subcategory for PhD students of the various Luskin programs

Yeon Jae Hwang

Yeon Jae Hwang is an incoming first-year doctoral student in the Department of Social Welfare at UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. She received her Bachelor of Arts in English from Hankuk University of Foreign Studies and her Master of Social Welfare from Yonsei University, South Korea.

As a queer person of color, she continuously sought ways to support and empower marginalized people’s voices during her undergraduate, mostly spending days on the street demonstrating and fostering ties with other advocates in the South Korean community. The number one question that opened her journey to academia was, ‘how does one not conventionally categorized survive in such a heteronormative and conservative society?’

Thus, her main objective as a social welfare student in her master’s was to initiate discourse in Korean academia by highlighting the marginalized groups’ existence and revealing the discriminatory reality they face via quantitative and qualitative research. Now she is engaged and actively participating in various research teams and projects, especially regarding LGBTQ+ research.

Her research interests center on sexual minorities subjected to social discrimination and systematic oppression due to their multiple intersecting identities- including stigmas, prejudice, and microaggression. Her views focus on the systems in which such groups are placed by exploring the forces and powers within diverse levels of context.

Jianan Li

Jianan Li (she/her) is an incoming first-year doctoral student in the Department of Social Welfare of the Luskin School of Public Affairs. She received her Bachelor of Law in Social Work from Southwest Petroleum University and her Master of Social Work concentrating in Policy Practice and Aging from Columbia University. She has practiced fieldwork in a variety of settings including schools, communities, social work service centers, and government departments. The practical experience has led her to conduct research projects among different populations and to focus more on the aging population, especially on improving the well-being of disadvantaged older adults.

During her master’s degree, Jianan interned at the New York City Department for the Aging. There, she participated in several pilot research projects focused on older adults, working on exploring ways to improve older adults’ mental health by mitigating the stigma attached to mental health services among professionals and older adults. She also worked as a research assistant at the Columbia Population Research Center, where she contributed to interviews and data analysis for the New York City Longitudinal Survey of Wellbeing, a longitudinal research project dedicated to tracking economic and social well-being in New York City.

Her areas of interest include examining the factors affecting the quality of life of older adults with long-term care needs in different settings to improve the current care system, and understanding the effects of productive engagement in later life to enhance the health and well-being of older adults.

Hillary Peregrina

Hillary Nicole Peregrina, MA, MSW (she/her/hers) is an incoming first-year doctoral student committed to addressing mental health and psychosocial development among BIPOC children and adolescents, with a particular focus on the Filipino American community. She obtained her Master of Arts in Social Work (Clinical Concentration) from the University of Chicago’s Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice. She also previously earned a Master of Arts in Asian American Studies from San Francisco State University and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Loyola Marymount University.

Prior to entering the field of Social Work, she taught Ethnic Studies courses at San Francisco State University and San Francisco Unified School District through Pin@y Educational Partnerships. Her social work experience encompasses a range of youth development roles including administrative non-profit research and program evaluation and counseling services for children and adolescents ages 8-18.

Her central research questions focus on the impact of racial discrimination and critical racial consciousness on various developmental outcomes including mental health, ethnic/racial identity, family processes, civic engagement, and racial solidarity. She hopes to explore how contextual factors including discrimination, family and/or school ethnic-racial socialization, im/migration, diaspora, and other social determinants impact the formation of critical racial consciousness. She has previously published on various public health issues that impact Asian American communities across the lifespan including family social support, psychosocial wellness, type 2 diabetes and breast cancer among older Asian Americans, and civic engagement among emerging young adults. Her research interests are an interdisciplinary blend of her experience in Social Work and Ethnic Studies. Ultimately, she hopes to use various forms of research to advocate for health equity, translate findings into public policy recommendations, and inform clinical and community-based interventions.

Selected Publications: 

Peregrina, H. N., Maglalang, D. D., Hwang, J., & Yoo, G. J. (2023). A qualitative exploration of the continuum of help-seeking among Asian American breast cancer survivors. Social work in health care, 1–14. Advance online publication. 

Peregrina, H. N., Yoo, G. J., Villanueva, C., Bayog, M. L. G., Doan, T., & Bender, M. S. (2022). Tiwala, Gaining Trust to Recruit Filipino American Families: CARE-T2D Study. Ethnicity & disease32(1), 49–60.

Maglalang, D. D., Peregrina, H. N., Yoo, G. J., & Le, M. N. (2021). Centering Ethnic Studies in Health Education: Lessons From Teaching an Asian American Community Health Course. Health education & behavior : the official publication of the Society for Public Health Education48(3), 371–375.  

Chendi Zhang

Chendi Zhang (she/her/hers) is a doctoral student in Urban Planning at UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs. Her research interests include age-friendly public space, participation and community engagement, urban design, smart city and technologies, and Urban China.

