Coming together: Wayne State Social Work faculty mentor and postdoctoral fellow celebrated for collaborative efforts

For 87 years the Wayne State University School of Social Work has worked to create a flourishing academic and research community rooted in the belief that curiosity, collaboration and support are necessary seeds to develop researcher that benefits the academic and local community. An integral part of this community is the teams of postdoctoral fellows and their faculty mentors. Postdoctoral fellow Allison Laskey, PhD and Professor Richard Smith, PhD have both been recognized by the Wayne State Graduate School for their noteworthy research and mentorship as recipients of a 2022 Postdoctoral Fellow Award.

Allison LaskeyA recipient of the Postdoctoral Trainee Research Award, Laskey has been recognized for her outstanding promise in scientific research on the Water Health Infrastructure Resilience and Learning (WHIRL) project investigating the interdependencies of drinking water and public health systems to provide new insights as to how these systems interact, with a focus on crisis events. A member of the School of Social Work team, Laskey is collaborating with colleagues in Engineering, Political Science, Communications, and Public Health on the project. Laskey was brought on as a member of WHIRL to administer nationwide surveys of public health departments and public water systems. Despite the formidable unforeseen challenges posed by the global pandemic, the team collaborated with national member associations to conduct three nationwide surveys that garnered a sizable response. Building on the data collected, Laskey and fellow WHIRL investigators recently submitted a multi-institution NSF proposal to study flooding in the Great Lakes region and are in the process of developing multiple manuscripts and presenting findings at a variety of disciplinary and practitioner conferences.

Laskey has extensive experience in urban policy theory and application to promote meaningful community engagement and empowerment. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in International Relations from Boston University in 2006 and went on to work as a federal science policy researcher in Washington, D.C. under the Bush Jr. and Obama administrations. Additionally, she earned a PhD in Urban and Environmental Planning and Policy, Critical Theory Emphasis from the University of California at Irvine, School of Social Ecology. A key interest of Laskey’s includes resilience for sustainable and equitable urban development, including how working-class Black residents assert demands for equitable development and racial justice in Detroit. Within the WHIRL project, Laskey has also been working with a subteam to review various approaches to resilience in order to draw interdisciplinary propositions about the construct.

Within the School’s Postdoctoral Fellow Program, each fellow is assigned a faculty mentor to assist them as they develop their professional and academic skills, refine their research goals, expand their publication record, and apply for grant funding. Professor and Associate Dean for Research Richard Smith, PhD has worked closely with Laskey in this role and on the WHIRL project.

It has been a privilege to mentor Dr. Laskey. She came very highly recommended by her advisor Walter Nicholls at University of California, Irvine. I have enjoyed watching her grapple with and tentatively solve the conceptual riddles of resilience. – Professor Richard Smith

Richard SmithIn recognition of his exemplary mentorship of Laskey, Smith was selected as a recipient of the 2022 Excellence in Postdoctoral Mentorship Award from the Graduate School. An expert in community and economic development, Smith is committed to understanding how to achieve sustainable community development in face of poverty, inequality, and migration. Smith earned a Bachelor of Arts in English Language and Literature from the University of Michigan and a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Western Michigan University. He went on to gain a Master of Social Work from the University of Michigan and a Doctor of Philosophy in Social Welfare from the University of California, Berkeley in 2010.

As part of the WHIRL project, Smith is focused on quantifying the social and economic impacts of the two critical forms of infrastructure on communities. He is working closely with Laskey and the other WHIRL investigators to bring together data about health systems, water systems, and residents. Most notably, he has worked closely with UNC's Jacqueline MacDonald Gibson on Bayesian Network Modeling and machine learning to predict disruptions in water systems and how officials respond to the disruptions.

Rick always emphasized that the direction of my research was my choice, and he maintained this perspective even when I made unconventional, against-the-grain choices. He encouraged my independent community-engaged research, acknowledging the expertise I wanted to develop beyond my time on WHIRL. When I faced barriers or decision points, Rick was open to talking through my questions, but he remained humble about his advice, always reminding me it was his perspective and not the right answer. I could not have asked for a more committed and supportive postdoctoral mentor. – Postdoctoral Fellow Allison Laskey, PhD

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