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2019 Promising Scholars & Advocates

Award Recipients

Life Paths Research Center offered eight travel scholarships for scholars and advocates for presentations that focus on under-served or disadvantaged communities.

Four Life Paths Promising Scholars and four Promising Advocates were named for ResilienceCon 2019. We are proud to announce the 2019 recipients of the Life Paths Promising Scholar & Advocate Awards!

Life Paths Promising Scholars

Leo John Bird

A Native man with short brown hair smiling, wearing frameless glasses and an orange t-shirt.

Okii Niistoo Niitanikoo Piitohsoowatsis Niitomahtootoopa Mii Miisinskii Sitahta

Niiksista Anistaya Ainskiiakii ki Ninna Anistaya Ksiksikaamiohkiitopi 

I am interested in Indigenous healing methodologies and their applications in modern society. My current research is dedicated toward prevention methods concerning Indigenous suicide and suicide ideation. This summer, I am returning to the Amskapii Piikanii-Blackfeet Nation to lead a digital storytelling workshop at Blackfeet Community College in hopes that my research will add to the scholarship in this field. It is with a good heart that I present myself to you all. Kyen. 

Hello I welcome you into who I am. My name is Piitohsoowatsis, in English you can call me Leo John Bird. I come to you from Badger Creek on the Amskapii Piikanii-Blackfeet Nation and Haida-Tlingit Gwaii. My mother’s name is Ainskiiakii and my father’s name is Ksisksikaamiohkiitopi. I am currently studying at the University of Montana in pursuit of a Master of Public Health degree with a concentration in community health and prevention sciences. I recently graduated from Stanford University with degrees in Native American Studies and Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity. 

Jessica Elm

A Native woman smiling softly with brown curly hair and a blue blouse.

Jessica Elm, MSW, PhD is a citizen of the Oneida Nation, a descendant of the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of the Mohicans, and a Post-Doctoral Associate at the Department of Family Medicine and Biobehavioral Health at the University of Minnesota Medical School, Duluth campus. She received her PhD from the University of Washington, School of Social Work in 2018 and her MSW from UC Berkeley in 2009. Currently, Jessica’s research is focused on the influence of social stressors (e.g. childhood adversities, discrimination) on behavioral health outcomes among American Indians. Her work is situated in recognizing historically traumatic events as the source of contemporary stress, and the strengths and resilience that help Native people recover and thrive. Prior to Jessica’s training in research, she was employed as a social worker, tribal policy analyst and advocate, tribal behavioral health and social services program developer, and a surgical technologist.

Nidal Kram

A Sudanese woman with a flat expression looking into the camera, wearing a head wrap and white blouse.

Nidal A-Z Kram is a second year DrPH student in Maternal and Child Health at the University of Arizona (U of A). She received her B.A in Biology from Lawrence University and her MPH in Global Health focusing on Community Health and Development. Nidal is passionate about several domains in public health including addressing health disparities, refugee mental health, program evaluation, and strategic planning. Nidal is Project Coordinator for the Arizona Border Health Collaborative Innovation and Improvement Network where her team is developing an innovation to increase the utilization of prenatal care services in Nogales, Arizona. Nidal is also a Graduate Research Assistant in the Department of Health Behavior Health Promotion at the U of A. She is involved in two projects, the first is analyzing qualitative data from the Life Paths Project to examine experiences of youth residing in Appalachian communities in the U.S. The second project focuses on HIV related stigma in Nigerian primary health care facilities.

Lauren Schaefer

A white woman with long blonde hair and bangs swept to the side smiling, wearing a black sleeveless blouse.

Lauren Schaefer, M.A., is a third-year doctoral student in the Clinical Psychology program at the University of Memphis, working within the Resilience Emerging Amidst Childhood Hardships (REACH) Lab. Lauren earned her Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts degrees in Psychology from UNC Wilmington. Under the guidance of the lab director and her mentor, Dr. Kathryn Howell, the REACH lab examines pathways to risk and resilience among children who have been exposed to traumatic life experiences. Lauren’s research interests include understanding how protective factors such as spirituality, the parent-child relationship, social support, and community support promote resilient functioning in the context of childhood adversity. Further, Lauren employs mixed-methodologies, incorporating qualitative and quantitative methods, to provide meaningful answers to her research inquiries.