Prior to pursuing her PhD, Chendi was a landscape designer at OLIN, Philadelphia, assisted in curating Penn-China Design Dialogue 2019, worked on Beautiful China – Reflections on Landscape Architecture in Contemporary China as an assistant editor and book designer, and started to share tutorials about landscape architecture and her experience as an international student in design and planning major as a social media influencer.

Chendi studied and worked in the field of landscape architecture for ten years, holding her master’s degree in Landscape Architecture from the University of Pennsylvania and bachelor’s degree of Science in Landscape Architecture from Beijing Forestry University. With her research concentration, practice experience, and design background, Chendi studies urban issues from a perspective of how planning and design processes can collaborate more tightly and efficiently to better respond to the demands of overlooked and misrepresented vulnerable groups and reduce spatial inequality in the built environment.


Keri Lintz

Keri Lintz is a first-year doctoral student committed to examining the effects of public policy on child development. She is particularly interested in the prevention of early childhood adversity and understanding the factors that contribute to the disproportionality — and accompanying consequences — of such experiences.

Keri draws on almost two decades of experience and expertise in research, public policy administration, and social service delivery. Her first professional experiences were as a child welfare consultant and crisis intervention specialist. Subsequently, she worked for state government administering five federal grant programs designed to foster child and family well-being. Before joining UCLA, she was the executive director of the Center for Human Potential and Public Policy and The Behavioral Insights and Parenting Lab at The University of Chicago where she gained a deep appreciation for the capacity of rigorous research to inform sound policy, programs and practice. In this role, she provided leadership in the implementation of large-scale field experiments and evaluation of promising programs dedicated to reducing social and economic inequality.

Stephanie Patton

Stephanie Patton is an incoming first year doctoral student in the Department of Social Welfare at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. She brings with her more than 10 years of practical social work experience in nonprofit administration and social policy. Prior to starting the PHD program at UCLA, she held positions with U.S. Soccer Federation, the American Red Cross, Michigan state Senator Jeff Irwin, and U.S. Senator Gary Peters. Most recently she served as a Project Manager for Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, helping them develop a learning health network for hospitals to share best care practices and conduct innovative research for individuals with single ventricle heart disease.

Stephanie holds a BA in Sociology and English from DePauw University. She received her MSW summa cum laude from the University of Michigan with a concentration on children and families and a focus on social policy. She is also a certified Project Management Professional through the Project Management Institute and has earned certificates in quality improvement and data visualization.

Her research interests center on child development, child welfare, abuse and neglect prevention, community networks, poverty, and material hardship.


Irene Valdovinos

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.

Juan J. Nunez

Juan J. Nunez is a doctoral student in Social Welfare at UCLA’s Luskin School of Public
Affairs. He has previously worked as a Data Analyst and Research Associate at WRMA, Inc., a
research firm dedicated to providing support to health and human services agencies. While at
WRMA, the two main projects he worked on are the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data
System (NCANDS) and the National Adult Maltreatment Reporting System (NAMRS). His
current research focuses on understanding the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on child
maltreatment reporting, analyzing the applicability of machine learning techniques to predict
adult maltreatment, and identifying methods to strengthen community assistance to at-risk
communities (e.g., children, older adults, adults with disabilities, young adults experiencing
inadequate housing). His research informs policy makers and key stakeholders on the
development of prevention programs and on the use of innovative methodologies to identify
community and individual protective factors. He holds a MA in Sociology from Boston College,
where his research focused on analyzing the effects of religion on mental health among older
adults, and a BA in Sociology from the University of San Francisco.



Qianyun Wang

Qianyun Wang is a PhD student in Social Welfare in her first year. She holds a bachelor’s degree in social work from Beijing Normal University and a master’s degree in social work from the University of Calgary. She did community development fieldwork and received social work education in a variety of contexts, including India, Korea, the Philippines, Canada, and China. These events sparked her interest in taking action and doing research to address social exclusion, ageism, racism, and migratory injustice, among other issues.

Qianyun has been an active community practitioner and advocate, working in solidarity alongside marginalized people, including those living with poverty, TFWs, immigrants, the elderly, and others.

Qianyun’s research experience involves both quantitative and qualitative approaches, with the latter being her particular focus. Her master thesis explored the lived experiences of spousal bereavement among older Chinese immigrants in Canada. Before coming to UCLA, she worked with multidisciplinary research teams from the University of Calgary, Tsinghua University, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Project-China, where she led and/or coordinated various research projects, including antiracism and anticolonization teaching and learning, social and psychological well-being among older immigrants during the pandemic in Canada, sexual health and services among older adults in the UK and China, HIV self-testing experience among gay men via Photovoice in China, and so on.