Department News, Fall 2019

Message from the Chair
Department Spotlights

Alumni Updates/Class Notes
Donor Recognition

Message from the Chair

Sarah Shomstein

Your yearly Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences newsletter is here! 

This year has been particularly exciting. I have recently transitioned into the chair role, with special thanks to Dr. John Philbeck who was our chair for a short, yet impactful, one-year term. Dr. Philbeck has taken on a new position as GW’s vice dean for faculty affairs. We wish him the best of luck in this important role. This year, we welcomed Dr. Ellen Yeung to the Applied Social Program (see story below), and congratulated Dr. Sharon Lambert for her promotion to full professor.

You probably noticed when you first started reading that our department name has changed its name to the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. Additionally, all three programs—Applied Social, Clinical and Cognitive Neuroscience—have been federally designated as STEM fields. These changes more accurately reflect the science-based, research-focused approach consistent with our faculty’s scholarship. Another change is the major renovations to our building to make it more modern and presentable to our students, parents, alumni and visitors. More work is planned, and we are extremely excited about this physical change!

We are looking forward to another successful colloquium series this year, and we encourage you to attend when you can. Of note is that a total of 27 grants have been submitted by faculty across the three program areas. Our current research expenditures are an impressive $2,366,845 with 18 active labs.

We are grateful to the generous alumni donations! In the last year, these funds supported research projects for highly-motivated undergraduate and graduate students. This serves as a testament to the power of donations to make a real difference in the lives of individual students at this crucial time in their careers. Even a small gift can help students finish a study or attend their first scientific conference. We always welcome hearing from you! 

This issue features news on major student and faculty accomplishments. I encourage you to read on and get excited along with us!

Dr. Sarah Shomstein,

Department Chair


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Department Spotlights

Welcome, Dr. Ellen Yeung

Ellen Yeung sits with her dog on the open back hatch of a car
Ellen Yeung is the newest faculty member in the Applied Social Psychology Division.

Ellen Yeung is the newest faculty member in the Applied Social Psychology Division.

Dr. Ellen Yeung joined the faculty in 2019 as an assistant professor in the Applied Social Psychology program. Dr. Yeung received her PhD in social psychology from Arizona State University, with an emphasis in health and quantitative psychology. Previously, she was an NIAAA-funded (T32) postdoctoral fellow in the Alcohol Studies Program at the University of Missouri at Columbia, where she received training in statistical genetics, the psychology of alcohol use and addiction. 

Dr. Yeung's research interests are understanding unique and shared risk and resilience factors underlying chronic pain and addiction. Currently her focus is on studying the co-occurrence of alcohol use disorder and chronic pain. “Chronic pain and alcohol use disorder share similar risk factors,” she said, “and they have mostly been overlooked.” 

To understand the mechanism underlying shared risk and resilience of these conditions, Dr. Yeung is following a biopsychosocial approach. Her work aims to examine the influences of genetics, social environment and their interplay. She is excited about the opportunity to continue this line of work at GW. “Studying pain and addiction in individuals living with HIV/AIDS would be very interesting” she said, because “individuals living with HIV/AIDS are more at risk for developing pain and problem drinking and this topic is well aligned with ongoing research in the department.” 

Her excitement to join the faculty at GW extends beyond conducting research. “I didn’t want to get a job that was purely focused on research,” she explained, because she appreciates the teaching and mentorship opportunities that come with a faculty position. For Dr. Yeung, “teaching and working with students is thought-inspiring,” she said, and interactions with students help her to further develop her research agenda. In addition, Dr. Yeung appreciates the collaborative and supportive climate of the Department for Psychological and Brain Sciences

Aside from work, Dr. Yeung is excited about moving to a city with so much culture. She appreciates art and theater and is looking forward to exploring what D.C. has to offer.


What You Think Is What You See

a train going through an alley of houses and shops

Seeing is believing, reveals a new study by Assistant Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience Dwight Kravitz. Perception and working memory are so deeply entangled, Kravitz revealed, that they color how we react to the world around us.

