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Winter storm impact on vulnerable Texas communities is the subject of a TXST and NSF collaboration



Matt Joyce | March 7, 2023

snow covering ground of san marcos roads

Snow from Winter Storm Uri covering the streets of San Marcos on February 15, 2021.

Dr. Shinwoo Choi, assistant professor in Texas State University’s School of Social Work, has been selected by the National Center for Atmospheric Research for its Early Career Faculty Innovator Program, funded by the National Science Foundation. Choi will work with NCAR scientists to study Winter Storm Uri’s impacts on marginalized communities in Texas and recommend ways to strengthen the resiliency of urban and rural communities for future weather disasters.

Working with three NCAR scientists, Choi is embarking on a two-year interdisciplinary study titled “Climate Change, Infrastructure Disruption, and Extreme Weather Resilience: Cases of Environmental Justice Communities in Texas.”

Choi has been researching the experiences of vulnerable communities during natural disasters since her family weathered Hurricane Matthew in Florida in 2016. Shortly after her family moved to Texas, they experienced Winter Storm Uri, the February 2021 deep freeze remembered for knocking out power across the state.

Choi and her family relied on their social networks and a few hotel nights to navigate the storms, but the disruptions prompted questions for Choi. “Because my discipline is social work, it made me think,” she said. “What about our vulnerable populations? What about empowering vulnerable populations and increasing their resiliency?”

The NCAR grant provides $362,000 for Choi to conduct research about the impact of the 2021 storm through an interdisciplinary lens comprising big data, social science, and meteorology.

“A primary goal of the Innovator Program is to address complex research problems by building partnerships between NCAR scientists and early-career faculty,” said Dr. Alexandra Ramos Valle, coordinator of the Early Career Faculty Innovator Program and a project scientist. “Dr. Choi’s proposed project addresses multiple scientific objectives of the Innovator Program, including the reduction of damage and disruption to infrastructure from weather hazards, environmental justice research on the effects of weather hazards on marginalized communities, and the application of machine learning.”

The research team aims to produce articles for scholarly journals as well as practical resources for vulnerable populations across Texas. Community feedback will shape those resources, which could be informative workshops, websites, or other ideas, Choi said.

“Whatever the form will be, we want the results to be used for better preparedness,” she said. “Whether analyzing big data or interviewing community members, the end goal is better preparedness and better disaster resilience.”

The study will focus on six Texas Environmental Justice communities and analyze the differences between rural and urban areas. The rural counties are Titus, Navarro, and Maverick; the metro counties are El Paso, Dallas, and Harris. Choi said the counties could change depending on feasibility.

The study is composed of three interdisciplinary sections. The first is an assessment of data provided by Twitter to analyze spatiotemporal tweeting patterns. The team will filter the database for keywords such as “#poweroutage.” The researchers will try to determine where people felt the impacts of infrastructure disruption the most.

A second section calls on Choi’s social work expertise. Her team will conduct focus groups, surveys, and interviews with community members and leaders. They’ll be looking for insights into questions related to the communities’ perceptions of unmet needs, their preparedness for future disasters, their available resources, and their coping strategies.

A third section will produce a historical and future analysis of winter weather in Texas. Meteorologists at NCAR will create modeling to predict the likelihood of future winter storms in Texas.

“We will assess the chance of similar events occurring given future changes in extreme weather and climate change,” said Dr. Curtis Walker, an NCAR scientist and project collaborator. “This joint information can in turn allow community leaders and policymakers to prioritize resources and infrastructure accordingly for these communities under a range of future scenarios. Moreover, this work can serve as a foundational framework nationally and internationally.”


With the grant funds, Choi will hire a graduate research assistant and three to four undergraduate research assistants; and she will make trips to NCAR in Boulder, Colorado, to meet with project collaborators.

“It’s a huge learning experience for me as well,” Choi said. “This grant has a heavy emphasis on training — training me to be [NCAR’s] collaborator. I will meet with the other grant recipients and other NCAR scientists. It will be great to expand my horizons and collaborate with them on other federal grant proposals such as Environmental Protection Agency or other NSF funding opportunities.”


Fall 2022 Outstanding Field Awards

Outstanding Field Instructor is Patty Garza, TJJD

Student nomination:

Mrs. Garza has been nothing but amazing while completing my final field internship within the Texas Juvenile Justice Department (TJJD). She has provided all of her interns with the right opportunities to increase their advocacy, social work skills, and self-care practices. She has given me a multitude of opportunities to reach out to other staff, participate in activities, coordinate community partner site visits, and engaging in reflective supervision.

