Melanie Sonsteng-Person

Melanie’s research is interdisciplinary and centers on preventing violence and trauma within the systems of education, criminal justice, and social welfare. Her qualitative case study dissertation examines how teachers and staff perceive, are impacted by, and respond to the manifestation of trauma derived from community violence exposure. It aims to transform school-wide policies and programs that seek to mitigate the impacts of exposure to community violence. Melanie’s research has been published in the journals of Interpersonal Violence, Youth & Society, and Criminal Justice and Behavior, and she has presented her findings at peer-reviewed conferences such as CSWE, SSWR, The National Center for School Mental Health Conference, and the American Educational Research Conference.   

Melanie’s other ongoing research projects study the structural causes and impact of violence and trauma to design effective school and community-based interventions and training programs. She uses qualitative, mixed-methods, and participatory methods. Melanie is a strong proponent of participatory research methods and has expertise in PhotoVoice research methodology. She uses this methodology with various topics lead by different communities to create counter narratives and increase empathy through perspective taking. 

Prior to coming to UCLA, Melanie worked in Boston, Brooklyn, and Detroit in the fields of violence prevention and education. Her research is informed by her experience as a 7th Grade Science Teacher in Brooklyn and as a Certified Trauma Practitioner in Detroit where she worked with students exposed to violence.You can engage with Melanie’s work here: melaniesonsteng.com

Jennifer A. Ray

Jennifer Ray is currently a fifth-year doctoral student in the Social Welfare program at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. Her scholarship centers on childhood adversity, family relations, and interventions aimed at reducing behavior problems among young children in African American families.

Jennifer’s current work examines the associations between and among adverse experiences in early childhood, nonresident father involvement, and child behavior problems in socially and economically disadvantaged African American families.

Prior to joining the Social Welfare program at UCLA, Jennifer worked as a clinician providing community mental health services to high-risk children and families in Los Angeles county. She has also worked on community-based research with the UCLA Social Justice Partnership and the UCLA Labor Center.

Jennifer completed her bachelor’s degree in Psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles and received her MSW from the University of Southern California.

Brenda A. Tully

Brenda A. Tully’s research focuses on housing security during the transition to adulthood, with a specific interest in young people exiting the foster care system. She draws on the life course perspective and social and economic capital theories to examine how young people navigate housing and how social and economic conditions and public policies influence housing outcomes. Brenda is particularly interested in how structural racism and heterosexism influence housing outcomes for Black and LGBTQ young people exiting care and how familial ties relate to housing pathways. Given the housing crisis, made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic, in the U.S., Brenda’s research identifies multi-level factors related to housing (in)security. With her work, Brenda seeks to inform housing and foster care policies to redress societal inequities and honor family relationships so that youth experience improved housing security during their transition to adulthood.

Brenda has received research funding through the UCLA Graduate Research Mentorship and Graduate Summer Research Mentorship programs and the Franklin D. Gilliam Social Award, and fellowship funding from the Meyer and Rene Luskin Fellowship and UCLA Faculty Women’s Club Scholarship. She has presented her research at annual meetings of the Society for Social Work and Research (SSWR), the Society for the Study of Social Problems, and an international social science conference at the University of Transylvania, Romania. She contributed to team projects published in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Social Work (2020) and the American Journal of Public Health (2015).

Brenda practiced as a licensed clinical social worker in New York City for 20 years. Her research and teaching are informed in part by her work at Good Shepherd Services, where she helped launch the Chelsea Foyer, a transitional, supportive housing program for young people aging out of foster care and experiencing or at risk of homelessness. Brenda earned her Master of Social Work degree from Fordham University in New York City and a BA in Speech Communication from the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Brenda expects to graduate in June 2022.