Read the Article


Sleep and Depression: Double Threats for Moms


a pregnant woman lying on her side

Sleepless nights are a fact of pregnancy. But a study by third-year clinical psychology doctoral candidate Sammy S. Dhaliwal suggests that the combined risks of sleep deprivation and depression follow women throughout their pregnancies and into the postpartum period. Dhaliwal’s work was profiled in the CCAS Spotlight newsmagazine.

Read About Her Research

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Department Kudos

Psi Chi at GW continues to flourish! In spring 2019, 19 students were inducted with 10 more inducted in November. Our annual fall Graduate School Night hosted 20 students with declaration day right around the corner, where Psi Chi members serve as peer advisors. This spring we will host our annual Interviewing Skills Workshop and the Career Night, which is sponsored by Psi Chi, Honors in Psychology and Career Services. Psi Chi continued its connection with Kaplan, providing Psi Chi members with discounts and trials on Kaplan products, such as study material and courses for the GRE. We also created a beautiful tri-fold brochure that we can pass out to prospective members. We’ve been busy and productive!

Graduate awards! With donor gifts and accrued income, the legacy of Professor Richard Walk is extended through multiple awards to support dissertation research. Awards were presented to

  • Maria Cimporescu, “Stress Appraisal of Anticipatory Stressors Related to the Transition Out of College.”
  • Sanam Dhaliwal, “The Role of Sleep Disturbance in the Onset of Perinatal Depression.”
  • Nicole Hedrick, “The Effect of a Brief Mindfulness Intervention on Cognitive Distortions: A Microtrial Exploring a Potential Mechanism for the Reduction of Depressive Symptoms.” 
  • Sidney Holt, “Was that Racist? Differentiating the Effects of Overt Racial Discrimination versus Subtle Racial Microaggressions on Black Men’s Health.” 
  • Brianne Molloy, “Making the grade: How prototypes and academic expectations influence decisions to use nonmedical prescription stimulants.” 
  • Steffi Stiefel, “Adaptive and Maladaptive Responses to Weight Loss Failure among Middle-aged Men: The Potential Moderating Role of Achievement Goals.” 
  • Makiko Watanabe, “Risk and Protective Factors of Suicidal Ideation among Asian Youth in the U.S.”

Peg Barratt was selected for the Fulbright Specialist Program, which sends highly experienced, well-established U.S. faculty and professionals to serve as expert consultants on short-term collaborative projects at overseas universities, cultural centers, non-governmental organizations and other institutions abroad for two to six weeks.

Sarah Friedman has recently been elected as APA Division I president for the Society for General Psychology, which “promotes coherence among psychology’s diverse specialties and encourages multi-perspectival and interdisciplinary study of the mind in the context of societal, biological and physical/environmental conditions and processes.” In her new capacity she is planning the 2021 APA Convention in San Diego, Calif. 

Stephen Mitroff became the co-director of the GW Mind-Brain Institute. 

John Philbeck was promoted from chair of the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences to the Columbian College vice dean for faculty affairs. 

Cynthia Rohrbeck is chairing the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences Executive Committee, and the Salaries and Promotion Policy committee of the Faculty Senate.

Carol Sigelman is chairing the Distinguished and Distinctive Graduate Education Strategic Planning Committee, one of four university-wide committees charged with developing a new strategic plan for the university this year.

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Class Notes

Leslie Abrahams, BA ’69, is an executive leadership coach focused on gender equality. She created and leads the Executive Women's Leadership Program at GW's Center for Excellence in Public Leadership.

Helen Ackerman, MA ’62, is a psychologist with telehealth patients in South Florida and works closely with community charitable activities.

Tina Arrington, BA ’93, is a third-year doctoral student in education leadership at the University of Pennsylvania. 

Madison Awalt, BA ’15, is an admissions associate at Dwight School, a K-12 independent school on New York’s Upper West Side. 

Anisah Bagsara, BA ’02, is an assistant professor of psychology at Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, Ga., conducting research on health disparities and issues facing the Muslim- American community.

Julia Barsoum, BA, BS ’18, is a first-year medical student at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences.