Outstanding Task Supervisor is Leslie Casarez, Disability Office at TAMU

Student nomination:

Since starting my time at Disability Resources, Leslie has gone above and beyond in her supervision and day to day to ensure I get the best experience I can as an intern. I was unsure how I would fit in to not only the office, but to the role in which I was filling. However, her guidance and supervisory approach helped me grow in confidence and accomplish tasks I did not think I could at the beginning. She didn’t throw me in the “deep end”, but she also has not held my hand the entire time. She started with shadowing, and then shadowed me, and eventually when we felt comfortable let me started to see students on my own. Even in moments where I didn’t think I would be able to lead a specific meeting, her vote of confidence and genuine belief that I could do it was evident and made such a difference in my work. She is clearly very passionate about her job, and loves working with students and in the disability field. Additionally, we spent a good amount time discussing work like balance, ethical practice, and other foundations of social work in our supervision. I think Leslie more than deserves the outstanding task supervisory award. Her dedication to the field, her dedication to upholding the core values of social work, and her excellent supervision made a difference on me as a learner. Thank you for her consideration.


BSW: AJ Goodman

AJ is a self-motivated social work intern.  He demonstrates superior technical abilities and exceptional work quality. AJ takes the time to fully understand the scope of projects and displays a keen attention to detail. He is always ready and willing to take up any on-the-spot assignment without hesitation. In addition, he has excellent communication and leadership skills.  He has truly been an asset to our agency as he demonstrates a sincere desire to be in the helping profession.


MSW-F: Katie Young

Katie is an outstanding asset to our team at Family Promise! She challenges our team with hard questions, advocates for clients, represents our organization professionally and is an active learner, always asking questions about how she can perform at an even higher level.


MSW-A: Alexa Palomo

Alexa consistently practices with the national ethical standards in mind, and it is clear that it drives her participation in all calls. She has been working in a setting that would overwhelm and challenge most social workers as it is within the Austin Police Department providing crisis response to crime victims and their families. She is insightful and challenges her own beliefs and biases about the officers that she works with but also the system of policing. She is able to identify not only the gaps in policies but also the challenges that officers, detectives, and their civilian supports [like victim services crisis teams] face. She has been open to new experiences and has addressed calls that were triggering. She has maintained an awareness of her own reactions to secondary traumas and practiced effective self-care on-scene but also off-shift.

As one of her projects, she elected to interview officers about their experiences and the impact of social movements and political actions on their job. She maintained an open mind despite coming into this role with her own biases relative to policing. She has also kept a balance in this, recognizing and addressing situations where the investigative processes are not as victim-centered and trauma-informed as we would prefer. She has advocated with detectives and officers to help decrease the impact of these processes on the victim.

One call that stands out to me is a traffic fatality that she co-led with me [her field supervisor]. This call was pretty triggering for Alexa for multiple reasons, but she was still able to address the needs of victims and also practice effective self-care. In this case, the family of the victim showed up on-scene in droves. Our role was to provide the notification of the victim's death but also provide support and resources however we could.  After I provided the notification of death multiple family members became agitated or acutely panicked. Alexa took it upon herself to seek out the family members who broke away from those I was with and to provide empathetic, safe support to them as they processed the news and considered next steps. Though she initially was intimidated by the size and scope of the scene as well as the agitated and almost violent response the family, she was able to hold space for family in a safe and appropriate way.  Alexa is easily someone I would gladly work with again and I would trust her clinical and social work skills. She has consistently been a strong foundation on the night shift crisis team despite the challenging nature of our work and the schedule itself. I cannot speak highly enough about Alexa as a person and as a social work professional.


Recognition of MSW advanced student at TJJD field placement Fall 2022

Danielle Ramirez received the “Outstanding Performance-MSW Advanced Year Intern Field Award Fall 2023”.  She completed her field placement at Ayres Halfway House under The Texas Juvenile Justice Department (TJJD).  Danielle was tasked with identifying a gap in service delivery within her field internship at TJJD, as her Capstone MSW Advanced Project. She specifically focused on the Parole Conditions Form, which is a highly important document outlining the rules and expectations of youth granted parole, to assist them with maintaining compliance while on community supervision. This specific form, used statewide, had only been available in English. Danielle identified that many parents of youth at TJJD did not understand the care plan established for their children specifically related to this language barrier.  Danielle advocated that TJJD also provide this form in Spanish. Danielle translated the form into Spanish and presented it to the TJJD legal department for policy change consideration. The form has been approved by TJJD administrators and will be implemented statewide! Phenomenal advocacy work, Danielle. 


