The Marriage and Family Therapy Ph.D. program at Virginia Tech, housed in the Department of Human Development, can again boast of having recipients of a prestigious national fellowship. 

Two students in the department are Fellows in the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy Minority Fellowship Program.

Hoa Nguyen of Atlanta, and Jamie West of Grand Rapids, Mich., are the latest in a succession of Virginia Tech students to hold the fellowships, which offer financial aid as well as living allowances, leadership development, and professional guidance – about $20,000 per year.

Funded by a grant from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the fellowships support the training of practitioners and researchers in mental-health and substance-abuse services, treatment, and prevention.

They are awarded competitively to doctoral students in marriage and family therapy, psychology, counseling, psychiatric nursing, psychiatry, or social work who are committed to research about and service to ethnic minority communities and underserved populations.

“Since this program’s inception in 2007, it has awarded fellowships to 89 students from about 25 doctoral programs nationwide,” said Scott Johnson, associate professor in human development who directs the Marriage and Family Therapy Ph.D. program. “Of those, Virginia Tech has had eight — nearly 10 percent. This is a great honor that highlights the quality of our doctoral program and the talents of its students.”

Besides increasing the number of doctoral-level marriage and family therapists, the national program states its mission as expanding “the delivery of culturally competent mental health and substance abuse services to underserved minority populations.”

Fellowships are awarded to students committed to serving not only ethnic minorities but also LGBTQ clients, rural communities, economically underprivileged groups, new immigrants, and military families. Johnson noted that Virginia Tech is the only university in the state with SAMHSA Fellows.

Nguyen is in the second year of her Ph.D. studies in marriage and family therapy. She says she chose Virginia Tech in part for the opportunity to work as an editorial assistant for the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, edited by Human Development Professor Fred Piercy.

Her SAMHSA grant has also linked her to other Fellows through conferences and online forums. “Sometimes you get lost in your work and don’t connect,” Nguyen said. “We give each other advice and share tidbits of information related to our programs. It’s an opportunity to collaborate with others who have similar interests.”

West, who began her doctoral work in fall 2013, is also studying human development with a marriage and family therapy concentration. Her Virginia Tech connection was through professors at Colorado State, where she earned her master’s degree, who knew Johnson and his work.

West hopes eventually to work within the Latino community, possibly with military families. She and Nguyen both see clients at Virginia Tech’s Family Therapy Center.

The university’s other SAMHSA fellows are:

  • Narkia Green, its first SAMHSA fellow, currently living and working in Maryland.
  • Isha Williams, a faculty member at Adler School of Professional Psychology and currently working on her dissertation.
  • Tenille Richardson, who is practicing in Miami and defending her dissertation this spring.
  • Darren Moore, who graduated in 2012 and is a head of family therapy and an assistant professor at Mercer University School of Medicine.
  • Mathis Kennington, now a therapist in San Antonio. He successfully defended his dissertation last fall and is applying for family therapy faculty positions.
  • Tanisha Garnier, currently serving her clinical doctoral internship at the University of Alabama, Birmingham.



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