Peter Berman, BA ’68, MA ’70, Ph.D. ’75, retired from his position as a clinical psychologist at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Palo Alto, Calif., and Stanford University Medical Center. He is enjoying life in the San Francisco Bay-area!

Tod Bogdanoff, BA ’77, is a happily retired psychologist and playing a lot of golf now. He has two kids in college and is now an empty nester. He can be found splitting time between Florida and Connecticut.

Nicole Brigandi, BA ’05, currently lives in London, U.K., and runs her own practice as a leadership coach and business psychologist. 

Rachel Castillo, BA ’93, is a senior attorney for the City of Philadelphia Law Department after a 14-year stint as a litigation associate and partner at a large firm. She and her husband, Andrew, have three kids, Sophia (16), Kai (14) and Maddox (12).

Michelle Cohan, BA ’11, produces and writes feature shows, specials and documentaries for CNN International and

Cathy Cranberg, BA ’95, is now the founder and CEO of Authentic Agility Games, a game company that aims to bring people together for meaningful and intimate conversations — by asking questions

Amir Faghfoory, BA ’02, MS ’04, is working full time as a psychiatrist and pursuing a graduate degree in psychology. He is also pursuing in-depth study in hypnosis.

Cassondra Feldman, BA ’13, completed a fellowship at the New York Harbor Healthcare System in Manhattan and opened a private psychotherapy practice in Bay Harbor Islands, Fla

Shirley Forssell, BA ’56, and husband Mark live in Savannah, Ga. They are very pleased that their son, Stephen, is on the faculty at GW in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. 

Jennifer Frohlich, BA ’96, graduated from the University of Washington with an M.Ed. in school psychology and currently works as a school psychologist in the Bellevue School District, outside of Seattle.

Michelle Huntley, BA ’08, earned a Master of Science in marriage and family therapy from Fuller Theological Seminary in the spring of 2019. She specializes in addiction, trauma and attachment issues and works at a private practice in Phoenix, Ariz.

Michelle Jacoby, BA ’87, owns D.C. Matchmaking and is both a matchmaker and dating coach. For five years running, she was named one of the top six matchmakers in the industry. In 2017, Michelle was voted #1 Matchmaker in the U.S. at the 2017 iDate Awards.

William Jimenez, BA ’16, is pursuing his PhD in industrial-organizational psychology at Old Dominion University and interning at NASA Headquarters.

Billie Katz, BA ’15 , is a fifth year PsyD candidate currently completing her APA-accredited predoctoral clinical internship at Mount Sinai Services/Elmhurst Hospital Center.

Beth Kline, BA ’92, is a reading specialist with a large school district in South Florida. She is currently applying to PhD programs.

Carolyn Koerner, BA ’89, obtained her MSW from University of Connecticut. She is entering her 21st year as a school social worker at New Britain High School in New Britain, Conn. She also works as a private therapist and teaches yoga.

Shannon Lane, BA ’97, is an associate professor at Yeshiva University in New York. Her first book, Political Social Work: Using Power to Create Social Change, was published in 2018, and her second, Social Welfare Policy in a Changing World, will be out this year.

Anton Lesaca, BA ’15, has joined Venable LLP in Washington, D.C., as a law clerk with the firm's FDA regulatory practice.

Dana Litt, PhD ’10, is an associate professor at the University of North Texas Health Science Center in the School of Public Health. She is currently PI of two federally funded grants exploring the prevention of adolescent and young adult substance use.

Suzanne Miller, BA ’94, is a MSW, LCSW in private practice in her hometown of New Orleans, La., specializing in family formation as well as suicidology. She has two daughters; one a junior in college, the other a high school senior.

Daniel Newman, BA ’02, was promoted to associate professor with tenure in the School Psychology Program at the University of Cincinnati.

Caitlyn O’Connor, BA ’16, is currently in her second year as a physician assistant student at Mass General Hospital's Institute in Boston. She will be doing apPsychiatry rotation and plans to put her undergraduate degree in psychology to good use!

Christine Prior, BA ’98, is the area director for neurorestorative New Jersey/The Mentor Network. She has worked with adults with traumatic brain injury for almost 18 years and was recently promoted to quality improvement director for the company's northeast states.

