subcategory for PhD students of the various Luskin programs

Courtney Demko

Courtney Demko is a fourth year doctoral student in the Social Welfare department with a specialization in Gerontology at UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs.  She also earned her Master’s in Social Welfare at UCLA’s Luskin School with a specialization in Gerontology.  Courtney holds a BA in Political Science from Davidson College.

Courtney’s current research interests include the health and well-being of dementia family caregivers.  More specifically, her work examines the emotional, physical and psychological strain millennial caregivers experience while providing care to a loved one with dementia.

Courtney currently serves as the Assistant Director for the Center for Policy Research on Aging at UCLA, researching the economic impact of a nation growing older and more diverse.  Courtney recently surveyed older white conservative adults in Orange County, CA looking at their attitudes and beliefs towards immigration and immigration policy.

Courtney received the Meyer and Renee Luskin Fellowship, the Olive M. Stone Scholarship Endowment, the Hearst Endowed Scholarship in Aging, the Leon and Toby Gold Fellowship and the Targow Fellowship for her work as a doctoral student in the field of aging.


The Politics of Aging in a Majority-Minority Nation and Later-Life Social Support and Service Provision in Diverse and Vulnerable Populations.

Lia W. Marshall

Lia W. Marshall’s research focuses on older adult well-being. She is particularly interested in understanding prolonged independence and ability to age in place by investigating the interconnections between social isolation, mobility, and the built environment. Lia’s mixed methods dissertation, situated at the nexus of social welfare, gerontology and urban planning, seeks to understand the mobility experiences of socially isolated older adult women. This research is an important step in guiding policymakers to effectively allocate resources to enable aging in place and to enhance the lives of older women.

While Lia has training in both quantitative and qualitative research methods, she is particularly skilled in employing qualitative methodologies. In collaboration with faculty in both UCLA’s Urban Planning and Social Welfare Departments, she has served as a graduate research assistant for several projects, including “Disrupting Aging & Building Livable Communities: Los Angeles”, and with The Los Angeles Community Academic Partnership for Research in Aging (L.A. CAPRA). Lia has presented her work at conferences across academic disciplines, and has taught and guest lectured with both master’s students and undergraduates. Lia’s interests in social welfare, gerontology and urban planning inspired her to develop and teach the course entitled: “Environmentally Sustainable Aging: Diversity, Resilience, and Health” as a teaching fellow at UCLA.

In addition to teaching, Ms. Marshall continues her community engagement work with the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust as a Steering Committee member for Golden Age Park, the first intergenerational park in Los Angeles, and as the Service Learning Coordinator for the UCLA undergraduate gerontology cluster. Lia received a Masters of Social Work from California State University, Los Angeles and a Bachelors of Arts in Psychology from the University of California at Santa Cruz.

Javier Garcia-Perez

Javier Garcia-Perez is a student in the Social Welfare Ph.D. program. He obtained his BA in Chicana/Chicano Studies from the University of California, Davis. He completed his MA in Sociocultural Anthropology from Columbia University and a dual MSW/MS in Nonprofit Leadership from the University of Pennsylvania, School of Social Policy & Practice (SP2). He previously served as the program director for an ExpandED learning program working to achieve educational equity for low-income and marginalized middle school students in New York City. Javier’s research interests include queer Latinx community health, identity-based traumatic stress, and qualitative research methodology. He is a Eugene V. Cota-Robles Fellow, a fellowship for doctoral students from underrepresented backgrounds. Currently, he is working on a project surveying MSW students of color in the state of California regarding their experiences of racism in the classroom or in the field and its potential impact on their education. This summer, he will also be working on a systematic literature review on the relationship between discrimination and traumatic stress symptoms within queer youth of color populations, supported by the UCLA Graduate Summer Research Mentorship program.


The Collectivist: Volume One, a journal from Penn SP2.

Skye Allmang

Skye Allmang is a fifth-year PhD student in the Department of Social Welfare at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). She holds a Master of Public Policy from Brandeis University and a Master of Social Welfare from UCLA. Prior to starting the PhD program, Skye worked as a project coordinator for a job-training program at a nonprofit in Southern California. Her research interests center around youth employment issues, with a particular interest in addressing barriers to employment, such as mental health issues and juvenile justice system involvement. She is currently a Hilton Scholar at the WORLD Policy Analysis Center, and is working on a research project that compares legislative protections for employer-provided job-training across 193 countries. Her dissertation is on the association between precarious employment and long-term health outcomes for young adults in the United States.

Jianchao Lai

Advisor: Prof. Todd Franke, UCLA

Jianchao Lai is a second year Ph.D. student in the Department of Social Welfare of the Luskin School of Public Affairs. She received a Bachelor’s of Social Work from Nanjing University and Master’s of Social Work from University of Wisconsin-Madison. Upon completing her undergraduate and graduate programs, she worked at various government agencies, non-profit organizations, and community agencies related to the early childhood development and prevention of adverse childhood experiences. Her current research uses exploratory mixed methods design to investigate the unique factors of the Asian American population with regard to case reporting and substantiation of child maltreatment incidents.


