November–December 2022

From the Director:

Good day, MFP family,

'Tis the season for a continuum of juxtapositions. It’s a time of year when many of us honor what has been while we also waiting for what is yet to come. We embrace a multitude of diverse traditions, and we embark upon creating new ones. We celebrate ancestral mile markers and lament the loss of those who are no longer with. For many, this season is filled with comfort and joy while for others, the season is difficult and disheartening.

I dare say that most of us fall somewhere on the continuum of juxtapositions during “’tis the season.” Some may even find themselves in multiple places on the scale, both professionally and personally. Yet, while we experience life through our own juxtapositions, we are charged to assist others in managing their own struggles  related to mental health and substance use. 

This season, as we read this month’s Connect, may we be reminded to value and honor ourselves and others. May we also reflect on the challenges of this season and receive the charge necessary to continue our invaluable work on behalf of those who experience mental health and substance use issues.
Finally, during this season, may we find ourselves in personal and professional places on the continuum where we are grateful for possibilities, and reminded of our purpose and positioned to address the issues that matter in and for BIPOC communities.

All the best,
Kesslyn Brade Stennis, PhD, MSW, MDiv.


Annual Program Meeting Recap

Over 30 current fellows, including both master’s and doctoral social work students, joined the MFP staff in Anaheim, CA, for CSWE’s Annual Program Meeting (APM) November 9–13. Following an MFP Orientation and Welcome Reception, fellows attended MFP-exclusive events including “Navigating the Practice World: Wisdom for BIPOC Practitioners,” “Navigating the Academy: Wisdom for BIPOC Scholars Career Readiness and Training for BIPOC Scholars in BIPOC Communities,” and “Rights and Responsibility of Research: Exploring DEI and Innovation.” The MFP staff is incredibly grateful to MFP partners and alumni who stepped up to make these events possible: Dr. Jenny Jones, Dr. Quenette Walton, Dr. Altaf Husain, Dr. Dana Harley, Dr. Melissa Buckley, Dr. Regina Chow Trammel, Dr. Mo Yee Lee, Dr. Daniel Velez, Dr. Esther Langston, Dr. Johnnie Hamilton-Mason, Dr. Jennifer Shepard Payne, Dr. Waldo Johnson, Ms. Lequita Brooks, and Dr. Yodit Betru.

MFP APM 2022 photo

Events for MFP fellows at CSWE's APM were also made possible by the generous support of our sponsors. The MFP thanks Virginia Commonwealth University, the University of Tennessee, Sacred Heart University, the University of Pittsburgh, Metropolitan State University of Denver, Boston College, Case Western, Fordham University, Columbia University, Rutgers University, and Howard University for helping future social work leaders attend training, professional development, and networking events at the APM.

2022–2023 Doctoral Fellows CV Booklet

2022 CV Book flyerThe MFP is proud to share the 2022–2023 Doctoral Fellows CV Booklet! The booklet highlights six current fellows who are poised to make lasting impacts on individuals, groups, and communities through their research, practice, and teaching. 




Indigenous Heritage Month

November marks Native American or Indigenous Heritage Month, a time to extend extra appreciation and acknowledgement for the tremendous contributions Native Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Alaska Natives make year-round. To that end, the MFP is featuring Shianne Graves, a final-year MSW student/first-year fellow at University of Oklahoma as well as Erica Salinas, a first-year doctoral fellow  pursuing her PhD in Social Work at the University of Southern California (USC). 

Keep reading to learn how these two scholars are supporting the well-being of their communities through their scholarship and practice. 

Shianne Graves photoShianne Graves comes to the MFP with experience providing substance-abuse services to Indigenous adolescent youth in an inpatient treatment center on the Red Lake reservation. Shortly after graduating from Bemidji State University in 2018 with a BS in Criminal Justice and BA in Indigenous Studies, she started her career as a mental health practitioner providing Children’s Therapeutic Services and Supports in community mental health. Now, she is the residential supervisor at the Red Lake Nation Children’s Healing Center. These experiences exemplify her commitment to working both in mental health and substance abuse providing direct practice to the Indigenous population. More specifically, Graves intends to engage in crisis work with the communities she serves. She says, “I want to help heal my community by helping those who are suffering with their mental health and addiction from a trauma-informed, strengths-based perspective that incorporates Indigenous values.” Shianne Graves graduates from the University of Oklahoma in May 2023 and plans to obtain her LICSW and LADC; by being dually licensed she hopes to bring much needed services to the individuals, groups, and community she serves.