Kathryn Reger, BA ’91, is a school psychologist working in Montgomery County, Md.

Emily Richard, BA ’17, is in her first year in the George Mason University PhD program in cognitive and behavioral neuroscience, and remains involved in the GW Lab of Autism and Developmental Neuroscience. She hopes to contribute to the understanding of the female phenotype of autism.

Matthew Ryan, BA ’03, went to graduate school for his master’s and then completed his doctoral program in clinical psychology. He has been in private practice since 2009.

Jacob Schafer, BA ’15, is a behavior technician at a youth development clinic for kids with autism. In March, he will serve as a peace corps volunteer in the Dominican Republic.

Paul Sochaczewski, BA ’69, changed his family name from Wachtel to Sochaczewski. He has authored 14 books and more than 600 articles. You can find more information on him at his website

Laura Taylor, BS ’82, is facilitating trauma incident reduction with private clients after working with abused and court-ordered women. She appreciates contact from anyone else involved in this type of work.

Tiffany Townsend, PhD ’98, is chief diversity officer for Augusta University.

Michael Velez, BA ’15, is an aspiring “Doctorpreneur” in his third year of medical school at Jefferson in Philadelphia. 

Alicia Williamson, BA ’13, is a second-year PhD student at the University of Michigan's School of Information, studying how to adapt health technologies to community-based mental and behavioral health interventions.

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Donor Recognition


The Psychological and Brain Sciences Department would like to gratefully acknowledge the following generous donors who made a gift to the department from July 1, 2017 – June 30, 2018.

+ Faculty/Staff | # Parent | ~ Student | * Friend

Helen P. Ackerman, Ph.D., MA ’62

Mr. Kelvin Adom, BA ’19 

Gordon B. Avery, M.D. + # 

Harriet I. Basseches, MA ’72, PhD ’79 

Ms. Mary F. Bayliss, BA ’81

Ms. Colette L. Bogaert-Morales, BA ’19

Ms. Amber Bramucci, BAcy ’19

Lorraine Brown, PhD ’77

Mrs. Lisa E. Cooper, #

Mr. Wayne E. Cooper, #

Ms. Mira L. Copich, BA ’19 

Maria L. Dittrich, MA ’02, PhD ’05 

Ms. Emily G. Drewry, BA ’19

Sheila Donaldson Duston, PsyD, PhD ’07 

Ms. M. Patricia Edelin, BA ’58, MA ’59 

Mary A. Ellis, PsyD, PhD ’09

Ms. Zoe H. Fischer, BA ’19

Sarah Landau Friedman, PhD ’75

Elizabeth M. Ginexi, MA ’95, PhD ’97 

Johanna P. Glass, PhD ’85 +

Teresa T. Hsu, MA ’09, PhD ’11

Mary Alice Hurd, Ph.D., AA ’46, BA ’48

Mr. Aidan T. Kearns, BA ’18 

Ms. Georgia R. Kulok, BA ’16 

Francois M. Lalonde, PhD ’83

Huynh-Nhu Le, Ph.D. +

Mrs. Sheree M. Leonard, BA ’89

Ms. Carolyn A. Mauriello Mayer, MA ’08

Lorraine McCall, Ph.D., BA ’88 

Ms. Caroline E. Moss, BBA ’18 

Mr. John Erich Opfer, BA ’95 

Marilyn S. Paul, Ph.D., BA ’81 

Paul J. Poppen, Ph.D., + 

Ms. Sabrina E. Porcelli, BA ’18 

Mrs. Erika L. Robinson, AA ’61, BA ’67

Cynthia A. Rohrbeck, Ph.D., + 

Dennis Schell, Ph.D., +  

Mr. Matthew A. Schumacher, BA ’18

Carol K. Sigelman, Ph.D., +  

Mr. E. Naudain Simons, III, MA ’60 

Douglas R. Sisk, PhD ’83 

Clarence P. Walters, PhD ’74

Philip W. Wirtz, BA ’71, PhD ’83, + 

Ms. Sabrina F. Zuskov, BA ’19

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