Recent Dissertation Fellows

Disability Research Consortium
2018-2019 Dissertation Fellows
Briana Ballis
Briana Ballis is a doctoral student in economics at the University of California, Davis. Her research focuses on determinants of childhood disadvantage and the impact of social programs and education on promoting equity. In her DRC-funded work, she will use state-level administrative data to examine the interactions between special education and childhood Supplemental Security Income (SSI) receipt on long-run outcomes, including college and employment. Because of similar eligibility criteria, the majority of SSI recipients also receive special education services. Briana’s work will exploit a setting in which there were reductions in special education access but expansions in SSI benefits, thereby providing a rare opportunity to understand how these programs interact. Prior to enrolling at UC Davis, Briana worked as a research analyst at RTI working on projects related to Medicare and Medicaid.
Cassandra Benson
Cassandra Benson is a doctoral student in economics at Cornell University with concentrations in public economics, economics of education, and labor economics. Her research focuses on local, state, and federal policies affecting children with disabilities. In her DRC-funded work, she will test whether a child’s exposure to a more generous Earned Income Tax Credit affects the likelihood of participating in the child SSI program. In recent work, she utilized matched survey and administrative data to investigate the spillovers between local special education services and participation in the child SSI program and has evaluated the impact of school starting age referrals to and receipt of special education services. Cassandra was previously a NBER pre-doctoral fellow in Disability Policy Research.
Christian Morales
Christian Morales is a doctoral student in Bioethics and Health Policy at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. His DRC-funded research will identify the empirical and normative implications of using different approaches both to measure disability status as well as to estimate disparities in access to health care between working-age adults with and without disabilities. In addition to access to and quality of health care for people with disabilities, his research interests also include the work-health relationship and health inequity. Christian previously received an MA in Bioethics from New York University and was a quality improvement coordinator for a primary care practice in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood in New York City.
Adrienne Nevola
Adrienne Nevola is a doctoral candidate in health systems and services research at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health. Her research focuses on outcomes of health and social services for individuals with disabilities. In her DRC-funded research, Adrienne will gather input from Medicaid beneficiaries with serious mental illness and their family members about which self-reported outcome assessment instruments they prefer and why. Results of this study may be used by program administrators and policymakers to help decide how to evaluate the effects of different Medicaid delivery systems. Adrienne previously worked as a policy analyst at the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services and the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. 

2017-2018 Dissertation Fellows
Andrea Avila
Andrea Avila is a doctoral student in psychology at University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL), concurrently in the clinical psychology training program and law-psychology program. In her DRC-funded work, she will empirically evaluate the multiple legal frameworks used by different federal judicial circuits to determine the viability of state Olmstead plans, specifically for people with serious mental illness (SMI). Her past research has included topics such as threat assessment to prevent workplace violence, hospital staff perceptions of dangerousness/prognosis of people with SMI, development of new group therapy modalities for people with SMI, mechanisms sustaining stigmatization of people with SMI, and trainings to correct inflated probation officer risk perceptions of people with SMI. Ms. Avila has a Master's Degree in Clinical Psychology and Juris Doctor from UNL and joined the Nebraska Bar in April 2016.
Molly Bloom
Molly Bloom is a Ph.D. candidate in anthropology at the University of California, Los Angeles. In her DRC-funded research, Molly will investigate the way disabled peer mentors socialize newly disabled patients at a rehabilitation hospital into living with a disability. At the hospital where she will conduct ethnographic fieldwork, many of the patients and the peer mentors continually negotiate economic choices about working with a disability and receiving federal aid, like SSI. Molly is currently a member of the steering committee for the Society for Medical Anthropology’s Disability Research Interest Group, where she has worked to connect intellectuals in the emerging field of Disability Anthropology. She has received funding from the National Science Foundation and the Foreign Language Area Studies for previous research on disability in Morocco and language use on a wheelchair basketball team.
Tawny Heibing
Tawny Hiebing is a Ph.D. candidate in rehabilitation counseling education and supervision at the University of Iowa. Her research focuses on outcomes of individuals with disabilities who utilize state-federal vocational rehabilitation services with a primary focus on the traumatic brain injury population. Her DRC-funded research will examine how individual characteristics, agency-level factors and state-economic conditions impact the differences of placement rates among state-federal vocational rehabilitation agencies. Hiebing has her master’s in rehabilitation counseling from St. Cloud State and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Minnesota. She was formerly a DRC summer fellow in 2015. 
Sarah Prenovitz
Sarah Prenovitz is a Ph.D. candidate in economics at Cornell University with concentrations in labor economics, public finance, and health economics. Her research interests span a broad range of topics in labor economics including disability, retirement, and education. In her DRC-funded work, she will use matched survey and administrative data to examine the effects of waiting for SSDI decisions on outcomes including health, health care access, and financial well-being. Her recent work includes investigating the effects of incentives in No Child Left Behind to place certain students into special education and evaluating whether a fellowship program for underrepresented minority students increased Ph.D. completion. Prenovitz was previously a NBER pre-doctoral fellow in Disability Policy Research and a research analyst at Mathematica Policy Research prior to starting at Cornell. 

