PhD Students

  • liz byram

    Elizabeth Byram, MSW

    Interests: intellectual and developmental disabilities, health and health disparities, and social networks

    Liz is interested in conducting research in the areas of intellectual and developmental disabilities, health and health disparities, and social networks. She is currently working with Dr. Aislinn Conrad-Hiebner on a project exploring the relationships between adverse childhood experiences and social networks. She has also assisted Dr. Mercedes Bern-Klug with projects on advance care planning.  

    Liz' teaching and TA experience include Human Behavior in the Social Environment, Introduction to Social Work Research, and Social Welfare Policy and Practice.  She has also served as a field instructor for BSW and MSW students.  Prior to joining the PhD program, Liz' practice experience was with children and adults with disabilities and their families.

  • Dana Cheek

    Dana Cheek, MSW, LISW, CADC, MSW, University of Iowa 2005 in Des Moines

    PhD Student

    Interests: Health Care, Mental Health, Wellness, Coordinated Care

    My research interests involve examining the integration of the primary care clinics with behavioral health consultants and/or social workers. My research will look at the role of the social worker to help improve patient wellness and reach health outcomes.  My research will focus on social services necessary for treating the whole person. I hope to identify specific tasks that the behavioral health consultant/social worker performs that are consistently noted to be useful in the setting by other healthcare providers and patients, such as referrals for entitlement programs. 

    I have worked for over 20 years in healthcare. Specifically, I have worked with adults, adolescents, and children on acute mental health units of a general hospital, as a Behavioral Care Manager.  My work activities included reviewing clinical information to identify patient and family needs, reviewing the patient’s diagnosis, and developing a plan for discharge that included coordinating continued care with community providers. 

  • Alyssa Clayden headshot

    Alyssa Clayden, MSW, University of Iowa

    Interests: Access to mental health services for refugees

    I am interested in research that identifies the barriers that refugees face when pursuing mental health supports. This includes issues of education, fear, and prejudice in mental health practitioners and systems, as well as the complexity of intergenerational struggles as refugee youth grow up in the US without access to cultural and social brokering and guidance at home. I am interested in pursuing research that can increase access to mental health services for refugees in the US, as well as build more bridges for successful integration, whether a family is newly arrived or has been in the US for an extended amount of time. 

  • rebecca dickinson

    Rebecca Dickinson, MSW, LISW, RPT-S

    Interests: the effectiveness of Adlerian play therapy and issues related to the outcomes of foster/adoptive youth, including Adverse Childhood Experiences

    Rebecca is interested in conducting research on the effectiveness of Adlerian play therapy and issues related to the outcomes of foster/adoptive youth, including Adverse Childhood Experiences.  She has conducted her own research at a school for children with disabilities in India on the changing perceptions of people with disabilities.  While at the University of Iowa, Rebecca has had the opportunity to assist faculty members on research involving field education and the use of the National Coalition Building institute (NCBI) diversity training.

    Rebecca has teaching experience at both the graduate and undergraduate levels.  She is particularly interested in teaching practice-based courses, diversity and social justice courses, and international social work immersion courses.

    Rebecca is trained in both Adlerian play therapy and AutPlay and specializes in providing play therapy for children in the foster/adoptive system.  As well as experience working in residential youth treatment facilities in Iowa, Rebecca previously worked abroad as a child protection social worker

  • Amy Lemke

    Amy Lemke, MSW, LISW, LCSW, MSW University of Illinois-Champaign Urbana

    PhD Student

    Interests: psychosocial issues for individuals living with serious, chronic illnesses as well as their families and significant others; social work and palliative care; end of life communication and decision making

    Amy is interested in conducting research in the area of end of life communication and advance care planning. She is currently working on a project evaluating the impact of a personalized goals of care communication tool on feelings of anxiety and depression experienced by individuals living with End Stage Renal Disease. She is also assisting Dr. Mercedes Bern-Klug with the Service Learning in Aging Studies course offered within the School of Social Work.

    Amy's clinical experience base includes over 15 years working as a clinical social worker in an outpatient hemodialysis clinic. Presently, she works within an acute inpatient palliative care program. Amy is a certified facilitator and instructor in the Respecting Choices First Steps & Last Steps Advance Care Planning process.


  • Meg Ronnenberg headshot

    Megan Ronnenberg, MSW, University of Iowa

    Interests: early childhood education and child care, access, program quality, and disparities in discipline including expulsion, suspension, and seclusion

    Before I returned to school to earn my MSW, I worked in a number of social work-related positions including field organizing for political campaigns, volunteer coordinating for non-profits, and teaching in a daycare center, a position I held off and on for over 12 years. As an early childhood educator, I saw firsthand how caregivers and teachers can impact child development. My interest in examining early childhood education was inspired by Dr. Walter Gilliam from Yale, who first studied and documented high rates of preschool expulsion in the United States in 2005. Ultimately, I would like to contribute research to the early childhood field to help agencies and caregivers be more aware and responsive to the needs and barriers faced by marginalized children and families. More specifically, my interests include facilitators and barriers to accessing child care, professionalizing the early childhood workforce, and disciplinary practices that are harmful to child development. 

  • Nadia Sabbagh

    Nadia Sabbagh, MSW

    Interests: how cumulative social disadvantage influences health and health outcomes in vulnerable populations

    I am interested in examining how cumulative social disadvantage influences health and health outcomes in vulnerable populations.  I have been a part of a research team that has examined low income Iowans’ understanding of their health insurance and one that looked at factors that influence adolescent well-visits.    For me, some of the most important and essential components of my experience in the program thus far have been the opportunities available and the mentorship provided.  I have had opportunities to further both my research and teaching skills and have benefited from mentorship from several faculty members with different perspectives.

    As a graduate of the University of Iowa with my BA and MSW degrees it was an honor to be able to further my education in the PhD program at the School of Social Work. I spent four years in the field working as a medical Social Worker at the VA and the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics encountering health disparities first hand.  I consider this time invaluable as it further fueled my passion for not only better understanding why disparities in health exist, but also wanting to create change.