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Save the date!

Join the Office of Field Education at Texas State University School of Social Work for a virtual field instructor training:


Friday, February 3rd, 2023

9:00 am – 4:30 pm CST//Via Zoom


CEUs provided for field instructors


Norma Mercado, Field Liaison and APCE PhD student, was featured in the Spanish TV news station Univision!

Norma Mercado, APCE PhD student, was recently featured in the Spanish TV news station Univision in their Sunday evening program Aqui y Ahora. The segment featured her personal story as an immigrant child who faced many challenges, including poverty, abuse, teen pregnancy, and homelessness. Although her personal experience with a lack of resources and support drives her work, she promised to help others in similar situations someday. Now Norma dedicates her time and passion to helping other families overcome adversity. In addition, Norma has been instrumental in creating the family resource center in Bastrop, Texas. The family resource center is part of Bastrop ISD and includes a health center, adult classes, a clothes closet, WIC program, and wrap-around services. Click here to watch.



Fall 2022 Honors Research Conference

BSW Student Caitlin McCauslin

BSW student Caitlin McCauslin presented on November 18, 2022 during the Honors Research Conference. Caitlin presented on intimate partner violence in young relationships. Her research explores causes and prevention methods. Through this research Caitlin looked into prevention methods that are already in existence and ones that could be implemented in the future.



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Join the Office of Field Education at Texas State University for a field instructor training:

Friday, October 7th, 2022

9:00 am – 4:30 pm CST//LBJ Student Center 3-14.1

Lunch, parking, and CEUs provided for field instructors


8:30 am                      Coffee and arrival

9:00 am                      Introductions to Field Team

9:15 am                      Overview of semester for field students

                                                Information and assignments


                                                            MSW Foundation

                                                            MSW Advanced

                                                Educational Learning Plan

10:30 am                    Break

10:45 am                    Supervision: Student Intern Support and Guidance

11:45 am                    Lunch – provided by the School of Social Work

12:45 pm                    Field Instructor Mindfulness and Resiliency as Self-Care

1:15 pm                      Ethics

4:15 pm                      Closing remarks

4:30 pm                      End

Field Instructor Registration

Both sessions are not required to participate. To receive credit: (1) Visit the sign-in table upon arrival, (2) Attend the entire session, and (3) Complete and receive a score of at least 80 on the post-training assessment.


Louder Than Words Student Journal

We are honored and delighted to introduce you to the second volume of the Texas State University, School of Social Work, Louder Than Words Student Journal. This initiative is a collaboration among School of Social Work faculty and staff, current undergraduate and graduate students, and School of Social Work alumni.

We extend gratitude to our student peer reviewers: Sabrina Crayton, Rosalinda Marchione Jones, Nicole Martinez, Oli Slusher, and Diana Trevino. We also thank our Editorial Board: Dr. Kelly Clary (Editor in Chief), Dr. Raphael Travis (Editor), Ms. Michelle Elliott (Alumni Editor), Ms. Katrina Thompson (Alumni Editor), and Mr. Drake Scallon (Copy Editor).

Please enjoy reading some awesome work from our School of Social Work students: AJ Goodman, Laura Hopp, Rylee Kitchen, Brianna Rodriguez, Annay Ruiz, Berret Buvinghausen, Hannah Kephart, and Jazz-Lynn Lewis.

As we move forward into annual publication, we continue to invite all current Texas State University School of Social Work undergraduate and graduate students to consider submitting a written submission to the Louder Than Words upcoming volume, which we plan to publish in Fall of 2023. We encourage and accept an array of written expressions, such as, but not limited to a research article or presentation, literature review, policy analysis, theoretical paper, critical analysis of a current event, reflective essay, book review, or an artistic/creative expression such as a written song, slam poetry, blog post, drawing, or image. We also invite current students to consider applying to become a student peer reviewer. In this role, students will participate in a mandatory peer review training and offer constructive, support feedback in an identity withheld process to student authors. If you are moving on from the Texas State University School of Social Work and would like to still be involved, we would be thrilled to bring you on as an Alumni Editor or Copy Editor.


Rachel Dorn

Announcing 2022 Ima Hogg Scholarship Recipients

Each year, the Hogg Foundation awards Ima Hogg Scholarships to graduate social work students who have committed to joining the mental health workforce.

An investment in their post-graduate careers is an investment in improving the quality of mental health services across Texas, where the mental health workforce is in critical condition. In Texas, many live in areas where there is a shortage of mental health professionals. This is especially true in rural areas of the state. Social workers can play a vital role in addressing the mental health workforce shortage.