Life Paths Promising Advocates

Ashley Murphy

A Black woman with short, black locs smiling, wearing a black, floral print blouse and beige scarf.

Ashley Murphy is a Family Services Therapist at Kindred Place in Memphis, Tennessee. She graduated with a Master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from the University of Memphis. Shortly after graduation, she began working at Kindred Place as a Housing Care Coordinator then transitioned into a position as a therapist to work more therapeutically with individuals that have been impacted by domestic violence and trauma. Her current responsibilities include: co-facilitation of a Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) program to assist women and children reduce the impact of trauma and individual counseling clients. Additionally, she works as a clinician within the Domestic Violence Assessment Center (DVAC) that provides assessments including a clinical interview for men and women charged with a domestic violence-related crime involving present or former romantic partners. One of her new responsibilities includes co-facilitation of a new pilot offender intervention program called Achieving Change Through Values-Based Behaviors (ACTV). She plans to obtain her credentials, LPC-MHSP, in the State of Tennessee this year and continue her role as a therapist at Kindred Place. The work as an agent of change and working collaboratively within the community of Shelby County for Ms. Murphy aligns with the mission of Kindred Place to end family violence and be a place in the community where peace can begin.

Star Nayea

A Native woman smiling with a straw hat and orange and red scarf tied around her neck, wearing a black raincoat.

Ms. Star Nayea is an Anishinaabe (Ojibway/Chippewa) Native Grammy Recording Artist, who has over come imperceptible odds to even be alive and well, today. Born in Canada, ripped from her first Nations family, illegally smuggled in a box, by plane over the Canadian border, (in her infancy). Once in the United State Star was illegally fostered into a Non-Native foster family (with no back ground check), where she would endured extreme abuse through her youth and teens. Star chooses to not leave focus merely surrounding her trauma and the immense struggle to persevere. Rather from an early age, Star taught herself how to RISE, always finding her way not to merely survive, but to THRIVE! Triumphantly ‘Sur -Thriving’ her Trauma to become, a National/International Native Indigenous Health/ Wellness and Prevention Advocate, (serving hundreds of communities), changing thousands of lives in her career. Serving as National Motivational Speaker, Best Practices Conference Adult Trainer, Sober Life Coach,Youth and Teen Music Mentor and Cultural Arts Teacher and Music Therapist. Achieving this, all while raising her son, as a single mom and running her Not For Profit, Advocacy Organization Ravens Last Laugh.

LaKeldric Thomas

A Black man smiling with wire framed glasses, wearing a black dress shirt under a blue argyle vest with a blue background.

Keldric Thomas, PhD is the Clinical Program Manager at the Georgia Center for Child Advocacy in Atlanta. The Georgia Center for Child Advocacy is a private, non-profit agency that champions the needs of sexually and severely physically abused children through prevention, intervention, therapy, and collaboration. These services are provided at no cost to children who reside in or were abused in DeKalb or Fulton County. Dr. Thomas has a PhD in Counseling Psychology from the University of Louisville.

Ananya Tiwari

A Southeast Asian woman with long black hair wearing a blue blouse and floral printed skirt, smiling and looking to someone out of the frame.

Ananya Tiwari is the Co-founder of SwaTaleem Foundation (Swa, in Sanskrit, meaning self/one’s own and Taleem, in Urdu, meaning education) established in India. It works for the highly marginalized communities in creating thriving educational spaces. Currently it operates within the Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya (KGBV) chain of government schools which were set up to provide quality education to Dalit and Tribal girls from 6th to 8th. SwaTaleem brings together teachers, girl students and government officials at the same platform to identify and solve local problems by working around socio emotional skills and employing a learner centric approach. Ananya is also a PhD student at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign’s College of Education in the division Educational Psychology through which she wants to integrate contemporary research in this field with the design and evaluation of applied interventions. In her free time, she could be found chatting with friends, swimming and hiking with her partner Karthik and the dogs.