an equal opportunity within the field of social work to be successful in their healing journey, which will ultimately change the trajectory for future generations.
  • Dominguez’s research focuses on addressing the critical gaps in understanding and support for Latinos involved in day labor and farmwork within the context of anti-human trafficking. Despite significant growth in the field since the enactment of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, insufficient attention has been given to the experiences of these groups. Dominguez said this lack of focus, combined with structural racism, discrimination and social inequities, has resulted in limited access to vital resources that are essential for the health and well-being of the Latino laborer community.

Devereaux said becoming a Health Policy Research Scholar has truly affirmed her path in research and the PhD program.

“In the short time since I've been selected for this program, it has validated my experiences, allowed me to connect with other scholars nationwide and provided opportunities for me to grow personally and professionally,” she said. “I am so grateful for this opportunity and would not have been able to be where I am without the support of my family and community. I am excited to incorporate all HPRS has to offer to continue my journey and passion of bridging gaps, influencing policy and providing representation for Indigenous people in many avenues.”

Dominguez said his selection to the program has been “very validating” for him.

“It eased my imposter syndrome and reinforced my belonging in the academic space,” he said. “This opportunity, thanks to inspiration from my family, motivates me to embrace my unique perspective and contribute meaningfully to health policy research. My goal is not only to bridge gaps, but also to amplify the voices of the Latino community, ensuring their experiences are actively acknowledged and incorporated into policies that impact their lives.”

Professor David Androff, director of the School of Social Work’s doctoral program, said the program is prestigious because of the foundation’s stellar reputation. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is a leader in interdisciplinary health research, he said.

“It’s significant that these students were competing for this honor with those from other disciplines. Social work is not considered usually as a traditional health field,” Androff said. “This is excellent recognition of our students’ research potential and their commitment to creating more just and thriving communities.”

Elizabeth Lightfoot, director of the School of Social Work and Distinguished Professor of Social Policy, noted the foundation is highly selective in choosing its Health Policy Research Scholars.

“This is an extremely competitive program that draws applicants from a wide variety of health-related PhD programs,” Lightfoot said. “It's rare that two students from the same university receive this award, and even more rare that two students from the same program do. This is a testament to our outstanding PhD students at the ASU School of Social Work.”  

Androff said the foundation is dedicated to creating a “culture of health,” meaning going beyond hospital services to total health and well-being, with a sharp focus on diversity.

The foundation’s outline for the program includes many academic and professional experiences. Scholars will participate in leadership and development training and coursework, receiving an annual $30,000 award for up to four years or until completion of their doctoral program, whichever is sooner; be trained in health equity, the policy process, leadership, communication, implementation and dissemination; and establish and strengthen professional ties to public health and policy leaders.

They are also eligible for a competitive dissertation grant of up to $10,000.

The School of Social Work is part of the Watts College for Public Service and Community Solutions.

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