This year, 19 graduate social work students from across Texas received scholarships of $5,000 each. These students, nominated by the heads of their social work programs, were chosen for their commitment to strengthening the well-being of communities as professionals in the Texas mental health workforce.

The 2022 recipients are:

Rachel Dorn

Rachel Dorn

Texas State University

“As a future military social worker within the Veterans Administration or service branch, I am looking forward to being a part of the solution to help my fellow Texans get the treatment that they need.”

Sarah Akhtar

Sarah Akhtar

University of Texas San Antonio

“As a social worker, I intend to develop integrative healthcare programs in underserved communities utilizing a holistic approach that addresses physical and mental health needs as well as the deficits contributing to those needs.”

Elia Bautista

Elia Bautista

University of Texas Rio Grande Valley

“To me, one of the most important roles that a social worker has is being an advocate. Advocacy is important in helping end stigma and helping clients receive the equal rights and resources they need.”

Rebekah Carr

Rebekah Carr

West Texas A&M State University

“My experiences serving, engaging, and listening to diverse groups of people have drawn me into the social work profession.”

Katya Compian

Katya Compian

University of Texas at El Paso

“My experiences helped me realize that working with and providing support to the perpetrators of crime can possibly be the most effective way to protect future victims.”

LaJeana Demus

LaJeana Demus

Our Lady of the Lake University

“As a social worker, the impact I would like to make is for people to know that regardless of their mental health they can still achieve their goals. I want to encourage people to permit themselves to seek help and not be afraid and shamed.”

Destani Erwin

Destani Erwin

Tarleton State University

“My career goal is to continue helping families understand the facts about adolescent mental health needs and resources, with the overall hope of decreasing parental relinquishments and out-of-home Child Protective Service removals.”

Breanna Lee Hazel

Breanna Lee Hazel

University of Texas at Arlington

“I hope to become a mental health/substance abuse social worker and help equip people with the right tools to cope and manage with their everyday lives.”

Elizabeth Madaelil

Elizabeth Madaelil

University of Texas at Austin

“My long-term goal is to ease the process of finding culturally humble therapists with varied specialties, resulting in an increased availability and approachability of clinical care for underserved populations.”

Taylor Maestas-Miller

Taylor Maestas-Miller

Texas A&M University-Kingsville

“I want to continue learning and gaining experience in best professional practices in order to serve the most vulnerable populations.”

Samantha Montoya

Samantha Montoya

Stephen F. Austin State University

“Working in an intensive outpatient behavioral hospital has been rewarding– I have seen the difference it makes in the lives of individuals and how the support can make a change in someone’s life.”

Ouida Mosley

Ouida Mosley

Texas A&M University-Texarkana

“I hope to establish a standard that counseling is not a stigmatizing experience, but rather a rewarding one that enables individuals to discuss and process issues in a safe, loving, and nonjudgmental environment.”

Francis Okafor

Francis Okafor

Texas Tech University

“I hope to help people who struggle with mental health challenges and substance use disorders as well as spread mental health awareness in my home country, Nigeria, and beyond.”

Kathryn Pierre

Kathryn Pierre

University of North Texas

“My ultimate professional goal is to offer clinical services that meet and address the unique challenges faced by military servicemembers, veterans, their spouses, and their children.”

Raymond Saucillo

Raymond Saucillo

University of Houston

“I want to work in a healthcare environment helping patients and their families as they react to, cope with, and recover from illness.”

Hannah Shahan

Hannah Shahan

Abilene Christian University

“I plan to focus my graduate thesis on the lack of mental health resources at Hendrick Medical Center in Abilene and develop a plan to improve and change the current process that is in place.”

Rita Taylor

Rita Taylor

Texas A&M-Commerce

“By obtaining my degree, I will be able to serve and teach mental health/coping skills to preschool children as well as their guardians to reinforce learning. I want to make a difference and ‘be a rainbow in someone else’s cloud.’”

Sydney Wheeler

Sydney Wheeler

Texas Christian University

“I chose to pursue a career in social work because my life has been blessed with the support and guidance of multiple clinical workers.”

Gabby White

Gabby White

Baylor University

“I want to address the disparities within the maternal health space that contribute to the high rates of Black maternal mortality and morbidity and provide mental health services to women as they go through each stage of the family planning process from preconception to postpartum.”

Related Links

Video correction: Sarah Akhtar is a student at the University of Texas San Antonio.