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Psychology Student Wins Award for Dissertation on Violence

In fall 2010, Ashley D’Inverno enrolled at Rutgers University–Newark (RU-N) in the Graduate School to pursue her Ph.D. in psychology. Five years later, she is the winner of the 2016 Graduate School Dean’s Doctoral Dissertation Award. The award is given to the dissertation with the highest ranking by an RU-N committee comprised of students and faculty.

Her dissertation was praised for its clarity and its efficacy in translating her research and its implications for laymen.

“It feels amazing to have your work recognized and know that other people value it,” D’Inverno, of Augusta, Georgia, said.

D’Inverno’s dissertation, The Impact of Violence Exposure on Psychosocial Outcomes: How do Exposed Offenders Adapt?, took her into a Jersey City jail where she interviewed inmates about their exposure to violence before and during their incarceration.

She determined that while violence in a variety of forms is harmful, jail violence in particular has a significant impact on mental health and behavioral symptoms, including increased aggression, depression, antisocial behavior, and substance abuse. Her research was supported by a $25,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.

“Ashley really does care about the real-world impact of her research,” said RU-N Associate Professor Paul Boxer. “Before she entered our doctoral program, she taught social psychology to inmates in San Quentin Penitentiary – so, how her findings affect actual policies and practices really matters to her. I think that having this sort of compassion is part of the foundation of a long and successful career.”

After earning a master’s degree in psychology in 2007 from Columbia University, D’Inverno’s decision to pursue a Ph.D. centered on her ability to do research in the field of violence and aggression. During her research of relevant programs, she saw that Boxer’s research interests aligned with hers, which prompted her to leave her San Francisco residence to pursue a doctorate under his tutelage.

In August 2014, D’Inverno had a baby boy and began a full-time position shortly after, when she became the director of research and compliance at the New York Board of Corrections in January 2015.

She spent her days working and her nights with her husband and newborn, conscientiously carving moments of free time to work on her dissertation.

Currently, D’Inverno is an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education Fellow at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). She hopes to continue her work at the CDC as a behavioral scientist at the conclusion of her fellowship.

D’Inverno says her passion for studying aspects of the criminal justice system is what motivates her to persist in her educational and career pursuits.

“You want to make sure that at the end of the day – even when the technical challenges get you down and you’re frustrated –that your [research] area is interesting to you and that you’re passionate about it,” D’Inverno said. “That is what will keep you moving along.”