Irene Valdovinos, LCSW, MPH is a second-year doctoral student in the Department of Social Welfare at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. As an emerging scholar, Irene is focused on examining the life experiences of racial and ethnic young adults beginning treatment for substance use disorders to further understand the treatment engagement process. Irene expects to gather and analyze substance use-related data that informs nuanced methods to ameliorate the substance use treatment gap that exists within communities impacted by health disparities. Specifically, her research has implications for developing novel ways to enhance pathways to treatment engagement for young adults and in shifting narratives to focus on the factors that can better support young adults in their health trajectories.
Irene is well-positioned to carry out this research. She has served as a mental health clinician in integrated care programs. In these settings, she offered individual, family, and group counseling services to individuals impacted by co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders. In witnessing how substance use impacts individuals and families, Irene became motivated in learning how larger systems and system change could lead to broader impacts on improving substance use-related and behavioral health outcomes. While working at Azusa Pacific University (APU), Irene managed multiple workforce development and evaluation projects funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health Substance Abuse Prevention and Control division, and other local-level sponsors. Through this work, she gained insights on substance use-related policies, service continuum, provider perspectives, and program planning, implementation and evaluation processes. Irene continues to collaborate with her APU and UCLA colleagues on substance use-related evaluation and technical assistance projects, including a project with the California Department of Health Care Services, which aims to develop a resource repository for substance use prevention providers. Irene Valdovinos’ research and graduate education enables her to provide professional and leadership roles in addressing mental health and substance use challenges.