2016-2017 Dissertation Fellows
Amber Davis
Amber Davis is a third year student in the Ph.D. program of Social Work at Howard University Her DRC-funded research will use the National Longitudinal Transition Study 2 (NLTS-2) to assess the post-transition employment outcomes for minority youth/young adults receiving SSI. Amber has a Masters of Social Work from the Florida State University and a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida. She participated as an Eileen Sweeney Disability Policy Fellow with the National Academy of Social Insurance and was a DRC Summer Experiential Learning Fellow. She has a passion for bridging federal and state disability policies with effective national and local programs that improve outcomes for young persons with disabilities.  
Emmanuel Gatcia-Morales
Emmanuel Garcia-Morales is a Ph.D. candidate in economics at the Johns Hopkins University. Originally from Mexico City, Mr. Garcia’s areas of research are labor and health economics. His DRC-funded research will use a multi-period model to explore the relationship between the Supplemental Security Income program and the health and human capital investments of families of transition age youth with disabilities. Along with these decisions, his research also studies the labor supply decisions of family members of children with disabilities and their SSI participation decisions. Some of his research investigates the link between cognition and preventive health behavior among elderly with diabetes and hypertension 
Mashfiqur Khan
Mashfiqur Khan is a Ph.D. candidate in economics at Boston College. His DRC-funded research will consider the earnings trajectories of denied applicants using the Health and Retirement Study linked to SSA administrative data. He previously obtained a master’s degree in economics from New York University with Fulbright Fellowship. Mashfiqur’s research interests cover a broad range of topics in labor economics and applied econometrics, with emphasis on retirement and how government policies influence individuals’ behavior. He been a co-author on several working papers through the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.  
Zach Morris
Zach Morris is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of California-Berkeley School of Social Welfare, where he researches comparative disability policy. His DRC-funded research will include an examination of disability benefit reforms across the advanced economies in search of new solutions to society's most fundamental distributive dilemma. It draws on a harmonized cross-national panel dataset to explore the individual and country-level determinants of disability benefit receipt for older working-age adults. Zach previously received an MSW in Management and Planning from UC-Berkeley and an MPhil in Comparative Social Policy from the University of Oxford as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar. His research and book reviews have been published in Policy & Politics, the International Social Security Review, and the International Journal of Social Welfare. 
Angela VanDerwerken
Angela VanDerwerken is a Ph.D. candidate in economics at the University at Albany with concentrations in econometrics, labor economics, and health economics. Her DRC-funded research will include a structural model of the SSDI application decision that accounts for unobserved disability status. Angela previously worked an economist at the New York State Department of Labor and a private sector consultant. Her research includes evaluating the efficiency of the federal disability determination process and measuring the effects of available pharmaceuticals on disability applications.