From SU News, By Michele Barrett

Jennifer Coppola, Gift Nleko and Shaelise M. Tor, graduate students in Falk College’s Department of Marriage and Family Therapy and School of Social Work, are recipients of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy’s (AAMFT) Research & Education Foundation Minority Fellowships. The AAMFT’s Minority Fellowship Program (MFP) includes a competitive review and selection process of doctoral and master’s students from across the country to support their growth and development as future practitioners in marriage and family therapy.

The AAMFT MFP fellowships include awards for doctoral students at the dissertation completion stage of their curriculum, which Coppola received. Nleko was awarded the Now is the Time MFP fellowship as a master’s student interested in service provision to the nation’s youth. Tor received the doctoral fellowship to support completion of her pre-dissertation core curriculum.

Funded by a grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the AAMFT Foundation has created the MFP to support the training of practitioners or practitioner/researchers in culturally competent mental health and substance abuse services, treatment, and prevention.

Jennifer Coppola, a doctoral candidate, has a background in human development from the University of Rochester. Trained on the Transgender Treatment Team at Falk College’s Couple and Family Therapy Center at Peck Hall, her current research investigates couple relational processes, including the impact of gender, sexual, and racial minority stress. Her dissertation focuses on attachment and fairness-related relational experiences of transgender women and their cisgender partners. She hopes to progress her research to include conceptualizing integrative therapeutic models that serve marginalized populations. Clinically, her work is dedicated to the transgender and LGBQ+ communities, and multistressed couples and families. She uses contextual and attachment theories, an affirmative intersectional lens, and emotionally-focused couples therapy (EFT).

Coppola presents her research work and model of couples therapy nationally and internationally. “I believe in utilizing a self-of-the-therapist approach to training. Cultural humility in clinical practice involves a lifelong commitment to reflection and disassembling power and privilege,” she says. Upon graduation, Jennifer plans to continue teaching in the MFT field, and extend her research. She also has a part-time private practice.

Gift Nleko, a native of Nigeria, was diagnosed with polio at age 3. Due to the civil war in Nigeria, she and her family sought political asylum in Houston, Texas, when she was 9. “My experiences as a disabled Nigerian-American refugee inspire my work with diverse, underrepresented and socially disadvantaged populations,” she says. Having graduated from Lamar University with a B.S. in psychology, she immediately enrolled in Falk College’s dual master’s program in social work and marriage family therapy. She has gained hands-on experience providing therapy at the Couple and Family Therapy Center, serving clients with co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders at Family Counseling Services- Cortland, and co facilitating the Domestic Violence Group and Healthy Relationships workshop series at the YWCA of Syracuse & Onondaga County.

Gift currently interns at the Syracuse University Counseling Center, providing mental health and substance abuse services, while contributing to a diverse campus environment. Her past research as a McNair Scholar focused on the effect of father absence on adult daughter’s mate selection. She will continue exploring the correlation between father absence, mental health, substance abuse, trauma and relational attachment.

Shaelise M. Tor is a second-year doctoral student who completed an M.S. in marriage and family therapy at the University of Rochester. Her current research interests include participatory research with refugee and immigrant populations; the impact of race and cross-cultural relationships in family therapy and advocacy; families involved with multiple systems of care; and relational ethics and attachment injuries. She currently serves clients in an outpatient couple and family therapy center as well as in a satellite, community-based clinic utilizing a postmodern attachment and experiential approach that emphasizes resilience and the impact of power and oppression.

“I hope to increase access to culturally humble mental health care and decrease barriers to care by utilizing non-traditional modalities of therapy,” she says. Upon completion of her doctoral studies, it is her goal to be on the faculty at a university where she can conduct research, teach, and supervise future generations of therapists.

The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) is the professional association for the field of marriage and family therapy, representing the professional interests of more than 50,000 marriage and family therapists throughout the United States, Canada and abroad. The AAMFT Research & Education Foundation funds systemic and relational research, scholarship and education to support and enhance the practice of systemic and relational therapies to advance the health care continuum, and improve client outcomes.