  • Adam Smith Fellowship (2017-2018), Mercatus Center, $5000
  • Graduate Summer Research Mentorship (Summer 2017), UCLA, $6000
  • Graduate Summer Research Mentorship (Summer 2018), UCLA, $6000

Research Interests:

  • Child abuse and neglect
  • Asian Americans
  • Racial/ethnical differences in child welfare resources and outcomes
  • Challenges among Asian American children and families
  • Qualitative and quantitative social research methodology

Kristen Brock-Petroshius

Kristen Brock-Petroshius is a PhD student in Social Welfare with a BA in Sociology and Gender & Women’s Studies from the University of Wisconsin – Madison.  She will receive her MSW in June 2018.  For over a decade she worked on issues of LGBTQ and racial justice through both social services and community organizing approaches.  Her research is primarily concerned with changing dominant racial attitudes in predominantly white communities in the U.S.  She has particular interests in community organizing, empirical Critical Race Theory, mixed methods, and field experimental approaches, including conducting research in ways that are accountable to and build the capacity of racial justice organizers.  Her current research involves the development of a deep canvass organizing model to build support in predominantly white neighborhoods for a policy initiative that would divert public funds from incarceration and into community resources in the majority poor and working class Black and Latinx communities targeted by criminalization.

Brenda Morales

Brenda Morales is a second year doctoral student in the Department of Social Welfare at UCLA. She obtained her BA and MSW in Social Work from California State University, Los Angeles. She previously was part of the University of Michigan/CSULA Social Work Bridges to the PhD Program where she analyzed secondary data of health care disparities among U.S. immigrant populations. Currently, she is a recipient of the UCLA Eugene V. Cota-Robles Fellowship. Her research interests include immigrant health, immigration policy, and discrimination and anti-immigrant sentiment, with an emphasis on undocumented Latino immigrants.

Sara Terrana

Sara Terrana is a doctoral candidate at UCLA – Luskin, School of Public Affairs in the Department of Social Welfare. Ms. Terrana’s research focuses on the nonprofit sector, particularly human-service organizations (HSOs) and their founders, and neighborhoods of concentrated disadvantage. Her dissertation, under the advisement of Professor Zeke Hasenfeld, focuses on Black female founders of HSOs and examines both critical junctures of founding, and how life experiences and racial identity have influenced the founding decisions and the ability to mobilize material and symbolic resources for organizational survival. Further, her research examines how social change and social justice is manifested through the creation of HSOs in a neighborhood of concentrated disadvantage in Los Angeles. She specializes in qualitative methodology and advanced computer-assisted qualitative data analysis software (CAQDAS) technologies. Currently, Ms. Terrana is serving a two-year term (2017–19) as a nationally selected representative for the Society for Social Work and Research’s Doctoral Student Task Force. Prior to entering the doctoral program at UCLA, Ms. Terrana completed her MSW from UCLA in 2013. She also holds an MA from Teachers College – Columbia University (2011). Ms. Terrana served in the Peace Corps in the Republic of Vanuatu from 2005–07. She graduated magna cum laude with dual bachelor’s degrees from the University of Hawaii-Hilo in Psychology and Communications in 2004. Here are links to her most recent publications:

Terrana, S., & Wells, R. (2018). Financial Struggles of a Community-Based Organization: A Teaching Case. Human Service Organizations: Management, Leadership & Governance, 42(1), 105-111.

Download here:

 Terrana, S. (2017). Minority Founders of Community-Based Organizations in a Neighborhood of Concentrated Disadvantage: Motivations, Barriers, and Strategies. Human Service Organizations: Management, Leadership & Governance, 41(4), 359–375. Download here:

Lei Chen

Lei Chen is a second-year Ph.D. student of Social Welfare at Luskin School of Public Affairs, the University of California in Los Angeles. Her research interests include health and aging policy; older adults’ psychological well-being; social support for older adults; cross-cultural studies and mixed methods (quantitative/qualitative studies). She obtained her BA in Sociology from Nanjing University (China), MS in Demography from Fudan University (China) and Master of Social Policy from Washington University in St.  Louis.
Before joining the Ph.D. program in UCLA, she worked for the Center for Health Economics and Policy at Washington University in St. Louis as a research assistant. She has two papers in progress related to health system comparison between the U.S. and China, and rural pension participation in China. Apart from that, she had multiple research experiences in international organizations/companies, and universities both in China and the U.S., including United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), McKinsey & Company, Fudan University (Mainland China), Hong Kong Polytechnic University (Hong Kong), Washington University in St. Louis(U.S.) and University of California in Los Angeles (U.S.).
Her current research focuses on understanding the determinants, implications, and consequences of family planning policies globally and its implications for aging societies, which is a comparitive study among countries in Asia, America and Europe. She also works on a quantitative study focusing on understanding the relationships between understanding the psychological well-being and support from children for the one-child generation’s parents in Rural China.

Kwan Jin Yao

Jin Yao, Kwan is a first-year PhD student who graduated from a concurrent degree programme at the National University of Singapore (NUS), receiving his Bachelor of Business Administration from the NUS Business School and his Master in Public Policy from the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP). He graduated as valedictorian of his 2017 class at LKYSPP, and he previously worked for the Asia Philanthropy Circle.

Kwan’s research interests include children, adolescents, and families, and in particular on parenting and caregiving arrangements as well as the positive development of (at-risk) youths. He also has broader interests in the social and public policies governing the non-profit and philanthropy sector in Singapore and in Asia.