Erika Salinas photoErika Salinas (naiʔbi waʔipʉ) is a proud member of the Comanche Nation and doctoral candidate at USC’s Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work. Her dedication to improving behavioral health outcomes for Native American youth and improving compliance with the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 is evident in her recent peer reviewed publications as well as her volunteerism with Sacramento Native American Health Center as a Native Health Task Force member and prior role as a Udall Congressional intern with the Indian Health Service's Division of Behavioral Health. In support of her application to the MFP, Salinas shared, “With historical trauma being prevalent in behavioral health disparities, it is imperative we work to understand the protective factors needed to combat these detrimental effects.” With regards to maximizing the support offered through the fellowship program, she added, “Only through education, experience, and mentorship will I reach, and exceed, my goals as a future leader in behavioral health research and policy. It is my belief that the mission of the MFP aligns with my own and can provide me with the skills necessary to be a changemaker for Native American children and families.” 

Erika Salinas is one of six fellows featured in the 2022–2023 Doctoral CV Booklet. Check out her profile here.

Alumni Spotlight

CSWE’s MFP has more than a thousand dedicated alumni who have distinguished themselves in their professional and personal lives and provided notable services in support of BIPOC communities. 

This month’s Alumni Spotlight shines on Dr. Melissa Bessaha, a 2015–2016 alum of the MFP-Doctoral program who was recently tenured and promoted to Associate Professor at State University of New York (SUNY) Stony Brook University. Learn more about her accomplished career below and join us in celebrating her recent success! 

Dr-Melissa-Bessaha.jpgDr. Melissa Bessaha is an associate professor at the SUNY Stony Brook University School of Social Welfare where she also serves as Chair of the Families, Youth, and Transition to Adulthood specialization in the Master of Social Work program. She is also a licensed social worker in New York. Her practice experiences as counseling faculty at the City University of New York (CUNY) John Jay College of Criminal Justice, one of the largest and most diverse urban higher education opportunity programs in the country, involved serving as educator, advocate, and counselor to economically and/or educationally disadvantaged predominantly first-generation American undergraduate students. Frustrations experienced by the various societal barriers racially and ethnically diverse youth face continue to inspire her research, teaching, and service. Her research centers on mental health and wellbeing during the transition to adulthood particularly around underserved populations and their social relationships and supports. Dr. Bessaha’s work is dedicated to informing culturally responsive practice interventions and policies that promote mental health and higher education equity among youth and young adults. Dr. Bessaha’s research, teaching, and service are relevant and timely as there is a greater prevalence of mental health related issues during the transition to adulthood period compared to other adult age-groups and these mental health issues are exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and rise of racist and anti-immigrant sentiments. 

In addition, Dr. Bessaha has served as an MFP-Masters mentor and mentors current MSW students at Stony Brook to apply to the MFP. She says, “Paying it forward to future MSW/PhD students is strongly connected to my research, teaching, and practice in higher education equity and the transition to adulthood.” The MFP is grateful for her embodiment of those values. 

2023–2024 Doctoral Application Cycle Opening Soon 

The 2023–2024 doctoral fellowship application cycle will open next month! Learn more about the program and sign up to be alerted by email when the application opens here

Update Your Contact Information

Have you changed jobs in the last few years? Changed your primary email address? The MFP relies on current contact information for our internal database, which we use to contact alumni and help us prepare our reports for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Please use this link to share your updated contact information. Additionally, you are encouraged to reach out to MFP alumni you are connected with and request that they share their updated information too. Thank you in advance for supporting MFP staff efforts to enhance connectedness within the MFP community.